When Vice President Mike Pence visited Billings earlier this year, local taxpayers were on the hook for extra security.
With no one to accept the bill for police protection and extra help, Billings taxpayers are still holding that bill.
When President Donald J. Trump visited Great Falls earlier this summer, taxpayers were also on the hook to cover additional police and protection.
And when it's all totaled, the residents of Billings will likely be left holding the bill for the additional security provided by police, sheriff's deputies and state highway patrol, many of whom were on overtime, to ensure the President Donald Trump's safety while here.
For a city which often says it doesn't have the funds to add extra officers or add more beds in jail or do more than respond to call after call for service, spending tens of thousands of unbudgeted money seems unfair, if not ridiculous.
We're not saying this because it's Trump, even though he has been a frequent and strident critic of the media. We just don't think local taxpayers should be on the hook to provide extra services for the president when that is clearly the federal governtment's job. Just because Trump wants to have a political rally shouldn't mean that local taxpayers, already hemmed in by a very restrictive city budget, should have to give up police protection.
We are paying for a politician's rally, not some essential speech.
We've heard so often about how Trump wants to make America safer, but by spending tens of thousands of dollars from the police and law enforcement budget, it actually makes Billings less safe. And that money could have been put to better use during the course of weeks, if not months. Instead, that money was spent in less than 24 hours.
We also believe that if Trump is coming to stump for another conservative politician, then Matt Rosendale or even Trump's own re-election campaign should understand there's nothing fiscally prudent about forcing local law enforcement to work a security detail rather than to go out and solve crime.
But that is the real trade off.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John has assured residents that the bill for the extra security would be sent to either D.C., or the Trump re-election campaign. Still no word for anyone if they'll accept it or pay it.
That means that residents of Billings, Yellowstone County and the state could be left holding the bag for what was a political rally that had more to do with stroking the President's ego than it did with electing Rosendale or saying anything meaningful about policy.
We appreciate that Trump visited Billings. And, we're always grateful when a politician looks at Montana for anything more than a fly-over. However, folks like Trump and Rosendale should know that in places like Montana, we don't have unlimited resources or a huge population that can tolerate the increase. If, as St. John predicts, the final bill will come to more than $20,000 -- that's real money and it will impact the city.
We believe the problem doesn't lie solely with St. John. Instead, we also believe the mandate needs to come from our elected leaders who have to manage budgets. The Billings City Council and the Yellowstone County Commissioners should also put pressure on staff to ensure that the bills go to the Trump campaign or the Rosendale campaign and that they're paid.
We don't think taxpayers should have to bear the cost (because we already have through the federal government which is obliged to provide security). And, it's up to our leaders to demand action and urge staff to make sure the bill finds the right campaigns and those campaigns pay up, especially when the visit is about a political rally for a specific candidate.
Welcoming Trump? Sure.
Giving him thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds?
Not so much.