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.


* 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

DOT announces open house regarding Billings Bypass

Originally published in the 9/15/17 print edition of YCN.

LOCKWOOD — An open house to update the community on the progress of the Billings Bypass will be held on Thursday, Sept. 28, 6-7:30 pm at the Eileen Johnson Middle School Commons at Lockwood School.

The Montana Department of Transportation is inviting the public to attend to learn about the “Arterial Roadway Connecting Lockwood and Billings Heights,” that has been many years in development.

Since the meeting date is the same as the monthly meeting of the Lockwood Planning Steering Committee, that meeting will be canceled so everyone can attend the open house.

The DOT will also host an open house on read more

Cole, Essmann win Billings mayor primary election

Jeff Essmann

Bill Cole

Originally published in the 9/15/17 print edition of the Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — Mayoral candidates Bill Cole and Jeff Essmann will advance to the general election after receiving the most votes in Tuesday’s primary. Cole received 7,826 votes, or about 32 percent of the 24,228 votes cast. Essmann received 6,502 votes, or about 27 percent. County results are unofficial until after provisional ballots are counted at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18 and after an official canvass of the results is complete. Cole and Essmann were read more

Obituary: Shirley May (Burton) Kuykendall

Shirley May (Burton) Kuykendal

Shirley May (Burton) Kuykendall, 83, of Worden, passed away Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at the RiverStone Hospice House.
Shirley was a stay-at-home mom who enjoyed sewing, knitting and reading. She was a 60-year member of the Worden Women’s Sewing Club and belonged to the Worden Lioness Club.
She is survived by her children, Gary (Eva) Kuykendall, Janet Kuykendall, Randy (Roxanne) Kuykendall, Ronnie (Lorreen) Kuykendall and Paula (Duane) Borer; two sisters, Ruth Amdor and Pauline Powers; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her husband Kenny preceded her in death on read more

Lockwood group kicks of rally for High School vote

Originally published in the Yellowstone County News 9/8/17 print edition.

LOCKWOOD — The Lockwood Community Education Committee will host a kickoff rally on Sept. 16 as it begins a door-to-door campaign about the Lockwood high school proposal.

The kickoff rally begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at Lockwood Ace Hardware, 678 Johnson Lane.

Organizers said the rally will present information about the proposition to expand the Lockwood School district to a K-12 district, which would enable it to build a high school.

Members of the Lockwood Community Education Committee will also meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13 and Wednesday, Sept. 27 at the Lockwood School Administration Building.

The committee defines itself as “a group of your read more

County approves $94 Million budget,

Originally published in the 9/8/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — Pointing out that Yellowstone County’s 2017-18 budget is only “sustainable” if the proposed Safety Mill Levy passes, County Commissioner Denis Pitman refused to second a motion to pass it. But, then he said he would vote for it, but he wants the public to understand that it may be necessary to develop a more austere budget if “things don’t turn out.”

County Commissioners went forward then, on Tuesday, to unanimously approve the county’s over $94 million budget for the coming year, following two public hearings, this week and last. The budget is a 6.3 percent increase over FY 2017’s budget.

Pitman warned that without the passing of the proposed Safety Mill Levy, they will reach a point between two and five years from now “where we are out of money.” The current budget, said Pitman, places the county in a “reactive” position, and he would rather that they be “pro-active.” He said he would be dedicating himself to getting the Safety Mill Levy passed.

Because of the tight budget, during last week’s hearing, Pitman proposed an amendment which would have set a new county policy to cease contributing funds to private non-profit organizations. And, also because, said Pitman, he has never been comfortable with donating taxpayer money to private organizations. His motion failed for the lack of a second.

The policy would have impacted the county’s PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) fund, which is money the federal government pays to the county in lieu of paying taxes on federal lands in the county. Pitman said he wanted PILT money to be used as a “rainy day” fund, but County Commissioner John Ostlund said that is essentially how it read more

Meanderings: 9/1/17 Teaching comes full cirle

Dick Hatfield, resident of Laurel, Montana, visited the Yellowstone County News booth at MontanaFair encountering Jonathan after some 30 years from teaching him how to play the harmonica. (Jonathan McNiven Photo)

Originally published in the 9/1/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

Some 30 years later, I had an older gentleman passing by the Yellowstone County News’ booth at the MontanaFair when he was looking at the TV screen with a business card on it that had the name of Jonathan McNiven on it.

He stopped dead in his tracks and then said to me, “Jonathan McNiven? Are you Jonathan McNiven?”

I quickly responded with my hand outstretched as to shake his, “Well, it depends,” jokingly I said with a smile.

He said, while he shook my hand, “I taught you how to play the harmonica a long time ago when you were a little boy at the Billings Night Rodeo when you were about 8-9 years old at the Ramada Inn off Mullowney Lane.”

I immediately said, “Dick Hatfield?” with a question in my voice. He said, “Yes, I am Dick Hatfield.”

I burst out loud with excitement and said, read more

Huntley Project moves Homecoming to October

Originally published in the 9/1/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News. 

WORDEN — Huntley Project High School is lining up a full week of activities to celebrate Homecoming 2017.

It’s just occurring slightly later in the season than they thought it would.

Huntley Project originally planned Homecoming for the week of Sept. 5, with a football game against Poplar on Friday, Sept. 8.

But faced with low player numbers, Poplar school administrators decided to forfeit the 2017 season, and the Sept. 8 football game at Huntley Project was canceled. (See related story)

The Red Devils will take on Wolf Point for the new Homecoming football game on Friday, Oct. 6.

Superintendent Mark Wandle said Tuesday that traditional Homecoming read more

County mulls higher wages for jail maintenance workers

Originally published in the 9/1/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News. 

BILLINGS — Being able to keep maintenance staff for the Yellowstone County Detention facility has become problematic, reported Greg Erpenbach, facilities superintendent for Yellowstone County.

Erpenbach joined Dwight Vigness, Human Resources director, on Monday, to recommend to County Commissioners that they offer a higher rate of pay to keep and recruit maintenance workers specifically for the jail.

Such a proposal would have to be approved by the public employees’ union representative, said Vigness, who was cautious about raising wages to solve the problem. Vigness said his primary worry about addressing the problem in this way is that it could trigger a “me, too” response from other county departments, many of which are having their own hiring difficulties. A tight labor market is having its impact on county hiring as much as read more

New mega fertilizer plant taking shape in Lockwood

This aerial photo, taken by drone, shows progress on the new Town & Country Supply Association fertilizer plant off Coulson Road north of Lockwood. At right is a Montana Rail Link railroad spur built to supply material to the plant. Click on image to enlarge. (Courtesy image)

Originally published in the 8/25/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News. 

LOCKWOOD — The economics of unit trains and improving technology are making possible the building of a new mega fertilizer plant by Town & Country Supply Association near Lockwood.

Construction began in February and is expected to be completed in December. It will be operational just in time to serve the needs of farmers for the 2018 growing season. The $12.5 million facility — $2 million of which is the cost of building a rail spur — has been a long-term goal of the cooperative.

Town & Country Supply Association is a cooperative that supplies farmers and ranchers in south-central Montana and northern Wyoming with feed, fuel, fertilizer and a variety of supplies. It also has convenience and ranch stores in Laurel, Billings, Bridger and Hardin.

The mega plant will allow Town & Country to dramatically increase production, implement new technology and equipment that reduce blending times, centralize dispatching of deliveries, expand their market opportunities, and buy materials in greater quantities – all of which, “We hope long-term gives customers a better price while we get enough to pay for the new facility,” explained Wes Burley, Town & Country’s general manager.

Building the railroad spur allows Town & Country to purchase the materials used in making fertilizer by the train load, which is not only less expensive, but delivery is more dependable, said Burley, who strongly commended the cooperation and commitment they received from Montana RailLink in the process of building the rail spur.

“Of course a rail spur grows business for the railroad, too,” said Burly, but, “They were very good to work with in making sure we have the design we need to meet all their criteria.”

Montana RailLink leases the track from BNSF, and operates all rail traffic from just south of Huntley to Sandpoint, Idaho.

Especially helpful was Cathy Holland, who works for MRL out of Missoula. It was her goal to have this project done before her forthcoming retirement, noted Burly – a goal she achieved.

Finding a location for their facility with enough room to handle read more

Lockwood School board petitions County Superintendent for high school vote in November

Originally published in the 8/25/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

LOCKWOOD — The Lockwood School Board unanimously approved a resolution asking the County Superintendent of Schools to hold an election to determine if the public supports the proposal to expand the Lockwood School District from an elementary district to a K-12 District. The mail ballot election will be held Nov. 7.

The resolution cited the new Montana law that allows Lockwood to consider adding a high school, pointing out that the school has the required 1,000 enrollment. Actual enrollment is 1,150. The resolution also included a legal description of the proposed boundaries of the high school district.

If a majority of voters agree to the expansion, the district would have two years to arrange for the creation of a high school.

Superintendent Tobin Novasio said that the passage of the resolution is historic, as was the writing of it. Since no school has ever before enacted the new law, there was no template for the resolution, and Novasio found himself having to create it. He said he has been consulted by the East Helena School District about wording of the resolution because they too are moving forward to vote on expanding their district to include a high school.

He said that East Helena is acting as quickly as they can because they believe that the Helena School District is planning to request a mill levy which, if approved would encumber East Helena taxpayers until it was paid off, whether or not they later expanded the East Helena District.

That would also be true for Lockwood taxpayers as part of District 2 if School District 2 built a new high school. That is in fact one of the “talking points” of the Lockwood Education Committee, which is planning read more

County’s taxable value up 4.6 percent

Originally published in the 8/25/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — The total taxable value of property in Yellowstone County increased 4.6 percent in FY 2016-17.

About half that increase is due to the construction of new property or what might be called the addition of new value to the total of assets in the county.

The balance of the increase in taxable value is the result of revised estimate of the value of existing property.

Only new construction results in increased revenue to county government and other taxing jurisdictions. The taxable value of Newly Taxable Property in FY2017-18 is $8,064,294, compared to $13,971,270 in FY 2016-17.

Yellowstone County’s base levy will generate $785,000 in new read more

Prouse released from jail, promises to provide court-ordered documents

Originally published in the Yellowstone County News 8/25/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News. 

SHEPHERD — Former state legislator Wesley Prouse has been released from jail after pledging to produce court-ordered financial documents in the illegal campaign funding case against him.

District Judge Michael Moses sent Prouse to jail last week after a court hearing in which Prouse refused to produce information about his assets.

Prouse was jailed on contempt of court for failing to provide documents or information about his assets. He is one of nine Republican candidates charged by then-Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl with accepting illegal corporate campaign contributions.

Before his Aug. 15 court hearing, Prouse had told the Yellowstone County News he was read more