TOWNSEND - Tensions are building in Broadwater County, as emergency services say they’re reaching a breaking point with a skinny budget and a growing workload.
Around 1,300 miles of road, 19,000 cars passing through the county every day, and only eight deputies to patrol the area. These impossible numbers are what challenge the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office every day, and the pressure isn’t dying down.
Jodi Moore - widow of Sheriff’s Deputy Mason Moore, who was killed on duty in 2017, and now founder of the Mason Moore Foundation - is one of the office’s biggest supporters. Moore reaches out to Montana Right Now, advocating for what she says is “a story that needs to be told.”
Right now, Broadwater County residents are suffering from response times that can be up to 45 minutes long, at times the difference between life and death.
There’s only enough money to fund a few deputies on the street at any given time: one during the day, two at night.
The sheriffs office only gets 47% of its budget from tax dollars, and they’re paying starting deputies at least $4 less per hour than any of the surrounding counties.
Sheriff Wynn Meehan says they’re operating at a bare minimum for their number of deputies, and the shoestring budget is like putting a finger in a bullet hole and hoping it stops the bleeding.
"Instead of doing our job, keeping the public safe, their property safe, their family safe, we're worried about how we're gonna keep the doors open,” says Meehan. “And then if you can't pay your staff an adequate wage, then they're gonna go somewhere where they get that."
Meehan says commissioners have put public safety on the chopping block, while commissioners disagree, saying they’re making it a priority.
"We really have no way to gain any money other than cutting other departments,” says county commissioner Mike Delger. “We fund it the best we can."
For now, it’s the county’s residents the underfunding is taking a toll on.
The sheriff says he requested to get on the county commissioners' agenda to discuss funding during Wednesday night's meeting, but his request was denied.
We're told someone from the sheriff's office was expected to speak during the public comment period instead.