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98th Annual MACo Conference Minutes


Opening General Session - Monday, Sept. 24, 2007

Great Falls, Montana

John Prinkki, Carbon County, MACo President

The 98th Annual Conference of the Montana Association of Counties opened at 8:30 a.m. President John Prinkki introduced the head table:

  • Paddy Trusler, parliamentarian, Lake County commissioner
  • Allan Underdal, fiscal officer, Toole County commissioner
  • Bill Kennedy, past president, Yellowstone County commissioner
  • Cynthia Johnson, first vice president, Pondera County commissioner
  • Mike McGinley, second vice president, Beaverhead County commissioner
  • Greg Chilcott, urban representative, Ravalli County
  • Harold Blattie, executive director, MACo
  • Sheryl Wood, associate director, MACo

The Honor Guard of the USAF 341 Services Squadron from Malmstrom Air Force Base presented the Colors for the Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem was sung by Cyndi Johnson, Pondera County, MACo 1st Vice President, and daughter Sheridan.

Dr. S.C. Schearer conducted the Invocation.

Great Falls Mayor Donna Stebbins welcomed the delegates. First Vice President Johnson responded with gratitude.

Roll Call

Allan Underdal, MACo Fiscal Officer, Toole County

After the roll was taken, Underdal announced a quorum was present to conduct business.

Memorial Resolution

Lance Olson, Cascade County, read the following Memorial Resolution:

Resolution in Memoriam

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 conference of our Association; and

Whereas, each of these county commissioners has rendered innumerable public service 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 conference duly assembled in Great Falls, Montana, this 24th day of September, 2007, the Association does hereby pay tribute to the memory of Commissioners:

  • Jack Harwood, Sanders County
  • Ed Sampson, Mineral County
  • Art Shock, McCone County
  • Brooks Study, Powder River County
  • Andrew Petersen, Richland County

Mark Rehbein, Richland County, moved to adopt the Memorial Resolution. The motion was seconded and passed by unanimous consent.

Resolutions Committee Report

Mike Murray, Lewis & Clark County, presented the following proposed resolution:

One resolution was proposed and accepted by the board with one no vote. The resolution is from Prairie County; it’s a resolution to limit sage grouse bag limits and to reduce speed limits on county roads within the areas of sage grouse habitat. The resolution reads, “Now therefore be it resolved that the Montana Association of Counties strongly supports that sage grouse hunting in Montana be formatted with a tagging system with a mixed number of tags per season of two as soon as possible and no later than the fall of 2008 and be implemented for at least 10 years or longer based on the trend count. Secondly, be it further resolved that the lower speed limits be considered for all county roads within sage grouse habitat limited and prime to a speed low enough to where sage grouse have the opportunity to escape traffic and drivers of vehicles and have the opportunity to slow down in a short enough distance to allow sage grouse to escape traffic. The recommended speed is 45 mph. This having been accepted by the Board of Directors yesterday, this will go to the Resolutions Committee and I believe it will either split this in two or send it to both the Public Lands Committee and the Transportation Committee. Thanks. Nobody has a copy of it; the Resolutions Committee will have a copy tomorrow. Mr. Chair, that concludes my report.

Nominations Committee Report

John Prinkki, President

98th Annual MACo ConferenceThe following officers were nominated: for office of Past President, myself, John Prinkki; office of President, Cyndi Johnson; office of First Vice President, Mike McGinley; office of Second Vice President, Carl Seilstad of Fergus County, Joe Briggs of Cascade County, and Vic Miller of Blaine County, and for the office of Fiscal Officer, Allan Underdal of Toole County.

President Prinkki asked for additional nominations. Mike Murray, Lewis & Clark County, nominated Jaime Doggett, Meagher County, for Fiscal Officer.

President Prinkki asked for additional nominations and noted nominations would remain open until Wednesday noon at the general session. He then asked for each of the candidates for MACo Second Vice President to speak.

Joe Briggs, Cascade County

First and most importantly, thank you for coming to Great Falls. It’s been my pleasure to be the chairman of the Conference Committee. I have a lot of interest and support for MACo. A lot of you have worked with me or know me. I am an urban county commissioner, obviously, being here in Great Falls, but I spend an awful lot of my time involved in rural initiatives as President of the Sweetgrass Development Corporation, which is a five-county region. I think regionally, not necessarily in terms of Great Falls, I tend to align myself as much with rural counties as I do with urban counties. I don’t really think there’s as much difference between us as we think. I would appreciate your support and look forward to discussing any issues you might have over the next couple of days, and welcome to Great Falls.

Vic Miller, Blaine County, was called away and did not present.

Carl Seilstad, Fergus County

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Carl Seilstad. I’ve got a wife of 29 years, Cathy, who is working in Havre. We’ve got two sons, one daughter, none living at home. I’m just starting my second term as a commissioner in Fergus County. I have been interested and wanting to apply for this position, but the timing hasn’t been right, but this year my other commissioners decided it was time to go for it, so here I am. I am actively involved in MACo. Right now, I’m currently serving as the District 6 board chair. I’m on the public land and health and human services committees, I’m on the investment committee, a trustee on the JPIA board. I am very interested in MACo, I like MACo, I believe in what it’s for, I’d just like the opportunity to serve the membership. I promise you I’ll give 110 percent and do the best job that I can. I look forward to your support and thank you very much.

President Prinkki asked Allan Underdal, Fiscal Officer, to speak.

Allan Underdal, Toole County

I’d just like to say that I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to serve you as Fiscal Officer and I’d be glad to do that for another term. I am a member of the Tax, Finance, and Budget committee for several years, and I’m also a representative on the JPA board. I’d like to continue serving you in this capacity. Thank you.

2008 & 2009 Conferences

John Prinkki, President

The 2008 Annual Conference will be held in Hamilton, Ravalli County, and Alan Thompson, Ravalli County, invited everyone to attend. Regarding the 2009 Annual Conference, President Prinkki said Lewis & Clark County is willing to host it in Helena, in cooperation with Meagher County, Broadwater County, and Jefferson County.

Nationwide Retirement Solutions Update

Harold Blattie, MACo Executive Director

For those of you that participated, thank you very much for filling out the online survey that our evaluation committee put together. One of the questions related to the services from Nationwide Retirement Solutions and I think as many of you know, Nationwide made a fairly significant change in how service was provided a number of years ago, and, quite frankly, it hasn’t worked real well in Montana. I’ve been at the forefront of making sure the folks at the home office in Columbus don’t forget our wishes and I’m very, very happy to report to you that there has been quite a significant change in the philosophy of how service will be delivered to you and your employees. I’d like to introduce our new representative who is in charge of this area; his name is John Lamm and he can tell you some of what he’s been going through the last few months to really get back to where we needed to be.

John Lamm, Nationwide Retirement Solutions

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. This is first opportunity I’ve had to attend a MACo conference and I appreciate this opportunity to speak today. I didn’t realize I was going to get this opportunity until about two minutes ago, so I’ve got nothing really prepared, but I would like to tell you this: that, as Harold stated, Nationwide’s philosophy has changed. Technology is supposed to make things better. Personal customer service, you can’t replace that. In the past, we had one representative from Nationwide covering Montana. Montana’s a big place and for one representative who lived in Idaho, it just wasn’t working, so we have changed our philosophy. Our plan is to have two representatives for Montana that will cover the state. For those of you who have not seen a Nationwide rep in some time, I’ll just let you know that that will change. You will be able to get hold of us, they’ll be out to visit, and it is a valuable program for your employees. Deferred compensation allows people to retire comfortably. Social Security and pensions just don’t cut it anymore. That third leg of the stool, deferred comp or personal savings, is what really helps people into retirement. When you have a customer service rep that can explain those things to your employees, it makes all the difference in the world. When they have problems or concerns, they have somebody they can contact and meet face to face. I appreciate this opportunity to let you know that is now our philosophy. We have several county contacts already, but I need to make sure that we’re contacting the right people to set up meetings and provide better service to you. If you wouldn’t mind stopping by the Nationwide booth over the next couple of days and just give me your contact information, I would appreciate it. I will let you know things are going to change and get better. I know some of you who have not seen Nationwide for awhile, you’ve had other providers that might be local and I completely understand that, but I will let you know that we will be there and provide the service that we can. I appreciate this time and see you at the booth. Thank you.

Special Letter from U. S. Sen. Jon Tester

Cheryl MacArthur, Great Falls field director for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, read the following letter:

Good morning, everyone,

Sorry I can’t be with you today, but thanks for allowing me to say a few words about the great work you folks do.

I know that you all value hard work, honesty, straight talk, and common sense. Those are all Montana values. They’re important at all levels of government, from school boards to city councils to county governments and on up to the U.S. Congress.

Thank you for making it happen.

I want to say a few things about some of our accomplishments in the 110th Congress.

Max and I are fighting for and getting funding for much-needed infrastructure projects across Montana. Just the other day, the Senate approved $20 million in transportation, housing, and urban development projects across Montana.

Improving that sort of infrastructure will bring more good-paying jobs to Montana, it will make our highways safer and more accessible, and it will improve our state’s economy.

We passed a major energy bill. It will bring more opportunity to Montana. It will save money. And it will help clean up our air and water.

We gave working Americans a long-overdue raise.

We passed the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.

We funded rural schools and farm disaster aid.

I’m making some long overdue changes to give our veterans a fair shake. Just the other week, I got the Senate to set aside $125 million to increase the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled vets.

I’m happy to say I’ve got eight offices now open across the state. If you are ever near one, stop in and say hello or give them a call if you need help with something. And if you’re ever in Washington, visit me there. It’s always nice to see familiar faces in a place like D.C.

Enjoy your time together today, and please be in touch.

Jon

Fiscal Officer’s Report

Allan Underdal, Fiscal Officer

We didn’t have a handout to give to each one of you, but just going on the profit and loss budget versus the actual, for July and August, for the Association, the ink is all in black. I think that’s a good sign. We are at 16.7 percent of the year has been completed in July and August. The total income for that time is 17.9 percent of a budget of $2,024,215; $362,531 has been collected, or 17.9 percent. One item that wasn’t budgeted, and isn’t listed in that total, would be the MACo Health Care Trust reimbursement income. That was added after the time that the budget was put together, so at this point, we do have $34,424 that’s actually been collected but wasn’t budgeted for. In expense side of the budget, 14.3 percent has been expended, so it was at 16.7 percent of the year that has gone by, so we are ahead of the game and the total expense budget for this year was $1,880,459, so more money was budgeted coming in than going out, which, obviously, is a good thing.

One of the things that the Tax, Finance, and Budget Committee discussed when we met to discuss budget items was no one wants to raise dues or things like that if there’s any other way around it. One of the things that was suggested probably two or three years ago was that if we could get more dollars out of sponsorships, we would certainly try to do that, so Sheryl has been really checking into that at MACo. Certainly Cascade County did a good job of providing vendors here.

Patti Grosfield has resigned and Tom Swindle is our new finance officer. He was our former auditor who audited the MACo books for quite a few years. He has been working on getting the audit ready and trying to transition to a new job. I think he’s certainly put in a lot of hours and worked hard at this the past few months. That necessitated the board hiring a new audit firm. There was an RFP sent out and Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co. of Butte is our new auditor and they just presented an audit to us at the Board of Directors meeting yesterday. It was an unqualified audit; of course, as you all know, when you get your audits, there are all these subfindings in the audit and I view those things, if they find something that needs to be changed, worth looking at. One of the things they did make a finding of is that felt we need a monthly rather than yearly reconciliations and adjustments; not that all the things were done just yearly, but especially during this transition period, they found there was a need for monthly reconciliations and adjustments, so those things are being implemented. They also identified other internal controls that they suggested needed to be done; one had already been implemented and that was the written agreements with the affiliate members such as the JPIA, JPA, and Health Care Trusts. Those were not necessarily written down in black and white; there are now written agreements with each one of those entities.

MACo is in good shape financially and we certainly intend to make sure it stays that way.

Staff Introductions & Thanks

John Prinkki, President

President Prinkki introduced MACO staff members Mike Harbour, Tom Swindle, Sara McGowan, Karen Houston, Kerissa Lyman, Emelia McEwen, Fred Hansen, Dennis Jupka, and Keith Stapley. He also recognized Harold Blattie, Sheryl Wood, and the staff for its work during the 2007 legislative session. President Prinkki also said because the resolutions adopted by the Association were so well put together, they had better than a 70-percent success ratio. He added that the Association was one of the most respected lobbying groups in Helena. President Prinkki also said the bridge access issue was important to counties and commissioners should do what they can to work through appropriate interim committees to negotiate a satisfactory agreement. He also mentioned the 2007 fire season with more than 500,000 acres burned and how the wildland-urban interface must be addressed with Montana DNRC. President Prinkki talked about public safety issues and building codes in subdivisions.

Executive Director’s Report

Harold Blattie, Executive Director

The Association, as we looked back over the last couple of years, has undergone a huge transition, and, really, an entire paradigm shift. We’ve gone from an organization with a staff of ten to today’s staff of 23. I can assure you that the work that goes on to implement and facilitate all of those changes is really significant.

I would like to express my great and deep appreciation and gratitude to MACo Associate Director Sheryl Wood because she just handles so much of that necessary stuff like paperwork and getting things in order. At the NACo conference, I introduced her as the second most important lady in my life and, quite frankly, she is, so I want all of you to really understand and appreciate that with Sheryl and all of our staff.

In about a week, we will lose one of our staff members who’s not here, Shantil Siaperas, who moved to California with her boyfriend. Many of you of you probably don’t realize but the last two months’ newsletters have been produced out of California. She’s managed to produce a couple of very good newsletters even with the complication of not being in the office. Recognizing that situation couldn’t continue indefinitely, we did fill the position. I think many of you noticed last night and today that instead of somebody wandering around with a point-and-shoot camera, we’ve got a professional photographer on staff. We’re real excited about a number of those changes and things that are happening with your organization and your pools.

One of the things I’d like to do is thank all of you who participated in the Survey Monkey survey that our Evaluation Committee put together and sent out. We will be making the link available to where all of you can go in and look at all of the results and comments. Thank you very much for all of the kind words for our staff members. We will make sure those kind words get passed along. Those of you who had suggestions, we take those suggestions seriously and, in particular, if you don’t feel we’ve adequately addressed a concern you have expressed, please call and let us know because we’re here to serve you. That’s the only reason the Association exists. To be able to do that, we need to know what things that you would like to see us do and things that we could do better. The suggestion box is always open. Looking into the future, it’s been often said if you’re not growing, you’re dying, and I think that really is the case. As we continue to look at ways we can more efficiently serve you or serve you to a greater extent or a much higher level, there are more things that we look at on a fairly regular basis.

As you know, we brought our claims processing for our workers comp pool and our property and casualty liability pool in-house and realized a savings of $400,000 by doing that; that translates into helping to keep your premiums down. The Trustees of the Joint Powers Insurance Authority, that’s the property and casualty liability pool, and the Trustees of the Joint Powers Authority, which is workers compensation pool, will be giving consideration to a proposal that at their meetings tomorrow and the next day concerning legal services. When we think back to a Board of Directors retreat that was held a couple of years ago, that was one of the things that was identified as a very large need that you have expressed: additional help with legal matters. I know many of your county attorneys are quite busy with their criminal caseload and you don’t always get the level of service and attention that you would like to from your County Attorneys. Some counties do have the luxury of having a civil counsel or a counsel that just works for the commission, but most don’t. Those of you who are struggling with that, we’re trying to find better ways and perhaps that is something that could be provided to help you, whether on a reasonable fee basis or through the pools.

I know all of you know Myra Shulz very well; she will be here tomorrow. Myra has entered into a contract with us for this fiscal year but does not anticipate extending that contract for another year. She is looking to perhaps do a transitional phase for a six-month period to assist training someone to provide that subdivision and land use advice to you. As much as we would like for Jack Holstrom to hang around another 15 or 20 years, that probably isn’t going to happen. Jack gets as many calls as Sheryl and I do, so dealing with personnel issues is an area that I know all of you desperately need all of the help you can get.

98th Annual MACo ConferenceWe’re working with the Local Technical Assistance Program out of MSU at Bozeman to see if we can cooperatively provide some assistance to the smaller counties, their road departments on proper signing, and a number of different things. That’s something else that the trustees of the Joint Powers Insurance Authority will be considering at their meeting. The JPA workers comp On Track program rolled out during the last few months. It’s a program that, if you implement and do, will help you reduce accidents, save claims, and ultimately affect your mod factors and help you help yourself keep work comp premiums down. I would like to remind everyone that MACo is your Association; we work for you, the door’s always open, the phone is always available, we try to get calls returned as promptly as we can, and e-mail is wonderful. I would like to thank John for this past year. John has done a tremendous job for you and he was there for you and for us generally two days every week during the session and did an awful lot of legwork to help counties. We had 2,500 bill draft requests, 1,500 or so turned into bills; we were watching probably in excess of 300 and fairly well engaged in a couple of hundred bills.

Wildland-Urban Interface Discussion

The floor was opened to a general discussion about the 2007 fire season. Among the issues mentioned was the organization and public notice of burn restrictions, the complexity of jurisdiction in counties with multiple agencies, as well as area and road closures, and evacuations. Jean Curtiss, Missoula County, noted how her county set up an information line that residents could call to learn about restrictions and evacuations, as well as a call center when the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the county a disaster area. Executive Director Blattie emphasized that counties should probably place more emphasis on mitigation via education on defensible space to help reduce the need for evacuations. Allan Thompson, Ravalli County, talked about his county’s Firewise wagon and its urban interface task force, but that homebuilders still ignore the message they preach. Still, during the Tin Cup fire, homeowners in the area did adopt defensible safe, which saved their homes, and the U.S. Forest Service praised their actions. Thompson also mentioned the hypocrisy of many homeowners who tell the county to stay out of their business when it comes to land issues, yet ask for help after a fire has damaged or destroyed their property. John Prinkki said he and his fellow commissioners have a weekly conference call with the Billings area fire restriction group, the Forest Service, the BLM, NPS, and other counties to talk about what fire restrictions will be set that week so private and public lands are in sync. Mike Murray, L&C County, said his county has a weekly conference call with Broadwater and Jefferson county officials to discuss fire issues. Murray also mentioned a story in the NACo newsletter where the Forest Service said the costs of fighting forest fires should be shouldered by the counties if county commissioners don’t properly zone the interface areas. Maureen Davey, Stillwater County, said procedures for contacting state and federal agencies seem to change yearly and wanted MACo to help provide the counties a checklist that would include information such evacuation details. Executive Director Blattie asked if there would be an interest in having a fire seminar at the Mid-Winter Conference in 2008. Many attendees said they were interested.

Energy Performance Contracting & Lease Payments Update

Dan Semmons, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

I’d like to thank Harold and the folks at MACo who made time for this brief presentation during the general session. I thought I’d talk about two recent matters that our office has dealt with that relate to new topics that face counties throughout the state of Montana; new opportunities, I suppose, and new risks associated with those.

The first regards detention center financing, or potential detention center financing, and the issues that revolve around that, and the second involves energy performance contracts. They’re kind of exclusive of one another in terms of a strict legal analysis but they end up involving one another because both end up involving lease-purchase financing, which is something that I think we’re seeing more of in Montana and something that has a lot of bells and whistles to it and a lot of pitfalls.

I want to stress that I’m not here to peddle lease financing. All things being equal, I would prefer GO bonds; there’s just greater security, as least I think, with them. You really need to watch operation and maintenance costs and other costs with the facility than you do with lease-purchase financing. Before you entertain lease-purchase financing, I think you really need a feasibility study to show that you’ll have the revenues available that are going to pay lease payments under the agreement, which is essentially a financing document.

How many you have out there have entered into a non-appropriation lease to finance the costs of improvements or construction? Not many, and I’m not surprised; it’s not a hugely common device in the state of Montana. It is a lot more common nationwide and I think that’s a function of state law. A lot of state laws have a proposition where the local government bodies essentially can’t incur debt or the debt limitation is so low as to be laughable. That’s what a non-appropriation lease is all about.

These are financing leases and the lease payments essentially just reflect the borrowing costs. When you’re making the lease payments, it would be the equivalent of making the debt service payments under a bond, although as I’ll talk about, the whole reason for a non-appropriation lease is so that they aren’t construed as debt.

The fundamentals: a non-appropriation lease-purchase agreement is going to have provision that the county does not have to appropriate money to pay the lease payments, so the theory is that so long as there aren’t any penalties for failing to make the payments or for terminating the lease, the payments don’t constitute debt because they’re payable only out of the current revenues of the county. To the extent the payments for the lease are budgeted, then they’ll be paid to the extent they aren’t, they won’t be paid and the lease will be terminated and the parties will go their separate ways.

One is the authority of the county to enter into a lease-purchase transaction, which is going to be a matter of state law. The second is you need some assurance that an appropriation lease is not going to constitute debt, because once it constitutes debt, you’re into a whole different statutory regime, you’re going to need an election, and you’ve got other considerations to face.

In the example for financing a detention center by way of lease-purchase financing, some of the analysis we went through were first, the authority of the county to enter into such a lease and that led to House Bill 292, which was enacted in the 2007 legislative session.

In the context of a detention center, it provides express authority for the board of county commissioners to lease any personal or real property of the county to a third party; I believe that’s for a term of up to 30 years. There’s another provision in that act that provides that the county can enter into a lease-purchase agreement for a period not to exceed 20 years.

What frequently happens in these deals, particularly when it’s a building you’re going to occupy such a detention center, is there are two leases. There is a ground lease to the financing party, and that could be a trustee or an underwriter or a third party who engages in lease-purchase financing and who’s going to provide the money. Then, there’s a lease back to the county for a shorter period of time and that’s the non-appropriation lease.

Why would you want to do that? It’s kind of a good deal for the county, particularly if everything works out right. If doesn’t work out right, or if there aren’t sufficient amounts to pay for the lease payments that are essentially financing the costs of these improvements, it may not be the end of the world for the county. Ultimately, fee title free of the leasehold interest would come back to the county in that circumstance.

Let’s say you’ve got this new detention center and after 30 years, the ground lease would go away and the county would own the improvements free and clear of the lease.

That’s a long-winded way of explaining the statutory provisions when there are two lease provisions in the statute. With respect to financing a detention center, there’s express statutory authority for a county to enter into a lease whereby it would be the lessor. To have a lease back, it would be the lessee under the 2007 legislation.

That still leaves open the debt question: “Does entering into the lease purchasing agreement create debt for the county such that you have to comply with 7-7-2201 and related statutes, including the election, the debt limit, etc.?” That question wasn’t clear in this instance earlier in the year. The legislation I had originally drafted to address this issue essentially said such a lease purchase agreement did not constitute debt. The legislative council said, “Forget it, we’re going to throw it in the garbage and you can’t do that because it’s not clear under state law whether or not it constitutes debt.” We felt comfortable it didn’t constitute debt.

You’ll see in the outline some provisions you’ll have to wrestle with in order to determine whether it constitutes debt, but at the end of the day, we decided to try and get an AG opinion on the matter. The problem was with a 1979 AG opinion that didn’t address a non-appropriation lease expressly; it addressed a lease that had a lot of features of a non-appropriation lease. In other words, you could cancel this lease at any time without penalty and you didn’t have to pay the balance of the lease payments. Well, the attorney general at the time said it constitutes debt because over the period of the lease term, you’re exceeding what was then a $40,000 debt limit and you’re binding the county to make payments in future fiscal years. There was this opinion that said a lease that looked a lot like a non-appropriation lease was debt.

Then, in 2001, there was an AG opinion regarding the city of Great Falls and swimming pool improvements. Essentially, the same question was presented, except it was expressly styled as a non-appropriation lease. The AG in 2001 said that doesn’t constitute debt, and then, regrettably, they said, we leave for another day whether such an arrangement would constitute debt at the county. The 1979 opinion regarded the county. We went for an AG opinion essentially to say, “Can’t you apply the logic in the Great Falls opinion to a county?” Recently, the AG’s office said, “Yeah, we agree a non-appropriation lease of a county, so long as certain conditions are met, and those include no penalty for termination, no compulsion to keep paying on the lease, etc., and it’s a true non-appropriation lease, not debt of the county.”

The two fundamental concerns with respect to this detention center financing have been resolved favorably because, one, there’s express statutory authority to enter into these lease/lease purchase agreements, and two, there’s an opinion of the attorney general that such an arrangement doesn’t constitute debt of the county.

If you have anything like a liquidated damages provision or a non-substitution provision, a non-substitution provision would say, in essence, “If you don’t make your lease payments, that’s fine, but you can’t build another detention center in the county.” That would not be a good factor because I think a court would look at that and say, “You can’t build another detention center. You need a detention center. You’re compelled to have this facility.”

You need to look at things in a lease purchase arrangement that would compel the county to continue to make payments under the agreement. I would just caution anyone to really consider the ramifications of the transaction before diving into a lease purchase arrangement.

The second item, and this is a 2005 law, is energy performance contracts. I assume you’re generally familiar with these. The theory is that by way of having a provider implement these improvements, such as HVAC, boiler, etc., the savings realized by those improvements are more than sufficient to pay their costs.

The nexus between the detention center and the energy performance contracts is the way these contracts -- I’ve looked at two of them (one for a city and one for a county) -- were financed by way of a lease purchase arrangement. You’ll see lease purchase agreements rear their heads in the context of energy performance contracts in terms of how you pay for these improvements.

These energy performance contracts are very attractive, if, in fact, it all comes to pass that the savings realized are going to pay the costs of these improvements. If you free up the funds in your general fund that are more than sufficient to pay the cost of the improvement, then you do have a means of financing the costs.

I set out the fundamental provisions in the act that instituted this notion of energy performance contracts. I want to focus on a couple things. The critical thing when you faced with these is please try and determine that in fact under state law what you have is a energy performance contract. If you are under one, then there’s quite a bit of latitude of what you can do in terms of selection of the provider, financing, etc.

With both contracts I looked at, I was troubled whether they fit the definition and the statute of energy performance contracts. The statute says these contracts must require the qualified provider to guarantee the conservation-related costs saving to the extent necessary to pay for the conservation measures, including financing charges incurred over the life of the contract. Based on the statute, if the savings don’t pay for the conservation measures and the financing charges over the life of the contract, then it may not be an energy performance contract.

98th Annual MACo ConferenceThat’s important because there’s a process under the contract act that makes it more streamlined for the county. There’s a selection process, and an alternative selection process where you can essentially you can go sole-source with a provider who’s qualified to provide these kinds of services. If it’s not an energy performance contract, you’ve got to comply with general competitive bidding requirements.

The other thing is the contract statute has some allusion to financing in various parts of the act. The way I’ve seen it is you have the contract and as a separate piece there’s a lease purchase agreements with respect to these improvements, such as HVAC and water systems integrated into your building. They are deemed to be equipment lease purchase financing under the notion that if you don’t pay, they’re going to come rip it out. Question how realistic that is!

Committee Meetings

The following MACo committees met after the opening general session:

  • Agriculture
  • Community & Economic Development
  • Health, Human Services, & Labor
  • Information Technology
  • Justice & Public Safety
  • Land Use & Development
  • Public Lands
  • Resolutions
  • Taxation, Finance & Budget
  • Transportation

General Session - Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007

Committee Reports

Agriculture Committee: Kathy Bessette, Chair, Hill County

We passed three resolutions to bring forward. As many of you know, six Farm Service Area offices are on the list for closure. They include Lewis & Clark, Meagher, Park, Sanders, Sweet Grass and Glacier counties. We passed a resolution in support of maintaining those offices. We also passed a resolution to oppose the Montana split-state due to brucellosis. Our third resolution was to oppose the creation of a buffer zone around Yellowstone Park. We talked a little about the importance of Montana’s presence at NACo. I think one of the most important things we can do as commissioners is be involved with NACo where they hear about Montana issues directly from us. We talked about rural health care and the problem is our rural and ag people are having with obtaining health care and good, quality health insurance. We also talked about the issue of weeds, and we talked a little about renewable energy. Every one of us would like to be working on that in the future.

Community, Economic Development & Labor Committee: Mike McGinley, Chair, Beaverhead County

We had a meeting to report on the workforce Labor Day report. We talked on the national level. It’s a no-brainer that the workforce and economic development are tied together. We went through the Labor Day report on how the economy in Montana is going and as recently as 2006, the percentages of wage increases, Montana led the nation with a wage increase of five percent per year. What that was doing on the county level was, even with the 3.2 percent increases in COLA, not allowing us to keep up with the economy of Montana; it’s going to cause a drastic work shortage. We went through the report to see where the workforce is going to be coming from, where we need to tie into, and where education is going to factor into it. There was a special presentation of employment on the Indian reservations. That is one viable workforce population sitting out there; if we can get into that the rest of the population, then that should help some of the workforce shortages that are coming up.

As economists look forward, the growth of Montana’s population is projected to be slowing down compared to the rate of growth that we had. We’re going to continue to grow, and as we look at the workforce portion of it, by the year 2013, we’ll have what you could call a negative unemployment picture. It’s impossible to get to a negative number, but there will be more of a demand in jobs than there are people in the workforce. Economists say you can’t have economic growth if you don’t have a workforce, so one way to look at it is it’s definitely driving the wages up, so we’re not going to be sitting at the 48th or 45th position in the nation’s wages. That is the one reason we keep saying our young people are moving out of state: it’s because of wages. This has the potential to drive them back home.

We had two people give presentations from the Department of Labor & Industry, one on the workforce, and the other on WIRED grants. We have a model WIRED program.

No resolutions came forth in our committees.

Health & Human Services Committee: Bill Kennedy, Chair, Yellowstone County

The first issue we talked about was 72-hour presumptive eligibility, which we supported last legislative session. It will not have any spending until after January 1; they’re working on the rules on that; we’re hoping they go smoother and they’ll speed up that process.

We talked about the drop-in centers; the department is still working on the RFPs for the center dollars, and behavioral health facilities are still working on the details, so what we’re asking for is that the department speeds it up as they work on the details for these because we would like to get the RFPs out and the drop-in centers going in the communities.

The third item we talked about is there is no established public policy on the uninsured in Montana. We’re hoping the folks at the DPHHS, the governor’s office, and the complete oversight committee would look at a policy on the uninsured in Montana. There has to be a vision for the future.

Rule changes take anywhere from four to six months, so, as you can see, what we have going on in the department is, while it doesn’t take that long to cut a program, it does take four to six months to actually get one up and running. There’s some concern there and that’s been coming out at the State Administrative Agency (SAA) offices and the other groups.

Item five is the SAAs. Remember a few years back we were completely onboard with the SAAs, then we came back two sessions ago and embraced the SAAs. There’s three SAAs across Montana: the Western, the Central, and the Eastern SAAs. Counties have become very much involved with them and consumers in your region. There’s a concern that the state is not taking direction from the SAAs and there’s a lot of good things happening with the SAAs. There also are a lot of good ideas, especially from the consumers and the other people involved. We would ask the department to be more involved with them. Carl Seilstad, who sits on the Eastern SAA, has said the state is going on a listening tour and we’re hoping that they can work through with the SAAs with their ideas and going forward. Frank Lane, from the Eastern SAA, is the legislative point person for the state to get information and we do have his e-mail and number if you want to get some ideas back to him.

We also had someone from the Montana Meth Project talk to us. It’s a five-year project and it’s up and funded for the next two years; they’re still working on funding. They’ll be starting Paint the State in January and they’ve asked all the counties to get involved again. Those of you who saw the press releases last week and the news, you’ll see the use of meth has gone down and with the Montana Meth Project, we have seen some good responses. The AG, Tom Siebel, and the Congressional delegation made some announcements on that last week.

Andy Hunthausen was appointed to be our representative on the Mental Health Oversight Committee, so he’ll be sitting on that board taking my place, and Carl Seilstad is representing us on the SAAs.

The committee voted to support the SCHIP program. Today is a very vital day in Congress, as the House will be debating the SCHIP program. We have asked MACo to take a stand supporting the SCHIP program, which is the children’s health insurance program, and it ends on Sept. 30. We were informed today that Montana does have some funds for the program to keep it going even if federal dollars go away, but not a lot. This very popular program needs to come back and we have supported it for the last 10 years. We would ask that you buttonhole Congressman Rehberg’s staff that we would like him to support the SCHIP program. He didn’t support the first one through the House; we’re hoping he supports the conference committee today. There’s a big difference between the two programs right now, but the House version was probably the best version for us, but if we can get that through nationally, we need that. We also ask that you ask the two Senate offices to support conference committee SCHIP program as it comes to the Senate.

Information Technology Committee: Sandra Broesder, Chair, Pondera County

The first topic we talked about was the Montana Land Information Act. MACo backed it at the last legislative session. The intent was that the county clerk and recorders collected a dollar, of which 25 cents remained with the county, and the rest to leverage other funds for grant purposes. These grants are basically to be used for a variety of GIS services. We need to understand these are necessary GIS services; it includes things like Cadastral, things we use on a daily basis. The problem that has come up was how the funding was being mechanized. For example, for FY 2008, there’s about $1.1 million that’s available; 74 percent of that goes to state agencies and the remaining 26 percent for tribal and local services. This is money that’s being collected by the counties and the intent was that it be used for county purposes. We need to have some dialog with the state to adjust that ratio the other way. I’m sure Director Bucks would agree with me that the Department of Revenue see some value in that sort of GIS technology. I think it’s something we need to take a look at, and I thank Art Pembroke because he took the lead on this issue.

In the short term on this topic, the next round on this grant starts in January. It tends to have a short window. I think it would behoove all of us, particularly the rural counties, to look at doing some things so we can get some higher priority on that funding grant and maybe have a little better participation on where that money is going

Another thing we talked about was Sheryl has attended some ITSD meetings. We’re looking doing some joint support staff. What I would like to see us do is some sort of a work group and if you’d like to join or if you have some IT support departments that would help us with this, we’d appreciate it. I’d like to have some sort of IT support structure in place. In the rural counties, we don’t have IT departments. In my county, I am the IT department. If we could do some regional partnering or some sort of support system in place, I think it would be a big step.

We talked about a question from the media regarding open minutes, documents and those sorts of things. We’re looking at supporting legislation to allow Internet postings that will satisfy public notice. There are various software packages out there that will stream audio and handle agendas and attach documents so that we can have access to the sort of public disclosure that the legislature uses. It’s probably a long-term project cost-wise.

That segued into the next part regarding document and records preservation. We need to look beyond simply e-mail archiving; we should work with the Secretary of State records preservation people.

Finally, we talked about protecting anonymity in information. We dodged a bullet with SB 33 and we thank Sheryl for killing that one for us. We need to take a real hard look at insure that when we put these documents out in the public record that we’re stripping out the telephone numbers and addresses and protecting privacy.

Justice & Public Safety Committee: Ed Tinsley, Chair, Lewis and Clark County

We had a very brief agenda.

Interoperability projects governance. We had Chris Christensen from the Department of Administration give a brief update on interoperability statewide and the need for counties to sign interlocal agreements. Currently, 80 percent of the counties have signed these; we’re almost there, we need another 20 percent. There was an update on the Northern Tier. The discussion centered on some of the challenges and opportunities with this project. Some of the challenges include Lincoln County in the far northwest corner and Highway 2 through Glacier; that’s a big shadow area. There was discussion about the unfunded mandate aspect and how it may impact counties that signed the MOUs. Chris spoke on some of the other revenue sources that will minimize the impact of local government, such as the federal government and other state agencies. There was a brief discussion on the Canadian border issues with interoperability.

Sheryl spoke about the need for counties to understand their jurisdictional authority. Prior to signing any agreements with NGOs to operate detention centers, there are some serious liability implications with counties, particularly if some of the officers who are staffing these facilities are not certified. Keep that in mind and if have any questions about the issues, ask Harold, Sheryl, or Fred Hansen.

Sheryl also gave an update on the special session and the fire funding study interim committee. Local government and initial attack cost reimbursements are a very real possibility. It’s been a sticking point for counties. This is a possibility now; it’s not a definite, but thanks to Harold and Sheryl for bringing it up during special session. At least it’s on the table.

Land Use & Development: Paddy Trusler, Chair, Lake County

One of the major topics that we talked about today was the airport influence zone (AIZ), or the airport-affected area of zoning, that many of you may be in the process of evaluating. Beaverhead County was there and had several questions I think were germane to some of your counties, too. That is, the requirements put into the AIZ and especially as they pertain to rural counties you might find within 10 or 12 feet of the runway itself and how they actually affect you.

Do something with the respect to the regulations. Normally, you have a consultant that’s working on those particular regulations and there are permissive parts of the legislation, and there are also mandatory parts of the legislation. My experience tells me there’s a third factor, and that’s the FAA requirements, so it is important that you do something so that when and if you want to take the next step as far as airport improvements are concerned, that you will have those regulations in place. Obviously, Myra Shults was very influential in the development of these regulations. She is available to review all those particular documents for you as they’re developed.

The second thing we talked about was a request on the part of the Clark Fork Coalition to have our name as the sponsor with no monetary requirement for a conference that it’s proposing in mid-March at the University of Montana. This conference deals with water supply and growth in the Clark Fork River Basin. One of the members of our committee, Sanders County Commissioner Gail Patton, is on this coalition and he urged us to sponsor this. He was absolutely amazed at how ignorant some of the legislators are as far as water rights issues, downstream usages, and requests. For example, I didn’t know the state of Washington is asking for over a billion cubic feet of water out of the Clark Fork Basin, which basically starts in Montana. The conference is intended to be a two-day, informational meeting. They have not developed a final agenda; we have a preliminary one. It is the recommendation of the committee to have MACo as a sponsor. This has a lot to do with eastern counties as well, as far as water management, so if you would like to get on the mailing list for that particular conference, you can contact Gail Patton or DNRC.

We also wanted to pass along the implications of SB 51. Mary Sexton came and joined us at our meeting and explained that the current costs to the state for wildland fire management this last fire season is now approaching $42 million. We’re not going to stop the fires, but we can make an impact as far as how we pay for those fires. As she pointed out, fire suppression costs are exaggerated because of structure protection. When those structures do not provide defensible space or are built in a manner that makes them Firewise certainly increases the cost of fire protection because they’re trying to maintain those fire lines around the structure. There is going to be a lot of rulemaking between the DNRC and DLI as far as how you develop housing requirements as far as making them fireproof or, at least, Firewise.

Lastly, we heard from the DNRC, a different division, about flooding, but with the amount of land that was burned, we’re going to see increased opportunities for it. One of the major issues is floodproofing, and the fact that many insurance policies don’t have flood coverage.

Public Lands Committee: Connie Eissinger, Chair, McCone County

The issues important to our committee include county payments, Endangered Species Act reform, forest and rangeland help, RSB477 roles, wilderness and recreation management areas, and BLM mineral leases sales.

One of the issues brought up was school trust lands. The issue is the increase in rent to a community group that takes care of a portion of state lands and has been a good manager, yet costs of the rent has almost quadrupled. Another issue that was brought up was noxious weeds on state lands. We recognized there is time for a discussion with the DNRC and what we’d like to do is start a dialog to discuss the cost benefits of participating with county weed departments to address the noxious weeds issue on state lands and to try to help provide a toolbox that would include funding for this and to work with our county weed programs.

We’ve decided to schedule a meeting with DNRC Director Mary Sexton and with Kevin Campbell. I would love to see if MACo could schedule that for us. Dave Schulz, and Max Baucus, and myself would like to join that, and probably Harold should, too. Dave will be working on a resolution for the committee to address this issue.

We had an extended discussion on wilderness and wilderness issues. There is an attempt by the Beaverhead Wilderness Partnership to take an end run around what has been developed as a forest management plan with all the stakeholders present and agreeing on what to go forward on the plan. Scott is drafting a resolution to have MACo support lobbying efforts to have the counties develop what our ideas of what wilderness in our own counties and maybe our next-door neighbors to have a regional type of wilderness plan that we could support.

The roadless issues that the counties worked so hard on to present to the governor so that he could present them to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture were not submitted and now travel plans are being addressed in the various forest areas. He wanted to make sure that everyone keeps track of these and be aware of what’s going on in your forests so that you can comment appropriately. Also noted was that the water compacts in reservation counties that tribes are bringing forward with trade lands in those counties. It’s very difficult to get information on these water compacts.

Harold updated the committee on the bridge access issue and how it’s going forward and he will remain a participant in that issue. He also noted with the fire suppression interim committee, we need to be watching for meetings that will be held in our areas and attend them and make sure the counties are shifted some of the costs.

Resolutions Committee: Mike Murray, Chair, Lewis & Clark County

We were notified that Prairie County has withdrawn its resolution dealing with sage grouse and speed limits on public roads and will not be considered.

We took a look at how our bills fared in the legislature and breathed life back into some of them that are long-time resolutions of MACo. Regarding detention costs for the Department of Corrections inmates, the committee referred that back one more time to Justice and Public Safety and MACo staff has a couple of recommendations for changes that may help it out. We also recommend they clarify the statutes attached to bridges come back to life as a MACo resolution. We’re well aware that this may come forward as an initiative and believe that MACo needs to get involved early on in this.

Even though it’s a federal legislative problem, we should once again try delisting the gray wolf in Montana.

The next bill was the uniform penalties for violation of zoning regulations. We’d like to try that one more time. It’s Gallatin County legislation that was designed so if you don’t have a zoning department, the county could issue an occupancy permit when the structure was complete. Unfortunately, that died in the session. We believe it had merit and should be considered again, so we’ll propose it.

Country of origin is a piece of legislation Congressman Rehberg spoke to and we believe MACo needs to step up again; no bill was introduced in the legislature, but our committee strongly supported it. We believe it should be a MACo resolution one more time.

We also supported HB 582, which is interim zoning, and believe we should try that one more time.

We also are bringing forward one more time HB 47, which exempts the threshold for solid waste sites. As the law stands now, anyone who has five acres can have a solid waste site. Hopefully we’ll get to Rep. Butcher and explain to him.

HB 358 is another one we also believe should come back to life; it’s about mail ballot elections.

Again, HB 314, which is a local issue with Cascade County regarding it’s appointment to the airport authority and how that person wasn’t seated. The authority wanted to argue with Cascade County about it’s ability to appoint people to the authority. We see it as a county rights issue. The airport authority is trying to take over the rights that county commissions have and that was the reason we supported the bill.

We also supported HB 541, which was summer youth employment. At all of our district meetings, the HRDC representative presented the need for summer youth employment. That bill died. Our committee would like to support it one more time and the bill be reactivated one more time as a MACo resolution.

HB 745, which was to amend and simplify the collection of impact fees, is another one our committee believes that should go forward as a resolution for MACo one more time.

We support presumptive eligibility, and thanks to Commissioner Kennedy’s report, it was incorporated into another bill and is, in fact, before us.

Taxation, Finance & Budget Committee: Dan Watson, Vice Chair, Toole County

We reviewed three bills that were passed in the last session, which was our Resolution 2006-2 -- HB 49 -- requiring study of local government special districts. We discussed on that bill our continued involvement in that process during the interim. It basically set up a separate group with specific board membership, which included county commissioners, clerk and recorders, treasurers, mayors, and city clerks to review those districts. The intent of this process is to try to standardize some of the statutes as far as the formation, operation, and/or dissolution of those districts. They’re kind of all over the place right now, we’d like to get more uniformity in those, so we’ll continue to follow that committee and see how they’re doing with that process.

The other resolution we looked at was Resolution 2006-4, HB 206, which was revising the county mill levy elections. That one basically was to clarify the mill levy authority.

The other resolution was 2004-4, which became SB 308, which was to revise the road levy election. Basically, what is was to do was clarify who was eligible to vote in that election process and it took us two tries, but we finally got that passed with some changes that occurred in the second draft.

Then we had MACo Finance Officer Tom Swindle give us an update on the budget and review the sponsorship program. We’re looking at specific sponsorships for functions during the Midwinter Conference but also the general overall sponsorship, basically whereby we would go out to local vendors and ask them to become members under associate or affiliate members and try to support our organization and its purpose.

At Harold’s suggestion, we discussed another attempt to raise the bid limit under gas tax to the same level as the general bid limit; basically, two sessions ago, we were able to increase that limit from $4,000 to $20,000, which was a significant change. We would like to attempt to bring it up to the same level as the general bidding requirements, which is the $50,000 level just for simplistic purposes and the fact that you’re not having to keep track of that funding separately as far as bidding requirements go.

The other thing we visited about was that Flathead County is looking at enacting the local option gas tax.

Transportation Committee: John Ostlund, Chair, Yellowstone County

We discussed some of the issues that are pertinent to county roads and dust control, heavy truck traffic, and funding.

98th Annual MACo ConferenceCommissioner Hall from Flathead gave us a presentation on the dust issues and the DEQ fine levied at Flathead. They’re working on a proposed mitigation plan. They have ongoing discussions with DEQ and they’ve pledged to keep MACo and the Transportation Committee involved with that because the mitigation plan could certainly have impacts on all the other counties, too. Dust is an issue for all of us. We had a discussion on Yellowstone County, which recently passed an ordinance that restricted truck traffic on many of the roads and I do have a copy of the ordinance and some of the maps. The issues are probably geared to Yellowstone County around development. We have a lot of gravel pits in the county, a lot of contractors, a lot of housing developments, a lot of commercial construction projects, and it’s led to some of the trucking companies and gravel vendors using county roads as an alternate haul route, and they’re not necessarily through routes. If you look at the map, in fact, there are some of them longer in nature. They use them as a route around the state scales because they have issues with the amount of time delays at the scales. We did, however, close a number of roads in Yellowstone County to through truck traffic and have assessed some penalties for driving on them. It actually worked quite well; we’ve got most of the contractors onboard. There’s only one contractor who was really the problem and damaged a lot of county roads. As you all know, county roads are mostly funded through property taxes as opposed to gas taxes.

We had some discussions about the gas taxes and local option. Eric Griffin gave a presentation about that; he did some studies local option gas tax that commissioners can impose. It does not include diesel fuel and it involves a split with the cities and then some administration. So after review from Lewis & Clark County, they found that the few $100,000 that would actually be collected for the county, coupled with the possibility of the administrative issues that you have to set up, your treasurer has to set up an authority to rebate any fuel taxes collected that aren’t used on roads, so if someone come in and said they need to have an off-road capacity, you have to have an ability to rebate some of that tax to them.

We came to a consensus that it’d be a good thing to ask the membership if they wanted to, through MACo, ask our legislators if we could get some grant funding to do a needs assessment so all county roads could be surveyed through MACo and have the needs for gravel and pavement assessed so when we ask for funding, we’d have a common base to start with.

We didn’t take any action; we voted on Resolution 2007-18, but Todd withdrew it.

Special Announcement

Harold Blattie, Executive Director

I’d like to thank all of our committee members. You really are the heart and soul and what does the work of an Association like this that you develop the policy and the platform for us to follow not only in our Montana Legislature, but also in sending messages to our Congressional members. I want to thank you for the work that you do.

I want to remind you that in your bags you have a sheet titled “Delegate Assembly Rules.” A quick overview: Rule 1. Any resolution from a member district or county not submitted at a district meeting must be submitted to the Resolutions Committee no later than the Sunday before the Annual Convention in order to be presented to the Board of Directors for their approval. We did receive one resolution under Rule 1 that was acted on and approved to go forward by the Board of Directors and that was the resolution that was subsequently withdrawn today.

Then Rule 2, any resolution or bylaw change not submitted through Rule 1 will not be considered by the delegate assembly unless two-thirds of the delegates present and voting elect to suspend the rules to consider late proposals. Late proposals shall be accompanied by copies for all delegates and shall be available prior to the introduction and consideration of bylaw change or resolution. What that means is that to consider any of the resolutions that the committees may have developed today or that any of you have got in your pockets that you haven’t told anybody about yet do need to have a two-thirds vote on the floor tomorrow in order to be enacted upon by the membership. I believe I heard there are three resolutions from the Ag Committee and one from the Public Lands Committee, and so if the authors of those could get the language to us as soon as possible, we would really appreciate it.

If any of you have one of those resolutions that you might have in your pocket that you’re going to surprise us all with, I would ask that you have copies available for all of us.

Closing General Session - Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

Roll Call

Allan Underdal, MACo Fiscal Officer, Toole County

After the roll was taken, Underdal announced a quorum was present to conduct business.

Unfinished Business

John Prinkki, Carbon County, MACo President

A motion from Ken Ronish, Fergus County, was accepted to approve the minutes from the MACo 97th Annual Conference. The motion was seconded by Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County, and passed by unanimous consent.

Appreciation Resolution

John Prinkki, Carbon County, MACo President, read the following Appreciation Resolution:

Resolution of Appreciation

Whereas, the 2007 Annual Conference of the Montana Association of Counties is the 98th such meeting; and

Whereas, attendance of member counties marks its success; and

Whereas, the fine facilities in Great Falls make us all feel welcome.

Now therefore be it resolved that the 98th Annual Conference of the Montana Association of Counties express its sincere appreciation for the sponsorship of this conference to the Cascade County Commissioners, spouses, and staff:

  • Lance and Marilyn Olson
  • Peggy and Ralph Beltrone
  • Joe and Kathy Briggs

Alan Thompson, Ravalli County, moved to adopt the Resolution of Appreciation. The motion was seconded by John Ostlund, Yellowstone County, and passed by unanimous consent.

Nominations and Election for 1st Vice President

John Prinkki, Carbon County, MACo President, introduced the following nominees for MACo offices:

  • Joe Briggs, Cascade County
  • Vic Miller, Blaine County
  • Carl Seilstad, Fergus County

Each nominee gave a short speech. Lance Olson, Cascade County, and Ken Weber, Jefferson County, both spoke to endorse Joe Briggs, Cascade County. Harold Blattie, Executive Director, then read Article 9, Section 5, of the MACo Bylaws detailing the election of officers. He also explained that 23 votes were required to win in the first ballot, but if no candidate received 23 votes, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes would be removed and a second vote taken for the top two candidates. The ballots were then cast and counted.

Executive Director Blattie also announced the National Association of Counties’ prescription drug program was available to any Montana county that asked for it. He also announced the 2009 Annual Conference would be the Association’s 100th such conference and MACo 1st Vice President Cyndi Johnson, once she became president, would be appointing a committee to work with the annual conference committee specifically on special events. One goal of the committee, Blattie said, will be to locate all former elected officials and honor them at an evening function at the 100th conference. Another goal will be to collect archives, Blattie said, and asked for any assistance with the effort.

The votes were counted, and John Prinkki, MACo President, announced there would need to be a run-off election between Carl Seilstad, Fergus County, and Vic Miller, Blaine County, as no clear majority could be determined. While a new round of ballots were given, President Prinkki said he needed to reaffirm the new officers (incoming Past President, President, and 1st Vice President) in an election.

President Prinkki then announced Carl Seilstad, Fergus County, was elected as MACo 2nd Vice President. He then asked Vic Miller, Blaine County, to conduct the election of MACo Past President, as Past President Bill Kennedy was unavailable.

Election of Past President

Vic Miller, Blaine County, and former MACo President (2002-2003), conducted the election of Past President by asking for a motion for the reaffirmation of John Prinkki for Past President. A motion was made, seconded, and passed by unanimous consent.

Reaffirmation of President, 1st Vice President, and 2nd Vice President

98th Annual MACo ConferenceJohn Prinkki, Carbon County, MACo President, announced the following officers would be reaffirmed to the positions of MACo President, 1st Vice President, and 2nd Vice President:

  • President - Cyndi Johnson, Pondera County
  • 1st Vice President - Mike McGinley, Beaverhead County
  • 2nd Vice President - Carl Seilstad, Fergus County

A motion was made by Alan Thompson, Ravalli County, seconded, and passed by unanimous consent.

Election of Fiscal Officer

John Prinkki, Carbon County, MACo President, introduced the following nominees for Fiscal Officer:

  • Allan Underdal, Toole County
  • Jaime Doggett, Meagher County

Each nominee gave a short speech, then ballots were cast and counted. President Prinkki then announced Allan Underdal was elected as MACo Fiscal Officer.

Special Letter from U.S. Sen. Max Baucus

Christina Davis, Great Falls field director for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, read the following letter:

Greetings:

I’d like to thank my good friend and past president of MACo, John Prinkki. You’ve done a great job for the folks in Carbon County and across our state and it’s been a pleasure to work with you. I’d like to say hello to the new president, Cynthia Johnson. Cyndi has done great things in Pondera County and I’m sure she will be a great president for MACo.

I also want to thank all the retiring county commissioners. I wish you well wherever life may take you.

Montana’s 56 counties, from Anaconda-Deer Lodge County to Yellowstone County, represent a wide variety of demographics, each with its own unique needs. As county commissioners, each of you has worked hard for your county. We all work hard to address the needs of our constituents.

A major concern of mine and for our state is health care. That’s why I’ve worked so hard on the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP is a program that is important to all Montanans because it cares for our greatest resource, our children. I look forward to standing with all of you to make sure our kids get the health care they need and deserve.

Another program I know is on a lot of your minds is the Secure Rural Schools Program. This program is vital for providing good schools, safe roads, and emergency services. However, we must pay for this the right way. I stood with many of you as we fought the unacceptable proposal that would have sold our public lands to pay for this program, and, you bet, I’m going to fight for our counties to get the resources they need.

I hope you’ve had a great meeting in Great Falls, and I look forward to meeting you all in the near future.

Regards,

Max

Field Director Davisalso addressed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA); she recognized the clerk and recorders’ hard work during the election. She also said HAVA and the election rules are not under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, but the Rules Committee. Davis also recognized a problem with disabilities and Social Security issues being under the Finance Committee, but Sen. Baucus’ office will continue to work with counties on it. She also noted national philanthropic donations go to serve urban areas, which comprise only 10 percent of the needs of the country’s citizens. Davis also mentioned Sen. Baucus’ Faith Summit that invites leaders of large philanthropic organizations to Montana so they’ll be aware of the state’s needs.

Staff Introductions & Thanks

John Prinkki, President

President Prinkki introduced MACO staff members Jack Holstrom, Greg Jackson, and thanked the rest of the staff.

2009 Annual Conference

John Prinkki, President

President Prinkki said the 2009 Annual Conference would be MACo’s 100th such conference and there was only one nomination submitted for its site: Helena, jointly submitted by Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, Jefferson, and Meagher counties. He then asked Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark County, to speak. Commissioner Murray, on behalf of the four counties, asked the body to cast a unanimous ballot. No other nominations were submitted, so President Prinkki recognized a motion made by Mike McGinley, Beaverhead County, and seconded by Greg Chilcott, Ravalli County. The motion was passed by unanimous consent.

Resolutions

Mike Murray, Lewis and Clark, Resolutions Committee Chair

Chairman Murray said a motion was needed to suspend to rules before any resolutions could be received, and a two-thirds majority vote was needed to do so. A motion was made, then seconded. Several commissioners spoke both against and for the motion to suspend the rules. Chairman Murray clarified that the body was considering amending the rules to allow consideration of five resolutions that will be voted on individually, and also said that 30 yes votes were needed to pass the motion. The motion was then put to a vote and passed.

2007-1 FSA Office Closures-Do Pass, high priority

Alan Thompson, Ravalli County: “Originally, there were seven offices that they talked about closing, Ravalli County being one of them. The difference was Ravalli County was going to be absorbed into Missoula County. We have four people in our office and twice as many producers as Missoula County. It didn’t make sense for them to close our office and move it to Missoula when they only have one person in that office. My understanding is that there has been an agreement that they will look at that, but I worry that if this resolution goes forward, it talks about these six counties, it says nothing about Ravalli County and all of a sudden, this agreement falls apart and Ravalli County does not have an FSA office, which we need. I would like to see, and I don’t know if it needs to be added to this, but I don’t want Ravalli County totally left out of this. So, if there’s a way we can either include us or as it goes forward at a later time to put us into it, I would like to see that.”

Chairman Murray asked for a motion to add Ravalli County to the resolution requesting its FSA office not be closed. A motion was made, and seconded. Kathy Bessette, Ag Committee Chair, said her committee spoke in favor of the motion. The motion passed.

Jaime Doggett, Meagher County: “Meagher County has been targeted for a long time, and in my personal opinion, if Randy Johnson spends the money keeping our FSA offices open that he spends traveling around the state holding public hearings in those offices trying to get them closed, we would not be having this debate. They keep telling us that they want to make these one-stop shops. They want to put us into population centers so that people from White Sulphur Springs or any of your other small communities driving into the larger city so they can shop at Walmart and they can buy their gas at Town Pump and they’re not buying their gas at Edwards Grocery, and all their shopping goes out of town. I don’t want to see this happen to our small communities. We’re tried of this being brought forward year after year; they say our office is gonna be fine; everything’s going to be OK. We’ve got to stop this. Thank you.”

Maureen Davey, Stillwater County: “Stillwater County approves of this resolution because (if the offices were closed) it would create a hardship for our producers and they would not travel these distances to get these services, so we vote in favor of this resolution.”

Jim Durgan, Park County: “Park County stands in favor of this resolution also, and I would just echo what the last two ladies said; in addition, there are jobs that are on the line here that people who are working in our community who won’t have those jobs and what they will have to do, in our case, is go commute to Bozeman rather than be in Livingston and it creates hardship to the people who are working.”

Jerry Friend, Stillwater County: “I would like to voice my support of this resolution. We all know Montana is a wide and diverse territory. I don’t know about you guy’s counties, but in mine I can name four very distinct weather systems. If they close down Farm Service Agencies, I don’t if they’d end up federalizing them; it’s hard enough to keep track of what’s going on in one county, much less if you’re trying to do a district.”

Chairman Murray, as a point of order, asked about the priority of the resolution, noting high priority may only be given to a resolution if it affects all Montana counties.

Allan Underdal, Toole County:“I’d like to say that it does affect all counties in the state, because we don’t know who’s next. It happened when they were trying to close offices for motor vehicles; we had several offices that were closed there, too. It can definitely be said that it affects us all.”

Chairman Murray then reaffirmed the resolution’s high priority and asked for a vote on the resolution’s high priority. The motion was passed.

2007-2 Montana “Split State”-Do Pass, high priority

Kathy Bessette, Hill County: “After much discussion and the need to preempt a resolution together, the Ag Committee is not in support of Montana being a split state. It is the intent of the Montana Association of Counties to oppose any action creating artificial boundaries or a split-state status.”

Maureen Davey, Stillwater County: “I’d just like to reinforce that Stillwater County will support this resolution and, after attending a meeting in Park County about split-state status being mentioned there several times, this would not only be bad for that area around Yellowstone Park, but the whole state.”

Ken Weber, Jefferson County: “I think an action has already been taken at the state level that created an artificial boundary and most of us would refer to that as the cowboy boot. The cowboy boot on the western side of the state and across the southern part is where high-growth counties are, and on the eastern side is everybody else. I think that this resolution is a step in the right direction to stop that kind of artificial boundaries and we definitely support the resolution. I think we have to look backwards to that cowboy boot and say, ‘That’s not necessarily a good move, either.’ We definitely support this resolution.”

Jim Durgan, Park County: “I would like to read the position statement that was put forth by the cattle producers of Park County: To provide a proactive response that protects the livestock industry in Montana, we, the Park County Cattle Producers, recommend the following procedures be implemented to prevent split-state status:

We feel that USDA’s APHIS veterinarians, along with local veterinarians, could examine herds of cattle on a case-by-case basis to determine infection risks. After risk determination takes place, individual herd plans could be implemented involving annual vaccination of mature cows within specific herds. Potential sources of infection should be identified and tested for the degree of incidence. In the case of bison from Yellowstone Park, a known carrier of brucellosis, extensive capture, test, and slaughter, along with vaccinations on animals within the park need to be implemented. The infection incidence in elk herds in the greater Yellowstone area needs to be determined. Migrating elk from Yellowstone, resident herds just outside the park, and resident herds in other parts of the state should be examined to determine transmission risk factors. Elk herds containing brucellosis infection should be reduced in numbers through hunting and management by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Costs for vaccinating cattle should be covered by those who present the risk. If bison or migratory elk from Yellowstone Park present the risk, the National Park Service should pay for veterinarians, vaccine, and producer handling of cattle. If the threat is from resident elk, the state of Montana should cover these costs. There may be also other governmental programs that could be tapped into or help cover producer-testing costs. For those cattle herds determined to be at risk, an incentive program such as EQUIP for producers to participate in adult vaccination of cattle could be developed [in Wyoming, that is the practice]. These incentives could involve payment for days of cattle work needed to vaccinate, payment of cost for the vaccine, increased immunity from a multiple booster vaccine program, and guarantee that participation would not affect their ability to lease state or federal lands. The current proposal to control brucellosis and the brucellosis-free status of Montana includes a split-state status with a zone bordering Yellowstone Park, separating it from the rest of the state. This approach could have many negative impacts on those herds in the zone, cattle herds in the whole state, and even the industry nationwide. Livestock owners within the area could have to endure cumbersome and expensive testing of cattle entering or leaving the zone; also, discrimination at marketing levels could lead to financial hardships. At the state level, if the state were split, other states and countries would not have to recognize split-state status. At the international level, split-state status sets a precedent that many other countries may duplicate by creating their own disease zone. The split-state status plan does nothing to prevent brucellosis infection of cattle herds within the zone. The result of implementing the procedures defined in this document would be increased safety of the cattle industry in the state of Montana, plus empowerment of individual producers, to take control of the health and marketing risks brought on by the disease of brucellosis.”

Nancy Espy, Powder River County: “The Powder River County Commission would like to go on record that we support Park County’s resolution. We spent $30 million and 50 years to become brucellosis-free state. Most of us in eastern Montana do trade a great deal of livestock going east. The veterinarians have ensured us they will expect us to bleed if this were to pass in our state. We ask to please remember that to get a brucellosis-free state status in 1985, what would it cost today if it cost $30 million then, to say nothing of the expense to livestock producers?”

President Prinkki clarified the resolution precludes USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) from allowing to grant split-state status if there was an isolated instance of brucellosis in a local area. Chairman Murray said if the resolution was accepted, it would then go to the Resolutions Committee, then back to the Ag Committee; whether MACo supports it or not will be determined at the 2008 conference.

Gail Patton, Sanders County: “Back in 1969, we got rid of bangs, or brucellosis, in Montana. Two years later, we had a truckload of dairy cattle out of Idaho, and it got loose again down in the Frenchtown Valley. By the time it got done, it got up into the Mission Valley, got into the bison herd there, and it took ten years to get rid of that. There were several herds that were infected, they tested every month until they finally sold the herds. Letting brucellosis get away is the last thing you want to do.”

Bill Leach, Prairie County: “APHIS and the state of Montana can create a split-state status affecting the herds of Montana prevents them from being shipped out of state. The out-of-state state veterinarians get to decide whether or not they accept split-state cattle. As of right now, none do. The places that our cattle are going do not accept split-state status, so it’s all fine and good if we have a split state, but if nobody else accepts it where we’re shipping cattle to, it does absolutely no good.”

Chairman Murray put the motion to approve the resolution to a vote; the motion passed.

2007-3 Buffer Zone-Do Pass, high priority

Kathy Bessette, Hill County: “The intent of this resolution is to oppose the creation of a buffer zone around Yellowstone National Park and there were many ideas tossed around in our discussion, but we feel the problem needs to be dealt with period.”

Maureen Davey, Stillwater County: “Stillwater County strongly supports this resolution and we believe the U.S. Department of Interior should manage the bison within Yellowstone Park.”

Bill Leach, Prairie County: “I would support this resolution, too. I believe there already is a buffer zone line and it’s called the park boundary and we should hold those people accountable to that line.”

Troy Blunt, Phillips County: “Phillips County stands in support of this resolution.”

Nancy Espy, Powder River County: “Powder River County supports this resolution.”

Chouteau County: “Chouteau County supports this resolution.”

Chairman Murray put the motion to approve the resolution to a vote; the motion passed by unanimous consent.

2007-4 Noxious Weeds on DNRC Lands-Do Pass, high priority

Connie Eissenger, McCone County: “The Public Lands Committee supports this resolution. It is the intent of the Montana Association of Counties to support the active management of noxious weeds on DNRC lands in Montana and to recommend cooperative agreements and funding sources to implement said management. We would like support for this resolution.”

Garth Haugland, Beaverhead County: “As chairman of the Headwaters RC&D, we, a group of nine southwest Montana counties that are very actively involved with noxious weed control, this has been an issue we’ve discussed for the last three years, I’m strongly in favor of passing this resolution.”

Jim Durgan, Park County: “I stand in support of this representing Park County and also the Northern Rocky Mountain RC&D, which also has a very extensive weed control program in our county area.”

Dave Schulz, Madison County: “I’m your representative for the Montana Weed Control Association and also serve on the Governor’s advisory council regarding noxious weeds. As you remember over the last few years, we’ve worked hard with the legislature to try and find some means to affect this issue. I think the numbers speak to the severity of the issue. This is not intended, at least in the initial dialog, to be a thumb on the DNRC, but rather to be a tool or mechanism to help that state land entity become a better cooperator. Years ago, probably about 1997 or 1999, HB 395 mandated state agencies to write a weed plan and biannually report back to the Department of Ag. These are the kind of numbers we’re getting, so they’ve not been effective. So, in both my capacity with the weed association and as commissioner of Madison County, I stand in support of this.”

Ken Weber, Jefferson County: “I’d just like to make one note: in the MCA, it is the landowners responsibility to control their noxious weeds, and I don’t believe any public agency should try to avoid that or not step up to the plate at every level necessary to control those things just as a private landowner can’t. If it takes another $1.4 million, I think that we should tell them that’s where they need to go. I stand in support.”

Chairman Murray put the motion to approve the resolution to a vote; the motion passed by unanimous consent.

2007-5 Wilderness Study Areas-Do Pass, high priority

Connie Eissenger, McCone County: “It is the intent of the Montana Association of Counties to urge Congress to support the decisions of county officials regarding the designation of wilderness study areas and this subject was discussed widely in our public lands committee and we would urge support of this resolution.”

Tom Rice, Beaverhead County: “Beaverhead County supports this resolution and I would like to support a change in that, possibly at the top where it says, “Be it resolved that the Montana Association of Counties shall urge Congress to support the decisions made by local county officials as to the future designation of Wilderness Study Areas” to read “…decisions made by the local county officials…”

Chairman Murray asked if that was a motion to amend; it was, and seconded. He then asked for a vote and the motion passed by unanimous content.

Executive Director Blattie then clarified the status of the resolutions, saying they are the official policy positions of MACo. He also explained how the resolution process worked; at the district meetings in the spring, fall, and especially the week before the conference, additional resolutions are submitted to MACo. He asked the body to consider getting resolutions in the spring district meetings, not later in the year, due to the demand put on MACo staff.

The 2007 Annual Conference was adjourned.