CS Masthead

Montana Job Security Not Reaching Roosevelt County

Wolf Point Job Service has listings for McDonalds crew members at $8.20 per hour, concrete laborers at $13 and a city finance director position between $22.37 and $37.30.
Officials at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry have celebrated such job opportunities and the 4 percent statewide unemployment rate, the addition of 6,237 jobs last year and the average wage increase to $38,874, according to the 2015 Labor Day Report released Aug. 30. But job seekers in Roosevelt County and on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have been suffering from lower wages and unemployment rates of 5.3 percent and 12.8 percent, while searching for educational and training opportunities.
“Roosevelt County employment levels moved down to 4,616 in 2014 from 4,677 for a loss of about 60 jobs [Fork Peck Indian Reservation had 25 job losses]. Although the state as a whole had job gains last year, some counties with oil and gas development had job losses because of the decline in oil prices in the last half of 2014,” Barbara Wagner, chief economist with the state Department of Labor and Industry, wrote in an email. “But it looks like the employment has stabilized and started increasing again in 2015.”
The economist anticipated statewide job growth in the upcoming decade, with a slowed but steady increase in areas impacted by the Bakken shale oil play. Oil production rose 2 percent to 29.9 million barrels of oil in 2014, but production will likely fall during the rest of the year to reduced drilling activity, Jim Halvorson, of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Board of Oil and Gas, wrote in an email. The drilling rig count averaged at about eight in January, but has since dropped to only one in Dawson and Wheatland counties each.
“Unlike oil booms in the past, we also haven’t seen a large ‘oil bust’ yet,” Wagner wrote. “There have been some job losses, but not very many, and employment levels appear to have stabilized in 2015.”
Education, Training,
Job Placement
The listings at Wolf Point Job Service are sometimes shared via the Tribal Employment Rights Office in Poplar. T.E.R.O. currently advertises 12 vacancies, including police and corrections officer positions, along with van drivers needed to transport sugar beet laborers to Sidney.
“Since I have been here, there has never been a time that we have not advertised,” said Yvonne Bashay, a human resources officer who has advertised employment at Job Service, through the Fort Peck Journal and on the office website for nearly one year. The wages depend on federal and state funding, as do training opportunities. “But the majority of our jobs require a high school diploma or GED. The tribes encourage furthering your education [most jobs require passing a drug test].
With high expectations for the oil industry, the state Department of Labor and Industry has partnered with the Montana University System to train workers in the “manufacturing and energy industries,” Jake Troyer, communications director at DLI, wrote in an email.
For example, the RevUp Montana program has created training programs on 13 of the state’s two-year colleges, including Fort Peck Community College in Poplar. The college now offers one-year certificate courses and two-year degree programs for future heavy equipment operators, electrical liner work and welding, among others.
During the 2013-2014 school year, Wolf Point Public Schools reported a 70.4 percent high school graduation rate compared to the state graduation average of 84.2 percent. Noel Sansaver, the facilities supervisor at FPCC, said less than 10 percent of the 350 to 400 students graduate each school year, but administrators have maintained low-priced tuition and added workforce programs to accommodate those looking for work.
“We do have very good job placement,” Sansaver said. “Things have slowed in the oil patch. More people are trying to settle back in and get their degrees, but our numbers are staying up in the vocational areas. There are those people that want to get jobs immediately.”

LEPC Meets, Tables Elections


Attending the LEPC meeting at Roosevelt Medical Center were: (from left to right) Dan Sietsema, Local Emergency Planning Committee vice chairperson; Ramona Ross, of Culbertson; Lee Allmer, LEPC chairperson; Jaimee Green, LEPC secretary/treasurer; Deanna Buckles, Northeast Montana Health Services marketing director; Kyla Traeger, Roosevelt Medical Center trauma coordinator; John Carlbom, Wolf Point EMS supervisor; Chuck Hyatt, Bainville Fire Department; Teresia Moore, RMC EMS supervisor; and Benjie Butikofar, town of Bainville.              
 (Photo by Angela Rose Benson)

Roosevelt County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee met Tuesday, Sept. 8, at Roosevelt Medical Center in Culbertson.
Dan Sietsema, Roo-sevelt County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, reported that he is working on preparing his year-end reports to finish out the fiscal year. He also reported that there has been no contact with the company working on the pre-disaster mitigation grant for the county.
There were no county commissioners present to report on the Northern Tier.
The group discussed several upcoming response trainings taking place throughout the state that local responders can take advantage of.
Of those, Sietsema reported that some sheriff’s office personnel plan to attend the Wide Area Search and Rescue course.
The committee’s bylaws were approved and will be forwarded to the county commissioners by Jaimee Green, LEPC secretary/treasurer.
Sietsema said that he has submitted the annual Emergency Management Preparedness Grant and from the grant, the county stands to receive an estimated $52,000, which helps offset the cost of having a county DES coordinator.
The committee discussed the importance of continuing to have emergency response representation from the fire department, local law enforcement and area businesses in order to keep the committee moving forward.
Teresia Moore, RMC EMS director, suggested that the LEPC meetings incorporate a planning-session into each regularly scheduled meeting in an effort to get conversation going and distinct response plans for the communities. The committee decided to try feedback from each community about topics of interest. Everyone agreed the recent train derailments are of interest to every community because of the potential for oil hazards.
Ramona Ross, a concerned citizen of Culbertson, was in attendance and expressed her gratitude for both the committee and local response teams that mitigated the recent derailment that happened in close proximity to her home.
“You all have a tough job and everyone handled the situation to the very best of their ability,” Ross said. She went on to talk about how important it is for community members to be educated on their role in a disaster and how they have to take some responsibility for preparing themselves during these disaster situations.
Elections could not be held as planned because it was not on the agenda. Elections will take place next month, where the committee will elect the chairperson, vice-chairperson and the secretary/treasurer.
Green addressed the committee that she is not sure she wants to continue as secretary/treasurer because of her busy schedule.
“I don’t want to leave the committee without someone to take my place. So, if necessary, I would be willing to stay on until the appropriate person could take the position,” said Green.
The next meeting is set to take place at the fire hall in Bainville Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Water Valve Repairs


The Town of Culbertson Water Department interrupted water service for a few hours to some Culbertson residents for valve repairs Monday, Sept. 14.   (Photo by Angela Rose Benson)

Board of Health Looks To Improve Health In Roosevelt County

Officials in Roosevelt County entered into a contract Tuesday, Sept. 15, with a Helena-based independent consultant to combat low rankings of public health.
The board of health agreed to hire Loveland Consulting, LLC, to complete a community health assessment by February 2017, said Vickie Bell, director of the county health department. The contract also requires board members to review their bylaws by May 2016 and complete various training programs by June 2016.
“It’s a huge process,” Bell said.
Patty Presser and Karla Thompson, registered nurses at the county health department, told the consultant of community struggles with high unemployment rates, alcohol and drug use and the lack of services for maternal care.
Dr. Mark Zilkoski expressed concerns of diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and sexually transmitted diseases among his patients, along with methamphetamine use.
“Our biggest problems are the drug use and polysubstance abuse. We know this. The tribes know this,” Bell said. “How do we make a change in the right direction to give their babies a better life as well as themselves?”
Board members estimated receiving $10,000 in grants from a foundation funded by the sale of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Montana to Health Care Service Corp., of Chicago. The Montana Healthcare Foundation is expected to collect more than $100 million over the next several years in assets to fund millions of dollars each year in healthcare programs throughout the state.
“You have so many needs up there,” said Katie Loveland, owner of Loveland Consulting, who plans to work also with the Fort Peck Tribal Health Department in collecting public health data and organizing an assessment. Completing a public health assessment would allow county and tribal officials to prove accurate, up-to-date data needed to acquire state funds for localized programs. “… Sometimes when I think about Fort Peck, I don’t have the numbers to quantify the problems.”
Earlier in the year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute ranked the health of counties detailing the length and quality of life throughout the state. Roosevelt County ranked last out of 46 counties, with 10 counties removed from the report due to missing data. Gallatin County ranked first and Yellowstone County ranked 26th.
The Montana Healthcare Foundation considers a variety of public health program, including health system planning, partnerships with the outside health sector, and improving maternal-child health outcomes according to its website.
The board of health plans to afford Loveland Consulting by using portions of the grant money over 12 to 24 months.

Oil Slowdown Affects Local Lodging, School Enrollments Slightly Increase

In recent months following the oil boom slump, waiting lists for empty rooms have been replaced with vacancy signs outside local hotels. Businesses that were once struggling to keep up with the increase in customer demand are now trying to figure out how to make-ends-meet without relying on business to continue booming daily. Though there are still many familiar faces in the halls of Culbertson Public Schools, it seems as though some faces still seem to come and go.
Debbie Adams, Kings Inn manager, has cut back hours at her business in an effort to watch the budget. She has also had to order cheaper room condiments, such a coffee, to save as much money as possible.
“We just came here in November of last year, so it was winter around that time and there was not much business anyway,” Adams said. “But looking back at the old books from even just a year ago, I can say yes, the slowdown has affected business very drastically.”
She receives more guests who are mostly related to the railroad, school construction and people crossing the Hi-Line.
“Hunters will be back soon for hunting season, so that should help a bit,” said Adams.
Another local motel has been affected by the oil bust. Culbertson Inn owner Sharon Turbiville has been forced to drop lodging prices.
“We’re just trying to keep afloat,” she said.
The Culbertson Inn’s guests consist of construction workers mainly, according to Turbiville.
The Other Place, long-lasting local business that plans to shut its’ doors, has noticed a lack of flame resistant clothing purchases over the past year.
“Workers would always come in here to buy their FR clothing from us and we just don’t see that anymore,” said employee Suzette Houle.
Oil business may be decreasing, but enrollment at Culbertson School has slightly increased.
“It is correct to say we’re up in enrollment, compared to May of last year,” said Larry Crowder, school superintendent.
The 2014-2015 school year ended with 261 students enrolled and the 2015-2016 school year began with 274 students enrolled in August.
With the understanding that enrollment numbers from August could fluctuate between the first day of school and Labor Day weekend, it is now estimated that 25 students left the school in August of this year, whereas 27 students left in August of last year, according to the school counselor Courtney Hagadone.
“I wouldn’t say that the majority of students that are no longer enrolled in our school left due to the oil decreasing,” she said.
“We lost kids last year due to the oil drop, but not this year. It’s more of a transient sense of population,” Crowder explained. “Our only hope as a school is to provide a top quality education opportunity for anyone who comes into our school, no matter where they end up going, because everybody’s ‘where’ is a little different.”