- Written by John Plestina
Sheriff Jason Frederick and Sheriff’s Office employee Tina Bets His Medicine field questions on the proposed jail during the public meeting in Wolf Point. (Photo by John Plestina)
Sheriff Jason Frederick and the Roosevelt County commissioners urged voter support for the jail bond that will be on the upcoming General Election ballot during a public meeting in Wolf Point, Tuesday, Oct. 14. Similar meetings were held last week in Bainville, Culbertson, Froid and Poplar.
County officials say the need to replace the aging jail is critical due to overcrowding and outdated facilities, as well as the county being at risk of being forced to close the facility because of potential liability. If that happens, the cost to taxpayers could be substantially higher than a mill levy increase that would be necessary to fund construction and operational costs.
Frederick said legal action brought by the American Civil Liberties Union forced Roosevelt County to reduce the number of jail beds by nearly one half.
A previous attempt to gain voter approval for a jail bonding measure failed at the polls in June due to a voter turnout that was too low to meet the legal state requirement. That bonding issue received 57.93 percent [986-716] of the votes cast. The voter turnout was 34.88 percent.
The bonding measure will again ask voters to authorize the commissioners to issue and sell $11.86 million in general obligation bonds to be repaid within 20 years.
The projected mill levy increase would add $42.68 annually to the taxes on a residence assessed at $100,000.
At issue is a jail built over 40 years ago that cannot accommodate current needs, does not meet current Montana jail standards, cannot comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and it is difficult to separate misdemeanor and felony inmates. Recent inmate populations have been about 90 percent felons.
Despite recent upgrades the Sheriff’s Office calls band-aid fixes, the jail is said to be unsafe for staff, inmates and the public.
Jail administrator Melvin Clark expressed concern for the safety of misdemeanor offenders that might be serving short jail sentences with a preponderance of felons with violent histories they cannot be separated from.
“If you’ve got a local guy for a DUI overnighter housed with felons there is a risk they could get beat up,” Clark said.
The current jail also cannot accommodate juveniles, medical isolation, segregation of prisoners with mental health issues or any inmate special needs.
Clark said the current condition and safety concerns for staff has scared off several job applicants.
The jail that was built in 1972 includes 109-year-old metal cells moved from the former jail built during the 1940s, and located in the current courthouse parking lot. The metal cells were a World War I era shipboard Navy brig.
Frederick cited the weekly jail roster that is published in The Herald-News and The Searchlight, which demonstrates that the jail is packed beyond capacity and that Roosevelt County is paying other counties to house inmates.
“You’re not going to see many local names on there,” Frederick said.
The majority were arrested in the eastern part of the county for drug offenses that are said to be Bakken Oilfield related.
Frederick said Roosevelt County is paying for inmates to be housed in two other counties. He cited the cost of keeping inmates in Glasgow and Fort Benton that includes nightly rental of jail beds and transporting inmates between the jail sites and court dates in Wolf Point. That includes the costs of fuel, labor hours for deputies, meals and sometimes lodging that is incurred when transporting inmates.
Frederick presented The Herald-News with a copy of an invoice from the Valley County Sheriff’s Office for housing two female inmates for 31 days during August. The cost to Roo-sevelt County was $2,015 for each inmate totaling $4,030 for two inmates for one month. That cost would be nearly $50,000 for two inmates for one year.
“Just for a month, it cost us $4,030 just to house two prisoners there [Glasgow],” Frederick said.
In addition to Valley County holding two females, the Fort Benton Detention Center has continuously held one or more male inmates for Roosevelt County as needed.
Other jails are full or nearly full.
“Right now, we are between a rock and a hard spot. We have to find a way to build a jail,” Frederick said.
“The question is: in five years, will we have places to take them?” Dennis Kimmie, an Illinois-based jail planner who is working with the county, said.
“If it doesn’t pass, you’re stringing it out until 2018-19 or beyond,” he said.
Kimmie cautioned that if the county has to wait longer to build a jail, construction costs could increase.
County Commissioner Duane Nygaard said Daniels and Sheridan counties both have a 48-hour hold before having to transfer inmates to other counties and McCone County has no jail.
Frederick was asked what it might cost if voters do not approve the jail bond and Roosevelt County Jail is forced to close the current jail.
He said it would cost Roosevelt County a lot more in the long run.
“I don’t think you could put a dollar amount on it. Our budget couldn’t hold it up,” Frederick said.
The proposal that will be before voters is to remodel the existing sheriff’s office and jail facility behind the Roosevelt County Courthouse with an addition, a less expensive option than building a completely new facility at a different site because it would reduce construction expenses and eliminate site acquisition costs. It would also retain the jail in close proximity to courtrooms, minimizing transportation costs.
The addition would provide a 60-bed jail that would be compliant with all standards.
The bonding includes the costs of designing, building, equipping and furnishing the jail and office space. The proposed facility would include an “eyes-on” master control center, booking area, medical isolation area and several Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant cells. An E-911 communications center would be included in the facility.
Frederick said with the increased number of jail beds that would exceed current need, Roosevelt County could rent space to other counties as a revenue source.
The larger jail could generate revenue by accepting inmates from other counties and would be large enough to handle a much higher volume of local offenders as increases in crime are projected.
The current 17-bed jail has a rated jail capacity, per state standards, of only 11 beds. The jail averaged 15 inmates per day in 2012, with occasional peaks as high as 20.
If voters approve the measure, the design phase of the project is slated to begin in January 2015, construction during the fall of 2015 and completion in 2017.
A Montana Board of Crime Control study for Roosevelt, Daniels, Richland and Sheridan counties, labeled by MBCC as the primary Bakken Oilfield region of Montana, shows an increase in criminal offenses between 2008 and 2012 of 218 percent and an increase in arrests for the same period of 173 percent. Roosevelt County arrests rose 187 percent during the same period, the per capita crime rate for the four-year period went from 25 percent below the state average to 56 percent above and reported the highest percentage of increased crime in the region with 48.5 percent.
The MBCC study also projects a population increase for Roosevelt County of between 11 and 40 percent during the next 15 years.
- Written by John Plestina
The first picture is Culbertson City Councilman Bruce Houle making a point during the Highway 2 Association meeting in Glasgow. The second photo is Montana Department of Transportation director Mike Tooley and the third is Fort Peck Tribes Transportation Program planner Connie Thompson of Poplar and Mark Kurokawa of the Montana Department of Transportation in Wolf Point listening to Tooley. (Photos by John Plestina)
Several people told Montana Department of Transportation director Mike Tooley that a four-lane divided U.S. Hwy. 2 is needed for safety and economic development during the Highway 2 Association’s annual fall meeting in Glasgow, Friday, Oct. 17.
Needs that were cited for a four-lane highway included increased heavy truck traffic due to Bakken Oilfield development in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, including Roosevelt County.
Tooley, from Havre and a former Montana Highway Patrol trooper who was stationed at Wolf Point, said funding is just not in place at the current time.
“The department [MDT] does place a high emphasis on the Highway 2 Corridor,” Tooley said. But, “as everybody knows, highway funding is up in the air.”
He stressed that future Hwy. 2 construction comes down to resources and the MDT currently does not have the funding.
“Congress did pass a short-term fix to transportation,” Tooley said.
He added that he told Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., during a recent meeting in Sidney that a long-term fix is needed.
“If we had a six-year highway bill, we would be able to plan for six years,” Tooley said.
The federal government funds 87 cents on each highway dollar.
“Right now, the department’s [MDT] position is pavement maintenance,” Tooley said.
“You’re not going to see a four-lane from the state line to Glasgow anytime soon. There is just not the funding for that,” Tooley said.
Bruce Houle, a longtime member of the Culbertson City Council and Chamber of Commerce director, offered a possible funding source.
He asked Tooley if it would be feasible to obtain bonding from banks for road construction and utilize state funds to pay for the debt. Houle compared the state paying off bonded indebtedness for highway construction to paying off a house.
“Establish a new bonding system. Don’t use the state’s money. Go after the banks and let the state pay it off,” Houle said.
“There’s plenty of money sitting in the banks. It’s your dollars,” he said.
“As far as highway bonds, we did bond the construction of the Hwy. 93 Corridor,” Tooley said. “That did get some improvements to Hwy. 93 in a short amount of time.”
Highway 2 Association president Bob Sivertsen brought up House Bill 218, a bipartisan bill that passed both houses of the Legislature last year and was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock. It would have required the Board of Oil and Gas to administer an infrastructure grant program for oil and gas impacts and would have set up a $15 million annual fund to help local governments impacted by oil and gas development.
“He [Bullock] is still interested in infrastructure in eastern Montana,” Tooley said.
There was a discussion about supporting a new $90 million version of HB 218 during the Great Northern Development Corp., quarterly meeting, Thursday, Oct. 9.
The Eastern Montana Impact Coalition will draft a new and similar legislative bill, with a goal of obtaining as much as $90 million for needs in the 16 counties in eastern Montana.
Sivertsen noted that North Dakota is far ahead of Montana with a four-lane Hwy. 2.
“They [North Dakota] have the oil revenue that we can’t match. They’re in the sweet spot in the Bakken,” Tooley said.
Sivertsen said there has been a study that would include a four-lane highway from the Montana/North Dakota state line to Culbertson and north along the current Montana Hwy. 16 to the Port of Raymond at the Canadian border.
Houle is a board member of the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, a proposed four-lane route to enhance business and tourism in several plains states. It would be comprised of several existing highways between Texas/Mexico border and the Port of Raymond, passing through Culbertson.
Houle cited a four-lane highway in Mexico that encourages economic development and tourism.
“Mexico figured it out but Montana can’t,” he said.
The MDT’s Bainville- East project, four-lane beginning at Bainville and continuing to the Montana/North Dakota state line could begin construction in 2017. Tooley cited problems obtaining right-of-ways. He said it comes down to private property rights.
Since it’s inception in 2001, the Highway 2 Association has been a strong proponent of the “4 For 2” campaign to build a four-lane U.S. Hwy. 2 across the 666 miles that crosses Montana, for an adequate transportation system along the Hi-Line with safety, tourism, agriculture and the enhancement of energy and other economic development cited as reasons for the need.
More than one-quarter of Hwy. 2 is in Montana. The route dates to 1926 and spans 2,571 miles across the northern continental United States in two segments.
The western portion begins in Everett, Wash., near Seattle, continues through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and ends in Michigan at the Canadian border.
The eastern segment begins in New York State about 45 miles south of Montreal, Canada, and continues through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, ending at the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.
For additional information, contact the Highway 2 Association at http://www.hwy2mt.org/.
- Written by Culbertson Searchlight
Paul Finnicum being presented as the new president of the Montana School Board Association.
- Written by Culbertson Searchlight
Roosevelt County Disaster and Emergency Services director Dan Siet-
sema presented an article to the Local Emergency Planning Committee, Tuesday, Oct. 14, about an accident on the Mississippi River involving a barge carrying Bakken crude oil.
The monthly LEPC was held at the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Siet-
sema noted high levels of benzene in the crude, measuring 40.2 parts per million with federal OSHA standards set at 5.0 as the recommended safety level. Sietsema added that the MSDS sheet for Bakken oil is 17 pages long.
That accident near New Orleans, La., in February occurred when a tank barge collided with a tow boat, spilling some 31,500 gallons of Bakken crude into the river, resulting in the closure of a 65-mile stretch of river, according to several online reports.
- Written by John Plestina
Judge David Cybulski accepted guilty pleas from Malinda K. Bibb under plea agreements in two separate drug cases and denied a bond reduction in 15th District Court, Wednesday, Oct. 15.
Bibb, 31, of Minot, N.D., withdrew several previously entered not guilty pleas in both cases against her.
Bibb’s troubles with the Montana court system began 13 months ago.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office deputies stopped a car carrying Bibb, Brandon J. Bigham, 30, and Jamie D. Vert, 36, all of Minot, on U.S. Hwy. 2, near the North Dakota state line, Sept. 20, 2013. Vert was driving, according to the charging documents.
Methamphetamine, marijuana, drug paraphernalia and weapons [no firearms] were found in the vehicle, according to charging documents.
All three were subsequently arraigned on felony charges. Bigham and Vert pleaded not guilty to all charges and both later withdrew guilty pleas under plea agreements.
Thirteen months ago, Bibb pleaded not guilty to criminal possession of dangerous drugs, criminal possession with intent to distribute and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. She was lodged in the Roosevelt County Jail for several months and released in May on $20,000 bond.
Under the plea agreement, Bibb pleaded guilty to felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The county attorney will move to dismiss other charges against her from the September 2013 arrest, according to court documents.
New charges of criminal possession of dangerous drugs, carrying dangerous drugs on a train, both felonies, and misdemeanor counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia were filed against Bibb after Wolf Point Police Department officers boarded an Amtrak Empire Builder train, Monday, Sept. 8, on a warrant for alleged bail condition violations.
Under the plea agreement for those charges, Bibb pleaded guilty to felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The county attorney will move for dismissal of the other charges.
According to court documents, Bibb has acknowledged that she is not eligible for deferred imposition of sentence because of prior convictions.
The county attorney has recommended four years confinement to the Montana Department of Corrections with two years suspended and treatment at Elkhorn Treatment Center in Boulder, a lockdown methamphetamine treatment center for women.
Bibb admitted in court, Wednesday, Oct. 15, that she possessed methamphetamine at the times of both arrests.
Cybulski found her guilty and ordered a pre-sentencing investigation.
Defense attorney Frank Piocos asked for a bond reduction. It is set at $50,000.
“Are you going to be dumb enough to do what you did last time you were out?” Cybulski asked Bibb.
A Williston, N.D., man in the courtroom said he previously posted $20,000 bond for Bibb. He said he was confident she would not violate bail conditions.
Assistant County Attorney Jordan Knudsen said he has spoken to Bibb’s probation officer in Minot, N.D., and that he was told she has failed drug tests.
Cybulski denied bond reduction.
“If you want to blame somebody for your problems, you should look in the mirror,” Cybulski told Bibb.