Yellowstone County News to co-sponsor last Billings mayoral debate

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County News will host and sponsor the final debate between the Billings candidates for mayor on Oct. 17. The candidate forum and debate, co-sponsored by KULR-8 Television, begins at 7 p.m. in Petro Theater at Montana State University Billings and lasts one hour.

The event is free and open to the public. It can be seen on KULR-8’s Facebook Live. Yellowstone County News will also share the Facebook Live feed as well from KULR-8’s feed.

KULR-8 NBC Television Bilings

The two candidates, Bill Cole and Jeff Essmann, will answer questions posed by Billings City Council candidates, selected individuals and audience members.

Jonathan McNiven, publisher of the Yellowstone County News, will read more

Two suspects arrested after burglary and thefts

A suspect, that was just apprehended in Shepherd, is being transported to a vehicle after a days events of robberies, thefts and crash that started in Huntley and ended in Shepherd at Osness Rd and Frey Rd. Sheriff Mike Linder had not been able to identify the suspects at the time these pictures were released. (Jonathan McNiven photo)

UPDATE: Two names Mark Alexander Stief, 20,  and Bryce Leconte Adams, 20, were booked in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility Monday evening, according to records on the website. 

SHEPHERD — Two suspects were arrested Monday afternoon after allegedly breaking into a home in Huntley, fleeing the scene and crashing at Osness and Frey roads.
Sheriff Mike Linder said Monday that he was unable to identify the two men, who were arrested after someone called in a report of “a couple of suspicious people walking in the area.”
One of the men had a warrant seeking his arrest on another charge, Linder said.
He said he had few details as the arrests had just happened.
“They’re still out there with them read more

Billings mayoral candidates face off in last debate

Originally published in the 10/20/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News

BILLINGS — Billings mayoral candidates Bill Cole and Jeff Essmann squared off for a final debate before ballots went out by mail on Wednesday for the Nov. 7 election.

A quick and lively, back and forth conversation, during the one-hour debate that was sponsored by Yellowstone County News and KULR 8 Television, underscored that voters have two distinctive choices. The debate was on Tuesday evening at Petro Hall at MSU Billings.

Billings attorney Bill Cole offered a vision for a future dynamic Billings that, while requiring public investment now, could promise a prosperous and competitive community, which would draw young people. Cole believes Billings is in competition with other communities and needs amenities like parks, trails and a convention center to attract millennials, who will be needed to fill a projected 30,000 jobs over the next few years.

Former state Rep. Jeff Essmann, also an attorney and local businessman, seeks to complete city government promises of the past, while remaining fiscally restrained and respectful of impacts on taxpayers, which he says could offer just as much to future growth and community dynamics. Specifically, he identified projects such as the more rapid building of the read more

Lockwood begins rebuilding raw water plant

     – Originally published in the 10/20/2017 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

LOCKWOOD — The Lockwood Water and Sewer District launched a new project at its meeting last week, the rebuilding of the Raw Water Intake and Treatment Plant.

Having received only two bids to build the plant, the board awarded the bid to the lowest bidder, Western Municipal Construction, for $2,454,000. COP Construction made a bid of $3,256,300.

Morrison Maierle estimated the project would cost $2,495,030.

Jill Cook of Morrison Maierle said she believed the difference in bids was the result of the different approaches the read full story by subscribing.

Obituary: Kurt Matthew Kautz, “Cubby”

Kurt Matthew Kautz, “Cubby”

Kurt Matthew Kautz, “Cubby” to those who knew and loved him, was unexpectedly taken from our lives on October 14, 2017.  A light in our lives has forever been dimmed as the loss of our Cubby has shattered our hearts.

Cubby was born on December 7, 1984 to Daniel and Susan Kautz of Huntley, Montana, joining his older siblings: Brent, Dustin, and Amanda.  To his parents, Cubby was the apple of their eye.  Cubby was a big, baby boy and had a heart of gold from the beginning.  His adolescence was spent playing with older brothers Brent and Dusty, and constantly being cared and tended to by sister Mandy.  The love his brothers and sister had for this sweet, baby boy was unparalleled.

Born and raised by a hard-working farm family, Kurt was taught early in life the lessons that only life on a farm can teach a young kid.  Never a child to complain, Kurt took on each task asked of him with his full might and made sure that the job was done and done right.  Whether the time late or early, the weather good or bad, or the task easy or hard, Kurt pulled his weight and completed the task.  These lessons Kurt learned at such a tender age helped mold the young man that Kurt became later in his life.

As a young child, Kurt’s competitive fire was stoked by the game of basketball.  Whether rain or shine, sleet or snow, hot or cold, for hours on end Kurt could be found on the family basketball court shooting hoops.  Kurt’s tenacity to be the best at each thing he did shone through in these moments and it was clear to Kurt’s family how determined he was to make his mark in this world.

As Kurt grew older, he began to excel in football, basketball, and track.  Whether it was throwing a touchdown, scoring a basket, or running on the relay, Kurt was a leader and a teammate that others looked up to.  Kurt developed lifelong friendships through his involvement in sports and to the date of his passing, he loved his friends and would want each of them to know how special they were to him.  Josh, you were always there for Kurt, no matter the circumstances, and Kurt loved you with all of his heart.

Kurt graduated from Huntley Project High School in 2003, making the decision to read more

Celebrate Kurt Kautz at service at HP High School

Pre-released online due to time constraints

WORDEN — Huntley Project basketball coach Kurt Kautz will be remembered at
a celebration of his life on Friday at the high school where he returned a
decade after his graduation to help build a girls’ basketball program.
Huntley Project Red is the color of the day.
The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. in the school gym. Doors will open at 10.
Everyone is welcome. In lieu of flowers, Kautz’s family requests donations to Blankets and Bears or Citizens For Our Veterans.
Superintendent Mark Wandle, who helped the family with the arrangements,
said Kautz’s family requested that “those in attendance are asked to read more

Huntley Project Head Girls Basketball Coach passes in fatal accident

Mark Wandle, Huntley Project School District Superintendent, released the following statement this morning regarding last nights accident.

This morning we heard the extremely sad news that Kurt Kautz, our head girls basketball coach, died last night in a vehicle accident. This is the only information we have officially received on the circumstances surrounding the event. I know all of us at Huntley Project are saddened by Kurt’s death and send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

The district will have support services established and available for students and staff in the upcoming days.

read more

Crime wave leaves victims of thefts angry and frustrated

Originally published in the print edition of Yellowstone County News.

HUNTLEY PROJECT — People whose businesses and homes have been broken into during a recent wave of burglaries are frustrated, anxious and angry about the thefts.

No one had been arrested by presstime Wednesday, as business owners who lost cash and merchandise and homeowners who lost dozens of different items turned to security footage looking for clues.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Mike Linder urged residents to be vigilant, looking for anything that semed out of place, and reminded people to lock up their vehicles and buildings (see related story.)

Many people turned to social media to discuss the crimes and attempt to determine who may have committed them.

Nikol Twitchell, who owns Bar T Restaurant and Saloon on Worden’s Main Street, said Wednesday that the thieves broke into her restaurant on Sunday night.

She said they “cut the camera lines and read more

Sen. Conrad Burns fondly recalled at memorial ceremony

Yellowstone County officials and guests on Wednesday unveiled a highway sign proclaiming Airport Road as the Sen. Conrad Burns Memorial Highway. (Jonathan McNiven photos)

Originally published in the 10/13/17 print publication.  by Evelyn Pyburn

BILLINGS — A Who’s Who of county residents, both past and present, filled the lobby of the MetraPark arena for the unveiling of the sign that will designate the Conrad Burns Memorial Highway and a commemorative rock with Burns’ brand on it, which has been placed at the Wall of Fame at MetraPark

.

Friends and associates of the late U.S. Senator walked down memory lane in recalling Burns anecdotes during the ceremony on Wednesday. They also underscored Burns’ achievements on behalf of the community while he served as a county commissioner and as a U.S. Senator.

“Being a county commissioner was the best read more

Obituary: George E. Walker

George E. Walker

George E. Walker, 73, of Billings, returned home peacefully to his Father in Heaven on Sept. 25, 2017, and was welcomed by his family and friends.

George was born on Sept. 27, 1944 in Wolf Point, to Harold Eugene Walker and Winnie Freseman Walker.

He graduated from Richey High School in 1962. After graduation, he attended North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

George served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Korea. He later worked on the construction of the Yellowtail dam and then the oil fields in Melstone MT until 1968.

George married Donna Rae Kesterson on Oct. 12, 1968, and was later sealed for all time and eternity in the LDS Idaho Falls temple on Nov. 14, 1970. They lived on a small farm outside of Ballantine for 38 years before moving to Billings for 15 years. George drove truck for Prince Inc 20 years. read more

Taxpayers save $1.7 million in county jail bond sale

Originally published in the 9/29/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — Good news for county taxpayers!

The bond sale to finance the addition to the Yellowstone County Detention Facility (YCDF) was much better for county taxpayers than even best expectations.

On Tuesday, County Commissioners approved a $9.7 million general obligation bond sale at 2.24 percent interest over 20 years to Robert W. Baird & Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their bid was one of nine — far more bids than expected — and the rate of interest offered by Baird was considerably lower than the conservative 3.75 percent originally estimated by County Director of Finance Kevan Bryan, in preparing the bond proposal for consideration by voters.

But, even more, the rate was also lower than the most likely 2.75 percent rate that the county’s advisors, Springstead, said they should expect. Springstead, a public sector financial consulting firm, also said that the county should expect only four to six bidders. The stiff competition of nine bidders generated the lower interest rate.

“It was a surprise,” said Bryan, “They paid a premium to get this bond.”

The interest of so many firms wanting to get the loan results from the fact that Yellowstone County is such a good credit risk. Standard & Poor recently gave the county a AA+ rating, the highest possible and the highest of any government entity in the state, said Bryan. read more

New Veterans Park ready to host veterans’ fundraiser for Huntley Project area

The location of the new Huntley Project Veterans Park in Huntley along Nahmis Ave and the Yellowstone River. The Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative shop is also near the new park. (Jonathan McNiven photo)

Originally published in the Yellowstone County News 9/22/17 print edition.

HUNTLEY — It has a new name and a new home, but a Huntley group’s mission has not changed: Help local veterans, 100 percent.

In its fourth year, the Citizens for our Veterans fundraiser begins at 7 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 at its new home, Veterans Park in Huntley.

Citizens for Our Veterans, formerly known as Wounded Warriors, received use of the park along Nahmis Avenue in Huntley from the Huntley Project Irrigation District last spring. The parkland was deeded to the irrigation district by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Event organizer Tamy Lucas of Huntley said the group has been sprucing up the park, removing some old trees and getting ready to host the fundraiser. read more

Rally in the rain: High school boosters make progress

Originally published in the 9/22/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

LOCKWOOD — Despite the continuation of a drizzling rain, a number of parents and students turned out Saturday for the Kickoff Rally for the Lockwood High School election campaign at the Ace Hardware parking lot. Volunteers collected packets and received neighborhood assignments to distribute information aimed at encouraging support for a proposal to consider building a high school in Lockwood.

Voters in Lockwood School District will decide on Nov. 7 whether to authorize the Board of Trustees to pursue designing and gathering cost estimates for a possible new high school and expanding Lockwood into a K-12 district.

Chad Hanson, chairman of the Lockwood Community Education Committee that is leading the campaign, emphasized that the election will not raise taxes. That choice will be the subject of a bond election, which will likely be held in the spring of 2019.

Joining the volunteers were a few school board members and Superintendent Tobin Novasio, who pointed out some of the benefits of having a high school in Lockwood. A recent survey, he said, added to a growing mountain of research that says students do better in smaller schools. Novasio’s primary motivation for a Lockwood high school is concern about the fact that a fourth of Lockwood students fail to complete high school.

He also commented that there are those who don’t believe that Lockwood is large enough to have its own high school, but it would be the largest high school in Montana east of Billings. read more

Couple begins new septic tank business- Straight Flush Septic Services

Originally published in the 9/22/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BALLANTINE — A Ballantine family has launched a new septic tank service business.

Christopher and Shauna Calentine believe their new business will dovetail with their ranch and trucking businesses.

Their new business, Straight Flush Septic Service, consists for now of pumping septic tanks, but Christopher Calentine is training to become certified to install and service septic systems.

They are taking on clients in Yellowstone County, Shauna Calentine said, but plan to read more

Local option tax separates Billings mayor candidates

Bill Cole

Jeff Essmann

Originally published in the print edition of the Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — One of the most significant differences in positions between the two candidates running for mayor of Billings is their support for a proposed local option tax. A local option tax is essentially a limited sales tax, restricted to a specific city or county and assessed on some goods and services, for the purpose of increasing revenue for local government.

Candidate Bill Cole is an enthusiastic supporter, and in fact, in his previous role as president of the Billings Chamber of Commerce, he helped lead the charge in support of a bill in the last state Legislature that would have permitted a community to ask voters if they want to adopt a local option tax.“

Reasonable minds can differ whether a local option tax is good, but I think it is a pretty clear case that communities should be able to decide for themselves,” he said in an interview with the Yellowstone County News.

The concept of a local option tax has been introduced in several past legislative sessions, led primarily by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters, like Cole, see the tax as a means to help finance projects that they believe would improve the quality of life in Billings and attract young people to work here.

Candidate Jeff Essmann, who has dealt with the issue many times as a state legislator, concedes to having mixed views about a local option tax. Essmann said, “I know that I have constituents – especially senior citizens – who are interested in reducing property taxes and supported the concept of a local option tax to spread that burden to others.” Because of that, Essmann said he “took a number of runs at it,” beginning in 2006. “But the purpose was to reduce the property tax burden.”

“I have a real problem with the local option sales tax that the chamber and my opponent pushed because the purpose is different,” he continued. “Their purpose is generating new revenue for the government… that’s where I draw a line.”

Cole is supportive of a local option tax as a means to replace revenue that communities used to get from the federal government. “Those days are over,” said Cole. “If we want to solve local problems, we are going to have to look more and more to local solutions.”

A reoccurring thought for many is that other than levying more property taxes, there is a group of people who use the amenities of the community but do not pay for them – tourists. They spend $400 million in Billings every year, according to Cole.

Those local projects that Cole sees as necessary have to do with building “a community that can compete, not just regionally, but nationally with other cities, to attract young people to grow Billings in the future,” he explained.

Cole cites projections that estimate that Billings is going to need to fill 32,500 job openings in the next 10 years.

“Most will be filled with people 25 to 40 years old,” he said, and they will be hard to draw when most areas of the country have 3 to 4 percent unemployment.

“It is a workers’ market,” Cole said. “In order to attract those — the most skilled and most educated — they need to read more

Monday Morning Sheriff’s Report

Originally published in the Yellowstone County News 9/22/17 print edition.

Assault

* James Joey Hill, 31, Busby, was arrested Sept. 16 on a warrant from Park County alleging felony assault with a weapon, partner or family member assault, third or subsequent offense, aggravated assault and failure to appear.

Hill was in jail at presstime Wednesday on $67,500 bond.

* Nathaniel Dean Wick, 29, an inmate in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, was arrested Sept. 14 for alleged assault with bodily fluids after he allegedly threw a tray covered with urine at a staff member. He has been in jail on theft charges since April, according to sheriff’s office records. Total bond was set at $15,000 on the two charges.

Probation violation

* Freddie Lawrence Colvin, 42, was arrested Sept. 13 on a county warrant alleging felony probation violation and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. Colvin was in jail without bond at presstime Wednesday.

* Ryan Scott Romero, 31, was arrested Sept. 13 on a county warrant alleging felony probation violation, alleged felony possession of methamphetamines and alleged possession of paraphernalia. He was in jail on $15,000 bond at presstime Wednesday.

* Fermin Joseph Vasquez, 33, was arrested Sept. 13 on a county warrant alleging felony probation violation. Vasquez was in jail at presstime Wednesday on $7,500 bond.

* Christopher John Faw, 37, was arrested Sept. 14 on a city warrant alleging felony probation violation. Faw was in jail on $10,000 bond at presstime Wednesday.

* Misti Lee Liudahl, 35, was arrested Sept. 14 on a county warrant alleging felony probation violation. Liudahl was in jail without bond at presstime Wednesday.

* Clifford Lee Brown, 50, was arrested Sept. 15 on a county warrant alleging felony probation violation. Brown was in jail without bond at read more

Huntley Project teacher salaries increase this year

Originally published in the 9/22/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

WORDEN — Teachers in the Huntley Project School District will receive raises and increased health insurance contributions under a one-year contract approved by the school board.

The agreement caps a negotiation process between the Huntley Project Education Association and the school board. It increases the salary schedule by 1.9 percent beginning with the current school year.

The district will also pay up to $613 per month toward a participating teacher’s individual health insurance premium in the district’s group insurance program, which is an increase of $50 per month.

The salary agreement includes an increase in the read more

Cranford sentenced to prison on sexual assault charges

Published in the 9/22/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News. 

WORDEN — A Worden man has been sentenced to 20 years incarceration with 15 years suspended for sexual assault involving a minor victim.

District Judge Mary Jane Knisely sentenced Dallas Wade Cranford, 56, to 20 years in the Montana Department of Corrections with 15 years suspended.

Deputy County Attorney Mary Barry, who prosecuted the case, said Knisely recommended Cranford be assigned to a pre-release program. That means he could be a candidate for the Alternatives Inc. program in Billings or be sent to the Missoula Assessment and Sanction Center, a correctional assessment facility operated under an agreement between the Montana Department of Corrections and the Missoula County Detention Facility.

Or, Canford could be sent to the state prison in Deer Lodge, Barry said.

“They sit in jail until they are assigned,” she said. Cranford was listed as read more

Billings colleges gain huge financial commitment from economic development groups

Originally published in the 8/22/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is making two donations and a loan commitment that will help put the campaigns to build state-of-the-art science buildings on two college campuses in Billings “over the top.”

An offer for a $1 million loan from BSED for the Montana State University Billings project is aimed at securing a $10 million commitment from the Montana State Legislature to build a $15 million building, contingent upon the MSUB Foundation’s success in matching it with $5 million in other contributions. It is hoped that the loan will allow construction of the building to begin before the end of 2018, even if they do not have all the contributions needed.

The joint boards for Big Sky Economic Development Authority and Big Sky Economic Development Corporation also voted unanimously last week to contribute $100,000 each to MSUB’s and Rocky Mountain College’s efforts to raise funds to finance the new science buildings.

In addition, BSED will match another read more