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94th Annual MACo Conference Minutes

General Session - Monday, September 22, 2003

Lewistown, Montana

Carol Brooker, MACo President, Sanders County

94th Annual MACo ConferenceThe 94th annual Conference of the Montana Association of Counties opened at 9:00 am. The Lewistown Post of the American Legion presented colors and led the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance. Rev. Paul Carlson, Lutheran Church, conducted the Invocation. Lewistown City Manager Kevin Myhre welcomed the delegates. Commissioner Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County, responded with gratitude for the hospitality.

President Brooker introduced the head table:

  • Doug Kaercher, Second Vice President, Hill County
  • Bill Kennedy, First Vice President, Yellowstone County
  • Gary Fjelstad, Past President, Rosebud County
  • Howard Gipe, Urban Representative, Flathead County
  • John Prinkki, Parliamentarian, Carbon County
  • Dan Watson, Fiscal Officer, Rosebud County


Dan Watson, MACo Fiscal Officer, Rosebud County

At the call of the roll, 51 of 56 member counties responded and Watson announced quorum present to conduct business.


Vern Petersen, Host, Fergus County

The seconded motion to adopt the Memorial Resolution passed by unanimous consent.


WHEREAS, the members of the Montana Association of Counties, with great sorrow and a deep sense of loss, wish to remember and honor those members who have been taken by death since the last annual convention of our Associ­ation; and

WHEREAS, each of these county commissioners has rendered innumer­able public services to his or her respective county, to the State of Montana, and to the people thereof; and

WHEREAS, the absence of these persons is keenly felt as a great personal loss to their families, friends and colleagues,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Montana Association of Counties in convention duly assembled in Lewistown, Montana, this 22nd day of September 2003, that the Association does hereby pay tribute to the memory of Commissioners:

  • John Kerr, Carter County
  • Magnus Markuson, Carter County
  • Alvin Mathison, Dawson County
  • Robert Phipps, Garfield County
  • Eugene Cowan, Phillips County
  • Spencer “Ole” Redland, Treasure County
  • Alvin “Buzz” Galle, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County

and on behalf of its members and the citizens of the State of Mont­ana, does hereby express grati­tude for their achieve­ments and cont­ribu­tions to the public good of their count­ies and to Montana.


Kathy Alley, former Dawson County Commissioner, is very ill. Dawson County Commissioners have a card at the registration table to sign.


Mike Murray, Chair, Lewis and Clark County

“In your packet you should have two resolutions.

  • Resolution 2003-1, Utility Rate Energy Crisis
  • Resolution 2003-2, Exemption to Nepotism

We were handed this morning Resolution 2003-3, State Land Right of Way.

I will take these three resolutions to the Resolutions Committee tomorrow. The Committee will assign them to the appropriate MACo committees, which will have them ready for Wednesday.

The renovation of our State Capitol in Helena was made possible by counties donating several million dollars in CTEP funding two years ago. If this year you have CTEP funding that you do not intend to use, it will fall back into the abyss of Federal budgeting at the end of the year. So, Betty Babcock, former first lady who is the president of the Montana Capitol Restoration Foundation, has been asking cities and counties to donate any unused CTEP funding for renovation of the steps in the front of the Capitol. So far seven counties (Lewis and Clark, Golden Valley, Prairie, Lake, Glacier, Roosevelt and Jefferson Counties) have all donated money. This is enough for the engineering work for renovation of the grand steps. We ask you to consider donating your time-encumbered CTEP funding to this project. The letter being given you from Mrs. Babcock has the protocol and procedure to donate to the state capitol steps. Please consider this. You will receive a CTEP appropriation next year also. So this isn’t the last shot at MDT funding that you are going to get.”


Leroy Luft, Interim Vice Provost and Director

The text of this session is in the Presentations Section attached to these minutes.

94 Annual MACo Conference


Dan Watson, MACo Fiscal Officer, Rosebud County

PILT Assessment:

“This is to cover additional costs for WIR dues and adding another WIR Board member. There is a total increase to the Association of $9,129. The WIR special assessment is for a two-year period and has been presented to the Board. It comes at the time when we are seeing increases in our PILT payments. Some of us have seen 40% to 60% increases. It’s not at full funding yet, but it is one of the issues that will continue to be worked on.”


Anita Varone, Lewis and Clark County

When was the last time the dues were increased, both MACo and WIR dues?

For MACo dues, the last increase was 1984. WIR dues also have not increased since beginning in 1983. This will be a short-term assessment.

Jean Curtiss, Missoula County

Is this a two-year assessment or is this to add a new assessment?

This will be an additional two-year assessment, in addition to your regular dues. We are looking at this as a special assessment for the current budget year.

Connie Eissinger, WIR President, McCone County

“WIR is a group of western states. In the beginning, they established a Public Lands Trust. This Trust was to grow and to pay for expenses of the WIR Board to lobby in DC and to go to meetings around the United States. The PILT Fly-In is held every year in Washington DC to lobby very intensively for two days. They try to make it to the Eastern states’ congressional delegations because we need to get Eastern states to help get those increases. It’s an educational lobbying effort so that people know how important PILT is, especially in the West where there is so much public land. It’s been very, very successful. The Public Lands Trust has been decreasing because there have been so many people using it over the years. This is an effort to bring the Trust up to $75,000 and then maintain that level. In future years, the interest can be used to continue with this project.

Paul Beddoe is here. He is our NACo staff person for the Public Lands Steering Committee and also for the Western Interstate Region Board. He can answer any questions you might have.

Last summer we had a workshop in Lewistown on federal land payments. One of the NACo staff from DC, who is a liaison with the Bureau of Land Management, was here and spoke on federal payments to counties. On the Public Lands Steering Committee and also at Western Interstate Region Board we enjoy access to some of the top officials in these agencies. It is good to be able to be on a first name basis and to be able to let them know what our problems are.

Western Interstate Region has been a good thing for Montana.”

Cynthia Johnson, Pondera County

It is my understanding that if the assessment was less than $50 then it would actually be zero. It says with a minimum of $50 per each member county.

You are correct. That statement is misleading. If you look at the schedule, it says, “Zero, if less than $50.” In other words if the county is at $50 or more, it would have an increase; but if it’s not up to $50, there would be no special assessment.


Carol Brooker, MACo President, Sanders County

The WIR Board wants more urban representation. They have asked for an urban representative from Montana. If this passes, we will have two positions on the Board.

Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County

Yesterday we were asked to look at another position, also with funding. If that position were looked at for Public Lands and if this position were looked at for WIR, is there enough money from the total assessment to do that?

Watson: At the Board meeting yesterday, we had a request for an additional member on the NACo Public Lands Committee. With the current proposal, MACo would continue to pay the current NACo costs, and the PILT Assessment would pick up the additional board members in the special assessment. There would barely be enough to cover those additional costs and it would not provide any future relief to the Association.

MACo Dues Increase

“We were trying to base the dues on taxable value only and not take into consideration other items. We struggled with several different methods to assess dues. We will still study those and in the interim we are proposing a temporary dues increase. This particular proposal is for the year 2005 only. It has to be approved by the membership, according to the bylaws.

The Board was quite concerned as to the timing of this particular request along with the PILT Assessment. We tried to clarify that this is for the next budget year, not the current budget year.

During the district meetings we had some questions about budget cuts, cost containment or keeping the cost down, rather than increasing dues. We have identified four particular areas where we feel that we have some control over the cost of MACo expenses: the NACo Committees, the MACo Committees, the staff travel and the printing costs.

The changes in the current revenues have come over the years from a decline in interest earnings, re-classification of counties which has caused decrease in dues, and reliance on outside one-time funds like the GPS-GIS project. If we are to head off a future problem and if we are to continue to provide current activities, then we need revenue increases. The revenue would have to come from membership or from outside sources.

The Committee recommended building up the reserves. 25% basically was an interim proposal. We didn’t want to put the dues increase strictly into operations, but have some used for reserves. The reserves we are most concerned with are the operating cash reserves. (We have other reserves for planned expenditures such as retirements, building replacement, etc.) The problem is that the operating cash reserve is roughly a third of what it was three years ago. The proposed increase of 25% would generate roughly $53,125 over the current dues level.

Visit further with your Board member, the District Chair, who can describe the discussions at our Board meetings and some possible alternatives that are being considered.”


John Prinkki, District 7 Chair, Carbon County

In the vote that we will take Wednesday, you have all the options that you have with any other vote. You could either vote to support the 25% increase, or any amendment that you would like to have with that, or you could balance reductions in services just like we do within our county budget. One of these proposals at our board meeting was to postpone the decision on the dues increase until our midwinter meeting and look at some other alternatives. So we have at least those three different options that we can work within. It’s not a yes or no vote. We do have other choices.

Gary Fjelstad, MACo Past President, Rosebud County

There was conversation as to whether or not the Committee’s recommendations should be taken to that leadership meeting in December, really worked on and brought to the full membership at the Midwinter meeting. I encourage everybody to talk with their District Chairs so that we could make a good decision on Wednesday.

Carol Brooker, MACo President, Sanders County

At that Board retreat we would also have the Finance Committee there to share what they were thinking with this proposal so we would be able to bring the ideas back.


Carol Brooker, President

The three nominations for Fiscal Officer are:

  • Bill Nyby, Sheridan County
  • Rita Windom, Lincoln County
  • Allan Underdal, Toole County

President Brooker called for further nominations. There were none.

Bill Nyby, Sheridan County

I thank Districts 1, 2 and 3 for nominating me for this position. First, I would work to keep MACo a vibrant, strong organization, working to serve the member counties. Second, I would work on a tax reform package that we could take to the Legislature.

Rita Windom, Lincoln County

I’m on my second term as County Commissioner. I am here because my fellow commissioners asked me to come here. I only have one job--that’s being a County Commissioner, so I have the time to devote to this position.

My background is in small business, college courses in accounting, business law, real estate law and banking. I’ve been doing our county budget since I took office in 1997. I am one of those people who enjoys working with numbers and I’m good at it.

After having worked on Taxation, Finance and Budget Committee for the last year or so, it’s been very obvious that our economy has hit MACo hard. Our reserves are low. We need to work on getting those up.

And we need to work at more efficient use of the resources that we have at hand, like having telephone conferences. We don’t all need to be in the same room to make decisions. We just have to have the same information.

Our uncertain economy, particularly in our rural areas and particularly in my county, leads me to believe that we need tax reform and we need it sooner than later. We have to be working immediately to inform our legislators so that everyone understands our economic situation. We need to be prepared to be major players in the next legislative session. Without major tax reform our counties and our State are not going to thrive.

Allan Underdal, Toole County

I would like to have the chance to serve you again as Fiscal Officer.

Tax reform is the issue that we need to pursue as an organization. The time is coming when it will be more palatable to the legislators.

I am a third generation Montanan; I have a wife of 28 years and four children. This year was a momentous year for me because 1) I turned 50 and 2) I became a grandfather for the first time. I have been a commissioner for 10½years and been on the Board of Directors for MACo for five years, two of those as Fiscal Officer. I also represent MACo on the NACo Finance and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. I do have some experience in this position and I would like to put that to work for you.

I want to maintain fiscal accountability in MACo. We talked about the dues increases. They are necessary if we are to maintain the level of service we have going.

The Urban Counties will meet and decide their representative for the Executive Board. That name will be brought forward on Wednesday.

The remaining Executive Committee nominations are:

  • Carol Brooker for President
  • Bill Kennedy for First Vice President
  • Doug Kaercher for Second Vice President
  • Gary Fjelstad for Past President

CONFERENCES FOR 2004 and 2005

Carol Brooker, President

The 2004 Conference will be held in Missoula.

Jean Curtiss, Missoula County

On behalf of Missoula County I welcome you and invite you to come to Missoula County next year for Conference. We look forward to having you there and we promise you won’t have any smoke--it’s all cleared up.

Two counties bid for the 2005 Conference--Yellowstone County and Flathead County.

Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County

We have a great meeting facility at the Holiday Inn. We have great shopping and entertainment throughout the City of Billings. We would like to invite all of you to come to Billings in 2005 for the Annual Conference. We are looking at some options for taking you off campus and for other fun and entertainment. We hosted the WIR Convention two years ago and we had a great time. We ask you to support Billings as your stop in 2005 for the Conference.

Gary Hall, Flathead County

Flathead Lodge is by Flathead Lake, about ten minutes from downtown Kalispell. So far they have invested $2 million into the property there. It is a beautiful facility with many rooms and the view of Flathead Lake. In my past life I was a conference organizer, so I’m excited and looking forward to the possibility of doing this. Howard Gipe will have just recently retired after 18 years as a commissioner, so one of the highlights of being up in the Flathead will be an opportunity to roast Howard. We will make this work for you.


Jane Jelinski, Directory, MSU Local Government Center

Judy Mathre, Associate Director, MSU Local Government Center

The text of the session begins in the Presentations Section of these minutes.

Sample ballot texts are in the Attachments to these minutes.


Maggie Bullock, Administrator, MT DPHHS Health Policy and Services Division

Jim Murphy, Communicable Disease Surveillance, DPHHS Health Policy and Services

Amy MacKenzie, Communicable Disease Surveillance, DPHHS Health Policy & Services

94th Annual MACo ConferenceDr. Michael Spence, State Medical Officer, MT DPHHS Health Policy & Services Division

The text of this session is in the Presentations Section attached to these minutes.

Dr. Paul Beddoe, Associate Legislative Director for NACo and WIR, was the luncheon speaker.


John Prinkki, Parliamentarian, Carbon County

“The question was asked whether or not we would allow proxy votes. In the Delegate Assembly Rules, Rule 3 reads, ‘Each regular member has one vote. Regular members shall be those counties which contribute annually to the financial support of the Association. There shall be one county delegate and one alternate with the authority to vote. The delegate and the alternate must be elected county officials.’ Rule 5 reads, ‘All voting shall be by show of hands or voice vote.’ That would tell you that you have to be present to vote. Rule 7 says there can be a suspension of the rules. So it is my interpretation of our Delegate Assembly Rules that if we want to grant any county the right to use a proxy, we should vote for the suspension of the rules. That will require a motion to suspend the rules, stating the purpose of the suspension. Then it would require 2/3 of the assembly to vote in favor of the motion.”


Nancy Espy, Powder River County

Powder River County made this request for the proxy vote. However, after reading your rules for hand vote or voice vote, I don’t feel that it is possible.

Prinkki: By suspending the rules we will allow for a different type of a vote, for you to offer a proxy. If the assembly will approve that, then you can leave your proxy with whatever county or individual you want. A proxy is similar to the power of attorney. You can give that to whomever you want and then they would present your vote.

Espy: I move to suspend the rules to allow for a proxy vote for any county that is in attendance and registered at this Conference and forced to leave early. The motion was seconded by Joan Stahl, Rosebud County.

We came to the conference planning to be here for the three days. We have to leave early due to a medical problem. We came together. Our representative to vote is riding with me and I’m the one who has the problem. We feel very strongly about the importance of voting and that is why we have asked for the suspension of the rules so that we can have a proxy vote for the items to be voted on at this Conference. That means our vote would go to some individual, a member, who would vote at our direction.

Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County

Are you asking for counties that came to this Conference and may have to leave early or does this mean if we suspend the rules, we wait for someone to call from a county that didn’t come to the Conference and ask to assign a proxy, too? If a county makes an effort to come to the Conference and is here, a proxy is not a concern. But if a county didn’t come at all, are we granting them also the opportunity to vote?

Espy: No, this would be only for a county that is here and has to leave early. A county couldn’t vote which isn’t attending. We are here; we came to stay and we are not able to.

Joan Stahl, Rosebud County

We are making this much more complicated. Powder River has asked for permission to suspend the rules so they can have a proxy vote. We are asking for this on a one-time, now, Powder River County only, thing. This is a one-time one-instance. Someone else may come next year and ask for this.

Mary Sexton, Teton County

Aren’t we doing two things at once? Don’t we suspend the rules, then we ask for the purpose for the suspension?

Prinkki: My interpretation is that the suspension of the rules has to clarify why you are suspending. This is a suspension of the rules to allow a proxy vote. Whatever motion you want to make regarding suspension of the rules is appropriate. We just need to be clear. I don’t anticipate any other county having to leave early, but you could leave that open to any county that is here and has to leave early.

Lance Olson, Cascade County

It’s possible that we will have to leave early also and my understanding of the motion, which I support, would be that any county that was in attendance and registered would be allowed a proxy vote. If that’s not true, I still support the motion if she wants to amend that to be just her county. My understanding is that a county in attendance and registered would be allowed that proxy vote.

Voice vote was declared and then President Brooker called for the vote by roll. Fiscal Officer Watson called the roll. The motion carried by vote of 42-yes; 6-No; 8-No Response.


Carol Brooker, President

94th Annual MACo ConferenceNominations were opened for MACo Second Vice President.

Art Kleinjan, Blaine County, nominated Doug Kaercher, Hill County.

Following three calls for nominations, there were no further nominations and nominations were closed.


Carol Brooker, MACo President

94th Annual MACo ConferenceThe Urban Counties picked a new Representative, Jean Curtiss of Missoula County. Missoula County is not a member of the JPA Workers’ Compensation Trust, so there will be an election for the JPA Board of Trustees position.

Following meetings of individual MACo Committees, the Committee Chairs reported in the General Session.

Agriculture Committee

Kathy Bessette, Hill County, Chair

94th Annual MACo Conference“Concerning the resolution for rights of way, we wondered why private individual rights were not addressed. We will talk about that when the resolutions are brought forth.

I did visit with Anita Varone, but did not have a chance to visit with Connie Eissinger, about having a meeting of the Agriculture Committee, the Economic Development Committee and the Public Lands Committee to address issues of common interest. We feel that in order for Montana to thrive and survive, economic development needs to include agriculture.

We are working on a January meeting, before February calving starts, with a fantastic speaker who is the Denver area director of the SBA. He spoke not only at the NACo meeting, but also at our Rural Caucus. He said that in order to improve the economy, agriculture and rural areas have to be drawn in. We want to meet with Stockgrowers, Graingrowers, Farm Bureau and find what we can accomplish for rural areas and especially our agriculture communities.

We are concerned about lack of staff at MSU in the agriculture area. I don’t know if we are willing to put together a resolution so we can tackle that like we did with the extension agents.

A huge area of concern is the water issue. At a recent meeting the few of us who were there felt that the philosophy of DNRC and the Bureau of Rec. was towards urban areas assuming our water. That is critical to our State. A controversial water trust has been formed by a group in Missoula. We have members of the Agriculture Committee who are on this trust.

We talked about weed management plans. The weed representative on our Agriculture Committee mentioned that there will be more dollars sent from the Department of Agriculture for control of saltcedar.

We had a resolution to encourage counties to form drought committees. In Hill County, the drought committee’s first meeting had maybe ten people; at the last meeting about a month ago, 23 people were there. If you don’t have your drought committee formed, please do so. There was an email questionnaire sent from Jesse Aber from the State Drought Committee not too long ago. I advise you to fill it out and send it in. They want to hear from local people.

The lines of communication are opening between agencies and it’s really good as far as actually knowing about your fire danger, knowing about water issues, talking about weeds, the whole gamut. The key word is communication.”

Economic Development Committee

Anita Varone, Lewis and Clark County, Chair

94th Annual MACo Conference“This is the fifth meeting that we have held since we were established at the beginning of the year. Our energy and excitement about economic development is critical to MACo.

We are reviewing the policy statement. We established what we want to do for Montana. What we don’t want to do is pit east against west, urban against rural, democrats against republicans. Our goal is to work for the gains of the State.

We decided to work, if we can, on the state of the economy and the communities. We started by inviting individuals from economic development corporations to give us an overview. We spoke with Gateway Economic Development of Helena and the economic development group in Havre. Sue Mohr also joined us and talked about the job training programs. Mark Lindberg from the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity spoke to us in Fort Benton.

We asked the members what they do in economic development in their areas. It was interesting to learn what similarities and what differences we have. Economic development touches every community and every county. We are excited that economic development will be in the forefront.

We decided that we had to see what communities across Montana were doing that was successful. First, we went to Fort Benton and visited with the businesses. Jim O’Hara set this up. We visited with Bob Quinn who owns a wind energy company with a cousin in Europe. They are going to be establishing one in the Judith Gap area. We toured a hotel, a grain mill and Taylor Aviation. Taylor Aviation has the largest single engine fire-hardened plane corporation in the United States and maybe in the world.

In November we will meet in Hamilton. Betty Lund in Ravalli County is setting that up for us. She is planning to have some successful business folks give presentations and will put together some tours for us. The Director of Department of Commerce, Mark Simonich, asked to come to our next meeting, so either he or his chief deputy Ann Fuller will be attending the meeting in Hamilton. They want to let us know what is happening in development programs. MACo is a highly respected organization in the State. We decided that it is important, if possible, to partner up when we go to the legislature for economic development issues. So early on we met with the Montana Economic Development Association. They are very interested in partnering with us. We made contact with several Montana Ambassadors who also will attend our meeting in November in Ravalli County. Mike McGinley is on the MEDA Board and Jim O’Hara is a Montana Ambassador. We believe that three well-respected organizations going to the legislature is stronger than individually or independently. We are discussing legislative issues that MEDA is already working on. Several of us will be attending that meeting next month.

We also have written several letters of support for grants for corporations that are either established or want to come into Montana. In Washington DC, we all met with the person Kathy described. He indicated that there is money in the Farm Bill for economic development, so we feel it is important for Montana to ask him to come. Hopefully in January we will see him.”


Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County, Chair

“We are going to have a summit in January or March. The Committee to plan this will meet October 10 at 10:00 am at the Mental Health Center in Miles City. We will also be meeting October 31 in Missoula at 10:00 am. If you would like to join us as we discuss the summit, we would love to have you there. We want to update everyone on the current law, what needs to be offered for mental health services in every county, problems in the community--both urban and rural, legislation for the 2005 session and funding. Those are the four basic areas we want to discuss in the summit. We would like to have a list of names of people to be invited to the summit from every county to give us their input.

We talked about the alcohol tax dollars. As you remember, Rep. Edith Clark carried a bill that 20% of the alcohol dollars that are collected in the State of Montana go back to counties for alcohol treatment programs. In a presentation today, they proposed having a contract with each county, but there’s a twist to it. They would like the alcohol dollars to stay with the State and they could distribute dollars back to us. We would like the dollars to come to the counties, just like we do with every other governmental transfer, and do a trade back to the State to increase the rates for alcohol providers in the counties. Here is an opportunity for us to do like we do with mental health dollars and get that money out to the providers. We are working on that and we will get something out to each of you.

We are going to be working on resolutions coming up for the 2005 session, so if there is anything that you feel that we need to be looking at, let us know.”

Gordon Morris: In regard to the transfers, is it the case that this has to be uniformly applied across the State? Do all counties have to do this?

Kennedy: We were told today that the Department said that the intergovernmental transfers have to be done by all 56 counties before the Department will even look at that. But, we are trying to get an opinion from Greg Petesch on what the actual Edith Clark bill stated. We will get back to you on that.


Mary Sexton, Toole County, Chair

“We talked about two things in the IT Committee. The first is a draft RFP for self-funded electronic government services through MACo. Counties could participate in the ability to pay taxes, fees, etc., through electronic check or with credit card. Gordon Morris gave us a draft proposal for vendors to supply this service to the counties. Some counties have already started and other counties see a need for it but know that it is expensive.At least a summary of this proposal should go out to all counties so that you know what is being considered.

Before we move with this effort, we do need to contact the Clerks and Recorders and Treasurers and have them participate in this effort, because this is very important to them. We want to consider this possibility for having self-funded e-government services through MACo. We may have Montana Imaging International, that does the State’s Discovering Montana and all their applications for e-government, present what the State is doing so that we have a better idea of what might be available for counties. If you have further questions, people from the State are here and Art Pembroke from Lewis and Clark County is here.

Second, information has been provided by the Geographic Information Council, which uses Cadastral and the various layers available from ENRIS. There is a question about funding to keep this information updated. We all use it in various ways, whether it’s rural addressing or DES or for planning or by different entities. So there is an effort to go to the legislature regarding the Montana Geographic Information Act and find a funding source for keeping up the current data.”


Roddy Rost, Fallon County, Chair

94th Annual MACo Conference“We had a proposal dealing with housing of inmates, asking the State to pay a portion. We are still looking at ways of re-wording that, keeping it as legislation. We will ask the Peace Officers Association and the County Attorneys Association for some support. Credit for time served is basically mandatory, so if the law says they get credit for time served and that time has been served in the county jail, the State should pick up that tab or even a portion of that. We have had this before the legislature twice and it hasn’t gone anywhere because of budgets, but we don’t want it to die because we strongly feel that it affects every county and it is an obligation of the State. (President Brooker assigned this to the Resolutions Committee.)

On the county attorney pay issue, drafted by Leo Gallagher, Lewis and Clark County, and given us by the Resolutions Committee, we had a lot of questions. Everybody needs to take this back and talk with their attorneys and commissioners.”


John Prinkki, Carbon County, Chair

94th Annual MACo Conference“We intend to draft a resolution to reinstate the community technical assistance program that was eliminated by the State Legislature. We feel that the $260,000 cost to the State was some of the best money spent.

Of interest is the inconsistency between the Sanitation and Subdivision Act and the Subdivision Platting Act. The Subdivision Platting Act has a 160-acre limit; the Sanitation and Subdivision Act has 20 acres. We want to visit with DEQ and the Interim Legislative Committee about bringing consistency back. We want to have the same number of acres per review.

There is concern about the non-fed. rules with DEQ and the ARMS. Paddy Trusler from Lake County has a strong background in this issue and said that there isn’t scientific basis for establishing the rules. So we would like to work with DEQ and their ARMs. A subcommittee of the Land Use Planning Committee will try to meet with DEQ to do that.”


Connie Eissinger, McCone County, Chair

94th Annual MACo Conference“We had Paul Beddoe with us to give us in-depth discussion of full funding of PILT and the forest legislation. We need a statement from this group to support full funding of PILT to be sure that we are on record.

Donna Sevalstad has worked on the healthy forest legislation and will be presenting it to the Forest Counties. I would like the Public Lands Committee to meet just prior to their meeting so that we can look it over. We will act on it at that time.

The Cooperating Agency workshop will be held in Billings on Tuesday, October 14. Most of us have public lands and it’s an important workshop for us to attend. Cynthia Nedd-Moses, who gave us the public lands workshop last summer, will be attending. It will be at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center and you can register with the MACo office.

We would like to meet on the State Lands Right-of-Way resolution. We are not comfortable with the language that was presented. We would like to work with the Transportation Committee and meet with DNRC for more input on what we need to say. We would like to do this before the end of the year.

Off-highway vehicles are not collecting the weed tax and we think that it would be a good idea to have them participate in the tax. We will be doing some investigation on that and a resolution may be brought forward.

We didn’t discuss working with the Agriculture Committee and the Economic Development Committee on the economic development. I think that would be an important thing to do. A resolution from our State could go to NACo to help us to work on a better situation between the Small Business Administration and rural counties.“


Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County, Chair

“There is a procedure for the introduction of resolutions. There is also a sample of how a resolution should be written. If you get close to that, the Resolutions Committee or MACo staff will take care of it.

Resolution #1 on utility rates was introduced by Teton County. The Resolutions Committee asked that this be re-written to take out the specific references to the companies involved. The Committee considers this to be a very important issue and we would like to have it re-submitted at the Mid-Winter Conference, so letters can be sent dealing with this.

Resolution #2 is a resolution for exemption to nepotism that is designed after the school nepotism law. The Resolutions Committee decided to keep this in the Resolutions Committee. The recommendation is “Do Pass” with Medium Priority. We will hold it until next year when the full body will act on it.

Resolution #3, State lands right-of-way, was referred to the Public Lands Committee. We expect it to be worked over, changed and brought back, along with their recommendation that it also go to Transportation Committee.

Resolution #4 is the County Attorney pay issue. The only way this can be introduced is to give it to the Board of Directors prior to coming to the Resolutions Committee. It is important to know that this exists. It’s an attempt to have a cooperative resolution between the County Attorneys Association and counties. The intent here is not to have counties assume full pay out of your tax dollars for county attorneys, but to put part of the county attorney salaries in the big bill and have that money flow to counties, rather than the nightmare we have now where two different agencies paying your county attorney. If my commissioners agree, we will introduce it at a district meeting, since Leo Gallagher, from Lewis and Clark County, is a representative of the County Attorneys Association. It is the intent of the Resolutions Committee to move this to the Justice and Public Safety Committee. So if you have recommendations or suggestions, get them to Justice and Public Safety or to the Resolution Committee.”

Harold Blattie: During the legislative session, we came very close to losing the funding for county attorney salaries. In the subcommittee the chairman wished to remove that funding completely. He was unsuccessful in the subcommittee meeting; but in the House, we did lose $481,000. In the Senate Finance and Claims we were able to restore $286,000. That restored funding to the Department of Justice for 50% of the 2003 county attorney salaries. We still have issues with the State not fully funding 50% of the salaries and we have budget timing issues.

The Interim Justice Committee met. Attorney General McGrath presented this issue to the Committee and I spoke with the Committee later that day. Basically, we (MACo and the County Attorney Association) were assigned, “Why don’t you two groups go and work out a solution to this problem and bring it back to us.” When we think about having the endorsement of that Interim Committee, it would be very instrumental in moving that proposal forward.

We are asking for your help. One of the options would be to put the money into the entitlement share, where it would then grow by the annualized growth factor and then the counties would assume all the responsibilities for payment of the county attorney salaries. Another option, 180 degrees from that, would be in 2005 we would lose the entitlement share, and the State would become responsible for the payment of all the county attorney salaries. We could even say that the county attorney would become a state employee. That’s just a couple of options. We are asking for your help with ideas. Please get your suggestions to us because it is an issue that does need to be addressed. We want to find a solution that is agreeable to everyone.

Murray: On the full-funding for PILT, there will be a proposal at the General Session tomorrow that the full body can vote on. That’s allowable because of the committee presentations.


Dan Watson, Rosebud County, Chair

94th Annual MACo Conference“We dealt basically with two issues. We have been asked to form a coalition or a task force on tax reform from the MACo point-of-view. We are asked to use members of our Committee to host a group including legislators, school boards, schools, the ag. community, the Montana Foundation, to come up with some meaningful tax reform. This is in addition to the Interim Legislative Committee, which has already met. Hopefully, we can do this in a shorter time period so we can get out in front of the Legislative Committee and be in conjunction with what they are trying to do. We have at least three members of our committee willing to do that. We will be working on the calendar shortly to get invitations out to the stakeholders and hopefully get ahead of the game.

We also dealt with the proposal before you for the dues increase. The Committee has asked me to clarify the reserve amount that we are trying to target. We based that on the possibility of our budget for MACo at $600,000, setting a 20% reserve at $120,000. So, we need to set a specific amount of dues increase to meet that target for the reserve. Initially we were looking at a figure of roughly $40,000, assuming that would take us several years to get to the target.

The Committee is committed to working on changing the dues structure, not based on the ability to pay and not based on the current classification that is being used. We will continue that process, which we began almost a year ago, trying to put together something that we feel would be more equitable and fair to the membership.

We would encourage your continued discussions on the proposed dues increase. Did we spend much time looking at the expenditure side for cost containment or cost reduction? No, we were looking specifically for the reasons of the decreasing reserves. It’s been due to a combination of the reduction of revenues and increases in services. We have expanded our services at the same time we’ve had reductions in revenue from changes in classifications.”


Vern Petersen, Fergus County

94th Annual MACo Conference“On Friday afternoon I was informed by Melody Haynes, Sharon Peterson’s replacement in Max Baucus’ Billings office, that everything was in place for a four-month continuing resolution for the highway funding bill, so there won’t be a glitch. There were concerns that a central resolution wasn’t enough this year and she maintained that all three hurdles had been addressed by Congress. It is good news that we can keep going until they get a bill passed.

We did talk about the state land rights-of-way resolution that was presented here yesterday. We have no problems supporting that or a similar concept, whatever comes out of the Resolution Committee. We think it needs to be kept on MACo’s plate because it is a big issue statewide.

President Brooker put together a field trip with the Executive Board and three members of the Transportation Committee. We visited with the counties that the Contractors Association continually brought up in the hearings for SB 46 and used as models to punish the rest of us. We visited with those folks in their counties. I wish we had done that prior to the session. It was really, really informative. Those people are doing what is right for their taxpayers beyond question. They are keeping records that we will have available to put this to rest. The one thing that I ask you to do is to visit with your legislators prior to the session and try to get them to understand the issue. It’s difficult when they get up there in those hearings and hear innuendos and total falsifications that are being passed out, such as the Contractors were representing the taxpayers and you were the one out to take advantage of them, and so forth. So, it would be in all of our best interests if we could visit with those folks on this topic prior to the next session.

How do we mitigate the costs for the use of our roads by other agencies when they approve a camping spot or a fishing access and add another 1,000 cars to our roads? We met with MDT about a week ago. Their concern is primarily with the cities. They have a problem, when they have a road contract through a town, for example, and the town wants to tack on a sewer improvement project with the contract because it affects that system. The town lets them know what it’s supposed to cost but by the time the RID is done and they let the contract, the price has doubled. So, how do they fund that increase? We’ll keep working on that.

The State is enforcing the all-road language that is in their special provisions. In most cases, the State does enforce that provision.

The Secondary Roads policy, according to both Mr. Blacker and Mr. Galt, is working very well in their opinion and the Committee members agree with that.”


Larry Swanson, Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana

The text of this session is in the Presentations Section of these minutes.

Luncheon speaker was Mike Kadas, Mayor of Missoula. A synopsis of his remarks is in the Presentations Section attached to these minutes.



President Carol Brooker, Sanders County

The September 24, 2003, letter from US Senator Max Baucus was read aloud. A copy of the letter is in the Presentations Section attached to these minutes.

A video from US Senator Conrad Burns was viewed. A synopsis of the Senator’s comments is in the Presentations Section attached to these minutes.

President Brooker introduced the head table:

  • Dan Watson, Fiscal Officer, Rosebud County
  • Gary Fjelstad, Past President, Rosebud County
  • John Prinkki, Parliamentarian, Carbon County
  • Howard Gipe, Urban Representative, Flathead County
  • Bill Kennedy, First Vice President, Yellowstone County
  • Doug Kaercher, Second Vice President, Hill County
  • Gordon Morris, Executive Director


Dan Watson, MACo Fiscal Officer, Rosebud County

At the call of the roll, 52 of 56 member counties responded and Watson announced quorum present to conduct business. One proxy was present for Powder River County


Flathead County, Commissioner Gary Hall

We would love to be the host. We have a new property called “White Oak”, which is about ten minutes from downtown Kalispell. There has been $2 Million in renovation. It has beautiful banquet rooms and beautiful hotel rooms. We would love to have you in the Flathead. Thanks for this opportunity to be a part of these meetings.

Yellowstone County, Commissioner Bill Kennedy

94th Annual MACo ConferenceWe would like to have the annual conference in Billings because the Mayor called us and asked if we could have Billings Day at the MACo Conference. We would like to submit our “day” bid. The Holiday Inn has excellent convention facilities. With that we have shopping malls, entertainment and we are looking forward to doing something extra special off-site. If we are able to host you in 2005, we will be sure to have Commissioner Jim Reno at the front door to greet each of you and to carry in your bags.

President Brooker called for voice vote, for which there was no clear majority. Vote by hand was conducted and Yellowstone County was named the site for 2005 Conference.


Fiscal Officer Candidates

Rita Windom, Lincoln County

I am Rita Windom from Lincoln County and I am extremely privileged and honored to run for the fiscal officer position. I really would like to have that position.

I love working with budgets; I love making things work and being fiscally sound and responsible. If you give me that opportunity, I assure you that I will take that responsibility and do the best I can for you.

Bill Nyby, Sheridan County

If you feel I am the best candidate, I would appreciate your support.

Allan Underdal, Toole County

I am grateful to be able to run for this position again. I would like to be able to represent you on the Board as fiscal officer and I would use my experience to serve you as best I can. I would appreciate your vote.

President Brooker appointed Dave Reinhardt, Valley County, and Donna Sevalstad, Beaverhead County, to count the ballots.

On the first ballot, Rita Windom and Bill Nyby received the most votes. So another ballot was circulated for those two candidates.

On the second ballot, the vote was tied 26 to 26, with 52 counties voting.

On the third ballot, the vote remained tied.

John Prinkki, Parliamentarian

“During a recent state election there was a one-vote win. One candidate asked for a recount and after a recount, it was a tied vote. They decided to have the decision made by lottery and used a coin toss. After the decision by coin toss, the losing candidate decided he didn’t like that, so he took it to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that the coin toss was a legitimate way of making the decision. Rita and Bill can confer to decide if they want to have another ballot or if they would rather have it decided by some form of lottery like a coin toss, drawing straws, etc.”

Mike McGinley, Beaverhead County

Powder River County asked for a proxy vote the other day and received permission to do it. A few people asked why Beaverhead County voted against it. This could be the very reason. I do believe that Powder River County was here, intended to stay and had to leave. I can agree with that, but we have to be really careful about proxy votes. I am a firm believer that you have to be here to vote, so if that comes up in the next meeting, I would like the delegates to really think about what you do with a proxy vote. If we decide to debate, it is critical to be here. That is one of the reasons Beaverhead County voted against the proxy. Bear in mind that this is two years in a row we have had a tied ballots.

Bill Nyby and Rita Windom conferred and decided to do a coin toss.

Bill Nyby won the coin toss and became the new MACo Fiscal Officer.

The slate of candidates for the remaining MACo Officers was elected by unanimous ballot:

  • President Carol Brooker, Sanders County
  • First Vice President Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County
  • Second Vice President Doug Kaercher, Hill County
  • Past President Gary Fjelstad, Rosebud County

Pat Conway, Hill County

“Generally when people are nominated for office, there would be a nomination speech. Since Doug Kaercher, Hill County, was never given that opportunity, I think it only right that the delegates of this assembly have a history of Doug Kaercher. (Parliamentarian concurred.)

I have known Doug for a long time and Hill County totally supports his election to the Board of Directors. He comes from a family of great community commitment. Of his siblings, a brother was in the Peace Corps and four sisters are participants in community affairs. One sister is in Billings and works for the Boys and Girls Club. Doug was the instigator of establishing a boys and girls club on the Highline. In Havre we have over 600 kids that are enrolled in the Boys and Girls Club--a great accomplishment.

Doug was elected to the Havre city commission and served for a few years. He also worked as an airplane mechanic. I question that because he never flies. He has a book on it and he can’t sell it. So I wonder…

He worked on the family farm. He farmed a few years and then was elected into the County Commission. As far as his expertise within the county commission, he has been our IT guy. Prior to his coming to Hill County, we were on the verge of centralized computer system. When Doug got there, he took that horse right by the reins. We call it ‘Seabiscuit’ now.

He has done a great job in Hill County and we are very proud of him.

For all of you to know, his nickname is not ‘Doug’, it’s ‘Dough’.”

Doug Kaercher, Hill County

“I really couldn’t do this without the support of my commissioners in Hill County. They have been really great during this. Hill County does have an investment because it takes quite a time commitment to do this. I really appreciate the honor and it has been a great pleasure to serve you this first nine months in this Second Vice Presidency.

It’s been quite an eye-opener for me to go around to these district meetings to see the diversity. When you come to these conferences you think that commissioners think similarly all across the State. But when you go to these district meetings, you see that every district has its own little quirk. It’s really quite amazing and has been an educational learning experience.

Thank you all for the vote of confidence and I look forward to serving you all in the next three or four years. I, too, am going to be past, past, past President someday.”


Dan Watson, Fiscal Officer

Discussion is now open. You have had the last couple of days to visit among yourselves and visit with the Board of Directors to ask any questions or concerns you may have had on this. I ask for your consideration on the proposal. On behalf of the Tax, Finance and Budget Committee, I move for the adoption of the PILT Special Assessment.

After a second to the motion, ballots were given to voting delegates.

The motion for an additional PILT assessment was seconded and passed.


Dan Watson, Fiscal Officer

Gary Fjelstad, Past President

I move to postponeand send this to the Board of Directors for work at the leadership retreat. We need to look at the budget, make possible cuts, and come back to membership in February. I mean to have discussion now so we can hear concerns and what you think should be considered. If you have no discussion today, please get ideas to your District chairs for the leadership retreat.

The motion was seconded.

Howard Gipe, Flathead County

This is exactly what the urban counties have asked be done.

Carol Kienenberger, Phillips County

I appreciate the motion to wait on this.

Yesterday during Committee reports, we heard about several committees planning to meet in different locations. One of the suggestions the dues increase did not have was to possibly limit the funding for committee travel. Is each committee given a certain amount of dollars and they operate within that spectrum or can they set as many meetings wherever they want. How is that figured?

I talked to Dan during the budget committee meetings yesterday. I was surprised when it seemed like our budget had been going along fairly well without any problems. At several meetings we were asked to approve different things and we were told it could be done within the existing budget. Now all of a sudden we are out of reserves. That frustrated me because, every time, we were asked to approve something within the existing budget. Maybe it wasn’t apparent at the time that this affected the reserves, but we should have been told. And maybe we should have looked ourselves.

I did ask, too, about the health insurance for the employees. We know all counties struggle with health insurance costs for their employees. The MACo policy has been changed; they had looked at that and put a cap on that. That is an area where the Board was trying to control some costs and I appreciated it.

Basically my question is on the committees, how they operate and how they are funded.

Watson: The committees are budgeted historically by the number of committees and the number of times they met. It doesn’t mean that they don’t meet more times or, in some cases, fewer times than what they are normally scheduled. We have an overall budget for all committees. It’s a shared pot of money. It’s not specifically assigned to any one committee, with any one committee having an exact dollar amount to use. As in any budget, it’s our best estimate based on historical information as to the activity level of committees, the size of committees and the kind of distances that they will possibly be traveling. Many committees are moving around to be centrally located so that they can cut down on some of that travel for the members, rather than always holding meetings in the same places and having some travel extreme distances and some not so far.

Regarding the health insurance benefit, it was recommended to the Board as a Personnel Policy change. A cap was adopted at the current plan level. (We converted to the Lewis and Clark County plan in 2002.) The current employees are being capped at the current Lewis and Clark plan level and then new employees will only be allowed to come on at the single employee rate. Our intention is that future increases in that adopted plan will be passed on to the employee. That policy was proposed at the Board meeting, effective retroactively to July 1 of this year.

We did convert to the Lewis and Clark County plan. The reason that was done was a cost savings. The plan we were previously on would have increased roughly $58,000. Because we changed the plan to a different carrier, we ended up saving actual costs in the neighborhood of $9,000-- $10,000 over the prior year. That has been a good step for us.

President Brooker called for a hand count for the vote on the motion to postpone. The motion carried.

President Brooker announced that one of her goals this year is to take a hard look at the committees, their functions, what they provide for MACo, travel costs, etc., to evaluate the whole committee system. She asked for suggestions to go to the Executive Committee.


WHEREAS, the 2003 Annual Conference of the Montana Association of Counties is the 94th such meeting; and

WHEREAS, attendance of member counties marks its success; and

WHEREAS, the fine facilities in Lewistown and Fergus County made us feel welcome;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 94th Annual Conference of the Montana Association of Counties express its sincere appreciation for the sponsorship of this convention to the Fergus County Commissioners , spouses and staffs:

  • Vern and Dana Petersen
  • Kenneth Ronish
  • Carl and Cathy Seilstad

The seconded motion to accept the resolution was passed on voice vote.



Connie Eissinger, McCone County

The Public Lands Committee asks for a letter of support from the MACo President for PILT and Refuge Revenue Sharing permanent funding. Gratitude for past support is also to be included. We ask that the letter go to Senator Conrad Burns, Representative Dennis Rehberg and Senator Max Baucus. The motion for the letter was seconded and passed.


Art Kleinjan, Blaine County

After the Oil, Gas and Coal meeting on Monday afternoon, we composed this letter to Senator Max Baucus. I’m looking for a letter from MACo President supporting this letter:

Dear Max,

The Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties, Inc., met yesterday to discuss the development along the Rocky Mountain Front. After a very good discussion, we voted unanimously to support responsible development of oil, gas and other alternative energy sources along the Rocky Mountain Front.

The Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties, Inc., is a state association made up of county commissioners from 36 oil, gas and coal producing counties, as well as many cities and towns, school districts within these counties. We as county commissioners from the oil, gas and coal producing counties know this development can be done in a responsible manner. We work on a regular basis with this industry to ensure that development impact is minimal.

Senator Baucus, we need to develop our natural resources. We need the industry and the jobs it brings to Montana counties. Our constituents are tired of the out-of-state environmentalists having their way in this State. They have almost altered all industry in this State.

Senator Baucus, we hope you will reconsider your decision on the Rocky Mountain Front and vote for the energy bill to include this development as well as ANWAR.

If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to call Willie Duffield, our Executive Director, or any Board member.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this very important issue.


Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties

The motion to write a similar letter of support was seconded.

Mary Sexton, Teton County

I did speak to the Oil, Gas and Coal Counties regarding this issue. It is a very controversial issue in our area. This has been an ongoing issue for 20+ years. The community is split. I think Senator Baucus’ bill had been an effort to at least look into the study of buyouts and trade-outs of this area. I have spoken with Senator Burns and his staff. He and Senator Baucus realize the controversy that’s involved in this area.

Yesterday it was borne out well in the presentation that Larry Swanson gave us. There is a mixed economy in Montana. In our area we have developed a tourism economy.

There are certainly local people and people in the State who are concerned about this.

I think that it’s inappropriate for this body as a whole to endorse this letter. The Oil, Gas and Coal Counties took a vote during their meeting. I think that’s perfectly appropriate, but I don’t believe it’s an appropriate thing for this full body to take a stand. It is a very complex issue, with many sides, so for that reason I think it would be inappropriate for this body to support the letter.

Mack Cole, Treasure County

I feel it would be appropriate to say a few words as Chair of Montanans for Responsible Energy Development and as a new county commissioner.

We had legislation on this two sessions ago when I was on the Natural Resources committee as a State Senator. I would like to disagree with recent comments that this can’t be done appropriately and responsibly. If we are looking to improve the well-being of our state, I think it is very important that we get behind this and we do support it as an organization.

Without adding development of our resources, regardless of where they are, we can see what has happened in the comments on the second page. We have organizations which are out-of-state, funded very heavily, that have created almost a standstill on our resources and improvement of the State. We only need to take a look at our good neighbors to the south in Wyoming who have surpluses. Their taxes are not as high and they have more money for both local government and all of the other services.

I hope we could support this. I think it would be very beneficial to MACo and Montana.

Gary Fjelstad, Rosebud County

I support this and I have one question on one statement in the letter. Why would we put ANWAR in there? Is that our business to get into that debate? I don’t know if this is part of the federal legislation.

Willie Duffield, Director of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties

At the present time the energy bill includes ANWAR and the Rocky Mountain Front. This past week, in conference committee, Senator Baucus indicated that, as a compromise, he has offered to vote for ANWAR if they take the Rocky Mountain Front out of the energy bill. As you recall, last year the energy bill came to a tie vote and Senator Baucus voted against it. This year this is his compromise.

We would like to see both. We need the gas and we believe it’s a benefit for everybody.

Bill Icenoggle, Glacier County

Isupport the motion. We have a large amount of tourism in Glacier. We have the big hotels that are basically in the Park or right on the fringe of the Park. Glacier Park, Inc. runs the majority of the hotel and tourist industry and is a large out-of-state corporation. The other big corporation is the St. Mary’s Hotel, a Minneapolis-St. Paul based corporation. The economic benefit for Montana is questionable. In the past, most of those summer jobs went to summer employees from the universities in the east. We are finding that recently those people can no longer afford to work for the wages that the tourism industry pays. So now the majority of the employees for the big lodges and concessionaires are from Europe and the Pacific Rim. They are summer employees that are transported to the United States for summer employment only. This summer we saw a lot of kids from Poland, Croatia, Thailand, etc. Where is the huge benefit for the residents of Glacier County?

Jim Durgan, Park County

We see the same thing in Yellowstone Park. We aren’t offering the jobs to Montana people, or at least Montana people are not in those jobs.

Tom Gordon, Toole County

We have a lot of natural gas development in our area. It can be done efficiently with very little damage done to the surface. Natural gas drilling is not a big deal, and we do need the production. It will help our state and our local economies. We have seen the pipelines that go across our land and some of those areas, where the pipelines are, produce the best vegetation. The destruction that is being slated to happen most often would not.

Ed Arnott, Judith Basin County

I support this motion. We have recreation in our area. For the last fifty years it has increased ten-fold. When we talk about how bad the damage is from oil and gas exploration, our damage from recreation is increasing to the point where they are talking about closing it down. Everybody wants the government to support recreation, but we don’t want to support development that is good for the county. This won’t deteriorate the property as much as what some of the recreation does. I hope we can support this letter.

The question was called and a hand vote was taken.

The motion to write a letter of support for energy development passed.

MACo Van License Plates

Gordon Morris, Executive Director

There is a suggestion of a controversy out there that I would like to put to rest right now.

My wife and I are Grizzly supporters. (There was much cheering and jeering in the crowd.) My wife has a personalized Grizzly plate on her vehicle. This last Christmas she gave me a license plate holder, which I reluctantly put on the MACo van. Several people have commented about that.

What I propose is based on the outcome of the Grizzly / Bobcat football game. I would put a license plate on the van in conjunction with whomever wins it. But I point out that it might be another seventeen years.

Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County

There has been a great injustice done.

The last national championship football team in the State of Montana was Carroll College in Lewis and Clark County. We would ask this body to support that Gordon Morris put a Carroll College license plate on the van until one of our other fine schools wins a national championship again.

Hopefully the delegates will support us in our request.

The meeting was adjourned.

The luncheon speaker was Linda Francis, Director of Montana Department of Revenue.

   94th Annual MACo Conference   

A synopsis of her remarks is in the Presentations Section attached to these minutes.





Monday, September 22, 2003

Gordon Morris opened the Joint Annual Meeting of the Joint Powers Authority Workers’ Compensation Trust and the Joint Powers Insurance Authority Trust. He took Roll and announced a quorum to be present.

Morris explained the Board of Trustees positions. Current terms for the at-large positions include: Vern Petersen, Fergus County (2002-2005)

Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County (2001-2004)

John Prinkki, Carbon County (2000-2003)

Ted Coffman, Madison County (balance of Brooker term 2000-2003).

There are two positions up for election: the position held by John Prinkki and the position held by Ted Coffman. Both positions are for three-year terms (2003-2006).

Vern Petersen, Fergus County, nominated John Prinkki and Ted Coffman for the next terms of their positions on the JPIA Board.

Further nominations would be accepted on Wednesday.

In JPA, the MACo Executive Committee acts as the Board, when each individual is a member of the insurance pool. The current officers will be continuing. However, a new Urban Representative may not be from a member county. If that should be, then nominations will be solicited for the Urban Representative on the Board.


Ray Barnicoat, Risk Manager

I reported on rates for the Work. Comp. program during the district meetings. The short story is that rates are up and reserves are down. I explained, then, why they were trending upward so I don’t need to rehash that today. However, feel free to ask questions. It’s your program and I’m totally open to share with you anything that relates to the program, be it rates or otherwise.

We’ve had a couple of years of rate increases and are probably faced with a couple more. I would like to talk with you from the risk management perspective about what we need to do to minimize the increase in rates. I have identified members who are our loss leaders; a second list is a watch list; but my appeal is to all.

We need to control frequency, because in controlling frequency we also control severity

I know you will be doing these things I will give you, because my horoscope today reads, “Today is an excellent opportunity for you to speak to people in high positions. It’s a time they will listen to you and take your recommendations home.”

  1. Years ago, all member counties passed a resolution of commitment to safety in county facilities and worker / public safety. Reaffirm that safety resolution by updating and distributing it to all employees.
  2. Hold supervisors and elected officials accountablefor accidents that occur in their areas of responsibility.
  3. Inquire into all accidentsthat occur in your county.
  4. Follow throughon your inquiries.
  5. Be satisfied that accidents are being investigated and that the cause(s) are identified, whether it is an unsafe act or an unsafe condition or a combination of both.
  6. Be satisfied that corrections have been made to prevent repeat accidents from occurring.
  7. Verify that the injured are treated and return to work as soon as possible.
  8. Monitor your claims. If you have questions about any claim, call the adjuster at 888-442-8552 or call me at 406-457-7210.
  9. Be convinced that safety activitiesare effective. This includes regular and ongoing hazard identification and resolution, safety training and motivation. Some member counties also have safety incentive programs.
  10. Use MACo Risk Managementto help you with programs and training.
  11. Attend the Annual Loss Control Conferenceand regional training programs.

I have already talked to the counties about claim frequency. I have had wonderful response. I know that will continue. We need to press this issue of doing whatever we can to reduce frequency.


Greg Jackson, Insurance Marketing

The claims administrator and managers have been our long-time partner in both pools since the beginning. Larry Zanto and Keith Stapely are to be recognized. As you know, claims administration is very important and they do a very good job of doing that.

In the annual report is a cover letter by our Chair Vern Petersen. He has made some good points about the Pool and our success currently, in the past and, hopefully, in the future.

I want to highlight the last few years since 1996 when we re-structured the program. We established goals when we first started the program in 1987. We have achieved all those since 1996. For the goal to increase membership, I announce that we have two new counties this year. We welcome Gallatin County and Pondera County. That brings the number of counties to 47. In 1992 we also opened the program to special districts. Currently we have 158 special districts in the program. We have in excess of 200 “eligible insureds” which are not members of the Pool, but take advantage of our program. Since 1996 our membership has grown 97%. Since last year, our membership grew 20%.

A major goal was to establish positive financial equity. When we re-structured the program in 1996, we had a $1.4 Million unfounded liability because we had to pay for previous claims prior to the restructuring. As of last year, our surplus or equity is $1.8 Million to the positive. You can see that we have made large gains in regard to our overall equity position. Our actual cash flow, not audited, in 1996 was $2.5 Million for that one policy year. At the end of this last policy year, our actual cash situation is close to $7 Million. That provides our membership and our Trustees the flexibility to completely manage the program with the amount of equity. The Trustees have used part of that equity to increase the amount that we self-insure from $2.4 Million to $3 Million a year without assessing the membership. Another goal is to establish cost stability. Thanks to the membership, this year we issued a $5 Million 20-year bond for ten years to stabilize our costs to provide re-insurance, over and above our self-insurance. The Trustees would like to thank the membership for taking that option into consideration and signing the promissory notes for the bonding. This will be a benefit in the long run for all the members.

The last goal is to provide reliable risk management. We have done that in a proactive manner--Ray has the risk management program and Jack Holstrom has the personnel assistance. Since 1996 our loss ratio has gone down 44%. That is very good. There are reasons for that. One is revenue, which has a bearing on the loss ratio compared to the premium. But more important, our risk management programs do an outstanding job. As Vern mentioned in his cover letter, it’s also due to you folks and what you have done with your safety committees and the awareness for safety.

Congratulations to all.

Vern Petersen, Chair

I echo Greg’s sentiments to thank you for making those decisions to go with the bond issue. That was extremely wise on your part and will save countless dollars over the years. With it comes responsibility and some risk. We are on the hook, now, for the first $8 Million in liability claims, but those are all something in which we are in total control. Property is a different story--we can’t control a hailstorm or a flood--but there is no reason to ever loose a wrongful discharge suit with the tools that are available to you today. I’m not saying you won’t be sued, but you shouldn’t lose. IF you have patience enough to do as Jack tells you, you will be bullet proof. It DOES take patience, but he is right and it does work. We are going down the right path and thank you for participating and making it all work.




Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - Lewistown, Montana

JPA Secretary Gordon Morris called the roll. 41 of 53 member counties responded. Quorum was present.

Secretary Morris announced the current members of the Board of Trustees and noted that the Urban County Representative position is open because the new MACo Urban County Representative is not a member of the JPA Trust.

Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County, was nominated.

Following the calls for further nominations, no other names were put forth. The nominations were closed and a unanimous ballot was cast for Mike Murray as Urban County Representative.

The 2003--2004 JPA Board of Trustees are:

  • MACo President Carol Brooker, Sanders County
  • MACo First Vice President Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County
  • MACo Second Vice President Doug Kaercher, Hill County
  • MACo Fiscal Officer Bill Nyby, Valley County
  • MACo Past President Gary Fjelstad, Rosebud County
  • Urban County Representative Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County

The Annual Meeting was adjourned.




Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - Lewistown, Montana

Chair Vern Petersen, Fergus County, called the meeting to order.

Gordon Morris conducted roll call. 43 of 47 members answered the call; quorum was present.


Two positions were expiring--those of John Prinkki (position A) and Ted Coffman, who was previously elected to complete one year of Carol Brooker’s term after she moved to the Presidency (Position B).

Paddy Trusler, Lake County, asked for clarification on the two positions and which areas the two represented. Chair Petersen explained that the positions were elected to represent all the membership statewide, not by district.

Position A. John Prinkki was nominated. No further nominations were presented after the three-time call from the Chair. The nominations were closed and a unanimous ballot was cast for John Prinkki to fill a term through 2006.

Position B. Ted Coffman, Madison County, was nominated.

Howard Gipe, Flathead County, was nominated.

The motion to close nominations was seconded and passed.

Written ballots were distributed to member counties.

Gordon Morris explained that, in the JPIA bylaws, the Trustees consist of two of the MACo officers--the President and First Vice President if they are members--and four at-large members. Ted Coffman, Mike Murray, John Prinkki and Vern Petersen are currently at-large trustees. Carol Brooker, MACo President, and Doug Kaercher, MACo Second Vice President, are the MACo Officer Trustees. He noted that the current MACo First Vice President, Bill Kennedy of Yellowstone County, would have been a Trustee if his county were a member of the pool. But since they are not in the pool, the position is passed to the Second Vice President.

John Prinkki clarified that he and Ted Coffman were candidates this year because they are the least at-large. Mike Murray and Vern Petersen are the most at-large members.

Ted Coffman was elected to retain his seat on the Board of Trustees.


Gordon Morris

Myra Shults, who was on the program yesterday during the land use presentation, is our expert on land use litigation. The Trustees entered into a professional services agreement with Myra for three regional information / training sessions on land use management. They will be in Miles City on November 10, in Lewistown on November 12 and in Missoula on November 14. You are encouraged and urged to attend and to invite the county planning staff and county planning board. The intention is to address the 2003 legislation and its affects on subdivision review, growth policy law and code enforcement, along with a review of recent court decisions and the effect on subdivision review, as well as basic information on subdivision and zoning issues.

Myra Shults

Two years ago we did a pilot project and invited certain counties, most of which had been already sued. It was successful. People took the materials home, referred to them, called me, etc. Hopefully we obverted some lawsuits. At least we educated people. Now we are going to do this on a statewide basis. We are going to Miles City because we would like to see the eastern counties be involved. Even if you don’t have any development pressure now, when that first subdivision comes in, you will have some frame of reference. We think that’s important and we are trying to spread it across the state so nobody has to travel too far. It will be an all-day session, even though (as Ted Coffman pointed out.) 9:30 to 4:30 is not all-day for ranchers.

With respect to county attorneys, we will have a round-table workshop, organized with the County Attorneys Association. We will invite all county attorneys and the attorneys who are interested in land use. We will meet to discuss the issues that we are all facing.

What I am going to do will not be as legally specific as the County Attorney meeting will be.

I encourage you to come. It’s an opportunity to bring your questions, your subdivision regulations or growth policies for discussion.

Gordon Morris suggested that the session be open to non-members for a fee.

The meeting was adjourned.



Leroy Luft, Interim Vice Provost and Director

Montana, as you know, lags quite far behind in economic indicators. But one thing that Montana does not lag behind is the amount of support that the Extension system in Montana gets from the county commissioners. You folks are excellent in providing support for the Extension folks and we really appreciate that. For us, this is an extremely important partnership and we thank you.

I am the Interim Director. I spent most of my career in Montana as a county agent in Wibaux, Teton and Richland Counties. I went to the MSU State office as a farm management specialist. I left the University for a while and came back to be Associate Director and then served as Director. In 1989 I moved to be the director in Idaho and retired there. I moved back to Bozeman about a year ago. Dave Bryant, who was the director, left and in December of last year, I was asked to be Interim Director.

The search is underway right now, with candidates being interviewed.

With me today is Woody Ekegren. Woody is one of the supervisors that county agents report to. If you have questions or concerns that you want to raise with either of us, don’t hesitate.

When we were at the legislature this last year, we asked about ten counties to testify on our behalf. We also had counties that testified without us “greasing the skids,” so to speak. Bill Kennedy and Carol Brooker were there and gave very effective testimony. Judith Basin County had been working to re-fill an agent position and really helped us because they caused a number of the legislators to realize the number of vacancies that we had. As a result of this support, we got an extra $100,000 to fill three and half vacant positions and to establish a position in Wheatland County, which had not existed there for 60+ years. As we approach the next legislative session, it will be important again to have support from the county commissioners.

We are still below our budget needs. This year we have early retirements and retirement incentives, so we will have some money because we are not filling the positions past July 1. But the next year of the biennium, we will be about a quarter of a million dollars short. So, as positions come open, they probably will be held open for a while.

We are in the process of reviewing applications for current openings. We are in a unique situation because we are one of the few states that are hiring county agents right now. Colorado, for instance, had to terminate 33 positions with 23 people in them. Oregon is having problems; California is having really big problems, as are some of the mid-western states. So we have a lot of applications. We have a number of people who have applied for three or four of the nine vacancies. We have over 200 applications for those nine positions. We have an excellent pool to interview for the counties that have vacancies. You will be involved in that process.

Some counties support additional personnel to work 4-H, relieving the county agents. If your county could fund 4-H, it would be a good investment. It costs us from all of our sources of funding (federal, state and county) a little over $150 to support each kid that is enrolled in a 4-H program. If you have to support a juvenile in detention, the cost for one person is about $45,000. We talk to judges and they tell us that it is not very often that you see a 4-H kid in court. So the effort in the 4-H area is certainly a good investment.

We appreciate the support in a past MACo resolution which encouraged all counties to pay for an agent’s salary at 65% of the clerk and recorder’s. That’s very helpful and very good for us.

We have a program with MACo that gets money from DEQ to establish a solid waste institute. Some of our people have been working with counties for over ten years on that.

Dave Sharpe, our rural development specialist, worked in the past with the MACo Board to do some strategic planning.

We also work very closely with MACo on the Disaster and Emergency Services. Right now our folks are developing some emergency response software, which should be helpful.

Extension also provides some funding to the Local Government Center at MSU. We feel that’s an important effort to help educate and inform newly elected government officials.

If there are issues, please let us know. In this unique arrangement where we hire the county agent, if people in your county are not happy, you probably get an earful more often than we do. If that occurs, we want you to let us know because we want to deal with issues as they arise. Please give us a call and we would be happy to visit and try to get things sorted out.

Thanks to all of you for your support and the partnership that we have between MSU and all of the counties.


Jane Jelinski, MSU Local Government Center

The 1972 Constitution of the State of Montana requires that every ten years citizens be given the opportunity to vote on whether they want to review each of their local government units--county and city. Article XI, Section IX of the State Constitution reads, “The purpose of the study commission is to study the existing forms and powers of local government and procedures for the delivery of local government services and compare them with other forms available under the laws of the State.” The first voter review process occurred in 1974, was done again in ’84 and ’94.

You must put the question on the June 2004 primary election ballot. If the voters approve the review of their local government, members of the study commission will be elected during the November 2004 general election and will begin their work in January of 2005. You are required to provide up to one mill of funding to support your study commission. This mill is not outside the levy limits.

The study commission is required to prepare a budget, must comply with all Montana’s open meeting laws and has the authority to hire staff and consultants to help them with their work. You have the requirement to provide them with an office and clerical support. That clerical support can be paid for out of the one mill levy.

The study commission can do a number of things. It can recommend amendments to the existing plan of government. It can recommend any plan of government authorized by Title VII, Chapter 3, Parts 1-6. It can draft a charter. It can recommend municipal / county consolidation. In cooperation with a study commission in an adjoining county, it can recommend a county merger. Or it can submit no recommendations. In addition it can recommend service consolidation.

In the last voter review cycle, you had the authority to levy over and above the levy cap. But during the 1999 Session you lost that authority (SB 184). During the 2003 Legislative Session, MACo tried to get this back with HB 535. Unfortunately, that bill died and you are now required to levy the mill within your existing tax liability. So, you are going to have to take it out of someone else’s budget.

We provided you with suggested ballot language directly from MCA 7-3-175, and a model resolution. You might want to use it on the June primary ballot.

In the ballot language you are required to specify the date of the election and the number of members on the study commission. It has to be an odd number of commission members, with a minimum of three members. Every study commission must have an ex-officio member who is a member of the governing body (the county commission) or an elected official of the county or an employee of the local government. You appoint this person before the study commission is organized.

The language in the MACo resolution asks not only do the voters want to go through the government study process, but asks the additional question of whether they will authorize a levy up to one mill for that purpose.

If there are not enough candidates elected to the study commission, the chair of the county commission shall appoint a member to fill the vacancy, with the approval of the other commissioners. The study commission’s term of office begins on the day that the election is certified and ends on the day of the vote on the alternative plan of government. If an alternative plan is approved, the terms would be extended for an additional 90 days. If no alternative plan is approved, their terms end with the election. If the commission recommends no alternative plan, the term is 30 days after submission of the plan. Some study commissions have done the work in a few months; others have gone the full two years.

You need to take a hard look at working with the study commission and dealing with the risk that they might recommend a change that you do not think is a good one. On the other hand, study commissions present a real opportunity to explore some options that might make the government more effective and could substantially change how you do business. If a charter is proposed and adopted, it can provide you with a great deal more flexibility and maybe an opportunity for you to function more independently of the dictates of the legislature. On the other hand, a charter could be proposed which would restrict your ability to act or even restrict your ability to raise taxes or fees.

This voter review process is unique and gives Montana citizens a real opportunity to learn how their local government works, what laws govern your conduct of business, and to explore ways to be even better. It’s an opportunity for YOU to tell the county story and get more people involved.

After study commissions are elected, MACo and the Local Government Center plan on providing training for the study commissions to get them started. The Local Government Center has been doing

this ever since the second study commission. We will be available during the process for consultation.

Judy Mathre, MSU Local Government Center

We asked Tom Ask, who was on the Constitutional Convention Local Government Committee, where he got this idea for local government review. He said, “I thought this up.” I don’t know if Thomas Jefferson inspired Tom Ask, but Jefferson really has been the person people credit. His concept of government was that it should be kept close to the people. He advocated that each generation should formulate a new constitution and that a free government should have periodic screening by its citizens.

Now that’s wonderful and idealistic, but those of us who have served in local government don’t necessarily like to be scrutinized, especially by study commissions. The vote to have a study commission will be on the ballot and, if your citizens say “yes”, you might want to think about whom you would encourage to run for the offices.

During the first review period, which was 1974-76, review was mandatory. Everybody was supposed to elect a study commission and review their local governments. As it turned out, 173 out of 182 city and county governments actually placed a proposal on the ballot. Out of those 173, 31 were approved by the voters. Four county changes were approved and 27 were at the municipal level. With those four were the two city-county consolidations of Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge.

Change does not occur very readily. At that time there were three Silver Bow county commissioners under indictment and there were also some economic factors. No Deer Lodge commissioners were under indictment, but they faced a very, very severe economic situation. So they decided to consolidate their governments. One of the other county changes was Madison County, which adopted a charter. It didn’t work out very well, because they went back to the commission form of government. Ravalli County adopted commission districts and that’s been changed back to the regular method of electing commissioners. So there was not very much change during that original voter review, even though everybody was supposed to be putting something on the ballot.

In 1978 the Constitution was amended by the voters so that the question of whether or not to review your local government was put on the ballot. The other change was that the study commission was not required to put a proposal on the ballot.

So, what happened in 1984 to ’86 review? 25 counties and 73 municipal governments said, “Yes, we are going to have a study commission.” Remember they did not have to put a proposal on the ballot. Of the 25 counties, 13 did place some kind of proposal on the ballot and out of 73 municipal governments, 24 placed some proposal on the ballot. Out of those 13 counties, only 2 adopted a change--Park County and Custer County. They went to non-partisan elections and four-year terms for county commissioners. Those were the only two changes adopted in the 1984-86 voter review

In 1994-96, 112 jurisdictions said, “Yes.” --33 counties and 79 cities. Out of these 33 counties, 24 placed some kind of a proposal on the ballot. Of those 24, 8 were adopted. Of those changes, one was a charter for Fergus County, which incorporated the commission form of government and enables them to have self-government powers. This gives them some additional authority to address issues and problems that they have. Most of the other county changes adopted non-partisan elections and some change in the length in the terms of office. Of all the changes that are approved, length of terms and non-partisan elections are the most common.

You might want to consider urging a study commission to think about a charter because it would give you additional flexibility.

If you look at this overall, most of the changes have not been very radical. Think about encouraging your study commissions and working with them to come up with some proposals that will be beneficial to you all.


Jim Reno, Yellowstone County

It was a great experience to serve on the Yellowstone County study commission. At that time we recommended changes to Yellowstone County government, but the voters overwhelmingly wanted to keep it the way it was.

Would you comment on having the same ballot language for the city as well as the county, especially on funding a mill levy or not?

Isn’t there the option of letting the voters choose whether or not they want to assess themselves the mills or having the local government going ahead and budget it?

Gordon Morris: As you recall, during the last session, we did introduce legislation that would have amended that section of law to enable you to levy up to one mill outside of levy limits (MCA 15-10-401 to 425 Limitation on property Taxes). We weren’t successful in that effort. As a result, you can either not ask the question and fund it out of existing revenue or ask the question to vote for the study commission and up to one mill for funding. In response to the question of whether or not that would violate the legal interpretation that only one question can be put on the ballot, we have a variety of ballot issues that do, in fact, join two essential questions together (such as bonding for a specific project in a specific amount). So we think we should be able to follow the same pattern in asking voters to approve the study and not have the approval dependent on funding coming from some existing source such as the sheriff’s budget, clerk and recorder’s budget, etc.

Harold Blattie: During the Legislative Session Greg Petesch of the Legislative Legal Services Office determined that it was valid to have two questions on one ballot.

Gordon Morris: That would reinforce what you are looking at here. Jim, the voters of Yellowstone would be asked to study their form of government and pay for it.

Jim Reno

If the City of Billings shows different ballot language, would we have a problem there--one saying we are going to fund it without a vote; the other saying we’ll fund it if you vote for it?

Gordon Morris: They could use the same ballot language, which would be preferable to having two ballot questions proposed to do the same thing, but differing in how they are going to pay for it. I’m sure the city fathers would appreciate not having to fund it out of existing revenues if the study commission is approved by the voters.

Elaine Mann, Broadwater County

How much does it cost to have a study commission?

Jane Jelinski: It depends on the value of the mill. Some of them are done quickly; some take two years.

Judy Mathre: It really varies a good deal, if you think about the various taxable values of the counties. Rosebud County in 1984 had a study commission who really wanted to spend all that money, but the County wouldn’t let them do it. Jurisdictions that have high mill value may not be interested in having study commissions spending a lot of money. A town like Outlook has a $42 mill. Colstrip has a very high value and it wouldn’t be necessary to spend $100,000 each year on this review. Some study commissions spent nothing--it’s a volunteer effort; some spent a good deal and hired staff. It depends on the study commission how much they want to do.

Harold Blattie, MACo

What happens to unspent money in that fund?

Judy Mathre: You can carry that money over. Some jurisdictions want to levy the full amount. Then they have that ability to carry it over.

Earl Martin, Granite County

Do the commissioners have anything to say about this money being spent?

Judy Mathre: The study commission gives the budget to you and you have something to say, but they are fairly independent. They can make independent decisions and some of them make really strange recommendations. That’s why you need to work with them.

Jane Jelinski: Encourage people to run for the study commission. I know that some of you would like to see some specific kinds of changes--you either want more commissioners or you want to change lengths of term, or whatever. A good way to see that this gets done is to find people who are interested, discuss it with them and teach them why you need five commissioners or why it ought to be non-partisan or why you ought to have a charter. Get them up to speed on the issues, what your needs are and what your problems are, so that you can convince them to run for the study commission. This way they would have some background and information about the constraints that you work with. You either work with them or you react to them. It’s better to work with them.

Elaine Mann

How many people can be on the study commission?

Jane Jelinski: The commissioners decide that when you pass the resolution to put this on the ballot. It has to be an odd number and the minimum number has to be three. The majority of them were five.

Judy Mathre: This subject will be dealt with at the February meeting.

Lance Olson, Cascade County

Can you change the form of government without the study review commission?

Judy Mathre: Yes, it can be changed. As a matter of fact, we are working with the City of Colstrip right now. They have a charter that they want to put on the ballot this November. The voters may not see any reason to do the review next year, having had this charter on the ballot in November. It can be done with a local study committee or however you want to set it up. This might be a good thing to do just before the required local government review vote, if you want to avoid that process. This might work against you with, “Our government is fine. We don’t need to do that.”

Lance Olson

If you wanted to eliminate one elected position, does that constitute changing the form of government?

Judy Mathre: It’s an amendment to your current form. Oftentimes that is done through the local government review process.


Maggie Bullock, Administrator, MT DPHHS Health Policy and Services Division

I thank all of you and your health department staffs. It’s been a very, very busy year. Through those efforts we have worked with partners that are very non-traditional for us--law enforcement, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, as well as many community organizations.

There have been great improvements in public health, largely due Congress’s “terrorism and hospital preparedness” dollars. Many of the counties didn’t have the computer or the Internet connectivity that they needed to get health alert messages. We have been able to purchase that technology throughout the State so that there is immediate communication. We are engaging in more training of your public health people. We are able to do a summer institute, which we hope to continue, so that your public health staffs continue to be abreast of everything that is happening nationally.

I hope you have seen copies of the “Policy Review” that dealt with public health, which Jane Jelinski helped us with in the fall of 2002. We will have another one with more details to update you. Also, I hope you all review the County Health Profiles. This gives you very specific information in each of your counties, to help prepare for legislative sessions.

Over the course of the next year we will review the Montana statutes to make sure that we really are, in fact, ready in terms of preparedness.

Today we will talk about the human side of West Nile Virus, about the kinds of mosquitoes that are being collected, how that process takes place and about the importance of many other issues. We have other emerging, very critical, public health issues that we want you to be aware of.

I hope that I can come back and talk with you at your winter meeting. We would like to keep you up to date on new and emerging challenges, so we can face them together and do our best.

Jim Murphy, Communicable Disease Surveillance, DPHHS Health Policy & Services

West Nile Virus in Montana is a relatively new disease. It came to the United States in 1999 and has gradually moved from east to west, across the United States. Last year in Montana we had two human cases and about 140 horses, mostly in eastern Montana. This year has been more severe.

West Nile Virus is one of the viral encephalitis causes. If you infect a thousand people with it, a very small percentage actually becomes ill. There are no symptoms in most people. About 80% of the people who get this infection will not know and will have no symptoms. Besides not becoming ill, they will develop long-lasting immunity. So, when West Nile first arrives some place like Montana, the impact will be more severe in those early years. After a while, people become immune to it.

About 20% of the people who have West Nile fever will feel as if they have the flu. They will be out for a while, but they generally will not require hospitalization and they will recover in six to ten days. A smaller percentage, about one in 150, will develop severe illness. For the last six or seven weeks we’ve had ten to twelve people hospitalized in serious condition, mostly in eastern and central Montana. That’s a pretty rare event for communicable disease in Montana, with the exception of influenza.

In the transmission of West Nile, the cycle is between mosquitoes and birds. Usually it stays between the two. Every once in a while the mosquitoes bite a human or a horse and bring the virus to those populations. Humans and horses don’t contribute to the cycle. We are dead end hosts. Once a human gets this, it is not contagious. If a mosquito bites a human and goes to another human, it will not transmit the virus. We don’t transfer this from one person to another. Because it’s a viral infection, during the initial part of the illness we have a high virus load in our blood and we are infectious at that time if the blood is transfused. That is being taken care of by the blood banks as we speak.

To monitor for West Nile Virus, we look at horses, mosquitoes, birds and humans to study when it hits these populations and to share this information. If there are mosquitoes testing positive in your county, or birds that are dead, we can get that word out before humans start to test positive. Counties can take action, whether than means your mosquito control district starts spraying or whether it’s a massive education campaign. We want that information to be used for prevention purposes.

We did have two human cases last year; both survived. This year, with our 188 cases, we’ve had one death so far. We anticipate that there will be a couple more deaths before the season is done. All of the human cases so far are east of the Continental Divide. For next season, we expect to have western Montana, where 60% of the State’s population is, to be impacted by the virus. Eastern Montana, hopefully, has their worst year out of the way. Some of the smallest counties have been most impacted. Prairie County had ten cases. We expect counties like Cascade closer to the Continental Divide to have a worse year next year.

For West Nile Virus cases who were severely ill, the average age is about 50. The average age of those hospitalized is 57. This illness impacts people over 50 more severely than those under 50. About 40% of our cases were hospitalized and 40% suffered meningitis or encephalitis. This is a swelling of the nervous tissues and can be very severe. Some people who survive the infection have long, long roads to recovery.

We are doing better than some of our neighboring states. South Dakota is up to 700 cases now with 7 deaths. States which had a terrible year last year tended to have more mild years this year. Last year, for example, in Illinois they had 881 cases of illness from West Nile. This year, they’ve had 8.

Last year we had 138 horses that were infected. Horses are easy to find with this because they get very, very ill. About 40% of the horses that get infected die. They suffer much more than humans do, so they are a good marker, as are mosquitoes, of the arrival of West Nile Virus.

Next year we hope that West Nile Virus in eastern Montana will be a rarity. We are not sure what will happen in Western Montana except that it will be worse than this year. There is a possibility because of the higher elevation and shorter season there, that it may be milder. We will continue monitoring birds, horses, mosquitoes and humans, looking for the infection, so when this is detected we can get word to your counties’ mosquito control districts.

Amy MacKenzie,Communicable Disease Surveillance, DPHHS Health Policy & Services

You probably don’t get a lot of people coming in to talk to you about mosquitoes. When I go out in the field, I try to stop by the county offices to let someone know I was there, but you are not sitting in the office all day, so I don’t get to see any of you very often.

The whole idea of our mosquito surveillance is to be able to predict when you will see horses start getting sick and after that, when you start seeing people get sick. We cannot stop this from happening, but we can get the information out that we did find a positive mosquito in the county. Then people can take precautions seriously.

We’ve been talking about West Nile Virus for three years. In 1999 they got West Nile Virus in New York. Through the years we’ve seen it move across country a lot faster than we thought it would, so we are learning as we go.

In Phillips County we had a positive mosquito on July 29. The first positive horse was on August 8. So we had some time between when the first positive mosquito and the first positive horse was found.

The first Hill County mosquito we found was August 11 and the first horse that was diagnosed there was August 14. So if we find it in mosquitoes, we will see it soon in other animals. In Cascade County, the first carrier mosquito was caught on July 31 and the first person was diagnosed on August 21. In Blaine County, a mosquito was caught on July 15; the first horse was July 26 and the first person was August 2. That’s the way we expect the progression and that’s surveillance we do.

Many of you may have seen mosquito traps hanging around in your counties. The top part is plastic and is about the size of a coffee can. We put dry ice in the top part and as the dry ice melts overnight--we leave the traps out overnight--the carbon dioxide comes out the holes in the bottom. That’s what attracts the mosquitoes. When they come in close, there is a little light down in it and a fan in the very bottom which keeps the mosquitoes in. We will catch anywhere from one to a thousand mosquitoes. When we bring these back in, somebody has to look at each of them under a microscope to find out what kind of mosquito it is. It’s pretty labor intensive at that point. Then, we put them in little piles and send them to the lab

On reports, the numbers are expressed in tubes of mosquitoes which have gone through the lab. The tubes have up to 50 mosquitoes per tube. This year we caught more Culex type of mosquitoes than we did last year at the very same trap locations, at the very same time of the year. We don’t know if that is a trend that is going to continue or not. But it’s a big difference in the mosquito population--we have more Culex and we have more Culex that tested positive. So, next year with a grant from the CDC, we will continue to look at that.

There are areas in Montana that are not covered by mosquito control districts, so we try to encourage people to take precautions for themselves against mosquitoes. If you don’t get bit by a mosquito, you are not going to get West Nile Virus. So take precautions--use your bug spray; get rid of standing water in your backyard or anywhere you have it to reduce the habitat, and support your mosquito control districts.

Dr. Michael Spence, State Medical Officer, MT DPHHS Health Policy & Services Division

West Nile is important but the sprays we use are not always the best choice for just mosquitoes. They do harm other things. So when that decision comes up, keep in mind that you are destroying not just mosquitoes, but you are killing insects important for birds that are very important for insect control, as well as for your industries--for example, the insects that are important for the trout business.

We’ve had one death from West Nile Virus infection this year and we may have more. When we consider deaths in Montana, we have over 1,000 deaths each year from tobacco related illness; we will probably have 200 deaths from the flu. In the last ten years, of those people over 65 who died, over 20% died from complications of the flu and pneumonia, which are both preventable by vaccinations. We’ve had over 300 automobile accidents on an annual basis and between 50% to 60% of those (180 to 200 individuals) who died were not wearing seatbelts.

Many of you can remember when polio was very important. I remember not going in swimming pools when I was young because I might get polio. People were infected with polio and died. We don’t see polio anymore. That’s a public health benefit.

Most of you have water at your tables and probably drank some of that water and didn’t even think about whether it is contaminated or clean. That’s another public health benefit.

What are major public health problems in Montana today? The basic root of our major health care problems is obesity. Obesity is something that affects every one of us. We know that what you take in has to equal what you burn out or you will get fat. It’s that simple. Cardiovascular disease is a major killer in our State. Cardiovascular disease is related to high blood pressure; it’s related to stroke; it’s related to heart attacks. Common underlying factors are abnormal blood lipids and obesity. This coming year the State of Montana will look at cardiovascular disease. Our primary emphasis will be controlling hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke. We need to educate the public about how we can control our diet and what we take in, what affects the lipid levels and, hopefully, decrease our risks.

We have a grant to study diabetes, another complication of obesity. Our focus this year will be diabetes and pregnancy. We have an epidemic of obesity; we have an epidemic of diabetes. What is even worse is that this is not just in older people. We find it in our teen-agers and adolescents. This deals with school nutrition, physical activity and the other activities in the school systems.

We will look at how the environment impacts the health of our citizens. We will develop an environmental public health tracking system to describe what environmental factors are important and how they impact on health. You will be receiving information from our Montana State University contractor in the future. From you commissioners, from the sanitarians, from the extension agents, from the public health offices, we want to know what you consider the environmental hazards which are the most critical to you. For example, we know that in Lincoln County asbestos is a major factor in respiratory illnesses. We also know that in places where there was smelting, there is lead contamination. We also know that there is a strong link between pesticides and Parkinson-like syndromes and neurological diseases. Where there are large pesticide applications, where farm work is going on, this may be critical.

We are trying to build a multi-disciplinary way of looking at things. West Nile Virus is important. We will have other emerging infections and diseases. Let’s keep in mind the public health perspective and how it impacts all of us.


Lance Olson, Cascade County

It was indicated at one time that there might be a field test kit available. Has that ever been developed?

Murphy: There is interest in looking at different testing methodologies that might be faster. For instance, if someone is collecting mosquitoes in the field, it would be great if they could test right there, rather than sending them someplace for sorting and for analysis. The problem is that the sensitivity or the ability to detect the virus is not as good as we would like. The methodology that we use now is very good. It will not miss the virus even with a few mosquitoes. The field test, because it’s less sensitive, might miss some, if there are just a few mosquitoes. Our laboratory has improved the turn-around time. Right now, when mosquitoes arrive at our laboratory, results should be out two days later. The delays have been when they sit someplace for sorting or sit someplace before they are shipped in.

Tom Hatch, Powell County

If you observe dead birds, should you be suspicious?

Murphy: Dead birds have been a marker for the arrival of West Nile Virus. We have partnered with Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to monitor dead bird reports. If FWP gets dead bird reports from the county health departments or directly to them, they will send somebody out where West Nile Virus hasn’t been found to look at the birds. Birds die for a lot of reasons and West Nile certainly could be one of them. But FWP doesn’t have the resources to follow-up on areas that have already established the presence of the virus. In western Montana, where the virus has not been found, dead bird reports should be given to the FWP office or your local county health department. We found only two birds the first year and a handful this year that have the virus. They have not been as good a marker as horses or mosquitoes.

Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County

Can a hard-mouthed dog be infected by biting a bird, or worse yet, can somebody who shoots a bird be infected?

Murphy: It’s not thought to be a big risk. People who take game birds should be concerned and cautious. If the bird looks sick, do not take it; do not eat it. If a good bird is handled appropriately, cleaned carefully and cooked thoroughly, there should be no danger. Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a good press release on this on their website, if you need more information.

Dogs and cats do not seem to be impacted by West Nile Virus. Only one dog supposedly died of the Virus since 1999 and that dog was already compromised for other reasons. Somebody in eastern Montana was convinced that their dog has West Nile Virus, based on tests. Dogs that get bit by mosquitoes may test positive. That is different than saying the dog is ill, though. Just like people, the dog could test positive but not be ill. Dogs shouldn’t be able to get it from a bird just by carrying it in its mouth.

Jean Curtiss, Missoula County

Are propane generators that produce CO2 a good thing to use?

Murphy: Mosquito traps, where you use propane to generate carbon dioxide to capture mosquitoes, are very effective in cleared areas around an acre or so. However, they attract mosquitoes. So, having this on your deck is not a good idea. The only things out there that really seem to be junk are the electronic mosquito repellents.

Carl Seilstad, Fergus County

Is West Nile covered by workers’ compensation?

Murphy: There are people in occupations that do get bit--highway workers, park workers, etc. The incubation period is three to fourteen days, so it would be hard to prove. If you have concerns, you should at least file. The employer needs to work on prevention and providing repellent will help. This is uncharted territory for Montana. Other states have some experience with it and we could get more information.

Earl Martin, Granite County

Why do horses seem to be the favorite host?

Murphy: Horses have a very bad time dealing with the infection. That is why we notice them. They just die. Horses have so many opportunities for exposure. They are not usually indoors; they are out there constantly being bit. The viruses affect different species differently. Birds seem to be the big reservoir because they survive infections. The virus doesn’t seem to bother dogs and cats; one in a thousand humans will die, but basically 40 horses will. Domestic cattle do not seem to be impacted, which is fortunate.


Larry Swanson, Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana

There is a notion that there is no State economy. One problem for Montana is understanding some of the economic issues and opportunities that we have. Most of what we learn about our own economy comes from information that’s developed about Montana as a whole. There really isn’t one Montana economy. Montana is a large geography and within that geography are different regional economies, which are going in different directions. They are much different at their very core. When we put together information about the Montana economy, we tend to put together information from different areas. Then when you aggregate it statewide, it basically doesn’t tell you much of anything at all.

Montana is thought of as being two different states--the east and the west. When you drive across Montana you do get the feeling that you are moving in different regions altogether. But if we look at patterns of change and differences that we have, Montana can be divided into three different sub-state areas. 1) The western mountain region: If you travel the mountains from Glacier and down to the Beartooth Highway area southwest of Billings, there are 21 counties. 2) Before we get to the eastern plains there is a central region. That’s a transition area, basically where the plains leave the mountains, when the mountains come into view. There about 14 counties as you go from Great Falls down to Billings, that set along the front. When you look at the development of North America, much of the population and economic development that occurred in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States occurred on the central front area, north of us in Edmonton and to the south of us, the Denver/Colorado Springs area. 3) In the eastern plains there are 21 counties.

To understand the differences that are going on in Montana we start with migration patterns. We can’t look at just Montana to understand what is behind these migration patterns. During the 1980’s the out-migration and population decline is centered in the heartland of the country for the most part, from the northern plains to the southern plains. In Montana there wasn’t any population growth or in-migration. As a matter of fact, we lost one congressional seat during this period. All of the migration and population growth is focused in and around major metropolitan areas.

In the 1990’s, we had a change in migration patterns which is re-shaping places like western Montana. Colorado, for example, is seeing significant population growth and not just in the Denver area. In Washington State, population growth is expanding beyond Seattle into eastern Washington, spreading to Idaho and also to western Montana. The population of eastern Montana is basically an extension of population trends across the northern and central plains areas. The population trends in western Montana are basically an extension of what we see up and down the Rocky Mountain Region.

One of the reasons we need to divide Montana into three regions is to understand how some of these big trends and changes in population migration are playing out in different areas. When you look at net migration for the 1980’s and 1990’s, the 21 western counties had a net out-migration of over 5,000 people during the 80’s. But when we look into the ‘90’s, those 21 counties’ net in-migration went to over 57,000. The 14 counties in the middle had almost 25,000 net out-migration during the ‘80’s; now their net in-migration is positive but under 2,000 people. In the eastern plains’ 21 counties, which had significant net out-migration during the 1980’s, have seen a reduction in net out-migration, but still is in negative growth. If we take the 56 counties, we can see the net migration if we go from west to east in Montana. It’s very high in-migration--Flathead, Ravalli, Missoula, Jefferson, Gallatin Counties with also Yellowstone County in the central front. The big loss in the central front is Cascade County, so you have Cascade County and Yellowstone County going exactly opposite directions in net migration. The 21 counties in the east have the out-migration.

If you take these numbers and lump them together, you end up with only small variations, whether they be plus or minus. We take huge change occurring in different ways across a very diverse geography, aggregate them together, and come up with very small numbers for the state as a whole, almost covering up the information about what kind of change is going on in our economy.

In the 41 western counties, the population growth was 23,000+ during the 1980’s, but it shot up to 88,000 during the 90’s. In the central front, it went from almost no change in population over the course of the ‘80’s to a 22,500 increase. In the eastern plains, we are still in the negative. Not only do we have migration shifting around in different ways affecting certain parts of our state, but we also have aging in the population. Areas that are tied to high out-migration tend to age at a faster rate than in-migration.

In the western 21 counties, the majority of the population growth is occurring mainly among persons in their early 40s up to early to mid 60s. For example, persons in their mid to late 20s have fewer people in those 21 western counties in spite of all the population growth. This is the aging process that’s going on. In the central counties--same picture--with the vast increases in population in the 40-50-early 60s. In the 20s to early 30s, there is a significantly lower population than was 20 years ago. In the eastern part of the state, we not only have significantly lower numbers in the older population, but the young adults have a slightly larger population as you get into the 40’s. These three clusters of populations in the 40s and 50s, ten years hence, will be clustered in the 50s and 60s, with some of those actually leaving either through death or leaving the area.

This brings changes, too, in terms of housing, health care, the workforce, school enrollments, etc.

In the western mountain area, total personal income in millions of 1996 inflation-adjusted dollars only increased $1.1 Billion dollars during the entire decade of the 1980s but during the 90s it increased almost $2.9 Billion. It almost increased three-fold. That’s not economic decline. The central front has the same thing--more than double the personal income growth--$357 Million in the 80s and $974 Million in the 90s. In the eastern plains personal income was in decline in the 1980s and in the 90s, there was some improvement. When looking at personal income data, (This is one of the things an economist would use to try to gauge whether there is economic expansion.) this isn’t decline.

The total employment growth during the entire 80s was about 41,000 jobs in the west and during the 90s that shot up to over 91,000 jobs. In the central front it went from 7,500 to over 30,000. In the eastern plains area it went from negative employment data to positive. This isn’t economic decline.

We look at the amount of land base that’s in USDA-defined farms and ranches (areas where the production from agriculture in farm and ranch gross receipts equals personal income). In the United States, in counties that have more than 90% of land area that are in farm or ranch, the population losses are centered there. Those areas extend up the central United States into eastern Montana. It doesn’t affect the western part. The critical land feature in the western part of Montana is the presence of federal lands. In Montana we talk about how bad it is that all of this land is locked up by the federal government. But one of the key features in the western 21-county area is that it has federal land.

When you group states together by major regions, with Montana in the Rocky Mountain region with Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho, we can see the central plains in another area, and the southwest and the Pacific Northwest. When we consider the mountains and the great shift in migration patterns and also patterns in the economy, we find that the southwest had the highest growth rate during the last decade, followed by the Rocky Mountain region. In terms of personal income growth, the Rocky Mountain region exceeded all other regions not only in the west, but in the entire United States. In terms of total employment growth, the Rocky Mountain west, along with the southwest, exceeded all other regions in the United States. So that’s why the Rocky Mountain region has become one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, including Montana with that. When all of this growth in population, income and employment was going on, the Rocky Mountain region also had the greatest increase in per capita income than any other region in the United States.

The changing mix of jobs in Montana parallels the changing mix of jobs in the Rocky Mountain region. In the Rocky Mountain region, service jobs grew by 37%, while in Montana they grew by 42%. Services and retail trades have nearly half the jobs in the Rockies and have 49% of the jobs in Montana. The differences are in manufacturing which is seventh in Montana, rather than fourth as in the region and farm/ranch, which is sixth in Montana and twelfth in the Rocky Mountain region.

The economic changes in Montana are a reflection of the pattern of economic change that is occurring in the larger region. We have seven regional population centers in Montana. None of them are large by national standards. Yellowstone County is a third tier metro core county with 100,000 people. You don’t reach any of Montana’s major cities until you get down to the third tier. The second tier has places of 160,000, like Boise and Duluth. Major metro cores with a population base of at least 250,000 people are Spokane, Salt Lake and Denver. Most of the other places are not only third tier, but are small regional centers of about 30,000 to 100,000 people. In Montana, you know most of the time which trade area you are in, like Great Falls or Billings or Missoula. There are also small isolated rural counties that have no major population centers and they are far from the trade areas of small regional centers.

In the six-county area around Missoula, the total population is just below the Billings area and will surpass it by 2007 or 2008. The 2000 census made a major adjustment there. We have two regions centered around major trade areas that are flat in terms of growth--Great Falls and Butte. The fastest growth is focused in Missoula, Kalispell, Bozeman and Helena. By the end of this decade Missoula will surpass Billings; Kalispell and Bozeman areas will surpass Great Falls. Three of our four largest population concentrations will be Missoula, the Flathead area and the Bozeman area--a much different dynamic than 30 years ago when the major population centers were Billings, Great Falls, Butte.

When we talk about the 90s being a period of economic decline in Montana, we are wrong because in seven counties in the State, where we had about 80--90% of our income growth concentrated, it increased at three times the rate it did in the previous decade. When you look at the closely linked counties, the income gains were at just under $½ Million in the 80s to over $740 Million in the 90s. So it’s almost a doubling of income growth in areas surrounding those major trade areas.

Employmentgrowth in the seven urban centers doubled. Closely linked areas almost tripled. In the isolated areas we saw a turn-around of employment growth from a loss to a gain. All labor earnings in Montana (wages, salaries and self-employed income) and personal income (investments and transfer payments) was flat in the 1980s and began a perceptible growth in the 1990s. The growth we see in the 1990s has nothing to do with what was going on the natural resource industries. Yet that’s how we keep trying to explain economic conditions in Montana. Employment in the 1990s was heavily focused in services. In terms of wage or earnings, health care is by far the biggest of the services sector. Business services in the 1990s grew at a faster rate than health care services. Engineering and management services are very fast growing; as are social services in organizations including churches and non-profits. Health care and business services (doctors, nurses, health technicians, accountants, etc.) have 80% of the occupations. If we have a child headed off to college, we hope they study one of those fields.

The type of growth that is occurring in this service-oriented economy requires population mass of a certain size. That’s why the seven populations centers, these relatively small cities that we have, tend to take on some of the characteristics of urban-based economies. Missoula County, for example, has 70+ sub-sectors of the economy. For the growth in those 70 sub-sectors, 18 of them account for over 70% of all income gains in Missoula County. Health care is the biggest with a $100 Million gain over the course of the 90s, and increase of 72%. The next biggest growth is only half that gain at $45 Million in special trade contractors such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. That was a 110% increase, which means they doubled their income. Business services had $43 Million with 165% increase (more than twice the rate of growth in the health care services, but it started from a smaller base). Real estate sales and development is almost a 600% increase. Wholesale trade increased by 51%; engineering and management services has 120% increase; communications, primarily telephone, 134% increase; insurance services at 136% increase. Declining in this fast and dynamic economy, with losses of more than $1 Million, is wood products with $18 Million.

We have a changing economy going on. We need to go about understanding this change because you can’t position yourself for economic change as a community without understanding the nature of the change and where it tends to be going. A small business can’t control the marketplace in which it operates so it has to be very sensitive to changes in that marketplace.

Per capita income in Montana is not slipping. Per capita income for the seven centers is significantly higher than what it is for the rural counties. That’s how we see almost all areas in the United States. When you compare per capita income with places like ours in other parts of the country, we compare very favorably. That’s why when you drive around from city to city in Montana and then drive through four or five other states and go to the same sized communities, you will not feel like you are in places that are undergoing economic decline. For places of the same size, the per capita income is actually quite competitive.

The actual tax burden in Montana, when all state and local taxes are taken as a part of personal income, has fallen from 10.24% in 1985 to 8.24% in 2000. With 1% decline in taxes related to personal income growth, we could have had a surplus in the last session. So how can we explain the deficit? The economy is growing faster than the revenue collections. It’s grown faster than the revenue collection systematically for about 20 years. The tax system does not grow as fast as the economy grows.

Any economy has to be serviced; it must have trained workers; it must have infrastructure. If the resources necessary to service economic expansion are growing considerably slower than the expansion, then every two years when the legislature meets, they work on where to cut. This is an obsolete process, when every other year you cut a few more holes in it and it is never fundamentally changed. The economy in many parts of Montana is growing at three times the rate it was in the previous decade and we cannot service the expansions and opportunity before us.

The economic expansion is in the shift from a natural resource based economy to a human resource based economy. Do we know how to invest in human resource development in Montana? What we systematically do is invest in natural resources and let the human resource go because we don’t have the money. We have to catch up with the change, reconfigure how taxation works, see where the opportunities lie and see what human resources require, in order to take advantage of those changes.

The lessons that we can learn in terms of economic development are:

1. Look forward-- Promising strategies for economic improvement must reflect where the economy is going, not where it has been.

2. Customize strategies--Needs and opportunities vary widely from place to place. Goals and strategies must likewise vary. The State can’t rescue us with an economic development strategy. David Gibson said it’s about 1/3 state and 2/3 local. How are we going to get the local part?

3. Cities Matter--In Montana, we need to assist cities, not deny that we have any.

4. Urban-Rural Relations Matter--To influence the direction of this big economy is very difficult. We know that town-by-town, county-by-county, most of what we try to do in economic development isn’t really effective. We try to get as much money from the state and federal government as we can and use as little of our own as possible. But if it’s going to be 1/3 and 2/3, then we have to reach into our own funds and use urban/rural relationships as we do local area economic development. The isolated rural areas are in the greatest difficulty. They don’t have the opportunity to work with a nearby urban area.

5. Become Learning Communities--Successful businesses are adaptive businesses. Successful communities have to be adaptive. What is the adaptation that is required for economic development?

6. Think about Regional Positioning--If we understand the direction of economic change and some of the primary characteristics, we can position ourselves better for where it’s going.

7. Human Resource Based Economy--Do we know how to invest in this? Well-designed, well-funded, adaptive systems for education and work force development are essential for economic prosperity. With that we will put ourselves on that path for development.

8. Environment is a Key Economic Asset--What you find across western Montana, where the growth is concentrated and is the greatest, people are moving primarily for one reason--the environment of the area. In Montana we have this history of making the environment the enemy of economic development. That is completely in the wrong direction.

Have other states looked at this and what is said to our neighboring states about this?

First of all, other states are smaller geographically than we. When Massachusetts looks at itself, the local data is not bad. But we are big and spread out and sparsely populated, so we have to break it down more finely and more functionally in order to understand really what is going on in Montana. If we want to advance we must stay up with the changes.

Regarding the environment and the economic development, whenever we try to do any economic development, at least in eastern Montana, there are certain groups that are in-state with out-of-state money that go to court to stop everything. What is your viewpoint on that?

We have to have reasons and rationale about how we do this. There is no large-scale resource development that we can do any more that we don’t take into account the environment. So, we are always going to get into disputes when we propose developments. We have areas in the state that are having big problems dealing with growth and development and their very futures hinge on how well they manage that change. One of the reasons that they are growing and developing is that they are very attractive places. We have land use legislation at the state level that cripples the process in local areas. It may be that came out of an experience to help one area of the state but it causes extreme difficulties in another area of the state. We have to deal with the diversity we have here and provide some flexibility for problems from one place to the next. We are always going to have difficulties of the type you described.

As we go to a human resource type of economy, you hinted about how to fund it--sales tax, fees, property tax?

Nobody likes to pay taxes; but we are going to have sales taxes of one kind or another. What you want is a tax system that looks like everybody else’s taxing system. Red flags are a taxing system that is too high in relation to some place else. If one tax area is completely out--like the sales tax--you have to compensate in your other tax areas. Our economy is not the problem. People must recognize that it’s not the economy but the revenue system that is obsolete--it hasn’t stayed up with changes. Meanwhile we are dis-investing. That’s dangerous.

You showed us that income is rising. Did you take into consideration that incomes are coming from out-of-state people moving in? Real estate prices are rising. What happens to the people who are raised here and trying to make a living here, compared to the incomes that are made someplace else and are showing up on your charts?

The only income that gets picked up on the charts is from the people who have made Montana their permanent residence. Those who make Montana their second home and don’t change their residence are not on those charts. Personal income reflects income from all sources. As these people move in, real estate values have raised. In the Flathead Valley, during the mid 1990s and rapid growth, they were loosing 1.4 acres of farmland every hour over a five-year period. Long-time residents may have bought farmland for $550 an acre and sell it for a huge wealth, generating a lot of income for people who have been here a very long time and owned that land.



Cities and Counties need to work together, particularly in the context of the legislature, which for the moment seems to have a very difficult time moving forward.

I think this is a consequence of several things including the perceived differences between urban and rural, east and west, city and county, etc.. These are the same types of differences we also face as cities and counties, but one thing that we can agree on is that most of the issues we face are best dealt with locally.

The common theme we need to press with the State is to restrain their work and allow and encourage localities to deal locally with as many issues as possible.



If you think you’ve had wind in Montana, you haven’t had a hurricane wind! Here recently, trees, which have shallow roots, were blown over and we were out of power.

I extend my thanks to Gordon Morris and Harold Blattie for the invitation.

By geography and size, Montana is one of largest states in United States, but population is in the lowest tenth. So the issues you address are very important.

I have been working on appropriations, including money for Montana projects and working to increase PILT a little every year. I will continue working with you folks on subjects like schools, firefighting, roads, etc.

Next month, MACo Public Lands Committee and BLM will meet in Billings to learn about NEPA, as it is a basis for Montana’s environment. Hunting, fishing, and recreation are all important, but the work you all do will help good growth.

In Congress we hope to give you the tools so that you can continue to do good work. I have great faith in your abilities.



I believe in a holistic view of tax reform, with the predominant theme being that one must look at the spending and tax side of any tax reform equation.

We need to separate needs from wants and be confident that government at all levels will continue to receive pressure to downsize. Understanding government’s true financial requirements needs to be considered in conjunction with

  1. knowing who our customers are, what they need versus what they want;
  2. our ability to be more efficient in delivering services;
  3. not ignoring public servants’ rights to appropriate compensation; and
  4. training and the right technology to deliver critical government services.

The Department of Revenue’s role is not one of setting tax policy. I believe that is the role of the duly elected officials. Our job is to fairly administer existing law.

A general sales tax should be considered as part of more global tax reform. We cannot forever depend on short term incremental fixes brought about by short term needs.

Vendors & Booths

94th Annual MACo Conference  94th Annual MACo Conference


94th Annual MACo Conference  94th Annual MACo Conference

President's Banquet

94th Annual MACo Conference  94th Annual MACo Conference

94th Annual MACo Conference  94th Annual MACo Conference


Download attachments for the 94th Annual Conference Minutes


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