Commissioner addresses challenges, opportunities
during 2018 State of the Community address
April 11, 2018
What are some of the major challenges and opportunities facing Missoula County in 2018? From creating attainable housing and managing population growth to preserving our historical, cultural and environmental history, possibilities for progress abound within the county’s borders. Following a heartfelt introduction written by his children (see image below), Commissioner Dave Strohmaier addressed these issues and more in remarks delivered April 9 at the 2018 State of the Community.
Read the commissioner's full speech below, and let us know your thoughts by emailing email@example.com.
2018 State of the Community Address
Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, chair
Board of County Commissioners
On behalf of the board of county commissioners and the over 800 employees of Missoula County government, welcome. A big thank you to City Club for hosting today’s event, William Marcus for moderating, President Bodnar and Mayor Engen, and to all of you for taking the time out of your day to reflect on the state of this place we call home. Indeed, home and place are at the heart of my comments today.
Right out of the chute, I need to get one thing off my chest. You’ll often hear folks talk about the city and the county as if they are two separate geographic areas. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I feel obligated to break the news that the city of Missoula actually is in Missoula County! And our fates are intertwined. The food you buy in a Missoula grocery store did not spontaneously generate in the produce department, and the beef raised in Potomac or Grass Valley, or the lumber milled in Seeley Lake, very likely will be purchased by someone in an urban area.
From my downtown Missoula office, I look across Pine Street to the city council chambers and city hall—daily reminders that municipal and county government have similar missions in the Missoula Valley. I also have a great view of the North Hills, Mount Jumbo, grazing elk and the ancient shorelines of glacial Lake Missoula, all emblems of the deep natural history of this place that help define who we are.
People are drawn here for pure water, wild places and cultural authenticity, not streams running orange from acid mine drainage or anonymous sprawl. When entrepreneurs come before the Board of County Commissioners seeking economic development assistance by way of Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants, we frequently ask them why they want to invest in Missoula County and, almost without exception, the first response they give is quality of life, which has everything to do with nature and culture.
In some respects, these are the good old days. The city of Missoula controls its own water destiny. We just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the breaching of the Milltown Dam, and in June we’ll be celebrating the opening of a new state park at the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers. The community of Seeley Lake is on a path to have its own wastewater treatment facility. And we’ve learned to embrace our rivers rather than treating them as open sewers. But more work remains.
Missoula County has partnered with the Lolo National Forest and Trout Unlimited to reclaim abandoned placer mines in the Ninemile watershed, but another $4.5 to $5 million is needed to fully restore Ninemile Creek and adjoining tributaries. We must remember the past in order to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
With the help of Representative Kim Dudik, the Montana Legislature and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, we successfully negotiated the payment of over a million dollars in delinquent taxes on the Smurfit-Stone Container site, but the site remains badly contaminated and we must remain vigilant to get it cleaned up.
Climate change is real and we, in local government, have the power, and, I’d argue, the moral obligation, to make a difference. That’s why we’ve hired an energy conservation and sustainability coordinator to guide our efforts to lessen our carbon footprint. We must, and we are, preparing ourselves for the effects of a changing climate and nurturing community resiliency through good planning, such as updating our Community Wildfire Protection Plan and overhauling our 1970s-era land-use map. Viewed through the lens of resiliency, again, we must, and we are thinking creatively about how to balance attainable housing, agriculture, wildlife habitat and community character, and do so in a way that doesn’t undermine the very quality of life that defines this place.
Alongside a clean and healthy environment, culture also defines our quality of life. There’s a sign on the side of the Fort Benton elementary school in Choteau County that reads “Industry is Useless without Culture.” That phrase is every bit as powerful today, here in Missoula County, as it was during the New Deal era when the sign was first erected. All too often, and at our peril, we reduce the value of the arts, culture and the humanities to monetary value and forget the role that culture and heritage play in nurturing civil society and civic engagement. That’s why we support the Missoula Art Museum and its programming that reaches across the county. It’s why we see the fairgrounds as a nexus of urban and rural and worthy of investments. It’s why the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is a steward of our county’s heritage, including stories of shame and trauma, like the World War II alien detention center. If ever there was a time to remember these stories, it is now.
Even the seat of our county government — the courthouse — is a symbol of our commitment to culture and environmental sustainability. I’m pleased to publicly announce that our renovated courthouse (yes the cyclone fencing will come down this spring!), has just achieved LEED Silver status, one of a handful of National Register-listed buildings in the country to receive this honor.
But culture in this place did not begin with names such as Lewis and Clark, Worden, or Paxson. The cultural landscape of this place extends back millennia, and remains the homeland of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille. On Oct. 21, 1891, the Weekly Missoulian reported, “About noon Friday the entire tribe of the Flathead Indians from the Bitter Root passed through the city, being en route to the Flathead Reservation. Many of them left their old home never to return, but they did not appear to be disheartened or cast down. They jogged along as though rather enjoying the change ...” I can assure you that there were a multitude of voices who were absolutely not “enjoying the change” as the U.S. Army escorted the Bitterroot Salish north, across the Higgins Avenue Bridge and on to the Flathead Reservation. Cultural trauma. Dislocation. Essential to remember.
Missoula, and particularly the place where you are seated today adjacent to Rattlesnake Creek, is known by the Salish as the Place of the Small Bull Trout. Tribal elder Louie Adams told the story of how his maternal grandmother was born at the present-day location of the University of Montana, and of his family fishing for bull trout in the waters outside this hotel. Place. Places that matter. Places that tell stories.
The Séliš-Ql̓ispé traditionally dug bitterroot throughout the Missoula Valley, such as where Shopko sits today and at Fort Missoula. We’ll soon be installing interpretive signage at the regional park that describes the homeland of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people. We’ll also continue to restore bitterroot in a native prairie at the Fort and collaborate with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to honor tribal cultural heritage across Missoula County.
So friends, the state of Missoula County is strong. Nevertheless, there is work to do. Too many of our neighbors do not have enough to eat, have trouble finding housing, and struggle to make ends meet. Too many fail to understand the cultural landscape upon which we live and, as a result, risk repeating tragic mistakes of the past.
In the face of this, do we have the moral courage and empathy to reach out to those in need or do we succumb to the temptation to judge and blame and insulate ourselves with indifference? Are we more concerned about parsing whether we’re offering a hand up or a hand out rather than just offering a helping hand? Has the accumulation of wealth made us callous or blind to the circumstances beyond our control that shaped our lives and shape the lives of others, and that the lives of others are every bit as complex as our own? Do the bootstraps that some say we should pull ourselves up by keep getting longer and longer?
Here is the challenge of those of us at this table and those of us in this room: How do we create and sustain authentic places that honor our heritage and provide for the needs of residents and visitors alike? And how might the county, city and university partner in creating the conditions for an informed citizenry to realize their visions, hopes and dreams? We are all in this together. If ever there was a county up to the challenge, it is Missoula County. Thanks.
Missoula County Elections Office Short Nearly 350 Election Judges
Jan. 25, 2018
Despite a promising initial response to the County’s appeal earlier this month for 800 volunteers to serve as election judges, the Missoula County Elections Office is still coming up short by nearly 350 people.
The number of election judges is directly tied to the quality of customer service the Elections Office can provide voters over the 2018 election year. A lack of elections judges can equate to any number of deficiencies in delivering services to voters including longer lines, understaffed polling places (which could lead to consolidating polling places), fewer judges to register new voters, and overworked judges.
Election judges can serve in a variety of capacities at the polls and at the Elections Center at the Fairgrounds and is a paid public service position. Training is required and individuals are compensated for their time.
Anyone who is registered to vote in Missoula County and is enthusiastic about the voting process is encouraged to apply. The Elections Office provides a new online class schedule and registration at www.MissoulaElectionJudge.com. Those interested can also call (406) 258-4751 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and contact information. Training is held in February at the Missoula County Fairgrounds and there are a variety of daytime, evening, and weekend classes.
Missoula County, Tribal Council of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation celebrate 30 years
Oct. 30, 2017
The Missoula County Commissioners met Tuesday with the Tribal Council of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation in the Tribal Council Chambers in Pablo.
The highlight of this annual meeting was the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement renewal between Missoula County and the Sovereign Nation. This Agreement was first signed in 1987, 30 years ago.
Photo courtesy of Commissioner David Strohmaier
The Council and the Commission heard updates from staff members on several other projects the two governments have worked on together, such as reintroducing the Bitterroot plant and placing educational signage in the Fort Missoula Regional Park, an area that is part of a key, historic, native plant harvest site for Tribal members. The two governments shared stories about involvement in the Roundtable for the Crown of the Continent. Both Commissioner Jean Curtiss and Richard Janssen, Tribal Natural Resources Department Head currently serve on the leadership team, and invited the Tribal Council to designate an additional representative.
Another highlight was celebrating the successful challenge of the wastewater permit for the old Smurfit Stone site granted to M2Green by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and a pledge to continue working together to ensure the current assessment of the site is complete and results in a site that protects human and aquatic life.
Tribal Legal staff gave an update on the Tribal Water Compact and the extensive process required for it to move through the federal government’s executive and legislative branches.
Division of Fire staff from the Tribal Forestry Department presented a report about this past summer’s extensive wildfire season and the coordinated teamwork that happens when wildfires are burning in the area. The Tribal Council and Fire Control managers are pleased to be active participants in drafting Missoula County’s Wildfire Protection Plan.
Pop-Up Park Coming to East Missoula on Saturday, Oct, 7
Sept. 20, 2017
East Missoula residents and visitors will see a 24-hour pop-up park in their community on Saturday, Oct. 7, thanks to a $10,000 AARP grant. The AARP Community Challenge Grant funding will be used to demonstrate how pedestrian-oriented infrastructure improves public safety, creates a stronger sense of place and provides opportunities for people to gather and interact.
“This program is a great way to bring several community partners together to envision an engaging space in East Missoula,” Karen Hughes, Community and Planning Services’ Assistant Director, said. “Ultimately, the hope for this project is to help build momentum and support for redevelopment of Highway 200 through East Missoula.”
East Missoula is experiencing increased economic and recreational activity - from redevelopment of East Broadway and the construction of Missoula College to the west, to development of the riverside amphitheater and redevelopment of the mill site to the east. Local residents envision redevelopment of the Highway 200 corridor, which bisects their community, to a modern standard with curb, gutter, walkways, lighting and bicycle facilities.
This demonstration project will show, just for a weekend, what those improvements might look like. Thanks to the owners of Ole’s Country Store, the temporary park will be situated along a small segment in the middle of town. Business owners and residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback as to how their community center can be improved to provide adequate access for businesses, safe passage for all users of the transportation corridor, and a more inviting and thriving community center.
More specifically, the AARP grant is funding supplies needed to temporarily delineate a new access configuration along Highway 200 near the center of East Missoula, adjacent to Ole's Country Store. This configuration will create better squared off corners that make turning off Highway 200 onto the slanted streets of East Missoula easier. Additionally, the park will exhibit what this roadway might look like with bicycle and pedestrian facilities. It will also create a temporary gathering space where folks can grab a bite to eat, spend time and visit with neighbors, learn about local efforts to plan for future growth and development, and share their thoughts and ideas about the new configuration.
The Missoula County Community and Planning Services (CAPS) department and the City of Missoula’s Transportation Planning Division applied for the grant in July to complement and implement outcomes from previous efforts, including the New Mobility West technical assistance project and a Highway Safety Audit, conducted by the Montana Department of Transportation.
Creating Safe Spaces within the Smoke
Aug. 30, 2017
It’s back-to-school time and the wildfire smoke in our air is thick, especially in Seeley Lake and Lolo. This is bad for all of us, but especially for vulnerable groups, including our children.
It’s tricky to figure out how to address the health effects of wildfire smoke. We can’t import clean air. But thanks to collaboration between several local groups, we are implementing some practical solutions for some of our most vulnerable residents. In particular, many school children in the smokiest areas will be spending their days in classrooms with HEPA air filters to clean the air they breathe. Climate Smart Missoula launched the efforts that led to the Missoula City-County Health Department and Seeley Lake Elementary School pooling funds to buy air filters for classrooms. When the wildfire smoke in Lolo became hazardous, the Health Department and United Way of Missoula County worked together to buy enough filters for Lolo’s preschool, first through fifth grade, and special education classrooms.
This summer, Climate Smart Missoula also worked with Providence St. Patrick Hospital, an early partner and major funder of all these efforts, to buy HEPA air filters for older adults and families with young children who were at high risk for complications, but who were unable to purchase filters. Community Medical Center and NorthWestern Energy also provided funding. Missoula Aging Services, Partnership Health Center’s Seeley Lake clinic, and the Health Department’s asthma program distributed the filters.
These air filter projects have been on the Health Department’s wish-list for a long time.
“There’s a difference between telling folks they need to create a clean air space during wildfire season and actually helping them make it happen,” Sarah Coefield, air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department said. “I started to talk with Climate Smart Missoula about a program like this a couple years ago, and they jumped all over it. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to provide real relief to some of our most vulnerable residents during this incredibly challenging smoke season.”
Partnerships made it happen. Amy Cilimburg, Executive Director of Climate Smart Missoula, says, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished with such a collaborative effort, from generous funders to social service providers. We witnessed relief and many appreciative smiles as we plugged in these new filters. We wish we could have helped everyone. We’ll be living with wildfire for years to come, and with such a generous community, we’ll look to expand this program.”
Because wildfire smoke is common in the summer, some people may start to ignore the potential health risks. But it is still crucial to reduce exposure. Use of a HEPA air filter, especially in the room where you sleep, helps everyone, but especially the most vulnerable; pregnant women, infants, children, people with heart and lung problems, and anyone over 65.
None of this work could happen without the leadership and generosity of all these partners. Climate Smart welcomes any partners who want to help with efforts to keep our most vulnerable residents healthy during unhealthy smoke conditions. We also acknowledge the significant discount provided by the Winix Company which makes the HEPA filter model we chose. There are many good brands of filters, and we don’t recommend any in particular. Climate Smart has these tips to help you choose and use the best filter for your home or business. The tips were developed with guidance from the University of Montana’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences.
Western Montana Fair and Wildland Firefighter Foundation Team Up
June 30, 2017
The 2017 Western Montana Fair is thrilled to announce the traditional Demolition Derby is expanding to support the families of brave wildland firefighters who keep Western Montana safe every summer. The Fair is joining with the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which helps families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and assists injured firefighters, to bring fairgoers the Put Out the Peaks Motor Rally. This exciting partnership formed in recent weeks to call attention to the urgent needs of the 2017 fire season. The motor sporting event will continue as the Western Montana Fair finale, but will grow from one performance to two and will be even bigger and more exciting than previous years. A portion of the proceeds will go directly to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Local firefighters will be on hand to collect additional donations and share information.
“Firefighters are risking their lives so we can enjoy summer traditions like the Fair,” Fairgrounds Director, Emily Bentley said. “Honoring their sacrifice – and the sacrifice their families make - is the least we can do. Community connection is a key part of our mission, and we want the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our community safe to know how grateful we are.”
"Wildland firefighters fighting fires in our community come here from all over the country,” said Jennifer Zaso, Wildland Firefighter Foundation Development Director. “Whether they live here in Montana or are hundreds or thousands of miles from home, when injured or killed, there are few resources to help, especially in the early hours and days of a tragedy. The Put Out the Peaks Motor Rally will help provide urgent support to assist firefighters and their families and recognize and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our public lands."
Thanks to sponsors at Iron Horse Towing and NAPA Auto Parts, WHR Motorsports - who brings Monster Nationals and Freestyle Motocross to Missoula every spring - will provide a world-class motorsports experience. Performances will include monster trucks, freestyle motocross (FMX), tough trucks, and mud bog. All Demolition Derby tickets already sold for the 4:30pm show will be honored.
What: Put Out the Peaks Motor Rally
When: Sunday, August 13 4:30pm-6:30pm and 8:30pm-10:30pm
Where: The Missoula County Fairgrounds Rodeo Arena
Cost: $16 per show - use coupon code: PUTOUTTHEPEAKS for a $5 discount until Friday August 14
Mark Vander Meer, 2017 Land Stewardship Award Recipient
June 26, 2017
The Missoula County Commissioners are pleased to announce Mark Vander Meer as the recipient of the 2017 Land Stewardship Award. He will receive the award at a ceremony on Thursday, July 6 at 1:30 p.m. at one of his forest management project sites in the Gold Creek area. The ceremony will include a short tour led by Mr. Vander Meer.
“Historically, I thought of Mark as somewhat of an enigma, a logger, a forester and yet an environmentalist,” Tom DeLuca, Dean W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, said. “Now looking back I see him as less of an enigma and more of a glimpse into the future. Forestry is about to turn the corner from being cast as part of the extraction industry to leaders in the environmental field, Mark will be there leading the way.”
Vander Meer has been an integral part of land restoration for many projects on federal, state, county, city, and private land. He is a champion of natural resource restoration and soil health. Mark not only practices stewardship through helping others with their land and his job but also utilizes his skills on his own land. Additionally, he has been committed to stewardship on a larger scale, through volunteering his time for workshops, lectures, and assisting in planting riparian species along Pattee Creek. He is always willing to take on the next project or challenge.
The Land Stewardship Award recognizes landowners and residents who are taking stewardship of land and water seriously and embarking on projects and practices that make a difference for land, water, forests, wildlife, and communities. Missoula County, with the leadership of the County’s Open Lands Citizen Advisory Committee, would like to thank these outstanding stewards and learn from them through the annual Land Stewardship Award Program.
For more information about previous award recipients, check out the new online story map.
Phase Five of Courthouse Remodel to Begin
June 15, 2017
The fifth and final phase of the Missoula County Courthouse remodel and renovation project is set to begin on Wednesday, June 21. The fifth phase focuses on the building exterior including reinvigorating the lawn, updating the landscaping and irrigation, and installing original restored copper entrance doors to the east, south, and west entrances of the courthouse.
“Missoula County is fortunate to have a beautiful courthouse designed by AJ Gibson,” Commissioner, Jean Curtiss, said. “The Courthouse lawn has served as the town square for over a century and it is time to give it new life. This phase of the Courthouse renovation will provide the landscaping to frame and complement this beautiful building for the next century.”
Highlights of the fifth phase include;
- Repoint and repair localized areas of terra cotta on the courthouse.
- Repaint tin surfaces of the walk-out level of the courthouse dome.
- Install weather sealant to exterior windows of the courthouse.
- Replace soft and hard surface landscaping surrounding the courthouse and annex including the asphalt paved parking lot and concrete sidewalks, parking lot lighting, landscaping, underground sprinkler system and site furnishings.
- Install decorative fencing between the east side of the courthouse and annex.
- Install a dumpster enclosure to trash and recycling dumpsters located on the west side of the courthouse.
- Replace non-historic light fixtures on the south entrance of the courthouse with historically correct fixtures that improve lighting conditions as the south entry stair.
- Install snow melt systems within new concrete sidewalks at the primary entrances of the courthouse matching the system installed on the north entrance of the annex.
- Repair the historic concrete curb surrounding the courthouse at the sidewalk.
- Install additional seating and informational / directional signs.
- Remove non-historic entrance doors and install original restored copper entrance doors to the east, south, and west entrances of the courthouse.
- Repair the granite and concrete entry stair and handrails at the south entrance of the courthouse.
- Repair localized areas of damaged historic mosaic tile on the interior and exterior of the courthouse.
To reinvigorate the urban forest, the trees on the courthouse lawn will be replaced with a native species.
“We think of trees as living forever. However, trees have a life cycle,” City of Missoula Forester, Chris Boza said. “The trees surrounding the courthouse have reached the end of that life cycle and need to be replaced. Now is the time to renew the circle of life for future generations of Missoulians to enjoy.”
The rendering depicts the anticipated look of grounds after work has been completed. Several agencies have contributed their time and expertise to develop this plan including Jackson Construction, the City of Missoula, A&E Architects and Pharris Design.
“The current construction project provides a window to proactively replace all of the trees at once, which allows us to maintain the historical intent of the original planting,” Ryan Smith, Landscape Architect from Pharris Design, said. “In addition, it provides an opportunity to replace the Norway Maples, which are invasive, with the non-invasive Sugar Maples.”
The courthouse lawn will begin to be fenced off on Wednesday, June 21 and tree cutting will begin on Monday, June 26. As work will continue throughout that week, curbside parking on the east side will need to be shut down. Areas will be reopened as areas are cleared.
Exterior work is expected to continue through the beginning of October. County project staff worked to ensure cost savings along the way, scaling back scopes of work to provide the desired design at the lowest cost of $790,778.
Nine Mile Community Center to Receive Stewardship Award
June 7, 2017
“The Nine Mile Community Center understands that stewardship means more than just attending to the grounds but also the care and stewardship of the community,” said Parks and Trails Board member Sue Stanley, who nominated the 9MCC for the award.
The 9MCC plays an important role, not only in providing a developed public recreation and events venue for the Nine Mile Valley, but for the entire County. The buildings and grounds have long served as a venue for community events, as well as a destination for quiet recreation. More recently, the Nine Mile Community Center has become a popular venue for weddings and reunions.
The efforts of multiple generations of volunteer stewards have resulted in the preservation of two historic buildings—a schoolhouse built in 1915, a church built in the 1930’s—and the recent installation of an outdoor pavilion. The selection of quality materials consistent with an early 20th century style are evident in all the improvements completed on the site over the past 70 years.
“The community center is a focal point of the Nine Mile Valley,” Sharon Sweeney, President of the Nine Mile Community Center Board of Directors, said. “There are 100 years of stories, laughter and tears in these walls, 100 years of residents coming together for a common cause, and to ‘neighbor’ together. In short, this lovely old school house, country church and new pavilion provide a place for people to gather. As we move into our second 100 years I am confident that the community will continue to steward this great place with the same energy and passion of those who came before us.”
While some revenue is generated through rentals, much of the funding required to maintain the 9MCC comes via donations from residents of the Nine Mile Valley and grant programs. The Missoula County Parks and Trails Board Matching Grant Program has provided several grants to the 9MCC, recognizing volunteer labor and in-kind donations as a match for County funds.
Additional information on the Nine Mile Community Center can be found at: https://www.ninemilecommunitycenter.com
Special Congressional Election Early Voting, Election Deadlines Reminders for Missoula County Voters
May 16, 2017
The Elections Center, located at the Missoula County Fairgrounds is the central location for all voter services for the Special Congressional Election on Thursday, May 25, 2017. The Elections Center is ready to assist Missoula County electors by providing absentee ballot assistance, replacing ballots, offering late registration, providing an ADA accessible AutoMark voting machine, and allowing for voters to drop off their ballot at a 24/7 drive-thru location.
The Elections Center offers extended hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 20. Same Day Registration opens on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., at which time voting closes to begin tabulating ballots.
The last day to request an absentee ballot is Wednesday, May 24 by 12:00 p.m.
The Missoula County Elections Office urges voters to take advantage of their regular and extended hours before Election Day to help avoid Election Day wait times.
A special drive-thru ballot drop off event will launch one week prior to the election on May 18. Voters who utilize the drive-thru ballot drop off at the Fairgrounds will receive a special edition “I Voted” sticker for the Special Congressional Election. Quantities are limited, so voters are urged to take advantage of this opportunity!
Voters should verify their voter registration information by visiting www.MyVoterPageMT.com to view their registration status, check that their absentee ballot has been accepted, where their polling place location is, view sample ballots, and more. Voters who are not registered or need to update their information must appear at the Elections Center to register and receive a ballot.
Absentee ballots are due by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Absentee ballots can be delivered in-person to the Courthouse or Fairgrounds now through Election Day. On Election Day, absentee ballots can also be dropped off at any polling place location.
Auditor to Retire
May 4, 2017
Missoula County Auditor, Barbara Berens announced Wednesday, May 3, 2017 that she will be retiring effective August 11, 2017. The Board of Missoula County Commissioners will make an appointment to fill her position through the reminder of her term to December 31, 2018.
“I've spent an amazing fifteen years as County Auditor.,” Berens said. “It's been a privilege to part of the talented and committed team doing such good work for everyone in Missoula County.”
“Barbara Berens has been an outstanding Auditor,” Commissioner Jean Curtiss said. “She has great attention to detail and is willing to jump in wherever needed and with a smile. It’s been an honor to work with her and to have her as a member of our team.”
Because Berens will be retiring before her term expires, an interim Auditor will be appointed by the Board of Missoula County Commissioners. This vote does not need to be unanimous. The commissioners will be meeting in June to outline the process for making the appointment. A follow up release will be provided on the process at that time. The person appointed must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Missoula County for one year preceding the appointment.
Once an interim Auditor has been appointed, he or she will fully carry out the duties of the position as if he or she were elected.
Berens’ official letter to Clerk & Treasurer, Tyler Gernant, announcing her retirement is attached.
Road Issues and Issue Tracking Map
March 30, 2017
The Missoula County Public Works department is currently aware of 11 road issues and is actively working to address these situations. As Public Works and the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management manage reports, all calls and known issues are being tracked using an online mapping tool. The public is encouraged to use this tool to check road conditions and report otherwise unknown issues to the Public Works department.
- Butler Creek Road: 1.2 miles north of LaValle Creek Road.
- Six Mile Road: 0.25 mile north of Frenchtown Frontage Road.
- Big Flat Road.
- Deep Creek Road.
- Deep Creek Bridge.
- Condon Loop Road.
- Remount Road.
- Nine Mile Road.
- West Nine Mile Bridge.
- Southside Road.
- Bible Lane.
Most of these issues are the result of spring flooding and the melting of adjacent snowpack. Several areas are currently experiencing standing water on roadways and alternate routes are available. No roads are currently closed entirely, although they are being monitored daily as conditions may change. While we are seeing some slope failures and erosion, roads are currently stable.
More information regarding each of these reports can be found on the online map. Please note, this is a dynamic tool that County staff use to facilitate and manage known issues. Information is updated as we receive it.
The map identifies reported issues. When clicking on a location, the map will display the County staff member who investigated the issue, his/her contact information, cause of damage, when the damage was first reported, the location, any photos of the damage, a description, if this incident is a threat to public safety, an estimated timeline of pending repairs, current action being taken, and an initial cost estimate of the damage.
Missoula County agencies, including Public Works, the Office of Emergency Management, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office and the Commissioners’ Office will be updating the public if conditions change. Should emergent situations arise, we will use all possible communications channels to update those affected, including Smart 911 alerts, social media postings and notifications on our website. We are encouraging the public to create a free Smart 911 account to ensure residents are receiving emergency notifications.
Rising Temperatures Offer Important Reminder to Prepare of Potential Flooding
March 15, 2017
Potential impacts from melting snow and rainfall include pooling of water in areas where storm drains or ditches are clogged with snow and ice, pooling of water in low-lying areas and potential ice jams on small creeks and rivers. Such events may cause flooding that could put people and property in harm’s way.
“Although flood insurance is an important form of financial protection for any homeowner, business owner, or renter, it is often misunderstood,” said Michelle Phillips, a flood plain specialist with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “Most people do not know that flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance. Moreover, they may not realize that there is a 30-day waiting period for most flood insurance policies to take effect. Homeowners, business owners, and renters often recognize the need for flood insurance when flooding happens; at that point, it is too late for them to receive assistance from flood insurance unless they already have a policy in place."
In Missoula, the Clark Fork River’s earliest recorded peak was on April 13, 1934. Missoula County’s Flood Plain Administrator, Todd Klietz, reminds local residents that the last significant flood event was in 2011. At that time, there were no predictions the event would be as significant as it was, and few residents were well-prepared.
Residents may not realize that flood insurance can assist with damage caused by surface waters from any source, as long as the damage affects at least two properties, or at least two acres of land.
“This could include flood damage caused by a rain event, a blocked culvert, a water main break, rapid snow melt, or riverine flooding that affects a private property and a neighboring county road,” Phillips said.
Additionally, flood insurance may also be used to help cover the cost of some preventive measures taken before a flood hits. For example, when a building insured by the National Flood Insurance Program is in imminent danger of being flooded, the policy holder can be reimbursed up to $1,000 for the removal of insured belongings to a safe location and up to $1,000 for preventive measures (e.g., purchasing sand bags or pumps). Anyone considering such actions should first contact Todd Klietz on permitting requirements for sand bagging and other emergency actions.
Finally, many homeowners, business owners and renters think they are ineligible to purchase federal flood insurance when they actually are eligible to do so. Federal flood insurance is available to anyone who lives in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, not just to those in high-risk flood areas. Private flood insurance plans may also be available to those who do not wish to purchase federal flood insurance or who are ineligible to do so.
Due to warming temperatures and the 30-day waiting period associated with most flood insurance policies, homeowners, business owners, and renters worried about spring flooding should consider purchasing flood insurance as soon as possible.
Buena Vista Community Receives Grant to Update Sewer System
Jan. 23, 2017
The Montana Department of Commerce has announced a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $373,770 to Missoula County to support the development of a replacement sewer system at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, located one mile west of the Missoula International Airport. This U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) award will be combined with Montana Department of Natural Resources and additional Missoula County funds to support the $469,885 project budget. The new sewer system will replace an outdated wastewater system that was initially installed in the 1950s.
“The County applied for a State CDBG grant twice and the applications were rejected – not because the project was not worthy or the proposals were not good, but because there were other more pressing and urgent needs in other parts of the state,” Sindie Kennedy, Missoula County Grant Administrator said. “After the 2016 application was rejected, the State offered a ‘second opportunity’ to Missoula County to re-apply. The second opportunity resulted in an award. This successful application was due to the cooperation and assistance from two County government agencies—the Grants and Public Works Departments—as well as the nonprofit NeighborWorks Montana and, of course, the residents themselves.”
Originating as an RV park, Buena Vista gradually became permanent housing with 36 units of fulltime residents. In November 2013, with the assistance of NeighborWorks Montana, the residents organized themselves into the Buena Vista Community, Inc., purchased the property on which their homes sit and became a Resident-Owned Community (ROC). Since, Buena Vista community members have enjoyed the pride of ownership and have worked tirelessly to improve their community.
“Through resident ownership the residents at Buena Vista gained stability in the ownership of their land and have made many improvements to their property using their own resources.” Kaia Peterson of NeighborWorks said. “The sewer will be a major and much needed improvement that would not have been possible without the support of the County and CDBG. We are thrilled that this funding is being awarded, water quality is being protected, and the community will continue to be affordable to low-income people.”
The antiquated wastewater system at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park flows to an unlined lagoon system at the bottom of a draw that once served as a tributary to La Valle Creek. The mobile homes within the park are each connected to an 8-inch main that sends the sewage into the lagoons. The lagoon system is likely leaking and discharging wastewater to groundwater. It is suspected that leakage of untreated, or inadequately treated, sewage is occurring directly into the natural drainage with eventual discharge to the Clark Fork River. Updating and improving the sewer system will mitigate the natural resource and public health and safety problems associated with the continued operation of the lagoon system. As proposed, a lift station would send the flows to an existing sewer line along nearby Training Drive. The line would then carry effluent to the main sewer line on Airport Road.
“This is a common situation where the cost of improvements is beyond the means of the affected community, but the dedicated support from Buena Vista residents to address the problem was instrumental to the pursuit of funding.” Amy Rose with Missoula County Public Works said.
Seeing a modern sanitation project come to fruition has been a high priority for the community members and Missoula County.
“Since we have taken ownership of this community, we have made many improvements,” said Terry Hauter, Buena Vista Board President. “The pride in ownership is evident. Updating our wastewater system will increase that pride because we will know our water is safer and we are not contaminating our community.”
Fairgrounds Revamps Rental Pricing
Jan. 20, 2017
As part of the ongoing efforts to revitalize the Missoula County Fairgrounds, staff have developed a new pricing structure to better accommodate renters of the facility. The Board of Missoula County Commissioners approved the rates during their administrative public meeting on Jan. 18, 2017. Rates are effective immediately.
“The previous rate structure was very complex and required calculating the cost of every aspect of the rental, including utilities, vendor fees, and services from our staff,” Tom Aldrich said. “These new rates should be much more attractive for current and future renters as we now have everything built into a fixed rate, making planning and budgeting much easier. We are also doing away with the vendor fees we used to take from renters. We know very well that food and beverage sales make many events possible, so we are helping to maximize the potential of every event held at the Fairgrounds.”
Fairgrounds staff reviewed past years’ attendance of each space and divided the overall costs/revenues by the usage to determine a fixed rate for each structure. Rates and facilities rental information are now clearly available on the Fairgrounds’ website, including building features and usage suggestions.
Rental revenues and the number of events hosted at the Fairgrounds continue to increase. From 2015 to 2016, the Fairgrounds experienced a 21 percent increase in rental revenues, bringing in $78,778. Additionally, more than 100 events were held across 231 rental days in 2016. This was a 23 percent increase from 2015 to 2016.
The Fairgrounds hosted an estimated total of 94,472 people in 2016, during all events. The 2016 Western Montana Fair saw 67,287 attendees, the highest in a number of years.
Fairgrounds staff expect to see even more events at the Fairgrounds as a result of the new, and more simplified, pricing structure.
Congratulations, Jennie Dixon
Each January, Missoula County's Chief Planning Officer presents an award for outstanding public service to one of our non-management CAPS staff. Previous recipients were Jamie Erbacher and Mitch Doherty who set the bar very high. This year's recipient is Jennie Dixon, a Planner IV who has now raised the bar once again with her commitment and approach to public service.
On a daily basis Jennie demonstrates her value as a professional to other staff, elected officials, the County in general, and on a daily if not hourly basis, to the public. She is deeply committed to public service, is a tireless worker who also brings warmth to County interactions with members of the public. Jennie is an excellent and caring listener who takes whatever time is needed to help the public, elected officials and staff understand the technical and practical aspects of the County's daily business. Her commitment to her profession and the County and those she serves sets an example that all Community and Planning Office staff strive to replicate.
Please join us in congratulating Jennie on receiving the Outstanding Public Service Award for her work in 2016.
Edgar S. Paxson Paintings Reinstalled in Missoula County Courthouse
Jan. 4, 2017
After taking a four-year leave of absence during the Missoula County Courthouse renovation project, the historic Edgar S. Paxson paintings have been framed and reinstalled in the Courthouse. The iconic paintings were removed in 2012 as one of the final preparations for the renovation project. During the time of construction, the Paxson paintings were on temporary display at the Missoula Art Museum and later moved to secure storage. Jackson Contractor Group and the Missoula Art Museum went above and beyond in their efforts to make this initiative a success our community can be proud of. A time-lapse video of the installation is above.
In addition to being reinstalled, the murals gained dark custom frames from Burnich Frame and Molding and now have appropriate lighting, thanks to Dennis Wright with Maxus Consulting Engineers PC. After renovating and repainting the historic courtroom, local painter Amanda Bielby was able to repaint decorative numerals under each painting that correspond with interpretative literature for visitors.
“At first I was headed with a Victorian design to go with architecture in the building, but after a meeting it was obvious that the design should be a tribute to the Native American influence of the paintings,” Bielby said. “I just felt lucky to be able to get my eyes so close to the paintings and take a moment to study how they may have come together. I wondered if maybe Paxson had some of the feelings of honor and achievement that I do being able to be a part of the history in this building,” Bielby said.
The Courthouse contains eight murals by E.S. Paxson, which were finished in 1914. Edgar Samuel Paxson is probably best known for his painting of "Custer's Last Stand," finished in 1899. In 1906, he moved his studio to Missoula from Butte and in 1912 began a group of murals depicting early Montana history.
“I was able to work on the murals’ conservation reviews, documentation and research efforts during the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial,” Missoula Art Musuem’s Registrar, Jennifer Reifsneider said. “Reframing the Paxson murals – literally and figuratively – always makes me feel part of a unique community and proud of how we collaborate and engage with our visual and cultural histories.”
As an added and wonderful surprise, the underpaintings were uncovered during the renovation process. According to the Missoula Art Museum, the underpaintings, now hung in the north stairwell between the second and third floors of the Courthouse, depict wagon trains, an infrequent subject but in line with Paxson’s depictions of Indian trails and people in the landscape. While the draftsmanship is strong, the coloration is only blocked in, using the characteristic light, pastel colors that Paxson used as underpaint.
Paxson’s large-scale paintings depict in a grandiose manner some of the historic events that occurred in the area: Father Ravalli arriving at Fort Owen, the signing of the Hellgate Treaty, the Salish people leaving the Bitterroot Valley for the Flathead Reservation, three paintings featuring the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The paintings capture the spirit of the time, a nostalgic yearning for the bygone days of the heroic west, rendered with Paxson’s typical painstaking attention to detail of costume and accoutrement.
This is not the first time that the Missoula County Commission has invested in the murals. In 1980, Commissioners Wilfred V. Thibodeau, Barbara Evans and Joseph Boyer signed a re-dedication proclamation resolving that the week of April 21 – 25 would be observed as E.S. Paxson week, and April 25, Paxson’s birthday, would be recognized as Paxson Painting Appreciation and Dedication Day. A copy of the resolution is attached with this email.
More information about each of the eight depictions and Paxson’s biographical account from the Missoula Art Museum is included.
We encourage members of the media and the public to visit the Courthouse to view the installation.