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

Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office moves this week

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

BILLINGS — The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office will be in a new home at the end of this week.

Sheriff Mike Linder said in a press release that remodeling projects are nearly complete at the former Payne West Insurance building at 2323 2nd Ave North.

At the end of this week, the office will move there from its current location at 2550 3rd Ave N.

Linder said business operations for the sheriff’s office will move on Thursday, Aug. 24 and Friday, Aug. 25.

“While there will still be some work to do on the exterior, including signage,” Linder said in the release, “office space and security features have been completed.”  read more

City, county may split ways on zoning regulations

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

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County Commissioners approved a proposed separation of the zoning regulations that govern the City of Billings and Yellowstone County.

Called the Unified Zoning Regulations, the City-County Planning Board proposed separating the governance of the two governmental entities to facilitate a planned update and revision of the goals and policies of each.

By the time County Commissioners approved the separation, the City Council had already approved the proposal, said Nicole Cromwell, zoning coordinator and code enforcement supervisor for the Planning Department.

Cromwell said that the separation involved no other changes or deletions to the Unified Zoning Regulations and, in fact, much time was spent on making sure that the zoning regulations for the county and for the city remained the same. Going forward, each governing body will be able to consider and adopt changes to the zoning code for their own jurisdiction.

The City and County agreed to unify the zoning code in 1993 and it was completed in 1997. The separation was initiated by the Yellowstone County Board of Planning as a step in a multi-year project to update and “modernize” the zoning codes to meet the goals and guidelines adopted through Growth Policies, Neighborhood Plans and other land use policies. read more

Solar eclipse wows Pompeys Pillar crowd

With their eyes protected by special glasses, a crowd gathered at Pompeys Pillar National Monument (behind group) to watch Monday’s solar eclipse. Ham radio operators used the eclipse to test how radio waves were affected the changes in solar energy. (Jonathan McNiven photo)

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

POMPEYS PILLAR — Monday’s solar eclipse wowed people who gazed up at the sky, but on the ground at Pompeys Pillar, ham radio operators from the Yellowstone Radio Club were listening for responses to their broadcasts at the national monument.

For Bob Hall, a ranger for the Bureau of Land Management and longtime ham radio operator, Monday’s solar eclipse was a mix of the mystical with pure scientific data.

“Hams, by their nature, have a scientific bent,” Hall said. The ham radio operators on Monday were part of a nationwide fabric transmitting and receiving both Morse code and voice transmissions, collecting data for Virginia Tech researchers.

The experiment was set up to find out more about how the interruption of solar radiation during an eclipse affects radio transmissions.

For Hall, it’s important that everyday citizens, not just PhDs in research labs, can contribute to the scientific base of knowledge.

“We kind of like to push the idea of citizen science,” Hall said. “The average citizen can contribute to real research,” and given his ranger assignment at Pompeys Pillar, doing it on public land makes it an even sweeter accomplishment.

The event drew dedicated eclipse viewers, veteran and new ham radio operators, Boy Scouts and a couple of read more

New mega fertilizer plant taking shape in Lockwood

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. read more

Homecoming week postponed for Huntley Project,

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

WORDEN — Huntley Project High School’s Homecoming has been postponed until the week of Oct. 2-7.

HP Superintendent Mark Wandle said the original schedule changed because Poplar was unable to play the Sept. 8 game.

The Red Devils will host Poplar on Friday, Oct. 6.

The HP cross country meet at Huntley Project Museum of Irrigated Agriculture is still scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4. The district encourages everyone to show up in force to support the cross country team at the home meet. read more

YVEC’s new ‘Operation Round Up’ is “opt-out rather than opt-in”

by Judy Killen-Originally published in the print edition of Yellowstone County News.

HUNTLEY — With the “Operation Round Up” program launching this month, YVEC general manager Brandon Wittman would like to remind co-op customers that the program is totally voluntary.

Customers who choose to participate in Operation Round Up will receive monthly electric bills from Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-op at the usual time. On the statement, the bill will be rounded up to the next whole dollar amount. 
read more

City and Mayor candidates respond in special edition of YCN

Just published in the 8/18/17 special print section of the Yellowstone County News, Here is what was published for the Mayor and City Council publication this week.

The 2017 primary election for the City of Billings is now upon us.  The absentee ballots in for the City of Billings will be going out in the mail next Friday August Aug 25th . The City of Billings Primary election is a mail-in only ballot election.  All ballots are due in the Yellowstone County Elections Department on or by 8pm Tuesday September 12th. We asked the candidates to answer the following questionnaire regarding local hot topic issues in the area and help us, the readers, decide in voting.

Some candidates chose not to respond for reasons we are not sure. We are grateful to those candidates who did take the time to respond as the answers are pretty telling and you will know where they stand on issues that are hot button issues for the City of Billings residents.   You can read their responses in this special issue.  Some candidates decided to be short as others decided to add detail.  We hope this special edition gives some insight into the candidates that are running in this area for our readers.
read more

Iona Stookey joins Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Iona Stookey – Huntley Project Volleyball Head Coach

Originally published in the 8/11/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

WORDEN — Huntley Project High School volleyball coach Iona Stookey officially joined the Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame last week.

Her induction with the Class of 2017 was announced in April.

Stookey, who has coached at the school for 27 years, is also a read more

Obituary: Marlene F. Amen

Marlene F. Amen

Marlene F. Amen was born Dec. 12, 1938, and passed away July 29, 2017, at St. Vincent Healthcare of metastatic malignant melanoma at the age of 78 years and seven months.

She married George Amen on Nov. 16, 1957, at the age of 18 in Laurel, MT. To this marriage they have two children, Rhonda and Arla; and having four grandchildren, Shawntell and Skyar Armfield and Shelbie and Cearra Oblander.

She was a housewife and enjoyed farming and ranching. She loved doing her read more

Obituary: Philip Wade Schmidt

Philip Wade Schmidt

WORDEN – Philip Wade Schmidt, 42, of Worden passed away doing something he loved most, being outdoors and off-roading with family and friends.

Philip was born October 28, 1974, son to Mary and Gary Schmidt.  He started 1st grade and graduated from Huntley Project were he excelled in baseball, wrestling and football. At the time of his death, Phil worked at read more

NRCS offers wildfire recovery assistance to Montana farmers and ranchers

Originally published in the 8/4/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BOZEMAN — The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering technical and financial assistance to agricultural landowners impacted by 2017 wildfires across Montana.

NRCS is accepting applications for its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to assist with livestock grazing deferment, damaged read more