County Disburses Tax Protest Monies

 

A disbursement of over $22 million in settled tax-protest revenues was announced on July 31 by Yellowstone County Director of Finance Scott Turner. The release of funds held in escrow from 2010 through 2013 from Conoco-Phillips, Charter-Bresnan and Verizon – Alltel is a boon to many county taxing entities, especially to the budgets for a number of school districts.

Huntley School District will get $129,036; Broadview School District, $3,415; Blue Creek School District, $38,187; Independent School District, $779; Elysian School District, $4007; and Laurel School District, $97,476

Read more: County Disburses Tax Protest Monies

NPRC Changes Leadership

The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) announced that Patrick Sweeney will transition from his position as the organization's Executive Director on January 1, 2015 and phase out his employment at WORC over three years. Sweeney will serve as a part-time senior advisor and focus on special projects.

Sweeney is the founding director of WORC. He also served as one of the original staff and as Staff Director of the Northern Plains Resource Council, WORC's Montana member organization, and has served WORC and Northern Plains for over 42 years.

At its June Board meeting, WORC's Board of Directors adopted a leadership transition plan that names John Smillie as the new Executive Director effective January 1, 2015. Smillie currently serves as WORC's Campaign Director. A graduate of Stanford University, Smillie was an organizer and research coordinator for the Northern Plains from 1979 to 1986 and has been with WORC since 1986.

RR Corridor Study to Look at Underpasses

The Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) gave local planners approval to pursue a railroad corridor study to address a number of transportation issues in downtown Billings.

The study could prepare the community to apply for a TIGER grant in early 2015, should the federal Department of Transportation offer grants at that time. But, there is also another local entity interested in vying for a TIGER grant – Big Sky Economic Development.

The federal agency has issued $4.1 billion in six rounds of grants since 2009, in the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant, program. The grants help communities build road, rail, transit and port projects which "promise to achieve critical national objectives."

Read more: RR Corridor Study to Look at Underpasses

County Awards Bid for Metra Barn

In a split vote Yellowstone County Commissioners approved awarding a contract to build a new barn for Metra Park.

DPS Company, Roberts Montana, was awarded a $989,000 bid to construct a 100 x 240 foot building to replace three old livestock barns – one of which has been condemned. Commissioners John Ostlund and Jim Reno approved the recommendation even though the bid exceeded the budget by about $100,000.

Read more: County Awards Bid for Metra Barn

Shipton's Among Four Businesses Expanding

Shiptons is building a new location in the Heights and a 3G's convenience store on Wicks Lane is constructing a new building.

Local business of all kinds are expanding and growing as reflected in the report of those recently acquiring 504 Loans through the US Small Business Administration, as processed by the Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

Manager of the EDC loan department, Brandon Burger, gained approval of the EDC board for four loans. The loans were acquired by Wildfire Custom Autobody, LLC; Shipton's Big R, Inc.; S. N. G., Inc.; and Indus Properties, LLC.

Read more: Shipton's Among Four Businesses Expanding

Making Sustainable Attainable - SBA's 2014 Small Business Person (10 or fewer employees) of the Year

With a lifelong passion for architecture and a strong belief that it can change the world for the better, Randy Hafer always knew he wanted to do more than design buildings; he wanted to make his community a better place to live. After spending 11 years of his professional career in Chicago, Illinois, Randy returned to his hometown of Billings, MT in 1992. He rekindled his love for the High Plains, a unique landscape that requires an equally unique style of architecture, and opened the doors with wife Janna, with three employees, to High Plains Architects in 1999.

Read more: Making Sustainable Attainable - SBA's 2014 Small Business Person (10 or fewer employees) of the Year

PCC Approves Long Term Transportation Plan

A Long Range Transportation Plan that took over a year to develop for Yellowstone County was given its final approval by the Policy Coordinating Committee during its regular monthly meeting.

The plan which was written by Kittelson and Associates of Boise, Idaho, under contract with the City County Planning Department, includes forecasts and projects through 2035, although it will be revisited for reviews every four years, according to Scott Walker of the Planning Department. It can also be adjusted as needed, said Walker.

Walker expressed satisfaction that the process of developing the plan included some 600 comments from the public.

Besides looking at the needs of streets and roads, the plan places special focus on rail transportation, the needs of freight transportation and the needs of pedestrian and bike trails.

The $240 million in projects identified as priorities over the next ten years are all "fiscally constrained," explained Walker, which means they have identified funding sources for each. About $194 million in "illustrative" projects are recommended beyond that which are not yet "on the drawing board," nor is funding identified for them.

The committed projects include a $111 million for phases of building the Northend Bypass, which will connect Lockwood and the Billings Heights across the Yellowstone River. Walker said that the first part of that project will probably focus on the interstate highway intersection at Johnson Lane in Lockwood. And, the next likely phase will be to build the bridge across the Yellowstone River.

Another large project includes reconstruction of a three lane road on 32nd Street West between King Avenue to Gabel Road, Phase II of the Bench Boulevard reconstruction, and the new road construction of the Inner Belt Loop.

It includes over $10 million in expenditures for pedestrian, bicycle and multiuse trains, and over $1 million for transit or public transportation, with another $9 million recommended for the future.

Most projects draw upon a mix of funding from federal and state transportation agencies, as well as local funding.

The lack of inclusion of Lockwood in the county's new transportation plan prompted one Lockwood resident to voice opposition to the plan, which was adopted by the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) on Tuesday. Don Reed voiced strong concern about the fact that Lockwood isn't even mentioned in the year-long study and proposed future plans for the county. Reed, who is also a member of the county planning board, said that he voted against approving the plan because Lockwood isn't included, despite the community's dire needs.

As a result of his comments the PCC plans to hold an informational meeting with local, state and Lockwood representatives to assess the situation and review historical expenditures. Billings Mayor, Tom Hanel, who chairs the PCC, said that he was not well informed about the issues and suggested that the PCC should be better informed. The Transportation Plan may be viewed on the City of Billings website.

County Commissioner Jim Reno pointed to the proposed Northend Bypass project as a large project that will have impact for Lockwood.

Reed said that that project had more to do with the Heights than with Lockwood.

Commissioner Reno stated, "The Lockwood Community is welcome to come in and make a proposal. It is my view that we spend quite a lot in Lockwood."

Commissioner Bill Kennedy explained that there a few roads in Lockwood which would qualify for matching funding and there is no group in Lockwood which could provide matching funds, which many transportation programs require.

A proposed project which would connect Molt Road to Highway 3, as an alternative means to connecting the north end of Billings (the Heights) to the west end, is included in the list of future projects as an "illustrative" project – little more than an idea that may be advanced in the future.

Given the temporary closure of Zimmerman Trail this summer, the proposal has received broader public discussion. "It's been the dialogue of many public meetings," said Walker.

The Planning Board discussed the project at length, reported Walker, and decided to leave it listed as an illustrative project in the long range transportation plan. If funding were to appear it can be pulled forward at any time, he explained.

In keeping with the plan, Walker announced that they plan a feasibility study to identify the best route to better connect bikers /pedestrians from the Yellowstone River to Zoo Montana.

Before being approved by the PCC the Transportation Plan must be approved by the City County Planning Board, the Billings City Council, and Yellowstone County Commissioners. The PCC is comprised of representatives of the city council, county commissioners, the planning board and the State Department of Transportation. The PCC is the governing body of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which includes the City of Billings and heavily populated area as they extend beyond the city limits.

Yellowstone County Scrutinizes Budget; Hope to Expand Jail without Levy

 

The big challenge in putting together an almost $100 million budget for Yellowstone County for fiscal year 2014-15 will be finding enough money to fund an addition to the county jail without asking the voters to approve a special mill levy.

At the opening of a week of budget hearings on June 23, County Commissioner John Ostlund said that his goal is to find enough money in the budget to pursue a $7 million plan to add a new women's wing to the county detention facility. "I want to do it in house," said Ostlund.

Read more: Yellowstone County Scrutinizes Budget; Hope to Expand Jail without Levy

Healthcare Summit Set for July

The Big Sky Business Healthcare Summit is coming to Billings, July 9-10, at the Crowne Plaza, Billings. National and regional business leaders will lay the foundation for education and discussion about how the business community and the healthcare industry can and should intersect to make a more vibrant community. The event is being produced by Big Sky Economic Development.

Big Sky Economic Development Executive Director, Steve Arveschoug, says this summit will show the beneficial connection for business and healthcare, "Healthcare is a vital industry to businesses, not only in the Billings area, but to the entire state of Montana. We're excited to use this summit to put a spotlight on the economic importance and impact the industry has on our business community, the innovations available in our own backyard and the workplace wellness efforts made real by local companies.."

Read more: Healthcare Summit Set for July

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