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Latest Local News

Jury Trials Set for Three Valley County Men in District Court

Posted (Tuesday, March 21st 2023)

Trial dates have been set in District Court for three Valley County men charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse of a minor – all felonies.

The three men were arrested in separate incidents late in 2022.

Jacob Renner, 28, was arrested in October, 2022 and charged with two counts of felony sexual abuse of a minor. The charges stem from an investigation by law enforcement after Renner began communicating with an individual he met on social media. Renner believed this person to be a female that was 14 years of age, and eventually made arrangements to meet her.
Renner’s trial is scheduled to begin in District Court in Glasgow on May 9, 2023.

Ronald William Kulczyk, 53, was arrested in December, 2022 and charged with two counts of felony sexual abuse of a minor. Kulczyk’s charges stem from an investigation by law enforcement after he made contact with an individual on a social media app. Kulczyk believed this person to be a 14 year-old male and eventually made arrangements to meet him.
Kulczyk’s trial is scheduled to begin in District Court in Glasgow on June 7, 2023

Scott Edward Cook, 48, was arrested in December, 2022 and charged with two counts of felony sexual abuse of a minor. Cooks’ charges stem from an investigation by law enforcement after he made contact with an individual through a social media app and continued communications for several weeks. Cook believed this individual to be a 14 year-old female and eventually made arrangements to meet her.
Cook’s trial is scheduled to begin in District Court in Glasgow on June 20, 2023

A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Mary Helland Of Glasgow Appointed To Montana Historical Society Board Of Trustees

Posted (Tuesday, March 21st 2023)

The Montana State Senate has confirmed the following members to the Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees. Governor Gianforte nominated these Montana residents and by Montana law they were confirmed by the Montana State Senate on a vote of 48-2.

Carol Donaldson, Kalispell, Montana, appointed to a term ending June 30, 2026.

Mary Helland, Glasgow, Montana, appointed to a term ending July 1, 2027.

Lorna Kuney, Helena, Montana, appointed to a term ending June 30, 2026.

Steve Lozar, Polson, Montana, appointed to a term ending July 1, 2027.

Jay Russell, Great Falls, Montana, appointed to a term ending June 30, 2026.

Bill Whitsitt, Bigfork, Montana, appointed to a term ending July 1, 2027.

Candi Zion, Winifred, Montana, appointed to a term ending July 1, 2024.

Local Ag Producers Receive Value-Added Producer Grants From USDA

Posted (Monday, March 20th 2023)

In 2022, 17 agricultural producers across Montana received more than $2.3 million in direct funds through USDA Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant program which helps businesses generate new products, create, and expand marketing opportunities, and increase overall producer income with the goal of growing local economies in rural and Tribal areas.

Montana’s Value Added Producer Grant recipients in 2022 were:

Todd Family Meats in Big Timber, Montana, received a $48,173 grant to fund processing, packaging, and marketing efforts. Todd Family Meats is a family-owned business that produces and sells packaged beef and lamb products to a growing customer base.

Montana Greenhouse Project 365 in Saco, Montana, received a $49,098 grant for working capital to expand its customer base and increase revenue. Montana Greenhouse grows fruits and vegetables that are sold to local schools, restaurants, and individuals locally, providing produce in a food desert area.

Lane Legacy Beef in Ismay, Montana, received a $49,900 grant to assist with processing and marketing costs so it can expand its customer base. Lane Legacy Beef is a family operated farm and ranch that raises premium grass-fed Black Angus cattle for high quality beef products sold locally and regionally.

North of Nowhere Farm in Opheim, Montana, received a $49,900 grant to assist with processing costs and expand its customer base. North of Nowhere is a majority woman-owned business in a small community of 75 residents that uses regenerative agriculture to raise grass-fed beef and produce nutritional beef sticks.

BB Farms and Soap Co., in Jordan, Montana, received a $49,998 grant to provide working capital for packaging, purchasing additional ingredients and to develop a marketing plan. B&B, a woman-owned rural small business located in a town of 356 residents, produces all-natural soaps and skin care products using goats milk harvested right there on the farm.

Swanky Roots, Inc., in Billings, Montana, received a $49,999 grant to finance marketing, distribution, and personnel costs. Swanky Roots is a woman-owned aquaponics greenhouse specializing in organically grown mixed lettuce and produce which they sell to consumers, local restaurants, and retailers throughout southeastern Montana.

Delpine Farms in Martinsdale, Montana, received a $49,999 grant to boost marketing, labor costs, packaging, and distribution. Delpine Farms is a family-owned mixed vegetable garden and market serving small nearby communities by providing ready access to fresh produce.

Wicked Good Produce in Whitefish, Montana, received a $49,999 grant to assist with payroll, packaging and labeling of products so it can expand its customer base. Wicked Good is a small-scale, diversified vegetable farm that provides local communities with access to freshly grown produce.

Big Sky Orchards in Big Fork, Montana, received a $76,500 grant to expand its customer base and increase profitability. Big Sky is a local orchard that produces and sells pelletized hops to craft breweries throughout Montana.

Kokoro Flowers, LLC, in Bozeman, Montana, received a $194,210 grant to assist with payroll, packaging and marketing so it can meet growing demand for its products. Kokoro is a small organic farm specializing in growing flowers and vegetables.

Math Farms Beef in Whitewater, Montana, received a $211,436 grant to help with processing, packaging, marketing, and operational expenses. Math Farms Beef produces pasture-raised, grain-finished 100% pure Black Angus beef products.

Bar L Diamond, Inc., in Townsend, Montana, received a $248,000 grant to assist with production, processing and shipping costs so this small ranching operation can expand its customer base and increase profitability.

Belcrest, LLC, in Bozeman, Montana, received a $250,000 grant to fund production, packaging, distribution, marketing, advertising, payroll, and daily operational costs. Belcrest is a small, family-owned ranching operation that produces all-natural, dry-aged, ranch raised beef.

E&S Ranch in Eureka, Montana, received a $250,000 grant to assist this direct-to-the-consumer grass-fed beef business with processing costs so it can meet the growing demand for its product in the Flathead Valley region.

Pintler Mountain Beef in Philipsburg, Montana, received a $250,000 grant to assist with processing and marketing costs. Pintler Mountain Beef is a direct-to-the-consumer business that sells antibiotic and hormone free, humanely raised, sustainable, wildlife-friendly premium grass fed and finished beef and other meat products.

Valley Girl Mushrooms dba M&R Services in Kila, Montana, received a $250,000 grant to pay for processing supplies, packaging, shipping, marketing, and payroll operations. Valley Girl is a small rural business that produces locally grown wholesale gourmet mushrooms.

Black Dog Farm, LLC in Livingston, Montana, received a $250,000 grant for processing, packaging, and marketing of its products. Black Dog Farm is a family-owned small business producing pasture-raised pork, poultry, and egg products.

Value Added Producer Grants are awarded through a national competition and are requested through a notice published in the Federal Register and an announcement posted on Grants.gov. Applications for 2023 grants are now being accepted and are due by May 16, 2023.

USDA Rural Development has six offices in Montana – Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. To learn more about investment resources for rural areas in Montana, call (406) 585-2587 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/mt.

School Trustee Election Filing Deadline Thursday, March 23rd.

Posted (Monday, March 20th 2023)

There are two positions open for the Glasgow School District Board of Trustees this year. Angie Page’s & Blaine White’s terms are set to expire and both have declared their intent to run again. The annual school election will be held Tuesday, May 2, 2023 by mail ballot.

For anyone else wishing to run for the Glasgow school board, the Trustee Declaration form is located on the board page of the school website at www.glasgow.k12.mt.us and is also available at the School Administration Office located at 229 7th Street North. The deadline to apply is Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 5:00 p.m. For further information regarding the election, contact Kelly Doornek at 228-2406.

Try not to stress wildlife at this time of year

Posted (Monday, March 20th 2023)

Late winter and early spring is often a difficult time for wildlife. After using fat reserves through most of the winter, along with trying to find what food is available, many animals are at their most vulnerable at this time of year. And as we’ve all experienced, the winter of 2022-23 has been a tough, long winter with heavy snow and cold temperatures late into the year.

That’s why Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are asking shed hunters and other recreationists to give wildlife their space until all the snow melts and the animals are less stressed.

Shed hunting – looking for antlers shed each year by male members of the deer family – has become increasingly popular and competitive in recent years. Shed hunting is a good way to get some fresh air and exercise and is encouraged as an activity. However, shed hunters, along with snowmobilers, skiers, and snowshoers should avoid areas where deer, elk and antelope are currently wintering. It is safest to admire these animals at a distance.

Like any activity, shed hunting requires permission of the landowner/agency and special rules may apply. For instance, the BLM is especially concerned that mule deer wintering areas, such as the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in northern Valley Co., are often targeted for shed hunting with snowmobiles. Snowmobiles are not permitted off-road in the Bitter Creek WSA, and folks who are violating this law will be fined.

Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds Fort Peck Reservoir and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, does not allow the removal of shed antlers.

Please know the rules of public land agencies regarding winter recreation, and always ask permission on private land, including property that is in Block Management.

Feeding deer is illegal
Although it may be tempting with these tough winter conditions, a person may not knowingly provide supplemental feed attractants to game animals in a manner that results in an artificial concentration of game animals that may potentially contribute to the transmission of disease or that constitutes a threat to public safety.

Not only is it illegal, but feeding some animals can also render them dependent upon artificial food sources, and may lead to death due to imbalances in gut health.
Thanks for your continuing support and respect for our wildlife!

Montanans: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Responsibly By Planning For A Sober Ride

Posted (Friday, March 17th 2023)

Montana law enforcement increasing patrols in Valley County for St. Patrick’s Day. Revelers encouraged
to plan for a sober ride home.
+ With support from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), local law enforcement and the Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) are increasing patrols and enforcement presence during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday period.
+ Because the holiday falls on a Friday, they expect increased participation in festivities and hosted celebrations, and alcohol consumption beyond what is typical for the holiday.
+ To ensure the safety of communities across Montana and the traveling public, these safety partners are encouraging everyone to make a plan for a sober ride home before they start celebrating (and drinking).

Valley County Sheriff’s Office, Glasgow Police Department, and the Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) are encouraging Montanans to plan for a sober ride home before celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Celebrations and festivities at bars and restaurants are common for St. Patrick’s Day; and they may be more pronounced since the holiday falls on a Friday this year. Law enforcement partners across the state will be increasing patrols and making DUI arrests as part of the effort to help all Montanans get home safely.

Under the Vision Zero goal, Valley County Sheriff’s Office, Glasgow Police Department, and MHP and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) are committed to reducing fatalities and serious injuries on Montana’s roadways during the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Montana law states that if drivers have a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08 or higher, they could be arrested and face a DUI charge and other serious consequences. This can include having their driver’s license revoked, being required to take mandatory classes, and receiving possible jail time and up to $10,000 in fines and legal fees.

“Montanans take St. Patrick’s Day seriously, and we’ll all take safety just as seriously,” said Undersheriff Chris Richter. “Before you even start drinking or head out for a celebration, make and commit to a plan. Designate one of your friends or family members as a sober driver, arrange for a rideshare service/cab/public transportation, or coordinate with a friend or family member to give you a sober ride home. If you see your friends have been drinking, have their back and help them get home safely, too. We’re in this together as a community.”

Why is Montana law enforcement increasing patrols during St. Patrick’s Day? These are Montana’s sobering statistics:
? Montana has one of the highest fatality rates in the nation for the number of deaths caused by alcohol-impaired drivers per vehicle mile traveled.
? In Montana, 66% of all fatalities in 2020 involved an impaired driver (up from 58% in 2019).

“Please celebrate responsibly during St. Patrick’s Day. Have fun, but don’t drive impaired,” said Montana Highway Patrol Colonel Steve Lavin. “We’ll be increasing patrols during St. Patrick’s Day weekend to make sure Montanans get home safe. Do your part and plan ahead or call for a sober ride home if you’ve been drinking. Together we can keep our community safe.”

Montana Department of Transportation — Vision Zero

This is a Vision Zero message from the Montana Department of Transportation. This and other enforcement and educational campaigns are strategies to reach Vision Zero — zero deaths and zero serious injuries on Montana roadways. For more information about Vision Zero, contact Janet Kenny, Montana Department of Transportation, 406-444-7417 or jakenny@mt.gov.

Two Wolf Point Residents Admit Their Roles In Abduction And Assault Of Girl On Fort Peck Indian Reservation

Posted (Friday, March 17th 2023)

Two Wolf Point residents suspected in the kidnapping and assault of a girl on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in 2021 today admitted their roles in the abduction, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Dylan Troy Jackson, 22, and co-defendant Kaylee Jade Jackson, 19, each pleaded guilty to kidnapping of an individual under 18. The defendants face a mandatory minimum 20 years to a maximum of life in prison, a $250,000 fine and not less than five years to a lifetime of supervised release.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other sentencing factors. Sentencing was set for July 26 for Dylan Jackson and Aug. 3 for Kaylee Jackson. Both defendants were detained pending further proceedings.

The government alleged that on Sept. 15, 2021, a group of individuals lured a 15-year-old girl, identified as Jane Doe, out of her house in Wolf Point and kidnapped her. That evening, after telling Kaylee Jackson about how Jane Doe had wronged him, co-defendant Cheri Cruz Granbois offered to pay Kaylee Jackson to lure the victim from her house so she could be assaulted. Kaylee Jackson accepted the offer and accompanied Granbois and others, including Dylan Jackson, to Jane Doe’s home. Kaylee Jackson lured Jane Doe out of her house, and the situation escalated. Some of the individuals in the group assaulted the victim. When eyewitnesses yelled that they were going to call the police, some of individuals kidnapped Jane Doe, forcing her into a vehicle and driving to a vacant field where the assault continued. Dylan Jackson helped to seize and abduct the victim.

Co-defendants Patti Jo Annunciata Mail, Lavanchie Patricia Goodbird and Elmarie Amelia Weeks have pleaded guilty to charges in the case and are pending sentencing. Granbois has pleaded not guilty to charges and is pending trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wendy A. Johnson and Ryan G. Weldon are prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI, Fort Peck Law Enforcement, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office and Wolf Point Police Department.

Dry Prairie Rural Water System Project Receives $15 Million To Support Completion Of Project

Posted (Friday, March 17th 2023)

Seven authorized rural water projects — including two in Montana — will receive a total of $278 million to complete construction of water treatment plants, support pipeline connections, pump systems and reservoir construction and advance other efforts to provide drinkable water to rural and tribal communities.

The Department of the Interior last month announced a $728 million investment to deliver clean drinking water to rural and tribal communities, support water conservation and complete projects to improve water supply. The funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act and Consolidated Appropriations Act.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe and North Central Montana Rural Water System will receive $77.56 million for pipeline construction and to make progress on a water treatment plant. The funding will also support pipeline segments associated with Havre, Chester and Shelby service areas. This rural water system, which was authorized by Congress in 2002, is expected to serve 28,000 people both on the reservation and in surrounding communities.

The Fort Peck Tribes will receive $15 million to support completion of the Dry Prairie Rural Water System Project. The project aims to ensure that reservation residents and those living in surrounding areas have access to a safe water supply.

Potential Of Flooding Increases In Glasgow Area

Posted (Friday, March 17th 2023)

At a briefing with local officials on Friday, the National Weather Service is reporting that the potential for flooding has increased significantly in the last two weeks.

Two weeks ago the chance of flooding in the Glasgow area was at 30% to 40% but with nearly 20 inches of snow across the area in the last weeks the potential has increased significantly.

The NWS is reporting that the snow water equivalent is now up to 4-6 inches in some locations in Valley and Phillips Counties.

There is now a 98% chance of minor flooding on the Milk River at Glasgow and a 65% chance of moderate flooding and 20% chance of major flooding.

Glasgow is already at its 3rd snowiest March on record at 17.8 inches with half of the month to go. Another weather system will be moving in the middle of next week and could bring an additional 2-3 inches of snow to the Glasgow area.

Of major concern to officials is flooding on the Milk River and also Frenchman Creek, Rock Creek, Willow Creek and Beaver Creek.

Malta Republican Sponsors Legislation Asking Voters To Amend Constitution To Protect Rights Of Gun Owners

Posted (Thursday, March 16th 2023)

If Democrats regain political power in Montana in the future, it’d be good to have gun rights soundly secured in the Montana Constitution.

That’s the argument Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, made Wednesday with a supermajority of Republicans in control of the Montana Legislature.

In the House Judiciary Committee, Mitchell argued in favor of a bill that would ask voters to amend the state constitution to protect the rights of gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit — as the legislature did last session in statute.

Currently, Article II Section 12 of the state constitution protects the right to bear arms, but not under all circumstances:

“The right of any person to keep or bear arms in defense of his own home, person, and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but nothing herein contained shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons.”

House Bill 551 would strike out the last portion of the provision, the exception against concealed weapons.

The Montana Shooting Sports Association, a law enforcement officer, a state senator, and a representative of the NRA also spoke as proponents. Opposing the bill were representatives with Gun Owners for Safety.

Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, is the lead sponsor of the bill, and roughly 50 other legislators have signed onto it. Since it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds of the legislature to pass, then approval from voters at the polls.

Mitchell said the legislature adopted permitless concealed carry into Montana law last session, the state has the highest rate per capita of gun owners in the U.S., and the bill would be another step to ensure law abiding citizens can protect themselves.

“Gun rights in Montana is no red or blue issue, unless maybe you’re in Missoula or Whitefish,” Mitchell said.

However, Nick Gevock, a volunteer with Gun Owners for Safety, said since the legislature already repealed concealed carry permitting, the bill wouldn’t actually help Montanans.

“Law-abiding Montanans can already carry a concealed gun without a permit,” Gevock said. “House Bill 551 would do nothing to change that. What it would do is open the door to more guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

For example, he said federal courts have ruled domestic abusers can’t be prohibited from carrying guns. As such, he argued a judge might interpret the change in the Montana Constitution to mean even convicted murderers must be allowed to carry concealed guns.

“As gun owners, we believe it is critical to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves or others,” Gevock said.

Gevock described himself as a gun owner and the organization as one that takes Second Amendment rights for Montanans seriously: “Gun ownership has always been a part of who we are.”

In favor of the bill, Gary Marbut, with the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said he believes the provision in the state constitution was taken from a nearly identical one in the 1875 Missouri Constitution, and he argued it has racist roots. At the time, he said people wanted to keep newly freed Black people disarmed and submissive with Jim Crow laws.

At the meeting, he read an essay from a book edited by Montana historian K. Ross Toole. The essay talked about a time gangs of Democrats tried to keep Black people from voting in Helena, and a white bully brutally slayed a well-known local Black man, known as “’N— ‘ Sammy Hays,” said Marbut, reading from the essay and stating the epithet in full.

“The marshal who tried to jail the assassin had to fight his way through a hostile crowd,” Marbut said, quoting from part of the book.

He said amending the constitution would help remove one last bit of racism from the books: “There are lots of examples about prejudice at that time in Montana.”

In questions, however, Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, said she suspected the push for the amendment wasn’t so much about addressing racism as it was pressing forward on gun rights. As such, she wanted to know if Knudsen, the sponsor, had researched the intent of the delegates of the 1972 Montana Constitution.

“Would you recognize that the framers did not want the door completely open in the most recent convention around concealed carry?” Bishop asked.

Knudsen said he did some research but would need to do more to thoroughly answer her question. However, he said he believed the provision was more a copy and paste, in part because the delegates still did not want to fully open the door to concealed carry in 1972 given their lingering fears related to historical events in Montana.

At the same time, he said he did not believe the amendment would throw out all gun restrictions.

“We still regulate firearms. We regulate the ability to carry firearms. That is not going to change,” Knudsen said.

Another legislator, Sen. Barry Usher, R-Yellowstone County, also spoke in support of the bill. Usher said Montana shouldn’t need to amend its constitution given the Second Amendment, but he still supports the idea.

“I’d like to see you guys pass this so I have the honor to be able to vote for it in the Senate,” Usher said.

The committee did not take immediate action on the proposal.

Wolf Point man suspected in convenience store robbery, carjackings in Billings and Cascade County arraigned on charges

Posted (Monday, March 13th 2023)

A Wolf Point man suspected in a convenience store robbery in Billings and armed carjackings in Billings and Cascade County appeared for arraignment on March 7 on multiple charges, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said today.

Santana Cruz Ledeau, 26, pleaded not guilty to an indictment filed on March 2 charging him with robbery affecting commerce, two counts of carjacking, attempted carjacking and two counts of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. If convicted of the most serious crime, Ledeau faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the robbery charge and a mandatory minimum seven years to life in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, a $250,000 fine and three years of release on the firearm charge.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston presided. Ledeau was detained pending further proceedings.

The indictment alleges that on June 11, 2022, Ledeau robbed On the Run, a gas station convenience store in Billings, and threatened an employee, identified as John Doe #1. The indictment further alleges that on Sept. 30, 2022 near Billings, Ledeau brandished a firearm while carjacking a vehicle from a victim identified as Jane Doe. In addition, Ledeau is accused of using a firearm while carjacking a vehicle from a victim identified as John Doe #3 on Oct. 17, 2022 near Cascade, in Cascade County, and attempting to carjack a vehicle from a victim identified as John Doe #2 near Ulm, in Cascade County, also on Oct. 17, 2022.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica A. Betley and Jeffrey K. Starnes are prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Great Falls Police Department, Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, Cascade County Attorney’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, Billings Police Department, Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office and Montana Highway Patrol.

Valley County Upgrades Website

Posted (Monday, March 13th 2023)

Valley County upgraded its website in February. It can still be accessed from the original web link, https://www.valleycountymt.net.

Local photographer Sean Heavey provided all the photos for the homepage, depicting Valley County’s beautiful landscapes.

The new website is easier to navigate and to update, making it a great tool for both users and County personnel. Its user-friendly format means we will get more information out to our citizens and eventually enable more online services.

One of the features we are most excited about is the new financial display site that can be accessed from the homepage under the Budget feature. The financial display reports show revenues and expenditures by fund, and expenses by function. You can click on the data sections to "drill" down to get more detail as well as look at 5-year history of revenues and expenditures by major categories.
The new website will continue to undergo expansion and improvements as we get familiar with all its capabilities. User feedback will help us continue to make the website more useful to our County residents.

Valley County Commissioners

FWP concerned that more ponds in northeast Montana have winterkilled

Posted (Monday, March 13th 2023)

GLASGOW – The climate in northeast Montana the last few years hasn’t been the best for our area fishing ponds. Back-to-back summer droughts and now a tough, long winter this year, have left fish populations in many ponds and small reservoirs across northeastern Montana with little room to breathe. As a result, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is asking anglers to help identify ponds this spring that may have winterkilled.

What causes fish to winterkill?

There are many factors that influence a pond to winterkill, but it usually starts with low water and increased vegetation.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing drought left many ponds and small reservoirs in Eastern Montana five to ten feet lower, or more, going into the 2022-23 winter,” says Jared Krebs, Glasgow-area biologist. “These lower water levels allowed for greater light penetration through the water column and created conditions for increased aquatic vegetation growth.”

While this vegetation growth is not necessarily a bad thing during the summer, snow-covered ice during the winter prevents sunlight from penetrating the water, causing the aquatic vegetation to die. This dead vegetation then begins to decompose, a process which consumes oxygen from the water. Like humans, fish need oxygen to survive.

As more oxygen is consumed from the water, there is less available for fish. If oxygen levels become too low, fish may begin to die. As these dead fish decompose, more oxygen is removed from the water and the entire process begins to escalate. FWP fisheries staff have been monitoring regional ponds this winter for dissolved oxygen and have found dire readings in some water bodies.
“All of this points to the stark reality that numerous ponds likely winterkilled in recent months, and anglers should not be surprised if they find dead fish this spring as the ice melts off,” adds Krebs.
How do FWP fisheries biologists deal with waters that winterkill?

FWP will work to stock fish into those ponds which have winterkilled. For rainbow trout fisheries, this usually means stocking hatchery trout as soon as conditions are favorable, if biologists determine a pond is still suitable for fish.

Another option is to move fish, such as bluegill or perch, to winterkilled ponds from other healthier ponds. These “donor” ponds are usually productive and can support the removal of many fish if necessary.

Additionally, biologists actively install and maintain windmill aerators on area ponds. Windmill aerators generate oxygen for fish through tough winter months and work best on waters that have good depth and generally good habitat. They do not work well in shallow ponds with marginal habitat.
“If a pond enters the winter with already low water levels, especially if its max depth is less than 12 feet, even this supplemental aeration may not be enough to guarantee fish survival through a long winter,” notes Krebs.

Lastly, biologists are continually looking for pond restoration projects where they can drain, dry and dredge an existing pond to increase depth and improve fish habitat.

“These projects are extensive and involve several years of planning and coordination to complete,” adds Krebs. “They also can be quite expensive but generally result in long-term fisheries benefits.”
How can anglers help? Anglers are asked to notify FWP if they find dead fish in area waters as the ice comes off this spring. Notifying FWP of a winterkill allows us to adjust stocking rates accordingly and ensure anglers have productive places to fish in the future.

If anglers notice a fish kill, or have other questions or concerns, please call your local FWP office:
Glasgow: 406-228-3700
Havre: 406-265-6177

Winter Storm Warning For Southern Valley County; Blizzard Warning For The North

Posted (Friday, March 10th 2023)

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for southern Valley County, southern Phillips County and eastern Roosevelt County. The warning is in effect until 6 p.m. Saturday.

A Blizzard Warning has been issued for northern Valley County, northern Phillips County, Daniels, Sheridan and eastern Roosevelt County until 6 p.m. Saturday.

Blizzard conditions are expected in the north, with accumulations of 4 to 10 inches of snow, and winds gusting as high as 55 mph.

3 to 6 inches of snow is forecast for the south, with hinds gusting as high as 50 mph.

Tester Secures $43.5 Million to Upgrade Fresno Dam, Make Progress on Milk River Project

Posted (Friday, March 10th 2023)

Funding will come from the FY23 government funding package; Senator was the only member of the Montana delegation to support funding

(U.S. Senate) — U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured $43,599,090 from the Bureau of Reclamation’s (BoR) Dam Safety Program to upgrade the Milk River’s Fresno Dam. Bozeman-based NW Construction has been awarded the contract and will begin the dam modification project next month.

Tester was the only member of the Montana congressional delegation to vote for the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Omnibus Appropriations Package, which included $182,561,000 for dam safety.

“As third-generation farmer, I know how important it is to invest in our infrastructure for rural Montana,” said Tester. “Modernizing the Fresno Dam will guarantee a more efficient and reliable water supply for rural communities across northern Montana, a safer environment for fish and wildlife, and better protection from natural disasters like floods. I’m proud to have secured the funding to get this project off the ground, and look forward to working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Milk River Joint Board of Control to keep making progress on the Milk River Project.”

Tester has been Montana’s leading champion for the Milk River Project and water infrastructure projects across the state. In 2021, in a historic win for Montanans living and working on the Hi-Line, Tester secured up to $100 million in dedicated funding to rehabilitate the Milk River Project as a part of his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The funding will go directly toward rehabilitating the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam and averting system failures, while improving the efficiency and reliability of the overall system.

Tester also secured a separate provision allowing state and local recovery funding from the American Rescue Plan to be eligible to be used towards the nonfederal cost share of BoR infrastructure like the Milk River Project.

For more than a decade, Tester has led the fight to fund improvements to the Milk River Project. At the urging of the St. Mary’s working group, Tester has been the lead cosponsor of the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act since 2018. In April of 2021, Tester urged the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on his legislation, which would authorize $52 million to rehabilitate the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam, part of BoR’s Milk River Project in Northcentral Montana, and require the BoR to use an ability-to-pay study on what the current water users could afford to pay for the project and set the cost share for the rehabilitation based on that study. Currently, water users on the Milk River Project cover 74 percent of operations and maintenance costs, but that funding structure is unsustainable for the hundreds of millions of dollars in needed rehabilitation across the project.

The Milk River Project irrigates over 120,000 acres and provides water to four municipalities, two rural water systems, and two Tribes.

Superintendent Arntzen Hosts16th Annual Indian Education For All Conference

Posted (Friday, March 10th 2023)

HELENA - Superintendent Elsie Arntzen and the Office of Public Instruction’s Indian Education for All (IEFA) Unit will convene the 16th Annual Indian Education for All Best Practices Conference on March 17-18 at Helena College and Bryant Elementary School in Helena. This marks the return to an in-person conference after two years of a virtual model. This year’s theme is Strengthening and Healing through Cultural Knowledge and Education. The conference is free and open to the public and will provide educators with professional development units. Teaching Indian Education for All in our Montana classrooms is included in Article X of our state constitution: “The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.” Indian Education is also codified in law: “every Montanan, whether Indian or non-Indian, be encouraged to learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner.”

“This conference is about honoring the cultural heritage of all tribal nations in every Montana classroom,” said Superintendent Elsie Arntzen. “The conference reflects our constitutional promise of Indian Education. I encourage all Montana parents and teachers to attend this conference.”

The conference will provide parents, teachers, administrators, and stakeholders with:

Improving Indigenous language instruction
Expanding American Indian student achievement
Resources for classroom instruction
During the conference, there will be two keynote events with a Montana Indigenous professional and student leaders:

Crystal Hickman: Hickman serves as the School Mental Health Support Services Coordinator for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. She is an enrolled member of the Apsaalooke Tribe and of Northern Cheyenne descent. Crystal has worked in the human services and community organizing fields for 20 years.
Poplar High School Students: Student leaders who took part in the production and filming of In This Together, We Are One: The Buffalo Unity Project will be on hand to provide a panel discussion regarding their experiences creating a film about bison restoration in their community and on the Fort Peck Reservation.
The 2023 Teresa Veltkamp Advocacy Award for Excellence in Indian Education Recipients will be honored. The conference will highlight the recently released 2023 Making Montana Proud poster series and some of the candidates in attendance as well.

Over 220 participants have already signed up for the IEFA Best Practices conference. The conference will take place from 12:30 – 4:00 PM on March 17th and from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM on March 18th. To register for this conference please click here. To view the agenda at a glance and information about the Advocacy Award winners please follow the links.

For more information, please contact Zach Hawkins, Director of American Indian Education for All, at Zachariah.Hawkins@mt.gov or (406) 444-0708.

Northwestern Energy Says Nuclear Power A Possibility For Montana

Posted (Thursday, March 9th 2023)

From Billings Gazette
South Dakota regulators questioning NorthWestern Energy’s nuclear energy study plans in February were quick to ask whether the utility’s Montana customers would be sharing the costs.

NorthWestern approached South Dakota’s utility commission on February 8, asking for approval to bill customers for a nuclear power plant study. The company indicated that it had already done a month’s work with global consultancy Roland Berger and planned to meet a May application deadline for federal subsidies.

The path for nuclear power in Montana is complicated, the utility told South Dakota regulators. In both states, NorthWestern identifies nuclear power as an option to replace retiring coal-fired power plants, should it be forced to do so by regulators, though In Montana the utility is preparing to double the amount of owned coal power in its portfolio.

Missouri River Basin Water Management Update

Posted (Thursday, March 9th 2023)

The latest update on Missouri River Basin water management happens at noon on Thursday. Details of the update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be available sometime later Thursday afternoon.

Glasgow City Council To Meet Monday

Posted (Monday, March 6th 2023)

The Glasgow City Council will meet Monday at 5:00pm in the City Council Chambers at the Glasgow Civic Center.

Valley County Commissioners Announce Health Insurance Increase Costing County $78,000 per year

Posted (Monday, March 6th 2023)

At a regular Wednesday meeting last week, the Valley County Commissioners voted to accept renewal rates for health insurance for county employees. Medical and prescription rates increased 11.4%, dental rates increased 7.8% and vision and life rates remained the same.

This increase will cost Valley County $78,000 additional per year as the county pays 85% of a employees health insurance if they take the top plan offered. If a county employee chooses a mid-level plan the county pays $100% of the premium.

Also at the Wednesday meeting, the Valley County Commissioners discussed a personnel issue with the Valley County Refuse Manager, Brian Austin.

Austin informed the commissioners that he wanted the personnel hearing open to the public as there an estimated 25 people in attendance for the hearing.

The hearing started with the commissioners stating that Austin violated county policy when he attended a Daniels County Refuse Board meeting earlier this year. The county policy states that employees shall not express anything in any public forum as an official County position without specific permission to do so. The policy continues, If an employee wished to speak in their official capacity on a matter related to County business, their statements must be approved in advance.

The commissioners stated that Austin attended the Daniels County Refuse Board Meeting and spoke at the meeting as if he were representing Valley County and spoke as if he were the Valley County Refuse District Manager.

Austin vehemently denied the charge and stated he attended the meeting at his own cost and did not represent himself as an agent of Valley County or the Valley County Refuse District. At one point, Austin played a recording of the meeting and the audio played back had Austin stating "In my opinion" several times and not showing him voicing that he represented Valley County.

The commissioners stated that they were contacted by folks in Daniels County after the meeting asking about Valley County taking Daniels County garbage at the Valley County Landfill. The commissioners said that Austin violated county policy by indicating Valley County would take the garbage from Daniels County.

Austin continued to deny having represented Valley County at the meeting and said if he were representing the county he would of turned in an expense report and taken a county vehicle to the meeting.

After nearly 90 minutes of back and forth discussion, the Valley County Commissioners voted 3-0 to put a letter in Austin's personnel file writing that he violated county policy.

Brian Austin told Kltz/Mix-93 that he has letters from people who attended the Daniels County Refuse Board meeting stating that he never offered that he was representing Valley County. Austin said he will continue to fight the reprimand being placed in his personnel file.

Governor Signs School Funding Legislation

Posted (Monday, March 6th 2023)

At a kindergarten class at Smith Elementary School, Governor Greg Gianforte Friday signed a bill to fund Montana’s K-12 public schools at record levels. The funding measure adds a record $85.6 million to the state’s K-12 BASE aid funding for the fiscal year 2025 biennium.

“Our neighborhood public schools like Smith Elementary provide a safe environment for young Montanans to learn, socialize, and reach their full potential,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Working with Representative David Bedey and our partners in the legislature, we put Montana students first and got this bill across the finish line in record time.”

“Never before have our public schools been better funded than they are today,” the governor continued.

Sponsored by Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, House Bill 15 makes a historic investment in Montana’s K-12 public education system, funding schools at record levels.

“It was an honor to carry the school funding bill this session and to join students and teachers as Governor Gianforte signed it into law. The legislature and governor worked together to provide strong funding for our local schools and to get it done early in the session,” Rep. Bedey said.

HB 15 is a signature element of the governor’s Budget for Montana Families and a critical part of his pro-student, pro-parent, pro-teacher education agenda for 2023.

Governor Gianforte outlined his education priorities in his 2023 State of the State address, saying, “Let’s support individualized learning, civics education, and other innovative approaches to education. Let’s ensure parents are involved in their kids’ education and teachers have the resources they need to help our kids thrive.”

In 2021, the governor championed and signed into law the TEACH Act, providing incentives for school districts to increase starting teacher pay. In its first year, the TEACH Act raised starting teacher pay for nearly 500 teachers in Montana public schools.

The governor’s Budget for Montana Families increases funding for the TEACH Act by 40 percent, a proposal now before the Montana Legislature.

After signing the bill, Governor Gianforte read The Gruffalo to students in Mrs. Amy Hasselbach’s kindergarten class. Hasselbach was recognized as December’s Teacher of the Month in the area.

Bills Dictating Religion, Prayer and Sex Ed in Schools Advance Ahead of Key Deadline

Posted (Monday, March 6th 2023)

By Caven Wade
UM Legislative News Service
University of Montana School of Journalism

At the half-way mark of the 2023 Montana Legislature, three House bills that would dictate how public schools in the state handle religion, prayer and sex education just barely made it to the deadline to stay alive.

Rep. Greg Kmetz, R-Miles City, is sponsoring House Bill 744, which would allow students and teachers to openly discuss religious beliefs. The bill passed out of the House Education Committee 9-4, and passed a final vote in the House 69-29 on the last day for general bills to be passed to their second house.

Friday, March 3 was day 45 of the 90-day session and also the transmittal deadline. Any general bills that did not pass to their second house – from the House of Representatives to the Senate or vice versa – are considered dead.

House Bill 745, which deals with religious texts and prayer in schools and House Bill 502, which clarifies earlier legislation requiring parental notification of sex ed materials, also both passed the House on mostly party-line votes, with Republicans for and Democrats against.

Rep. Scot Kerns, R-Great Falls, spoke in favor of HB 744, saying the first amendment heavily influenced the bill by making sure that Congress has no impact on the rights of an establishment of religion or preventing a person's ability to exercise religion.

“We have to be careful, how those run in conflict or are actually applied. So for a student, and that's what this bill talks about, the student may – that is their free exercise of religion,” Kerns said.

Kerns also said the bill is written in a way that makes sure teachers aren’t initiating conversations with students on religion or forcing religion in a public institution.

“It’s the ability for a student to actually freely exercise their religion, and that’s what this bill actually does,” Kerns said.

Rep. Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, spoke against the bill during the House debate, saying that it would have a negative impact on tribal schools and native students.

“All the students in my tribe here in Montana is excluded from this because we don’t have a religion. It’s a way of life,” Windy Boy said.

HB 744 goes hand in hand with Kmetz's other bill, HB 745, which would allow students to read religious books during free-reading times and for self-selected reading requirements.

“This is just a bill that gives freedom. It gives freedom to teachers, it gives freedom to students,” Kmetz said

The bill would also expand the ability to pray on school grounds or at school-sanctioned events. It would allow the school day to start with a prayer, but maintains that no one can be forced into participating in the prayer or religious practices.

HB 745 passed out of the House Education Committee on a 9-4 vote, and passed the full House 67-31.

Rep. Eric Matthews, D-Bozeman, a teacher, spoke against the bill. He said everything that the bill outlines is already being practiced in schools, and students are already allowed to pray based on their religions.

He said the issue he had with the bill is it specifically describing the Bible as appropriate religious text to read in classrooms.

“If this is really about religion, why do we need to call out the Bible? Why are we not listing the Bible and the Quran, and whatever religious texts are there?” Matthews said. “If we are trying to be impartial, adding that makes it feel very partial to me.”

Rep. Naarah Hastings, R-Billings, said she is in favor of the bill though she agreed with Matthews. She said she’s never had an experience of being discriminated against in a classroom, and believes that all kids should have the ability to openly display and read their respected religious texts.

The House also passed a bill that would expand previous legislation on informing parents about upcoming teaching material or events that address sexual education.

Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, is sponsoring HB 502, which would create a 48-hour to 10-day notice period for public schools to notify parents about any upcoming material, instruction, or school-related event that deals with informing children about sexuality.

“That’s a policy that the school sets and I don’t want to impose on that, but I would encourage these school districts to work very closely with the parents and set a policy that works both for the teachers and the parents,” Seekins-Crowe said. “Parents would have that ability then to opt their children out of that education if they so choose.”

The bill is an expansion of Senate Bill 99 from 2021, which established the clause that parents must be notified when their children are going to be taught about sexuality in public schools across the state.

Seekins-Crowe said one problem from the previous legislation was that it did not establish when exactly parents were supposed to be notified on the upcoming material.

“There were school districts that were basically sending out a notice at the very beginning of the year, and some of them were sending out notices daily if there was a story with two raccoons holding hands,” Seekins-Crowe said.

The final vote on the bill landed on almost a party line with all but one Republican voting yes and all but one Democrat voting no.

All three bills will now move to the Senate, where it will be debated after the Legislature reconvenes on March 9.

Caven Wade is a student reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. He can be reached at caven.wade@umontana.edu.

Montana Ranch Families Share Succession Stories To Share Stories In Malta, Winnett Next Week

Posted (Monday, March 6th 2023)

Raw and Real: Montana Ranch Families Share Succession Stories

Perennial Roots “Succession Stories,” a Program of Ranchers Stewardship Alliance and Winnett ACES, Brings Firsthand Stories of Montana Ranch Families to Malta, Winnett

It’s emotional. It’s financial. It’s pivotal. And it often gets put on the back burner. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that family-owned farms and ranches account for 97% of the 2.1 million total in the U.S. Yet only 30% of these survive into the second generation. Only 12% are still operating by the third.

What’s more, some 69% of the family farms surveyed expected ownership to continue into the next generation, but only 23% had a plan. Where is the disconnect? Reluctance to get into hard conversations, uncertainty about what professionals to bring into the mix, worries about fairness, and old-fashioned procrastination are among the list of possibilities.

To help our region’s farm and ranch families break through the noise of estate planning, Perennial Roots, a program of Ranchers Stewardship Alliance and Winnett ACES, and cohost Petroleum County Conservation District will soon be showcasing the firsthand stories of three Montana ranch families. Each will discuss the motivations, trials, and victories in establishing their estate plan:

Mannix Family – Helmville, Montana
A diversified and multigenerational operation, the Mannix family is continuing the 140-year tradition of the Mannix Brothers Ranch. There are plenty of cooks in this 50,000-acre kitchen. Decisions go back to the ranch’s board of directors, which includes brothers of the fourth generation, David, Randy, and Brent, their wives Peggy, Mo, and Stacey, and three representatives of the fifth generation, Neil, Bryan, and Logan.
Lee Family – Judith Gap, Montana

Bob Lee and late wife Kathy started their diversified cattle and grain operation in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in 1969. The duo raised three successful children, one of which has now brought his family home to the operation. The ranch has been recognized for its approach to managing its natural resources and is well-known for the tours it offers to groups from across the state, nation, and globe.
Hammond Family – Malta, Montana

Howie Hammond is a first-generation producer on property that he and his wife, JoAnn, bought in 1979. The pair enjoys having their three daughters and their families living in Phillips County. Daughter Andrea and husband, Wyatt Lien, have committed to help run the operation. All-in-all, they run a cow/calf operation on roughly 37,000 acres with a portion seeded to small grains. Howie’s commitment to succession planning was inspired by conversations with Nebraska producers in jeopardy of losing their land in the late 80s. The Hammond’s ever-evolving succession plan became a top priority after a medical diagnosis for Howie in late 2014.

The two in-person events will feature presentations from each of the ranches along with evening meals and plenty of time for discussion. Both are stand-alone gatherings. While attendees are more than welcome to attend both, the content will be very similar in each location.

The focus on Monday, March 13 is Malta with the program running from 5-8:30 p.m. at the Tin Cup. Winnett’s Petroleum County Community Center will play host on Tuesday, March 14. Also running from 5-8:30, childcare will be offered.

More information and tickets for each night are available at RanchStewards.org/events. You can also preregister by calling the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Office at (406) 654-1405 or Haylie Shipp at (406) 853-0483.

Listening Session Regarding Mule Deer Management Being Held In Glasgow March 15

Posted (Monday, March 6th 2023)

GLASGOW –Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is holding a public listening session regarding mule deer management in Region 6 in northeast Montana. The listening session is from 6-8 p.m. at the Cottonwood Inn in Glasgow on Wednesday, March 15. Hunters, landowners, and wildlife enthusiasts are encouraged to attend.

Region 6 wildlife staff will provide a background on mule deer management, the current status of mule deer populations in the region, trends in hunters and harvest, and an update on CWD. Following the presentation, the floor will be open for dialogue between public participants and FWP staff.

The intent of this session is for FWP to have a chance to hear various concerns, questions, and perspectives from the interested public. There will be no decisions made during this listening session.

FWP ensures that its meetings are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. To request special accommodations for this meeting, or for any questions, please contact the FWP Region 6 Headquarters in Glasgow at 406-228-3700.

Eastern Montana Regional Trade Show and Business Summit Set For April 29th

Posted (Sunday, March 5th 2023)

Mark your calendars for April 29th to join us for the Eastern Montana Regional Trade Show and Business Summit!

Enjoy business-related workshops while shopping in our Eastern Montana Trade show full of Montana-Made items! Stay tuned for more information on how to sign up as a vendor and some of our workshops. This event is FREE to attend!

This event is also FREE for vendors. To sign up as a vendor, please click here.

You will receive a confirmation email that your registration form has been received and either accepted or denied.

Vendor spots are limited and are accepted on a first-come first serve basis. All vendors must be businesses or entrepreneurs that make/create their own goods or products. This is not a vendor show for direct sales companies (Pampered Chef, Norwex, Scentsy, etc.)

**All vendors will receive table space to display products.

Jake Etchart Scholarship

Posted (Saturday, March 4th 2023)

Jake Etchart- grew up spending summers at Fort Peck Lake, with much of his time spent around the Fort Peck Theatre where his family was actively involved as volunteers. He loved watching his sisters, Alexa and Christen, perform on the Fort Peck stage.

Jake's family and friends established a theatre scholarship fund in his memory which is invested within the Fort Peck Theatre Preservation Endowment of the Montana Community Foundation. The interest from this investment provides up to two scholarships per year for undergraduate or graduate students pursuing a career in the Fine Arts.

To be eligible, applicants must have a history of volunteering or participating in some program sponsored by the Fort Peck Fine Arts Council, and they must be at least a full-time undergraduate at an accredited university with at least a 2.50 GPA. Priority will be given to undergraduate applicants. Visit our website www.fortpecktheatre.org for complete instructions and an application.

Applications must be postmarked by July 15th and mailed to the Fort Peck Fine Arts Council at PO Box 973, Glasgow, MT 59230. Questions may be directed to 406.228.9216 or via email: fptheatre@nemont.net.

Jake's family and the Fine Arts Council would like to thank the donors who have made this scholarship possible.

Scholarships will be awarded at the Fort Peck Summer Theatre's Performing Arts Camp Showcase in the second week of August.

Bill to fully fund Medicaid providers gets initial OK in House

Posted (Friday, March 3rd 2023)

A bill to bring the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates in line with a recent study commissioned by the state won a substantial, bipartisan endorsement in the House.

The preliminary vote on House Bill 649 followed an impassioned debate about the state’s role in ensuring adequate health care for the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable populations in Montana. The bill cleared a second reading by a 65-35 margin.

“This policy before you affects 20,000 jobs and tens of thousands of Montanans. It affects children who are chained to an oxygen tank,” Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, the bill’s sponsor, said. “It affects women who are caring for their loved ones who has Alzheimer's or dementia. It affects the physically disabled man who is waiting for someone to show up in the morning to help him bathe, get dressed and drive him to work so that he can have the freedom of economic independence.”

One of the top Republican lawmakers also working on the issues, Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, argued the study done by a consultant called Guidehouse was flawed, pointing to what he said were inaccurate numbers describing nursing home closures in the state in 2022.

“We need accurate data,” Keenan said. “We don’t need to be deceived.”

While noting he came into the session with the goal of fixing the issue, Keenan appeared to largely argue against passage of the bill. He suggested at one point that the Legislature’s main budget bill, House Bill 2, could serve as the vehicle for an appropriation to fix the reimbursement rates. Keenan is the chairman of the budget subcommittee focused on health and human services issues within HB 2.

“This bill creates more problems down the road than it fixes,” he said of Caferro’s bill.

But he ultimately voted in favor of the legislation.

A pair of GOP lawmakers spoke in support of the bill, including Rep. James Bergstrom, of Buffalo, who cited the example of a nursing home in his district that is losing money each day.

“We don’t have time to work on this,” he said. “I guarantee you that there are nursing homes all over the state that are watching what we do here, literally today, and they’re going to make decisions on whether they’re gonna get out of business or stay, based on what we do here.”

Reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers has fallen short for years, pushing them into financial crisis once the pandemic hit.

During the last legislature, nearly $3 million was set aside for a provider rate study to look at a discrepancy between the cost of delivering services and the reimbursement rates meant to cover the cost of care for a Medicaid recipient.

Guidehouse, the outside consulting company that carried out the rate study, provided a recommended or benchmark rate that more accurately reflected the cost of care. But the governor’s proposed budget fell woefully short of the benchmark.

While the subcommittee voted to move the needle somewhat higher for Medicaid funding, some lawmakers felt it was still insufficient.

Caferro drafted her bill before the committee took executive action, saying that relying on appropriations to address the funding shortfall wasn’t enough.

Her bill to fully fund the benchmark rates carries a price tag of $12 million, but lawmaker supporting the bill said that the funds would join those already voted on in the subcommittee.

It will take $27.7 million from the state to fund Medicaid to the recommended amount. But since Medicaid is also funded with federal money, the state investment would bring in $54.3 million in federal match.

Bill to fully fund Medicaid providers gets initial OK in House

Posted (Friday, March 3rd 2023)

A bill to bring the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates in line with a recent study commissioned by the state won a substantial, bipartisan endorsement in the House.

The preliminary vote on House Bill 649 followed an impassioned debate about the state’s role in ensuring adequate health care for the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable populations in Montana. The bill cleared a second reading by a 65-35 margin.

“This policy before you affects 20,000 jobs and tens of thousands of Montanans. It affects children who are chained to an oxygen tank,” Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, the bill’s sponsor, said. “It affects women who are caring for their loved ones who has Alzheimer's or dementia. It affects the physically disabled man who is waiting for someone to show up in the morning to help him bathe, get dressed and drive him to work so that he can have the freedom of economic independence.”

One of the top Republican lawmakers also working on the issues, Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, argued the study done by a consultant called Guidehouse was flawed, pointing to what he said were inaccurate numbers describing nursing home closures in the state in 2022.

“We need accurate data,” Keenan said. “We don’t need to be deceived.”

While noting he came into the session with the goal of fixing the issue, Keenan appeared to largely argue against passage of the bill. He suggested at one point that the Legislature’s main budget bill, House Bill 2, could serve as the vehicle for an appropriation to fix the reimbursement rates. Keenan is the chairman of the budget subcommittee focused on health and human services issues within HB 2.

“This bill creates more problems down the road than it fixes,” he said of Caferro’s bill.

But he ultimately voted in favor of the legislation.

A pair of GOP lawmakers spoke in support of the bill, including Rep. James Bergstrom, of Buffalo, who cited the example of a nursing home in his district that is losing money each day.

“We don’t have time to work on this,” he said. “I guarantee you that there are nursing homes all over the state that are watching what we do here, literally today, and they’re going to make decisions on whether they’re gonna get out of business or stay, based on what we do here.”

Reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers has fallen short for years, pushing them into financial crisis once the pandemic hit.

During the last legislature, nearly $3 million was set aside for a provider rate study to look at a discrepancy between the cost of delivering services and the reimbursement rates meant to cover the cost of care for a Medicaid recipient.

Guidehouse, the outside consulting company that carried out the rate study, provided a recommended or benchmark rate that more accurately reflected the cost of care. But the governor’s proposed budget fell woefully short of the benchmark.

While the subcommittee voted to move the needle somewhat higher for Medicaid funding, some lawmakers felt it was still insufficient.

Caferro drafted her bill before the committee took executive action, saying that relying on appropriations to address the funding shortfall wasn’t enough.

Her bill to fully fund the benchmark rates carries a price tag of $12 million, but lawmaker supporting the bill said that the funds would join those already voted on in the subcommittee.

It will take $27.7 million from the state to fund Medicaid to the recommended amount. But since Medicaid is also funded with federal money, the state investment would bring in $54.3 million in federal match.

$764 Million Dollar Tax Cut Legislation Heads To Governors Desk

Posted (Thursday, March 2nd 2023)

A suite of bills allocating a billion-dollar chunk of Montana’s $2.5 billion-plus surplus toward tax rebates and other spending measures cleared the final Senate votes standing between them and the desk of Gov. Greg Gianforte this week.

If, as is likely, Gianforte signs the bills into law, they would tee up the state to issue income tax rebates of up to $1,250 per taxpayer and property tax rebates of up to $1,000 per homeowner. Combined, those rebate efforts would pull an estimated $764 million from state coffers.

Other bills in the six-bill package — dubbed “the six-pack” by lawmakers — would pay down state debt, cut business equipment taxes on some business owners, reduce capital gains tax rates and allocate $100 million to a highway construction fund.

Two other tax cut bills identified as priorities by Republicans also passed final votes in the House this week, including a signature measure that would cut the state’s top bracket income tax rate and expand Montana’s version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The income tax cut bill would reduce state revenues by roughly $160 million a year on an ongoing basis.

Republican leaders have called the rebates a way to compensate taxpayers who have paid the state more than was actually necessary to fund the operation of state government over the last two-year budget cycle. They’ve also said the rebates will help Montanans tackle the burden rising inflation has placed on family budgets.

“We said coming into the legislative session that providing financial relief to Montanans suffering from inflation and the high cost of living was our No. 1 priority,” Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, said in a statement. “Before we’ve even hit the halfway point of the legislative session, we’re delivering on that commitment with the largest tax cut in Montana history.”

“We are incredibly proud to fulfill this promise and return Montanans their hard-earned money,” said Speaker of the House Matt Regier, R-Kalispell.

Minority party Democrats have generally resisted the rebate and tax cut bills, saying they believe lawmakers are authorizing too much spending too early in the session before spring revenue estimates are available and the Legislature has hashed out how much funding is necessary for other priorities, such as stabilizing mental health care programs, nursing homes and the state prison system.

“A lot of these proposals are tax cuts for very wealthy folks, when we know that we have a housing crisis, businesses are begging us to do something about childcare, and folks who are on fixed incomes are begging us to do something about property taxes,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said at a press briefing last week.

“We’re I think being irresponsible by ripping through, for example, the six-pack of bills as quickly as we are,” said Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade. “Not to make light of it, but I’m worried about the hangover.”

During House and Senate floor debates on the bill that would authorize property tax rebates, Democrats made unsuccessful attempts to bring amendments that would provide property tax rebates to renters as well as homeowners.

The eight major tax and spending bills now headed to the governor are as follows:

House Bill 222 would put $284 million toward property tax rebate checks of as much as $1,000 for Montana homeowners — $500 for taxes paid in each of 2022 and 2023. The Montana Department of Revenue estimates about 312,000 households would be eligible.

House Bill 192 would spend $480 million on income tax rebates of up to $1,250 per taxpayer, or $2,500 for spouses who file taxes jointly. The revenue department estimates the rebates would be available to an estimated 460,000 taxpayers who were full-time Montana residents in 2020 and 2021.
House Bill 251 would allocate $125 million to paying down some state debt, saving the state money on future interest payments.

House Bill 267 would put $100 million into a highway fund to let the state access matching federal funding.

House Bill 212 raises the exemption threshold for the state’s business equipment tax from $300,000 to $1 million. The revenue department estimates the tax cut would cost the state about $9 million a year. The bill would also backfill local government revenues reduced by the cut.

House Bill 221 streamlines the state’s capital gains tax code and cuts its effective rates. The revenue department estimates the bill would reduce state revenues by about $16 million a year.
Senate Bill 121 would reduce the state’s top-bracket income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9%, at an estimated cost of $150 million a year. It would also expand the state’s version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, directing about $11 million more annually toward lower-income working families.

Senate Bill 124, which would adjust the state’s corporate income tax code to generally shift tax burden from companies with extensive in-state facilities and payroll onto e-commerce companies such as Amazon that sell into Montana with a comparatively light physical footprint. The revenue department estimates the bill would on net increase state revenues by about $16 million a year.

House Human Services advances bill to fully fund Medicaid rates in Guidehouse study

Posted (Thursday, March 2nd 2023)

he House Human Services Committee on Tuesday passed a bill to fully fund Medicaid reimbursement rates recommended in an in-depth study by a national consultant — plus the cost of inflation.

House Bill 649 passed 17-4 with bipartisan support following a lengthy hearing Friday where an onslaught of providers from across the health care and medical community spoke in support.

Levi Anderson, with the Western Montana Mental Health Center, said he had just sent a letter one week earlier notifying partners across the state the center was closing 31 community-based mental health crisis stabilization beds, which represent 65% of state capacity.

“That is a direct result of a lack of funding for those services,” Anderson said.

At the meeting Tuesday, Rep. SJ Howell, D-Missoula, said all the other bills the committee would deal with rest on HB 649. In other words, if legislators are to truly address the continuum of care, they need to address “deeply underfunded providers.”

“I think this might be the most important bill this committee is going to grapple with this session,” Howell said.

Howell joined all other Democrats on the committee and a majority of Republicans in voting in favor of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena.

“It is critical that we fully fund healthcare services before another nursing home closes and more Montanans are left to sleep the night in their wheelchairs,” Caferro said in an email Wednesday. “We have the data that proves Medicaid providers are underpaid. We have the money. Let’s solve the problem.”
The bill notes inadequate rates have resulted in the closure of 11 nursing homes and loss of 857 skilled nursing facility beds in the state. It is expected to be on the House floor Thursday.

In the last session, the legislature authorized the Department of Public Health and Human Services to spend $2.75 million to pay for an analysis of provider rates in the state.

The review by national consulting firm Guidehouse showed Montana was underfunding businesses that provide support and services for people who rely on Medicaid.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte proposed an increase to reimbursement rates, and a legislative subcommittee approved even higher rates.

Pointing to estimates from the Health Department that showed the work the subcommittee did pushed many rates close to 100% of the recommended benchmarks, Chair Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, said, “I think we’ve solved the problem.”

At the hearing on HB 649, Caferro, a member of the subcommittee, agreed the group worked hard and got close to benchmarks — “but not quite.” She and other sponsors proposed to close the rest of the gap.

“If we don’t fully fund the Medicaid rate, then we will continue to see a decline in people’s health and well-being to the point of death,” Caferro said.

She pointed to one woman with Alzheimer’s who had been moved to three different nursing homes because of closures and couldn’t be with loved ones: “Well, then that lady passed away.”

Caferro characterized the effects of underfunding in Montana as “tragic and unnecessary.”

She pointed to waiting lists for in-home care for seniors, for children and adults who have physical disabilities, and for children and adults who have developmental disabilities. She said community crisis centers are sitting empty and children are being sent out of state for care.

“Medicaid provides health care in every corner of the state and all parts in between,” she said. “The problem is we are running out of providers due to a long history of underfunding.”

The bill would cost $12 million a year in state funding, she said. It would translate into more money for services because the federal government matches the money the state contributes.

Caferro earlier estimated the match as at least $3 of federal money to $1 of Montana money, and in some cases as much as $9 in federal money: “It’s a good bang for the buck.”

At the hearing, she said the estimated $2.5 billion surplus includes at least $150 million saved by the state because of an enhanced federal Medicaid match, and she believes that portion should go to fund services.

In response to a question at the hearing, Mary Windecker, with the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana, said the last couple of years, more and more people have been leaving the health care industry in the wake of rising housing costs and inflation.

Vacancies are hitting 20% to 30% across all the sectors that were studied, she said.

“We do believe that there are people out there who would very much love to work in the industry again, but they have to be able to put a roof over their head and food on the table,” Windecker said.

Caferro said those people should not be asked to sacrifice their own economic well-being. She also said she appreciated the support for health care initiatives from a wide spectrum of groups.

“I’ve never been in a legislative session where the human service issues have been so prominent, and the sponsors and people bringing the issues are so diverse, and that makes me really happy,” Caferro said.

Proponents for her bill included representatives from the Montana Medical Association, the Montana Hospital Association, St. John’s United retirement community, the Human Resource Development Councils, the Montana Association of Counties, the Montana Coalition to Solve Homelessness, the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana, the Centers for Independent Living, the Montana Health Care Association, Montana Women Vote, and many others.

Before approving the bill, the committee adopted an amendment that Rep. Laura Smith, D-Helena, said aligned Caferro’s bill with House Bill 2, the big budget bill.

Rep. Alice Buckley, D-Bozeman, said the bill offered legislators the opportunity to support their constituents and communities across the state.

“We were elected here to do the people’s work,” Buckley said.

In addition to Howell, Smith and Buckley, the following Democratic representatives voted “yes” on HB 649: Donavon Hawk of Butte; Ed Stafman of Bozeman; Minority Leader Kim Abbott of Helena; and Zooey Zephyr of Missoula.

The following Republican representatives also supported the bill: Lola Sheldon-Galloway, of Great Falls; Jodee Etchart of Billings; George Nikolakakos of Great Falls; Tom Welch of Dillon; Gregory Frazer of Deer Lodge; Mike Yakawich of Billings; Wayne Rusk of Corvallis; Greg Oblander of Billings; Ed Buttrey of Great Falls; and Jennifer Carlson of Churchill.

Voting “no” were Republican representatives Amy Regier of Kalispell, Caleb Hinkle of Belgrade, Ron Marshall of Hamilton, and Nelly Nicol of Billings.

State Legislative Committee Passes Legislation That Would Ban TikTok In Montana

Posted (Thursday, March 2nd 2023)

A Montana State Senate Committee has passed legislation that would ban the popular phone app TikTok in Montana.

Senate Bill 419 looks to ban the use of TikTok in the state. The China-owned app collects user data that some worry would be shared with the Chinese government.

“TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, is operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party and gathers information about Americans against their will,” said Vance.

The bill also fines internet service and app store providers $10,000 for any violations. Opponents argue it’s not realistically possible for a company to selectively ban a website in one state.

“The burden this places on internet service providers is not workable in practice. This has never been done before in the United States. It would be costly and burdensome,” said Shane Scanlon, a representative of AT&T.

Senate Bill 419 passed through committee Monday in a seven to three vote.

The use of TikTok has already been banned for state employees and within the Montana University System.

Valley County Masonic Endowment Offering Grants To Benefit Communities And Residents

Posted (Thursday, March 2nd 2023)

(MCF) announces the opening of a grant cycle to benefit communities and residents
of Valley County. Grants will be made from the Valley County Masonic Endowment
Fund, established at MCF by the Nemont Manor Foundation, Inc. Grant applications
will be accepted from March 1 – March 31, 2023.

Applicants must be either a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or an exempt governmental unit.
Grants will be up to $5,000. While grants must be used for projects benefiting
communities or residents in Valley County, the grantee organization does not need
to be based in Valley County. Only one application is allowed per organization.
Eligible projects must be within the following areas of interest: arts and culture,
basic human needs, economic development, education, and natural resources and
conservation. Ineligible projects include annual or capital campaigns, endowments,
debt retirements, and religious, partisan, or sectarian activities. Grant requests are
reviewed by the Valley County Masonic Endowment Foundation.

The Valley County Masonic Endowment Fund was established with proceeds from
the sale of Nemont Manor, an affordable housing facility in Glasgow that has 100
housing units available to HUD qualified individuals. The Manor was built more than
40 years ago and managed by the Valley County Masons that provides subsidized
housing units to qualified tenants.

The Nemont Manor was purchased by Silver Tree Residential, a group that acquires,
rehabilitates, and permanently preserves affordable housing units which were
originally developed under HUD programs. Their goal is to ensure the long-term
affordability of units for current and future residents. They also extended the
Section 8 contract with HUD for an additional 20 years.

“After running the Nemont Manor for more than 40 years, we were ready to pass
the baton on management of the Manor but also wanted to ensure the proceeds of
the sale would continue to make a lasting impact in the community,” says James
Rector, secretary and treasurer of Nemont Foundation. “We look forward to
supporting our community forever in this way.”

Learn more and apply at www.mtcf.org/grants/apply-for-a-grant. Only online
applications will be accepted. For questions, please contact Local Community
Foundations Program Officer, Taylor Crowl at (406) 603-4913 or taylor@mtcf.org.

Glasgow High School Educational Trust Announces Recent Awards

Posted (Monday, February 27th 2023)

The Glasgow High School Educational Trust recently awarded financial aid for the Spring 2023 semester to fourteen GHS graduates attending trade school or college. These awards are in addition to the those given last fall to twelve students, eleven of whom received aid for both semesters of the 2022-2023 academic year.

The Glasgow High School Educational Trust was established in 1964 by the GHS Class of 1938 to help GHS alumni achieve their post-secondary educational goals. Since its inception, hundreds of generous donors have built the corpus of the trust to over $10 million dollars. The earnings on these assets are awarded to eligible applicants through a semi-annual process administered by the trustees. Application deadlines are July 1st and October 15th of each year.

The application, which lists all requirements that must be met, is available at www.ghsedutrust.org. Financial need has always been a primary consideration; therefore, the trust has established levels of support to meet students’ diverse needs, and it distributes the funds available accordingly. Trust awards are not traditional scholarships only for those with very high grade-point averages. All students in good academic standing are given equal consideration. This includes students in trade schools and vocational/technical programs. The application must be completed properly, thoroughly, and submitted on time to be considered.

Students may reapply for additional aid for a total of eight semesters if they meet all the eligibility requirements. To date, the trust has awarded over $2.7 million dollars in financial aid to 782 different students attending hundreds of different schools across the nation. (This includes awards given, but not accepted, unused, returned, or disqualified due to ineligibility issues.) Many students have received multiple awards.

In addition to student gifts, the Glasgow High School Educational Trust also uses the earnings on its corpus to purchase equipment and programs for Glasgow High School that cannot be financed within the school’s regular budget. Over the years, every department has received such gifts, benefitting all students and the public at large when it attends events at the school or uses its facilities. The total dollar value of these awards is $266,519.15.

Whenever the trust receives donations that total $500 or more in the name of a particular individual, a one-time gift is given to a student or to GHS in the name of that person. Donations of $10,000 or more in the name of a particular individual allow for an ongoing naming opportunity on a regular basis.

The fourteen GHS graduates who received awards from the trust for the Spring 2023 only are:

First-time recipients: Rachelle Glaser, MSU-Billings, IMO James “Jamie” Fewer; Aubrey Hartsock, Weber State University, IMO Lila Moen Sanders and IHO Phyllis Moen Sanguine; Hannah Mickelson, Bridgerland Technical College, IMO Richard “Dick” and Mary Lou Alley Wagenhals; Emmalynn Page, South Dakota State University, IHO Bill and Peggy Pattison Endowment; Kayla Wilson, Western Governors University, IHO Beryl Pehlke.

Second-time recipients: Zachary Kompel, University of Montana, IHO Carl L. Dix; Lauren Padden, MSU-Bozeman, IMO Audrey and Arthur Parke; Anika Peters, South Dakota School of Mines, IMO Cecil and Chloe Vincent Toftness; Brennan Peters, Minot State University, IMO Aaron “Chappy” Chatten; Tim Wageman, MSU-Bozeman, IMO Ronald A. Combs; Aden Zoanni, MSU-Northern, IMO John and Lois Wesen.

Third-time recipients: Brett Glaser, Carroll College, IRO Tom and Flora Coghlan Family; Ellis McKean, University of Montana, IMO Dr. F. M. and Bernice Knierim; Merlin McKean, MSU-Bozeman, IHO Gayle Wagenhals Sage.

Montana Seeks to Insulate Nursing Homes From Future Financial Crises

Posted (Monday, February 27th 2023)

Wes Thompson, administrator of Valley View Home in the northeastern Montana town of Glasgow, believes the only reasons his skilled nursing facility has avoided the fate of the 11 nursing homes that closed in the state last year are local tax levies and luck.

Valley County, with a population of just over 7,500, passed levies to support the nursing home amounting to an estimated $300,000 a year for three years, starting this year. And when the Hi-Line Retirement Center in neighboring Phillips County shut down last year as the covid-19 pandemic brought more stressors to the nursing home industry, Valley View Home took in some of its patients.

Thompson said he foresees more nursing home closures on the horizon as their financial struggles continue. But lawmakers are trying to reduce that risk through measures that would raise and set standards for the Medicaid reimbursement rates that nursing homes depend on for their operations.

A study commissioned by the last legislative session found that Medicaid providers in Montana were being reimbursed at rates much lower than the cost of care. In his two-year state budget proposal before lawmakers, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has proposed increases to the provider rates that fall short of the study’s recommendations.

Legislators drafting the state health department budget included rates higher than the governor’s proposal, but still not enough for nursing homes to cover the cost of providing care. Those rates are subject to change as the state budget bill goes through the months-long legislative process, though majority-Republican lawmakers so far have rejected Democratic lawmakers’ attempts for full funding.

In a separate effort to address the long-term care industry’s long-term viability, a bipartisan bill going through Montana’s legislature, Senate Bill 296, aims to revise how nursing homes and assisted living facilities are funded. The bill would direct health officials to consider inflation, cost-of-living adjustments, and the actual costs of services in setting Medicaid reimbursement rates.

SB 296, which received an initial hearing on Feb. 17, has generated conflicting opinions from experts in the long-term care field on whether it does enough to avoid nursing home closures.

Republican Sen. Becky Beard, the bill’s sponsor, said that although the bill comes too late for the nursing homes that have already closed, she sees it as shining a light on a problem that’s not going away.

“We need to stop the attrition,” Beard said.

Sebastian Martinez Hickey, a research assistant at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, said wages for nursing home employees had been extremely low even before the pandemic. He said the focus needs to be on raising Medicaid reimbursement rates beyond inflationary factors.

“Increasing Medicaid rates for inflation is going to have positive effects, but there’s no way that it’s going to compensate for what we’ve experienced in the last several years,” Martinez Hickey said.

Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and North Carolina are among the states that have adopted laws or regulations to increase nursing home staff wages since the pandemic began. Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio adopted increases or one-time bonuses.

In Maine, a 2020 study of long-term care workforce issues suggested that Medicaid rates should be high enough to support direct-care worker wages that amount to at least 125% of the minimum wage, which is $13.80 in that state. In combination with other goals outlined in the study, after a year there had been modest increases in residential care homes and beds, improved occupancy rates, and nods toward stabilization of the direct-care workforce.

Rose Hughes, executive director of the Montana Health Care Association, which lobbies on behalf of nursing homes and senior issues, said many of the problems plaguing senior care come down to reimbursement rates. There’s not enough money to hire staff, and, if there were, wages would still be too low to attract staff in a competitive marketplace, Hughes said.

“It’s trying to deal with systemic problems that exist in the system so that longer term the reimbursement system can be more stable,” Hughes said.

The governor’s office said Gianforte has been clear that Montana needs to raise its provider rates. For senior and long-term care, Gianforte’s proposed state budget would raise provider rates to 88% of the benchmark recommended by the state-commissioned study. Gianforte’s budget proposal is a starting point for lawmakers, and legislative budget writers have penciled in funding at about 90% of the benchmark rate.

“The governor continues to work with legislators and welcomes their input on his historic provider rate investment,” Gianforte spokesperson Kaitlin Price said.

Democratic Rep. Mary Caferro is sponsoring a bill to fully fund the Medicaid provider rates in accordance with the study.

“What we really, really need is our bill to pass so that it brings providers current with ongoing funding for predictability and stability so they can do the good work of caring for people,” Caferro said at a Feb. 21 press briefing.

But Thompson said that even the reimbursement rate recommended by the study — $279 per patient, per day, compared with the current $208 rate — isn’t high enough to cover Valley View Home’s expenses. He said he’s going to have to have a “heart to heart” with the facility’s board to see what can be done to keep it open if the local tax levies in combination with the new rate aren’t enough to cover the cost of operations.

David Trost, CEO of St. John’s United, an assisted-living facility for seniors in Billings, said the current reimbursement rate is so low that St. John’s uses savings, grants, fundraising revenue, and other investments to make up the difference. He said that while SB 296 looks at factors to cover operating costs, it doesn’t account for other costs, such as repairs and renovations.

“In addition to paying for existing operating costs as desired by SB 296, we also need to look at funding of capital improvements through some loan mechanism to help nursing facilities make improvements to existing environments,” Trost said.

Another component of SB 296 seeks to boost assisted-living services by generating more federal funding.

Additional money could help reduce or eliminate the waiting list for assisted-living homes, which now stands at about 175 people, Hughes said. That waiting list not only signals that some seniors aren’t getting service, but it also results in more people being sent to nursing homes when they may not need that level of care.

SB 296 would also ensure that money appropriated to nursing homes can be used only for nursing homes, and not be available for other programs within the Department of Public Health and Human Services, like dentists, hospitals, or Medicaid expansion. According to Hughes, in 2021 the nursing home budget had a remainder of $29 million, which was transferred to different programs in the Senior and Long Term Care division.

If the funding safeguard in SB 296 had been in place at that time, Hughes said, there may have been more money to sustain the nursing homes that closed last year.

Keely Larson is the KHN fellow for the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Newspaper Association, and Kaiser Health News. Larson is a graduate student in environmental and natural resources journalism at the University of Montana.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Fish and Wildlife Commission gains two new members

Posted (Monday, February 27th 2023)

Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows and Bozeman-based campground owner Susan Kirby Brooke are officially joining the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the governor-appointed body charged with establishing hunting and fishing regulations and reviewing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks land acquisitions. The Montana Senate on Friday confirmed Burrows’ and Brooke’s nominations as well as the reappointment of two sitting commissioners.

Burrows is assuming the position previously held by Jana Waller, who’s moving out of state and did not reapply for another term. Burrows is an environmental engineering graduate of Montana Tech who previously worked for the U.S. Air Force in Colorado Springs as a civilian engineer. He has served on the Ravalli County Commission since 2012 and in January assumed another four-year term in that seat. Burrows also serves on the Montana Forest Action Advisory Council and the Ravalli County Collaborative, both of which engage in natural resource management issues.

Brooke will take over the seat formerly held by Pat Byorth. She grew up on a Madison Valley ranch and previously served on the Board of Environmental Review, the quasi-judicial body that adjudicates disputes between the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the industries it regulates, and on the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, which was tasked with helping the state negotiate compacts with tribes possessing federally reserved water rights.

Questions from committee members during a Tuesday hearing on their nomination shed some light on how Burrows and Brooke intend to approach their positions on the commission, an essentially all-volunteer body that tends to draw heated public comment. (One commenter, Matt Lumley with the National Trappers Association and the Outdoor Heritage Coalition, said south-central Montana is “probably the hottest wildlife district in the nation” given the presence of bison, wolves and grizzlies, all three of which have some relationship to the Endangered Species Act.)

When Henry “Hank” Worsech took the helm of FWP, Gov. Greg Gianforte tasked him with finding a new approach to balancing landowner concerns with hunter opportunity. In the aftermath of Worsech’s attempt to shake up the status quo, the department has been thrust into a lawsuit while hunters organize themselves in anticipation of the 2023…

Asked by committee members how he intends to balance the interests of private property owners, the outfitting industry and non-outfitted hunters and anglers, Burrows said he would “err first and foremost on the side of landowners” while also recognizing the importance of hunting and angling on public lands.

Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, asked Brooke about her understanding of Madison River recreation management, one of the hot-button issues Region 3 has grappled with for years. She said she thinks of it as an overcrowding issue, not a matter of fishery health. She added that she expects the state will eventually address crowding on its most popular rivers by moving to a daily permitted or ticketed system similar to what Glacier National Park instated in 2021.

The Senate also approved the reappointments of Phillips County rancher and current commission chair Lesley Robinson and Ismay rancher Bill Lane, but not without a bit of scrutiny from Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel. Molnar, who’s sponsoring a bill that would make commission appointments nonpartisan, paid and elected rather than appointed, criticized Robinson’s recent handling of elk tag allocations.

Molnar accused the commission of setting up an-out-of-cycle work session to grant bull elk tags to the brothers Dan and Farris Wilks, who participate in an FWP program that distributes bull elk tags to a handful of large landowners in exchange for some public elk hunting. (The Wilks brothers own hundreds of thousands of acres of ranchland across Montana, many of which are used for trophy hunting.)

“That does not lead me to believe that the leadership is in a direction I would like to go,” Molnar said.

Molnar was the lone Republican to vote against Senate Resolution 3, the measure advancing the appointees’ nominations. He was joined by all but three of the Senate’s Democrats.

The appointees will serve four-year terms.

Board Of County Commissioners To Meet On Wednesday

Posted (Monday, February 27th 2023)

Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at 10:30 a.m.

1. Additions/Deletions

2. Public Comment on agenda items

3. Approve Employment/Termination Notices

4. ROW 874 Wade Sundby-Superintendent encroachment permit for Scottie sign.

5. MACo final renewal rates for health insurance. Medical /RX increase of 11.4%, dental rates increase 7.8%, vision and life rates will remain the same.

6. Montana Department of Transportation FY 2024 Transit Operating Grant and Capital Request for 19-passenger bus, AWD Non-ADA Mini Van and Dispatch Software

7. State HOME 0% Deferred Homebuyer Program allowing the residents of Valley County to have access to this down payment assistance program.

8. Personnel Issue Refuse District Manager
Daniels County Refuse Board meeting

9. Public Comment on non-agenda items.

10. Adjourn

Glasgow Elks Lodge Donates $2000 Of Supplies To Diaper Drive

Posted (Monday, February 27th 2023)

Glasgow Elks Lodge #1922 was recently the recipient of another grant from the Elks National Foundation (ENF). The Lodge applied for and received a $2,000 Spotlight Grant.

With this grant, the Glasgow Lodge purchased diapers and baby supplies to donate to the diaper drive that was started by the Eastern Montana Community Mental Health Center (EMCMHC), the Montana Assertive Community Treatment (MACT) Team, and our local Glasgow Albertson’s.

They all saw a need to support those so vulnerable in our community, and they partnered together to start a diaper drive. Albertson’s had a collection box out at their store, and many community members donated diapers and supplies, ordered items and asked how to be a part of the solution.

The Elks thought this would be a great project to contribute to, so we applied for this grant to help them out. Diapers and supplies will be distributed through the EMCMHC office for those in need. Several of the contributions have already been distributed to key organizations who frequently are in contact with families who could benefit.

Grants And Scholarships Available From Valley County Community Campaign

Posted (Monday, February 27th 2023)

Deadlines have been set for this year’s grants and scholarship applications from the Valley County Community Foundation. The first is March 31 for grants, April 15 for the Feda Scholarship, June 15 for the Fuhrman scholarship, and September 30 for the Markle Scholarship. Applications, along with 2023 requirements, are found at www.valleycountycf.net.

Over the years, VCCF has awarded $332,587 in grants, including eight last year that ranged from $10,000 to $1,200. Projects expected to be completed by Oct. 1, 2023, are eligible to apply.

Organizations within Valley County with the 501(c) 3 charitable IRS designation, along with local governments and educational institutions may apply. Grants are given in five areas: arts and culture, basic human needs, economic development, education, and natural resources and conservation. Applications for annual or capital campaigns, other endowment funds, debt retirement, and religious activities are discouraged.

High school seniors with plans to attend a trade school are encouraged to apply for the Feda Scholarship for the Trades. First-time applicants must be graduating from a Valley County high school this spring or receiving a home school certificate or a GED. In addition, students who received Feda Scholarships in the past may apply for a second scholarship, providing they have successfully completed one semester of study. All applicants must be residents of Valley County. Applicable course work includes, but is not limited to, plumbing, electrical, drafting, mechanics, welding, carpentry, medical technology, computer technology, or criminal justice.

College and trade school students from Valley County who have completed one year of post-high school study may apply for the Clarence and Charlotte Fuhrman Memorial Scholarship. Applicants must have attended a Valley County High School consecutively for three years and received their diploma from a Valley County High School. Applicants may present a Home School Certificate or GED while residing in Valley County for a period of three years.

The Thomas and Cynthia Markle Scholarship is designed to assist students with roots in Valley County as they continue and complete advanced level studies at the masters, doctorate, or post-doctorate level. Applicants must be admitted to an accredited college or university studying in the United States or studying abroad through an accredited institution in the United States.

Funding for these grants and scholarships is provided by The Valley County Community Foundation. The VCCF board is committed to using these resources to fund the highest quality projects throughout Valley County and to help worthy students achieve their goals. We welcome applications to help us accomplish our mission.

For further information contact VCCF officers: Chair Doris Leader, Vice Chair Sam Waters, Treasurer Maggan Walstad and Secretary Darla Larson, or board members Jean Carlson of Fort Peck, Stacy Albus of Hinsdale, Jeff Sanders of Richland/Glasgow, and Cindy Markle, Greg Stordahl, Whitney Tatafu, and Gary Wageman of Glasgow.

More Details On 2021 Amtrak Derailment

Posted (Thursday, February 23rd 2023)

GREAT FALLS — The National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation into the September 2021 derailment of Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train along Montana's Hi-Line. It happened about three miles west of the town of Joplin in September 2021.

The NTSB released a 3,100-page report on the derailment earlier this week; the report has not been finalized, but it does provide more information about the investigation.

There were 154 passengers on board when the westbound Empire Builder derailed. Donald Varnadoe, Marjorie Varnadoe, and Zack Schneider lost their lives as a result; more than 44 people were injured.
The Amtrak train consisted of two locomotives and 10 railcars. Eight of the 10 railcars derailed, with four railcars derailing on their sides.

Investigators say there was a culvert under the tracks, but it was not clear.

In fact, they had to use excavating equipment to remove dirt and debris to locate the culvert.

Investigators say this area of track showed stability issues extending nearly 80 feet west and 200 feet east.
They also said this area was identified because of the disturbed ballast in the cribs of the crossties, adding that the ballast surrounding the crossties showed signs of movement.

After careful inspection of the track, investigators found several issues, including misaligned track, and unstable embankment.

These are just factors that the NTSB says could have played a role in the derailment; the exact cause has yet to be determined, and the report will be finalized at a later date.
The complete report is available on the NTSB website.

Public Land Order Announced Protective Order At Zortman-Landusky Mine Reclamation Site

Posted (Thursday, February 23rd 2023)

Additional Lands Withdrawn to Protect Zortman-Landusky Mine Reclamation Site

(MALTA, Mont.) – The Bureau of Land Management announced a Public Land Order today to protect more than 900 additional acres at the Zortman-Landusky Mine reclamation area from future mining activities. The BLM administers the site located in Phillips County, Montana.

The withdrawal of an additional 912.33 acres at the reclamation area will prevent new mining activities and disturbance of the public lands for 20 years and provide time to assess and monitor the effectiveness of ongoing reclamation activities – https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-03725. The newly withdrawn acres are situated adjacent to the 2,688.13-acre area withdrawn by a Public Land Order issued September 9, 2022. Together, the withdrawals apply to about 3,600 acres of the Zortman-Landusky Mine reclamation area. These acres were originally withdrawn to protect the reclamation area in October 2000.

Approximately $83.7 million in reclamation bonds and State of Montana and BLM funds have been spent since 1999 to fund site reclamation and water treatment plant operations after the mine operator declared bankruptcy and abandoned the mines in 1998. It is anticipated that water treatment will continue indefinitely, with continued funding needed for ongoing operation and monitoring activities. The BLM estimates that approximately $2.2 million per year will be needed for water treatment into the foreseeable future.

For more information about the Zortman-Landusky Mine reclamation area, please see the environmental review documents associated with this withdrawal on BLM’s ePlanning website – https://eplanning.blm.gov. Search using the National Environmental Policy Act number: DOI-BLM-MT-L010-2021-0003-EA.

Thank You From The Food Bank; Donations Still Needed

Posted (Saturday, February 18th 2023)

We would like to thank the generosity shown to the food bank from our very giving community. The monetary donations as well as the donations of food are much appreciated. Without these donations, there would be no food bank. We operate totally on the donations we receive. We do not receive funds from the state or federal government. The donations we have received have enabled us to provide much-needed and appreciated food to our Food Bank families. We continue to see more and more people in need of such food. Our number of participants has increased significantly.

We would also like to acknowledge three very special ladies who have been the pillars of the food bank for many years. They have retired from their roles with the food bank; without their years of volunteer service, we are not sure where the food bank would be. Pat Hallett, Laurie Koessl, and Nanci Schoenfelder thank you for your countless hours dedicated to making sure the food bank was always running smoothly. Also, thank you to all the volunteers who have helped with various tasks at the food bank.

Please keep in mind the food bank is a 501(C) 3 corporation and your donations are tax-deductible.
Thanks again everyone from the board members of the Valley Community Emergency Food Bank Board:
Mary Hughes, Brenda Tarum, Kathy Smith, Jory Wall, Hollie Young, Jeff Remus & Patrick Gilchrist

Legislative Subcommittee Votes To Increase Medicaid Reimbursement For Montana Nursing Homes

Posted (Friday, February 17th 2023)

Underfunded Medicaid providers in Montana will get a bigger rate increase than the Gianforte Administration proposed, but they’ll still be an estimated $49 million short of their need for the biennium, according to initial votes Thursday in a legislative subcommittee and a consultant study of rates.

One group of providers didn’t get an increase, however.

The subcommittee voted to decline a proposed boost in funding for hospitals of $19 million during the biennium.

“The committee’s vote to deny hospitals a rate increase, while giving a rate increase to every other provider group, is a blow to Montana’s community hospitals,” said Katy Peterson, with the Montana Hospital Association, in an email.

A national consultant recently evaluated rates for programs such as adult behavioral health, mental health, disabilities and senior and long-term care.

This week, the Joint Subcommittee on Public Health and Human Services started voting on funding for the health department, the state’s largest agency with a $7 billion total budget.

Adjustments to provider rates have been of particular interest this legislative session.

First of all, 10 nursing homes in Montana have closed in the last year, citing inadequate funding.

Secondly, a couple of exhaustive studies commissioned by the state show Montana needs to increase its reimbursement rates — generally by 22%, or $27.7 million a year, in state money — or risk being unable to provide services to vulnerable people.

The Gianforte Administration had proposed a budget that funded a portion of the gap between the current rates and the recommendation for providers.

The governor’s budget would have funded 58% of the gap in the first year of the biennium and 37% in the second year, an increase the Department of Public Health and Human Services said included $25 million of “historic” one-time funding.

State agency officials had said the proposed increase was a ramp up, but some members of the health care community called for fully funding reimbursement rates given results of the long awaited study.

On Thursday, the subcommittee rejected a proposal from Sen. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman, to fully fund the recommendations in a study by Guidehouse, the national consulting firm.

In a lengthy speech, Pope said the legislature had an opportunity to set Montana on the right course for Medicaid clients and for families and communities for the next generation.

“What we have is a fire on deck, and we’ve got to put it out so there’s some stability, so our providers are taken care of,” Pope said.

Fully funding those recommendations would have sent roughly $343 million — $107 million in state funds and $236 million in federal money — to providers for the biennium, according to a spreadsheet of new budget proposals the subcommittee considered.

Instead, the subcommittee approved a smaller increase proposed by Chairman Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork. It voted to allocate $294 million for the biennium — roughly $84 million in state funds matched with $210 in federal money.

That’s some $24 million less in state funds than the full recommendation, but it’s $22 million more than providers would have received under the governor’s proposal, according to the Montana Budget and Policy Center.

“While the joint subcommittee took some encouraging steps to provide additional support for health providers serving Medicaid patients, the budget sits well below the state’s own independent analysis of what is needed to get reimbursement rates to the actual cost of care,” said Montana Budget and Policy Center Executive Director Heather O’Laughlin in an email.

However, legislators chose to make the $25 million of one-time only money the governor had proposed a permanent addition to rate increases instead. It will be spread evenly during the next two fiscal years.

Some groups that were not part of the Guidehouse study received 4% increases to provider rates, but in separate action, the subcommittee voted to exempt in-patient hospitals. The Governor’s Office had recommended they receive a 4% increase each year.

In an email, Peterson from the Montana Hospital Association said larger hospitals are already in “dire financial situations.” When they hurt, she said, smaller ones do too.

The subcommittee will continue its work Friday.

Safety Message For Fort Peck Lake

Posted (Thursday, February 16th 2023)

With the recent warmer weather, some of the ice on Fort Peck Lake has melted. Especially of note, the water is now open at the end of Poverty Ridge. So please use caution on around Fort Peck Lake.

Legislative Committee Votes To Spend $53 Million On St. Mary's-Milk River Irrigation Project

Posted (Wednesday, February 15th 2023)

The beleaguered St. Mary’s-Milk River Irrigation Project would get a $53 million injection from Montana’s $2.5 billion budget surplus, under a proposal that won bipartisan support in a budget committee Tuesday.

The recommended change to House Bill 6 secured a 5-1 vote from the appropriations subcommittee focused on infrastructure. It is nonbinding and will need a vote from the full House Appropriations Committee to actually get added to the legislation.

The irrigation system needs $200 million in repairs. A critical piece of the project’s infrastructure failed in 2020. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, helped secure $100 million in federal funding to replace a diversion dam crucial to the project.

Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, brought the amendment to use $53 million from the general fund to replace siphons that carry water across a pair of coulees on the Hi-Line. He argued the work is needed to prevent another catastrophe, should a similar infrastructure failure should occur when the reservoirs are full.

“If it breaks when there’s water in there, you’re gonna have erosion like you wouldn’t believe,” Lang said in an interview.

Despite the bipartisan support, the lone dissenting vote was one of the top two Republicans in the Legislature, House Speaker Matt Regier.

“My thought process was it’s a lot of money, and we are spending the surplus over and over again,” Regier, of Kalispell, said after the committee meeting, referring to billions of dollars in competing spending proposals moving through the Legislature.

State tax revenues over the past two years have far exceeded projections, due in large part to heavy federal spending in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans, who control both the Legislature and the governor’s office, have advanced a spending package that, if passed in its current form, would erase $1 billion of that surplus.

New Decals Required For Motorboats, Sailboats And Personal Watercraft

Posted (Wednesday, February 15th 2023)

Owners of motorboats, sailboats or personal watercraft need to get new, free 2023-2026 validation decals for their watercraft soon. The current red decals expire Feb. 28.

Boaters who have permanently registered their boats, sailboats, or PWC must still obtain two free boat validation decals every three years at FWP regional and area offices, or by going to the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov/activities/boating.

Owners who order validation decals on the FWP website will receive the decals in the mail. Information included on a current boat registration receipt issued by the county treasurer is needed to obtain the decals in person or on FWP's website.

For new boat or personal watercraft owners, the county treasurer's office will provide the first set of validation decals when the watercraft is registered. Boat owners will obtain subsequent sets of validation decals at a FWP regional or area office, or online.

For more information, visit FWP's website or call 406-444-2535.

Tester Secures More than $15 Million for Rural Water Infrastructure in Northeastern Montana

Posted (Wednesday, February 15th 2023)

As part of his continued effort to support economic growth in rural communities, U.S. Senator Jon Tester Tuesday secured $15 million through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) for the Fort Peck – Dry Prairie Rural Water System. The funding, which was awarded by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), will be used to support substantial completion of the project.

“Montanans sent me to the Senate to deliver for our communities,” said Tester. “This funding to build out top-notch water infrastructure will help support businesses, create jobs, and provide certainty for folks in rural areas. I’m going to keep the pressure on the Administration to get this funding out the door so we can get these projects off the ground as soon as possible.”

Tester has worked tirelessly to ensure that rural communities have access to modern, reliable water infrastructure. Last March, Tester secured $101.5 million for Montana rural water systems – the first tranche of the approximately $271 million he secured for rural water infrastructure in IIJA. The initial round of funding was delivered to the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System, the Musselshell-Judith Rural Water System, and the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Rural Water System.

Tester worked across the aisle for months to negotiate his bipartisan package with a group of five Republicans, four Democrats, and the White House, and he was the only member of Montana's congressional delegation to vote for it. Tester's law is projected to create more than 800,000 American jobs and lower costs for businesses by making targeted investments that will strengthen our nation without raising taxes on working families.

Tester secured significant wins for Montana in the legislation, including $2.82 billion for Montana's roads, highways and bridges; $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian water rights settlements; $1 billion to complete all authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation; $65 billion to deploy broadband to areas across the country that lack internet access and additionally make online connectivity affordable; and $3.37 billion to reduce wildfire risk nationwide, among others. Tester also worked to ensure that all iron, steel, and construction materials used for these projects must be made in America.

Poplar Man Sentenced After Admitting Hitting A Police Officer In The Head With A Hammer

Posted (Tuesday, February 14th 2023)

A Poplar man who admitted to hitting a police officer in the head with a hammer as law enforcement was responding to an assault at his home was sentenced Monday to 38 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Nolan James Hendrickson, 34, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to assault with a dangerous weapon.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided.

In court documents, the government alleged that in March 2022 on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Hendrickson assaulted and strangled a woman, identified as Jane Doe 1, at his mother’s apartment. Police responded and found Hendrickson strangling Jane Doe 1. The victim, identified as Jane Doe 2, a police officer, tried to stop the assault, but Hendrickson lunged at the officer and hit her in the face with a hammer. Another responding officer fired a round at Hendrickson but missed. As police arrested Hendrickson, he continued to be combative. Hendrickson acknowledged he had been using alcohol and methamphetamine. The victim was treated for injuries from the hammer assault.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica A. Betley prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Peck Department of Law and Justice.

Jack & Andrea Billingsley Inducted Into Montana Cowboy Hall Of Fame

Posted (Tuesday, February 14th 2023)

The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center celebrated 24 inductees in celebration of their lasting legacies and contributions to Montana’s Western Heritage.

Hundreds gathered at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls on Saturday, February 11, 2023, for the recognition ceremony and brunch.

One living and one legacy inductee are selected from each of 12 districts across the state. Each honoree was recognized with the story of their life and achievements. The inductees included men, women, and organizations that have helped to preserve the cowboy life for future generations.

The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center was founded nearly 25 years ago.

The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame Inducted Jack & Andrea Billingsley of Glasgow.

Jack Billingsley was born November 25, 1943, in Glasgow, Montana, to parents Jim and Dorothy (Carlson) Billingsley. Jack became the third generation to live in the little white house on Antelope Creek. He attended Tampico Grade School, where he was taught by his mother, and graduated from Glasgow High School in 1961. Jack was an active participant in the Tampico 4-H Club, FFA, and the Montana High School Rodeo Association. He attended Northern Montana College in Havre, Montana, where he received an AG Business Degree and was also a member of their college rodeo team. After college, he worked as a brand inspector for the state of Montana, while ranching alongside his father, Jim.

Andrea “Andie” Burger was born June 24, 1949. At an early age she lived in Two Dot, Montana, and later moved with her family to Nashua, Montana. Her father, Fred, and mother, Leona Burger, raised Andie and her sisters Freda, and Jebbie, on a ranch just outside of Nashua. Andie has been involved in agriculture her entire life and enjoys living the Western way of life.

On October 3, 1969 Jack married the love of his life, Andie. They had two children; Scott, who later married Suzanne Schumacher and J., who married LeeAnne Labatte. Along with raising a family, Andie and Jack have had a busy life promoting the livestock industry. Both have been involved with the Valley County Stockgrowers and the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Jack served on the MSGA Brand and Theft committee for many years, and Andie served as the President of the Montana Cattlewomen’s Association in 1984 -1985. She was also the first Montana Cattlewomen’s President invited to sit on the MSGA board of directors.

After Jack’s father passed away in 1976, Jack and Andie along with their boys began operating the ranch as a cow/calf and yearling operation. Jack was one of the first in this area to breed Black Angus cows to Charolais bulls. The Billingsley family is proud of their Charolais cross calves produced each year.

In 1980, Jack and Andie started Billingsley Ranch Outfitters. The business started by guiding a handful of mule deer hunters each fall and evolved into offering a variety of different hunts throughout the years. Business boomed when clients learned of the Milk River and the Missouri River Breaks and all they had to offer. Jack and Andie have booked hunters from all over the world. In sharing their love of the outdoors, they have gathered in some great friends along the way. Jack’s sons, Scott and J, are both actively involved in Billingsley Ranch Outfitters and spend some of each Fall guiding hunters. Scott also helps to keep the ranch going as he is an outstanding mechanic.

As well as working day in and day out on the ranch with Jack, Andie established a small sheep herd in the early 1980s. Over the years she has expanded her herd and cherished her closed herd for over 40 years. Andie has always had a few milk cows on hand. During calving season, any twin calf would quickly be graphed on to one of her milk cows. Three of Andie’s granddaughters are now continuing the milk cow tradition at the ranch. You can find them all in the calving barn together early in the morning or evening during calving season.

Jack competed in the sport of calf roping and was a member of the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA), which later became the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). While taking care of the ranch, he managed to compete at many of the biggest and best rodeos across the United States and into Canada. Andie was always supporting him and willing to help drive those endless miles to the next rodeo. Jack is a current gold card member of the PRCA and continues to support rodeo while cheering on his son J, and J’s three girls, Brooke, Bailey, and Blaire, on their rodeo trail as well.

Jack has always had an incredible eye for good horses. He has trained, bought and sold some great ones over the years. Baldy, Little Buck, and Whisper were three of Jack’s well known calf horses in which he mounted many cowboys over the years. Jack was also lucky enough to have great friends who would mount him when he needed a competitive calf horse.

Over the years, the arena and corrals at the Billingsley Ranch have always been open to rodeo friends near and far. It doesn’t matter if they need to rest, practice, tune horses, wait for the Canadian border to open, or just visit, they are always welcome. Jack has willingly helped numerous kids excel in the rodeo arena and always has a bit of advice for anyone there.

Western heritage runs deep in the Billingsley family. Beginning with running livestock on the open range in 1907, watching homesteaders come and go, experiencing the Taylor Grazing Act, and witnessing the gathering of wild horses. With fencing of allotments, livestock water development, rest-rotational grazing practices, and monitoring of riparian areas, their rangelands have not only nourished their livestock, but also enhanced the wildlife population.

Jack and Andie have shared their love of the ranch and the Western way of life along with the sport of rodeo with many. They feel very blessed to have lived in Eastern Montana where their family roots run deep and will continue to expand with the next generation on the ranch.

John and Catherine Etchart Inducted Into Montana Cowboy Hall Of Fame

Posted (Tuesday, February 14th 2023)

The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center celebrated 24 inductees in celebration of their lasting legacies and contributions to Montana’s Western Heritage.

Hundreds gathered at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls on Saturday, February 11, 2023, for the recognition ceremony and brunch.

One living and one legacy inductee are selected from each of 12 districts across the state. Each honoree was recognized with the story of their life and achievements. The inductees included men, women, and organizations that have helped to preserve the cowboy life for future generations.

The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center was founded nearly 25 years ago.

John and Catherine Etchart were inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

John Etchart was born in 1882 in the village of Aldudes, in the Basque country, located on the border of France and Spain. At age 18 he immigrated to the United States. He worked as a sheepherder in the foothills of Santa Monica, California for a year to reimburse his employer for the cost of his voyage to America.

John became a U.S. citizen and with his brother Michel, moved to Nevada for nine years where they operated a sheep ranch in partnership with a banker based out of the town of Elko. They managed the business during the open range days. This allowed their sheep to graze while trailing them in the summer from the Bruneau Mountains of Idaho to Arizona, where they grazed in the winter, and back to Idaho. In 1910 while John was breaking a horse, his leg was severely fractured causing considerable medical costs that the banker refused to share with the brothers. They soon cashed out and dissolved the partnership, changing the course of John’s life.

John traveled by train and ocean vessel back to Aldudes that same year, and while contemplating his ranching future, he met Catherine Urquilux. They began a two-year courtship in 1911, during which time John returned to the U.S. to consider the purchase of open grazing land in Northeast Montana, recommended by a local Basque. John arrived in Saco by train, rented a horse for a two-day ride 50 miles to the South country in Valley County. John bought the ranch on the spot and later purchased two bands of sheep from Deer Lodge, Montana. Later in life he told his sons that these were the best grasslands he had ever seen.

In 1912 John revisited Aldudes where he and Catherine were married. They sailed to America as newlyweds, arriving in Valley County where they would build their ranch together. They ran Rambouillet sheep branded with their Circle Cross brand. Ewes were paired with purebred rams, having clean open faces not prone to becoming wool blind. John and Catherine increased their herds requiring additional sheepherders, camp tenders, horses, and cooks. The Etcharts employed various local residents and newly immigrated Basques.

John, along with two German stonemasons, built their house and barn in 1914. The Stone House became a local landmark. Around this time the Etcharts entered into the cattle business buying Hereford range cattle; branding them with the Lazy Y Hanging Reverse S. John and Catherine dealt with constant challenges: winters of deep snow, summers of drought, finding sustainable grass, and the constant toll of predators. Some winters they lost half of their entire sheep herd.

In the early 1920s, John and Catherine expanded their holdings into north Valley County along the Porcupine Creek, adding more grazing lands for both sheep and cattle. Sheep were wintered south then trailed 70 miles to the North Ranch for lambing, shearing, and summering. Cow calving and branding occurred both on the North and the South ranches. The couple increased their holdings with the purchase of the Tom Dignan irrigated farm near Tampico, 12 miles northwest of Glasgow, Montana. Around 1922 the Etcharts and their children, Ferne, Gene and Mitch, moved to the newly acquired property. A few years later two more sons, Mark and Leonard, were born to land capable of producing large amounts of winter feed: mainly hay and sugar beets. Corn for silage replaced the beets in the 1940s. As the ranch grew, the public domain lands were a free-for-all fight for grazing rights. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 divided public domain grasslands into districts, which had to be held under permit by qualified ranchers. John was the chairman of the Montana State Grass Conservation, which helped implement the act.

Catherine, an early riser, worked alongside John on the day-to-day operations, keeping financial records and making payroll. With her assistant cook, she prepared breakfast for the ranch hands by 6:30 AM each day. Cleaning chores and food preparation for the noon and evening meals began shortly thereafter. Catherine, who was enterprising, raised hogs, Holstein dairy cows, chickens, turkeys and an abundant vegetable garden. She canned delicious meat and fruits and to everyone’s delight made French custard and chokecherry wine. Catherine was frugal and ingenious at financial savings but also generous donating time and money to St. Raphael's Catholic Church and other charities. John and Catherine together instilled Christian values along with a disciplined work ethic in their children.

In the late 1920s and 1930s improvements and mechanization emerged on the ranch. The Etcharts improved the land by creating reservoirs, benefiting both domestic animals and wildlife. Percheron horses pulled the hay machines, mowers, rakes, and stackers until the early 1930s. John implemented the beaver slide hay stacker design he had seen in Deer Lodge. Horsepower was replaced with gasoline engines in the 30s and 40s. By this time, John, who was transitioning from sheep to strictly cattle, purchased purebred Herefords he branded with an H Diamond L.

John was the director of the Montana Production Credit Association, Montana director of the National Wool Marketing Corporation, director and Vice President of the Montana Wool Growers Association, and a member in good standing with the Montana Stock Growers.

John passed away unexpectedly in 1943. Gene, Mitch, Mark, and Leonard took over the day-to-day operations with Catherine’s guidance. She continued the recordkeeping and chores for the Tampico ranch until her death in 1978. John and Catherine’s legacy that began in a small village in the Basque country of Europe continues to live on through their grandchildren.


The John and Catherine Etchart Family Album, by Gene Etchart

History Committee Valley County 1991 “Footprints in the Valley” – a History of Valley County, Montana Volumes 1, 2, and 3

Special Election To Be Held In Roosevelt County To Select County Attorney

Posted (Monday, February 13th 2023)

Story credit to www.ktvq.com

Voters in Roosevelt County elected a new county attorney last November, but less than three months later he's already being removed from office.

It turns out, Frank Piocos doesn't actually live in the county.

A private citizen had to make the discovery.

Piocos once worked in Yellowstone County as a public defender.

He says he's worked on criminal cases for 23 years.

But that career was upended last Friday, when a judge determined he can no longer serve because he doesn't live in Roosevelt County.

"I just decided right is right and it needed to be done," said Darla Downs, who filed the complaint as a private citizen.

Downs is the publisher of the Northern Plains Independent in Wolf Point.

She filed a complaint, alleging Piocos falsely registered as an elector when he provided a Roosevelt County address that wasn't his residence.

"I wasn't filing on, you know that he's doing a bad job or he didn't do the things that I wanted him to do on other cases," Downs said. "It was strictly a residency issue."

The court agreed.

According to court documents, Piocos was actually living in Valley County at least at the time he was elected.

Piocos was first appointed to the position in February of 2021, after county Attorney Austin Knudsen left to become Montana's attorney general.

Piocos was then elected in November to stay in the position.

MTN contacted Piocos who did want to speak on camera.

"I disagree with the judge's ruling," Piocos said on the phone. "But I respect the decision and I will not appeal."

He went on to say, "It was my intent and declaration to make Roosevelt County my residence."

"We'll know either to extend this interim position or run a special election," said Roosevelt County Commissioner Gordon Oelkers.

Commissioners have now decided to hire an interim county attorney and hold a special election to let the voters decide a permanent replacement.

"We have to keep the speedy trial thing going," Oelkers said. "There's 13 cases that are going to come to our attorney's office."

It's a mistake corrected, thanks to watchdog journalism, and a private citizen who did the right thing.

"What frustrates me about the whole thing is that a private person is the one that has to bring the court case," Downs said.

Caring Hands Provides Funding For School Lunches Every Thursday During Month Of March

Posted (Monday, February 13th 2023)

February 9, 2023

Glasgow parents, students and community,

Caring hands (formerly Soroptimist) has graciously provided funding for our students in the month of March. Caring hands will be paying for K-12 student lunches every Thursday throughout the month of March. On behalf of the Glasgow School District administration, staff and students, I would like to thank Caring hands for this wonderful donation to our students!

Again, Caring hands will be paying for lunches for K- 12 students every Thursday in the month of March!


Wade O. Sundby, Superintendent

Glasgow School District

Yellowstone National Park Programs Transfers 112 Bison To Fort Peck Tribes

Posted (Friday, February 10th 2023)

From the Billings Gazette
Yellowstone National Park transferred the largest number of bison to date to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation last month, as part of a program to return the culturally significant animal back to tribes.

The transfer of 112 disease-free Yellowstone bison to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck is the continued work of the park’s Bison Conservation Transfer Program, which has more than doubled its capacity in the last year. Last January, the park transferred just 28 bison.

The program expansion is the first step to changing the way Yellowstone manages its bison population, said Scott Christensen, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

MSU Article Analyzes Dinosaur Found In Valley County

Posted (Friday, February 10th 2023)

Full Story at Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Elias Warshaw, a senior studying paleontology in MSU’s Department of Earth Sciences in the College of Letters and Science, is the lead author of an article published in the journal PeerJ that analyzes a fossil discovered in Valley County in 2017 and suggests it is a missing link in T. rex’s evolutionary chain.

Warshaw was part of the team that unearthed the Daspletosaurus Wilson fossil — named after former MSU student Jack Wilson who discovered it — from beneath 25 feet of rock in the badlands north of Fort Peck Reservoir. Warshaw joined the dig as a sophomore in 2021 and started writing the paper even before the entire specimen was out of the ground.

He and co-author Denver Fowler, an MSU alumnus and curator of the Badlands Dinosaur Museum in Dickinson, North Dakota, compared the fossil nicknamed Sisyphus to two other Daspletosaurus species – one about a million years older and the other about a million years younger. Though all are members of the tyrannosaurid family that includes T. rex, the three species were found in geologic strata deposited at different times. Warshaw said this indicates that they represent consecutive rungs on an evolutionary ladder connecting one ancestor species to its descendant, rather than separate lineages originating from common ancestors but evolving into individual species that co-exist in the same time period, like humans, apes and other primates.

Grobel Scholarship Trust

Posted (Friday, February 10th 2023)

For the 2023-2024 school year, the Grobel Scholarship Trust shall award two (2) scholarships, each in the amount of $3,000.00. Scholarship applicants must be graduates of a Valley County high school and must have completed at least 30 semester hours, or equivalent, in a course of study leading to a degree or certification in nursing (for example, CNA, LPN, RN, nurse practitioner) or other medical-related occupation.

Lynn and Lois Grobel established the Grobel Scholarship Trust in 1997 in honor of their daughter, Mary, a nurse, and dedicated health-care professional. The trust provides a continuing source of funds and has awarded more than 80 scholarships.

The trust is administered by Stephen L. Grobel, Esq., Hatteras Island, North Carolina and Samuel D. Waters, board member Opportunity Bank and Eagle Bancorp Montana.

Applications are available from steve@exitjail.com or by calling or texting 757.846.0373. Completed applications must be emailed or postmarked no later than May 17, 2023. Awards will be announced May 24.

Glasgow Police Officer On Paid Administrative Leave

Posted (Thursday, February 9th 2023)

Story credit goes to the Glasgow Courier who granted permission to Kltz Radio to print and air this story.

Glasgow Police Officer Joshua Nolan has been placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation and has been on leave since the middle of January. The Division of Criminal Investigation has been in the area for further investigation.

Chief of Police Robert Weber said at this time he could not discuss the reasons for the investigation or any details about Nolan's future with the Glasgow Police Department due to personnel matters.
On Jan. 18, Nolan appeared in front of Judge Yvonne Laird in Valley County District Court regarding an order of protection brought against Nolan by a Glasgow resident the previous Thursday, Jan. 12. A temporary order of protection was granted at that time.

After hearing the evidence and testimony from the defendant's witnesses, Judge Laird did not see any immediate threat, however the evidence indicated Nolan engaged in stalking, setting out to intimidate and harass, which caused the plaintiff distress and emotional harm. Though Judge Laird dissolved the protection order she did indicate if contact continues, then the order will likely be granted at that time.

Editor's Note: Due to privacy and safety concerns, the Glasgow Courier chose not to name the plaintiff in this case. The Glasgow Courier chose to name the officer in this case, due to his position of public trust as a member of the Glasgow Police Department.

Fort Peck Tribes Receive Over $800,000 To Improve BIA Route 1

Posted (Thursday, February 9th 2023)

The Federal Highway Administration last week announced $21 million in grant awards for 70 tribes, including four in Montana.

The funding will support 93 projects that aim to improve road safety on tribal lands, as crashes occur more frequently in reservation and rural communities.

A new U.S. Department of Transportation report on roadway safety found that of the communities in the top 20% of roadway fatalities nationally, nearly half are “historically disadvantaged,” which, according to DOT, includes tribal lands.

According to the report, four counties in Montana have a roadway fatality rate higher than the national average. And each of those four Montana counties overlap with Native American reservations.

Grant recipients

The Fort Peck Tribes received $2,500 to update an existing transportation safety plan and $200,000 for safety improvements to BIA Route No. 1. The tribes also received $600,000 to make improvements and widen the shoulder of Route No. 1 and $60,000 for intersection transverse rumble strips.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe received $823,720 for a turn lane project and $88,917 for a shared-use path project, which includes support for design and an environmental assessment.

The Crow Tribe received $394,239 for a multi-use pathway and $610,329 for a second multi-use pathway near the powwow grounds.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe received $45,000 for a speed radar trailer, 86,000 for a multi-use pathway project in Lame Deer and $706,512 for a pathway project on Boundary Street.

The grants were made possible through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Missouri River Runoff Expected To Be Below Average Which Could Result In Lower Water Levels On Fort Peck Lake

Posted (Wednesday, February 8th 2023)

The updated 2023 calendar year runoff forecast for the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, Iowa, continues to be below average.

January runoff in the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City was 1.1 million acre-feet, 134% of average. Runoff was above average due to warmer-than-normal temperatures in the upper basin resulting in some snowmelt runoff. Precipitation in January was below normal for most of the upper basin except for southern South Dakota, which saw above-normal precipitation.

“Despite January’s runoff being above average, we expect 2023 runoff to remain below average,” said John Remus, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’, Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. “Drought conditions currently exist across most of the basin.”

The 2023 calendar year runoff forecast above Sioux City is 21.1 MAF, 82% of average. The runoff forecast is based on current soil moisture conditions, plains snowpack, mountain snowpack, and long-term precipitation and temperature outlooks.

At the start of the 2023 runoff season, which typically begins around March 1, the total volume of water stored in the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System is expected to be 46.0 MAF, 10.1 MAF below the top of the carryover multiple use zone.

Basin and river conditions continue to be monitored, including plains and mountain snow accumulation, and System regulation will be adjusted based on the most up-to-date information.

Mountain and Plains Snowpack:

Mountain snowpack in the upper Missouri River Basin is accumulating at near average rates. The Feb. 1, mountain snowpack in the Fort Peck reach was 107% of average, while the mountain snowpack in the Fort Peck to Garrison reach was 99% of average. By Feb. 1, about 60% of the total mountain snowfall has typically accumulated. Mountain snow normally peaks near April 17. The mountain snowpack graphics can be viewed at: http://go.usa.gov/xARQC.

The plains snowpack, which typically melts from mid-February into April, is currently above normal. Two to four inches of snow water equivalent (SWE) covers eastern Montana and much of the Dakotas. Some areas in the central and eastern Dakotas are showing up to five inches of SWE.

Reservoir Forecasts:

Fort Peck Dam
Average releases past month – 6,400 cfs
Current release rate – 6,500 cfs
Forecast average release rate – 6,500 cfs
End-of-January reservoir level – 2218.9 feet
Forecast end-of-February reservoir level – 2219.0 feet
Notes: Releases will remain at 6,500 cfs in February.
The forecast reservoir releases and elevations discussed above are not definitive. Additional precipitation, lack of precipitation or other circumstances could cause adjustments to the reservoir release rates.

The six mainstem power plants generated 556 million kWh of electricity in January. Typical energy generation for January is 709 million kWh. Forecast generation for 2023 is 7.6 billion kWh compared to the long-term average of 9.4 billion kWh.

Sidney Sugars to Begin Closure Procedures in April

Posted (Tuesday, February 7th 2023)

Story credit: https://westernagnetwork.com/sidney-sugars-to-begin-closure-procedures-in-april

At the close of 2023 acreage contracting, the growers of the Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association showed there is no longer adequate interest in growing sugar beets to sustain operations at Sidney Sugars Incorporated. Association members and all employees of the beet sugar factory were informed today that plant closure procedures will begin on April 14, 2023.

In a letter obtained by Western Ag Network sent to Sidney Sugar employees, the beet processing plant will begin closing operations on April 14, 2023.

The company cites that due to an ongoing insufficient supply of sugar beets from the local growers, it has become financially unsustainable to continue operating the nearly 100-year-old business. In the 1990s, contracts for sugar beets with the local growers had reached as many as 45,000 acres.

“Last year there were only 18,400 acres contracted. The year before that, 30,774. With only 19,500 acres of sugar beets offered in the region for this coming spring, the Sidney operation is simply unprofitable,” said Steve Rosenau, American Crystal Sugar Company Vice President of Agriculture and Chief Operating Officer of Sidney Sugars, Inc.

But, sugar beet growers like Don Steinbeisser, Jr. said that after multiple years Sidney Sugars cutting back on contracts, farmers like him, have had enough.

"Back in the early 2000s, Imperial Holly Factory in Sidney was bought by American Crystal and they've been running factory," said Steinbeisser. "We've been raising beets for them. But every so many years, we have to negotiate a new contract. We've been taking cuts and what the farmers have been getting paid. It's to the point now where you can make just as much money raised another crops without having the headache and all the expenses of raised sugar beets. We wanted to keep raising beats because we like the factory. We've been doing it for over 90 years as a family and it was important important to us. Over the last five years, we've kind of just come to the conclusion that if they took another cut in the contract we were going to be gone. And they did so we quit. Now they can't get enough of acres to run the factory."

In a statment, the Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association said: "The growers of our association have made every attempt to keep Sidney Sugars a viable operation, ever since it was purchased by American Crystal Sugar Company in 2002. Unfortunately, the sugar beet growers of our area have never had a clear sight of how we fit into American Crystal Sugar Company’s future. For 20 years, the growers have had to negotiate a new contract with American Crystal Sugar Company every 3-years on average. During these negotiations, the sugar beet growers of this valley have been required to take substantial reductions in payments in order to keep American Crystal Sugar Company’s operation in our area profitable enough for them."

Steinbeisser believes many farmers have or will be looking to plant different crops, but others may just retire from production agriculture.

"Some of the guys are at that age where they are just going to retire," Steinbeisser said. "Some will do other things. Over the last 10 years have been a lot more people going back to feeding cattle, building feedlots again and things like that. So they've kind of seen the writing on the wall. A lot of people have been slowly adjusting. So, you know, if you don't have to own all that beet equipment, and you can raise the same crop using the same combine used for wheat, and barley for corn and soybeans it cuts a lot of costs out. I think most people will be able to stay in farming."

"It's going to it's going to affect a lot of livestock guys because of all the beet pulp that was being sold," Steinbeisser added. "They're going to have to talk to farmers about corn silage or something else to replace that with. And the jobs at the factory, in Sidney there's all kinds of oil field jobs right now. So I don't see a whole lot of trouble with that, but, you know, that's outside work to compared to be an inside."

While processing of the 2022 crop was completed in December, cleanup work will continue in the factory until April. Warehouse operations will continue through the summer. The factory has typically employed a total of 300 employees. “Employees will receive severance packages and we have provided a number of resources to assist them with job searches, including offering opportunities to join other American Crystal factories in the Red River Valley,” said Rosenau.

"American Crystal Sugar Company has referenced that 30,774 acres were grown in crop year 2021," said the The Mon-Dak Beet Growers Association responded. "That marked the end of a contract period and a new negotiation ensued. The reduction in acres to crop year 2022 was a direct result of that negotiation process. During this time the growers were told by an American Crystal Sugar Company’s executive that we would be required to take another large cut to our payments and we should expect continued cuts in our subsequent contracts."

The Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association Board full response:

For almost the last 100 years, the sugar beet producers in our area have been recognized as some of the best sugar beet growers in the nation. We have always taken pride in growing the highest quality crop possible every year. We, the grower’s, are disappointed in American Crystal Sugar Company’s decision in closing our local Sidney, MT factory.

The growers of our association have made every attempt to keep Sidney Sugars a viable operation, ever since it was purchased by American Crystal Sugar Company in 2002. Unfortunately, the sugar beet growers of our area have never had a clear sight of how we fit into American Crystal Sugar Company’s future. For 20 years, the growers have had to negotiate a new contract with American Crystal Sugar Company every 3-years on average. During these negotiations, the sugar beet growers of this valley have been required to take substantial reductions in payments in order to keep American Crystal Sugar Company’s operation in our area profitable enough for them.

During these years, the willingness of our area’s growers to adopt new technologies has risen yields to deliver more than enough production to keep the factory profitable. This adaptation of technology by our growers, and the sacrifices required of them in contracts, is the only reason we have been sustainable through these years of new ownership.

American Crystal Sugar Company has referenced that 30,774 acres were grown in crop year 2021. That marked the end of a contract period and a new negotiation ensued. The reduction in acres to crop year 2022 was a direct result of that negotiation process. During this time the growers were told by an American Crystal Sugar Company’s executive that we would be required to take another large cut to our payments and we should expect continued cuts in our subsequent contracts.

The growers of this association recognize that American Crystal Sugar Company’s presence in our area has come and gone, but our sugar beet grower’s dedication to this region will continue for generations to come. We would like to thank our local Sidney Sugars employees for their years of dedication to Sidney, MT. Our Thank-You’s do not end there, the businesses and people of our community have been the bedrock that has held up and continue to hold up many of our operations. Our sugar beet growers will be required to transition into a new way of life and we ask for your continued support.

We were just informed by American Crystal Sugar Company of the closing this morning, and while this news is still fresh in our hearts, we understand the importance of a statement from our board. We hope to give you further comment in the future.


Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association Board

Source: Western Ag Network, Sidney Sugars Incorporated, Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association Board

Montana Department Of Transportation Approves Funding For Local Airport Projects

Posted (Tuesday, February 7th 2023)

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) Aeronautics Board approved over $2.85 million in funding during its Helena meeting January 17 - 18, 2023. The requests were for a variety of improvement projects that focused on runway, taxiway, and apron reconstruction, master plans, lighting enhancements, land easements, perimeter fencing, building construction, and snow removal and weather equipment.

A portion of the money awarded in grants and loans each year goes to leverage 90/10 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) match dollars for large airport construction projects. Over $4.3 million was requested by 31 public-use airports across the state. The Board awarded funds for 58 of 69 different project requests for 27 of Montana's public airports, to include federally and non-federally funded projects.

Any public airport is eligible to apply for assistance through the loan and grant program. Funds can be used for a wide variety of airport and aviation related projects. Applications for the funding are due for submission to MDT's Aeronautics Division on November 15 each year, and the money is typically awarded in January of the following year. Although the money is awarded in January, the funds are not available until the beginning of the next fiscal year which is July 1. During the meeting, the Montana Aeronautics Board reviews the applications and takes public comment before making final award determinations for the upcoming fiscal year.

Projects funded locally:

Rehabilitate Runway Lighting/Electrical Vault $30,005

Acquire Snow Removal Equipment/Urea Truck/etc. $29,325

Rehabilitate Apron $2,924
Rehabilitate Runway $15,147
Rehabilitate Taxiway $3,179

Montana Senate Gives Preliminary Approval To Resolution That Pushes Congress To Designate A Day Of Remembrance For Children Who Died At Indigenous Boarding Schools

Posted (Friday, February 3rd 2023)

A Montana resolution that seeks to push Congress to designate a day of remembrance for children who died at Indigenous boarding schools across the country cleared a key hurdle in the state Senate on Thursday.

Senate Joint Resolution 6, sponsored by Sen. Susan Webber, D-Browning, passed second reading in a 45-5 vote and is poised to head to the House after another vote expected on Friday.

Webber, from the Blackfeet reservation, started her full presentation on the resolution to the Senate by reading off the names, ages and tribal affiliations of a dozen Indigenous children from Montana who died at the Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School, which was operational from 1892 to 1910. Some of the children there were as young as 4 years old, she said.

As she did in the resolution’s committee hearing, she talked about how she and generations of women in her family going back to her great grandmother attended the schools, experiences which she said had lasting and generational effects on her and her family.

That was the case for thousands of other Indigenous families in Montana, Webber said, as many of them were forced to send their children to the schools in order to receive food and other rations from the federal government.

“My family isn’t unique,” Webber said.

At the schools, the government worked to assimilate the children into white culture and strip them of their Native languages and heritage, according to a May 2022 Department of Interior report that was the first stemming from an ongoing investigation into the boarding schools and the abuse and deaths of children sent to them.

The report identified 18 boarding schools in Montana out of 408 nationwide. At the schools across the country, investigators found 53 different burial sites.

“Now, I understand historical trauma. But it can be broken,” Webber said. “With this, I ask you to please pass SJ6 and ask the U.S. government to recognize the trauma that they inflicted upon the Montana Indian communities and their children and ask for a day of remembrance for their children that passed away in custody.”

Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, who is Salish and Kootenai, said it was important for lawmakers especially to understand the history of the boarding schools so they can better represent all Montanans. He said much of the history of the schools was not taught in schools and Montanans generally do not have a solid understanding of what occurred.

He said his grandmother was sexually abused at the boarding school in St. Ignatius and had to cope with the harm the rest of her life.

“I think this resolution makes a lot of sense, and shows and signals that we are recognizing this history,” he said. “We are showing that we understand this history and that we’re going to support and recognize the great pain and hardships that a lot of these young people endured.”

Sen. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, voted in favor of the resolution and said she visited the Intermountain Indian School near Brigham City, Utah, when she was in 4-H and saw the “really sad” realities of the schools, which she said stuck with her through the years.

“It was such an eye-opener,” she said. “I had to stand and tell you that people knew what was going on, and yet they did not treat people with the dignity and the compassion that they should have treated them.”

McKamey said she learned that Indigenous families were told their children would be fed and receive a good education and proper treatment.

“I wanted to really believe that, and I’m so sorry that that’s not what happened,” she said.

A short time later, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass the resolution on second reading. It will have to clear a final vote in the Senate on Friday before it is sent to the House for consideration.

The five senators who voted against the measure were Sens. Becky Beard, R-Elliston; Mike Lang, R-Malta; Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls; Barry Usher, R-Laurel; and Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings.

Fort Peck Summer Theatre In Line To Receive $500,000 Grant

Posted (Thursday, February 2nd 2023)

The Fort Peck Fine Arts Council is in line to receive a $500,000 grant from the State of Montana under the Historic Preservation Grant Program.

The Montana Legislature is considering the program which would appropriate over $8.5 million across the State of Montana for historic preservation.

The Fort Peck Fine Arts would use the grant money for the Fort Peck Summer Theatre. The grant money would be used to update heating, cooling and ventilation to be able to keep the building operating year round rather than just seasonally. The building has hosted many performances over the last 50 years and these upgrades could open the theatre to even more entertainment and activities beyond the 14 weeks of the year it currently operates. And as the only performing arts center within a 300 mile radius provides a much needed amenity to the region.

The total project would cost over $1.047 million and the Fort Peck Fine Arts Council has other grant requests pending to cover the cost of the renovation.

The Montana Legislature will have to approve House Bill 12 and Governor Gianforte will need to sign the legislation to appropriate the money. The Governor did include the funding in his budget so it appears likely the funding will become a reality.

Montana Superintendent Of Public Instruction Highlights Teacher Shortage In Montana

Posted (Wednesday, February 1st 2023)

Superintendent Elsie Arntzen released the annual Critical Quality Educator Shortage Report. This report identifies schools, licensure, and endorsement areas that are impacted by critical quality educator shortages defined by § 20-4-502, MCA. The impacted shortage areas help determine the Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program as defined in § 20-4-501 et seq., MCA.

“Filling Montana classrooms, wherever the location, with quality educators remains one of my top priorities,” said Superintendent Elsie Arntzen. “I have implemented many flexibilities through TeachMT, teacher licensing rules, and increasing professional development to recognize this great need in every school building across our state. Together we must focus on solutions that put our Montana students first!”

In Montana, during the 2022-2023 school year there are 661 out 825 schools that are impacted by a critical quality educator shortage. Between 2019 and 2023 the number of affected licensure and endorsement areas were:

2019-2020: 2,498
2020-2021: 2,447
2021-2022: 2,919
2022-2023: 2,700
By grade level, the 2,700 affected areas in 2022-2023 are:

Elementary – 812
Middle – 599
High School – 872
K-12 Schools – 417
The top three critical shortage areas in 2022-2023 are:

Elementary – 492
Special Education – 259
Mathematics – 188
Educators who work in a critical shortage area can receive up to $3,000 per year for four years in educational loan repayment assistance. Over the past three fiscal years (FY) OPI has approved and paid:

FY2020: 76 approvals for $268,907
FY2021: 73 approvals for $266,735
FY2022: 113 approvals for $453,596
There is currently a bill before the legislature, SB 70, that would extend the Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program to all teachers that work in an impacted school regardless of the area that is affected.

Kiwanis BUG (Bring Up Grades) Awards 4-5

Posted (Sunday, January 29th 2023)

Kiwanis BUG (Bring Up Grades) awards were presented at Irle School for students in grades 4 and 5 who brought up their grades between grading periods without any grades being lower.

Students receiving awards were Noah Cooper, Chloe Hagerman, Vernon Hetrick, Devon Munroe, Michael Pederson, and Campbell Youngman from the fourth grade. Those students from the fifth grade receiving awards were Carley Egleston, Wade Fuhrman, Arrow Henry, Colt Hudyma, Olivia Jackson, Babii Rose Longee, Lilyanna Mix, Rueby Nixdorf, Rivers Sugg, Hunter VanderMars, Asher Wersal and Hunter Wilson.

Some were absent so they were not in the photograph.

The certificates were printed by the Chamber, and ice cream and toppings were served by Kiwanis Club member Charles Wilson, and Irle School Principal Ed Sugg. This is a program of Kiwanis International whose motto is Serving the Children of the World, presented in Glasgow schools for students in grades 4 through 8 were presented at Irle School for students in grades 4 and 5 who brought up their grades between grading periods without any grades being lower.

Wolf Point woman admits role in kidnapping, assault of girl on Fort Peck Indian Reservation

Posted (Friday, January 27th 2023)

A Wolf Point woman accused in the kidnapping and assault of a minor girl on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation admitted on Jan. 26 to her role in the kidnapping, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Patti Jo Annunciata Mail, 23, pleaded guilty to kidnapping of an individual under 18. Mail faces a mandatory minimum 20 years to a maximum of life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and not less than five years of supervised release.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing was set for June 8. Mail was detained pending further proceedings.

In court documents, the government alleged that on Sept. 15, 2021, a group of individuals lured a 15-year-old girl from her house in Wolf Point and kidnapped her. That evening, after drinking alcohol, Mail accompanied the group of individuals to the victim’s home. The victim was lured out of her home and the situation escalated. The group assaulted the victim in her front yard. When eyewitnesses yelled that they were going to call the police, some in the group kidnapped the victim, forcing her into a vehicle and driving away so that they could continue to assault her. Mail helped to seize, confine and abduct the victim, taking her to a vacant field in Wolf Point, where some in the group beat the victim again.

Co-defendants Lavanchie Patricia Goodbird and Elmarie Amelia Weeks have pleaded guilty to charges in the case and are pending sentencing. Co-defendants Cheri Cruz Granbois, Dylan Troy Jackson and Kaylee Jade Jackson have pleaded not guilty and are pending trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wendy A. Johnson and Ryan G. Weldon are prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI, Fort Peck Law Enforcement, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office and Wolf Point Police Department.

Wave of rural nursing home closures grows amid staffing crunch

Posted (Friday, January 27th 2023)

AUKON, Iowa — Marjorie Kruger was stunned to learn last fall that she would have to leave the nursing home where she’d lived comfortably for six years.

The Good Samaritan Society facility in Postville, Iowa, would close, administrators told Kruger and 38 other residents in September. The facility joined a growing list of nursing homes being shuttered nationwide, especially in rural areas.

“The rug was taken out from under me,” said Kruger, 98. “I thought I was going to stay there the rest of my life.”

Her son found a room for her in another Good Samaritan center in Waukon, a small town 18 miles north of Postville. Kruger said the new facility is a pleasant place, but she misses her friends and longtime staffers from the old one. “We were as close as a nice family,” she said.

The Postville facility’s former residents are scattered across northeastern Iowa. Some were forced to move twice, after the first nursing home they transferred to also went out of business.

Owners say the closures largely stem from a shortage of workers, including nurses, nursing assistants, and kitchen employees.

The problem could deepen as pandemic-era government assistance dries up and care facilities struggle to compete with rising wages offered by other employers, industry leaders and analysts predict. Many care centers that have managed to remain open are keeping some beds vacant because they don’t have enough workers to responsibly care for more residents.

The pandemic brought billions of extra federal dollars to the long-term care industry, which was inundated with COVID-19 infections and more than 160,000 resident deaths. Many facilities saw business decline amid lockdowns and reports of outbreaks. Staff members faced extra danger and stress.

The industry is still feeling the effects.

From February 2020 to November 2021, the number of workers in nursing homes and other care facilities dropped by 410,000 nationally, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Staffing has rebounded only by about 103,000 since then.

In Iowa, 13 of the 15 nursing homes that closed in 2022 were in rural areas, according to the Iowa Health Care Association. “In more sparsely populated areas, it’s harder and harder to staff those facilities,” said Brent Willett, the association’s president. He noted that many rural areas have dwindling numbers of working-age adults.

The lack of open nursing home beds is marooning some patients in hospitals for weeks while social workers seek placements. More people are winding up in care facilities far from their hometowns, especially if they have dementia, obesity, or other conditions that require extra attention.

Colorado’s executive director of health care policy and financing, Kim Bimestefer, told a conference in November that the state recognizes it needs to help shore up care facilities, especially in rural areas. “We’ve had more nursing homes go bankrupt in the last year than in the last 10 years combined,” she said.

In Montana, at least 11 nursing homes — 16% of the state’s facilities — closed in 2022, the Billings Gazette reported.

Nationally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported recently that 129 nursing homes had closed in 2022. Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association, said the actual count was significantly higher but the federal reports tend to lag behind what’s happening on the ground.

For example, a recent KHN review showed the federal agency had tallied just one of the 11 Montana nursing home closures reported by news outlets in that state during 2022, and just eight of the 15 reported in Iowa.

Demand for long-term care is expected to climb over the next decade as the baby boom generation ages. Willett said his industry supports changing immigration laws to allow more workers from other countries. “That’s got to be part of the solution,” he said.

The nursing home in Postville, Iowa, was one of 10 care centers shuttered in the past year by the Good Samaritan Society, a large chain based in South Dakota.

“It’s an absolute last resort for us, being a nonprofit organization that would in many cases have been in these communities 50 to 75 years or more,” said Nate Schema, the company’s CEO.

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, the full name of the company, is affiliated with the giant Sanford Health network and serves 12,500 clients, including residents of care facilities and people receiving services in their homes. About 70% of them live in rural areas, mainly in the Plains states and Midwest, Schema said.

Schema said many front-line workers in nursing homes found less stressful jobs after working through the worst days of the covid pandemic, when they had to wear extra protective gear and routinely get screened for infection in the face of ongoing risk.

Lori Porter, chief executive officer of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, said nursing home staffing issues have been building for years. “No one that’s been in this business is in shock over the way things are,” she said. “The pandemic put a spotlight on it.”

Porter, who has worked as a certified nursing assistant and as a nursing home administrator, said the industry should highlight how rewarding the work can be and how working as an aide can lead to a higher-paying job, including as a registered nurse.

Care industry leaders say that they have increased wages for front-line workers but that they can’t always keep up with other industries. They say that’s largely because they rely on payments from Medicaid, the government program for low-income Americans that covers the bills for more than 60% of people living in nursing homes.

In recent years, most states have increased how much their Medicaid programs pay to nursing homes, but those rates are still less than what the facilities receive from other insurers or from residents paying their own way. In Iowa, Medicaid pays nursing homes about $215 per day per resident, according to the Iowa Health Care Association. That compares with about $253 per day for people paying their own way. When nursing homes provide short-term rehabilitation for Medicare patients, they receive about $450 per day. That federal program does not cover long-term care, however.

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Postville, Iowa, closed in November 2022. It was the only nursing home in the town of 2,500, and one of at least 15 care centers to close in Iowa last year.
Tony Leys

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Postville, Iowa, closed in November 2022. It was the only nursing home in the town of 2,500, and one of at least 15 care centers to close in Iowa last year.
Willett said a recent survey found that 72% of Iowa’s remaining nursing homes were freezing or limiting admissions below their capacity.

The Prairie View nursing home in Sanborn is one of them. The facility, owned by a local nonprofit, is licensed for up to 73 beds. Lately, it has been able to handle only about 48 residents, said administrator Wendy Nelson.

“We could take more patients, but we couldn’t give them the care they deserve,” she said.

Prairie View’s painful choices have included closing a 16-bed dementia care unit last year.

Nelson has worked in the industry for 22 years, including 17 at Prairie View. It never has been easy to keep nursing facilities fully staffed, she said. But the pandemic added stress, danger, and hassles.

“It drained the crud out of some people. They just said, ‘I’m done with it,’” she said.

Prairie View has repeatedly boosted pay, with certified nursing assistants now starting at $21 per hour and registered nurses at $40 per hour, Nelson said. But she’s still seeking more workers.

She realizes other rural employers also are stretched.

“I know we’re all struggling,” Nelson said. “Dairy Queen’s struggling too, but Dairy Queen can change their hours. We can’t.”

David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, said some of the shuttered care facilities had poor safety records. Those closures might not seem like a tragedy, especially in metro areas with plenty of other choices, he said.

“We might say, ‘Maybe that’s the market working, the way a bad restaurant or a bad hotel is closing,’” he said. But in rural areas, the closure of even a low-quality care facility can leave a hole that’s hard to fill.

For many families, the preferred alternative would be in-home care, but there’s also a shortage of workers to provide those services, he said.

The result can be prolonged hospital stays for patients who could be served instead in a care facility or by home health aides, if those services were available.

Rachel Olson, a social worker at Pocahontas Community Hospital in northwestern Iowa, said some patients wait a month or more in her hospital while she tries to find a spot for them in a nursing home once they’re stable enough to be transferred.

She said it’s particularly hard to place certain types of patients, such as those who need extra attention because they have dementia or need intravenous antibiotics.

Olson starts calling nursing homes close to the patient’s home, then tries ones farther away. She has had to place some people up to 60 miles away from their hometowns. She said families would prefer she find something closer. “But when I can’t, I can’t, you know? My hands are tied.”

AgWest Farm Credit Donates $256,870 For Shot Clocks In Montana Class C Schools

Posted (Friday, January 27th 2023)

AgWest Farm Credit donated $256,870 for shot clocks of Class C Montana schools following a new rule voted on last year by the Montana High School Association requiring all Montana schools to implement 35-second shot clocks for the 2022-2023 basketball season.

“We are excited for the opportunity to invest in so many of our Montana Class C schools and their student athletes. As someone that grew up and is raising my own family in rural Montana, I am passionate that we advocate and protect the hopes and dreams of our rural communities,” said AgWest Montana State President Megan Shroyer.

This donation is part of the 2022 Local Advisory Committees’ (LAC) Stewardship Initiative, an investment of $4 million to 98 projects throughout the area guided by LAC members, who serve as a liaison between AgWest and their customers and communities. This project was recommended by LAC member Dusty Berwick.

“As a member of a rural community, it is not uncommon to see small schools struggle as they figure out how to make ends meet. The cost of shot clocks was more than many of these schools could fit in their budget. I am honored to be an LAC member for this organization that cares so much about the communities they serve,” said Dusty Berwick.

Gasoline Prices Surge As Demand Increases

Posted (Tuesday, January 24th 2023)

Story credit: https://gasprices.aaa.com/

Drivers appear to be taking advantage of the recent milder weather in much of the nation by fueling up and hitting the road. The increase in gasoline demand and slightly more expensive oil pushed the national average for a gallon of gas higher by 12 cents since last week to $3.42.

“The recent rising temperatures led to rising pump prices,” said Andrew Gross, AAA spokesperson, “And with the cost of oil hitting $80 a barrel, there is a lot of upward pressure on gas prices at the moment.”

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, gas demand rose from 7.56 million to 8.05 million b/d last week. Meanwhile, total domestic gasoline stocks increased by 3.5 million bbl to 230.3 million bbl. If demand remains robust, drivers will likely see pump prices rise through the week.

Today’s national average of $3.44 is 35 cents more than a month ago and eleven cents more than a year ago.

The average price in Montana is $3.18 per gallon but in Valley County the average price per gallon is $3.34 per gallon according to AAA.

Glasgow Kiwanis Club Presents Certificates To 6-8 Graders

Posted (Sunday, January 22nd 2023)

The Glasgow Kiwanis Club, assisted by students from the High School Key Club and the Middle School Builders Club, presented BUG (Bring Up Grades) certificates to students in grades 6 through 8, honoring those students who brought up their grades between the first and second grading periods without lowering any grades. This has been done in Glasgow Schools for many years, and is a program of Kiwanis International, serving the children of the world, and is also done in sponsored school districts throughout the world. The Certificates were printed by the Chamber and presented by Kiwanis Club President Wade Sundby and Secretary Charles Wilson. Ice cream with toppings was served as well.

Students receiving awards: Gabriel Allen, Ryder Bilger, Jacob Bishop, Blaine Brandt, Melinda Cummings, Taidyan DeMarrias, Alexander Earll, Dustin Frueh, Cooper Gibson, Natalie Hall, Abigail Henry, Orion Henry, Holt Huntsman, Jett Johnson, Easton Kalinski, Reilly Llewellyn, Tripp Mavity, Jack Milam, Siale Moala, Ira Moore, Jack Morehouse, Breckin Partridge, Ava Schultz, Karsyn Sillerud, Addison Squires, Mari Jayn Staggenborg, Trusten Stringer, Holden Stulc, Hadley Thompson, Harper Thompson, Violet Thompson, Aaron Zoanni, Romie Zumbuhl

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