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County officials say the need to replace the aging jail is critical due to overcrowding and outdated facilities, as well as the county being at risk of being forced to close the facility because of potential liability.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 that includes 109-year-old metal cells that were moved from the former jail that was 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 may 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 Roosevelt 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
This rendering shows the layout of the planned Wolf Point Village apartment complex.
Whether or not being on the edge of the oil belt housing crunch has impacted Wolf Point is uncertain, but the developer of the planned 24-unit Wolf Point Village rental complex expressed disappointment last week following a second round of high construction bidding that exceeded his budget. That disappointment might have been short-lived as an investor became involved in the project, Monday, Oct. 20.
“As of 4:30 p.m., today, Jon, the developer, has a new investor,” Brianna Vine, of Great Northern Development Corp., told the Wolf Point City Council that night.
She said the investor will be told that a groundbreaking must be held soon for the project to proceed on schedule.
The unnamed investor from Irvine, Calif., will purchase tax credits, according to Vine.
She said Pacific West Construction of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was the lowest bidder. The amount of that bid was not divulged publicly.
GNDC is administering a federal HOME Program grant for $750,000 for the development and construction of the project that is anticipated to be complete and open to tenants by summer 2015.
Developer Jonathan Reed of Jonathan Reed & Associates of Colorado, Springs, Colo., told The Herald-News Thursday, Oct. 16, that bidding came in above his budget.
“With all said and done, we’re still $450,000 to $500,000 short,” Reed said.
Reed said he wanted to assure the Wolf Point community that he wants to move forward with the project.
“We had 26 letters of support from people all over town,” Reed said.
He said if the project cannot be bid within his budget or additional funding is not found, the community could lose out on needed new housing with the shortage of affordable rental housing in Wolf Point.
“People don’t want to bid. They can go to Williston and make more,” Reed said.
“I think were starting to see that a little bit. We’re still on the outskirts of that but it’s starting to enter into our area,” Vine said.
Wolf Point mayor Chris Dschaak said it might not be fair to say builders are looking to Williston for more lucrative contracts.
This is a fair market area,” Dschaak said.
Some costs are higher than in other areas.
“Everything has to be shipped here,” Dschaak said. “I understand [Reed’s] frustrations.”
He noted that the city has time and money invested into the project.
Dschaak said there could be additional funding sources.
“There’s a problem with affordable housing in Wolf Point. There’s not a lot of it,” he said.
“If this does not happen, it’s going to be a big blow,” Dschaak said.
“We’re giving the development team, which includes several entities with the state and the developer, more time. We just need some time to get all the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place,” Vine said Friday, Oct. 17.
She said the second round of bidding was better than the first round during the summer but the bids still came in high.
Vine said high bids came from both local contractors and some from out of state.
Plans are to build four one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units on the north side of town, within walking distance of Borge Park, swimming pool, Northside Elementary School and the Northeast Montana Health Service - Wolf Point Campus.
The complex will be targeted to families with incomes between 40 and 60 percent of the area median income. A family of four with a household income between $23,240 and $38,860 would qualify for these apartments. Rent will range from $354 to $767 monthly.
The apartments will include energy efficient air conditioning, heating and appliances and single-car garages. The complex will include common area with barbecue, gazebo, computer learning center and library.
Written by John Plestina
The Wolf Point City Council was told Monday, Oct. 20, that the aging clay sewer main along Main Street through the downtown area is broken in places and could collapse if not replaced soon.
“It is in terrible shape. We have to have it replaced,” public works director Rick Isle told the council.
There are no cost estimates yet and the city must find funding sources.
“We’re going to get involved with the [Montana Department of Transportation] and some other people,” Isle told the council.
Main Street from First Avenue South to Third Avenue South is part of Montana Hwy. 25, but improvements on Hwy. 25 within Wolf Point is not currently included in MDT’s future construction plans.
There was discussion of repaving as well.
“It’s about time they repaved Main Street. It’s been about 20 years,” mayor Chris Dschaak said.
In other business, Isle told the council that stop and yield signs they approved in September have been installed along East Indian Street and Prospect Avenue.
The council also discussed a request by the Wolf Point Police Department to begin all parades at 1 p.m., rather than noon, due to noon traffic in the downtown area. No action was taken.
In another matter, the council was informed that no construction bids were submitted for ramp construction at the gazebo in Sherman Park. The city will attempt to obtain bids during the winter for spring construction.
A council position has been vacant since Ward 1 councilman Travis Braaten resigned in July because he was moving outside the city limits. An appointment could be made to complete Braaten’s term, but a replacement had not been found.
Mayor Chris Dschaak said during the meeting, Monday, Oct. 20, that there was a person interested.
Wolf Point High School art teacher Vivian Schultz
was introduced as a Ward 1 resident who has expressed interest in the council seat.
The council could make an appointment in November.
Ward 1 extends east from Third Avenue South to the city limits east of First Avenue South and from the railroad tracks to the southern boundary of the city.
Written by John Plestina
The first photo is Fort Peck Tribes Transportation Program planner Connie Thompson of Poplar and Mark Kurokawa of the Montana Department of Transportation in Wolf Point, listeingn as MDT director Mike Tooley makes a point. The second photo is Tooley and the third is Culbertson City Councilman Bruce Houle. (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, of 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., that a long-term fix is needed during a recent meeting in Sidney.
“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 of 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 for 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/.
Tribes And Wolf Point Impacts
(Photo by John Plestina)
Written by John Plestina
The environmental cleanup of the burned out Gysler Furniture and Appliance site on Anaconda Street and Second Avenue South was scheduled to begin Wednesday, Oct. 22.
The City of Wolf Point is informing the public that Anaconda Street will remain open to traffic, but Second Avenue South will be temporarily closed between Anaconda Street and the alley one-half block south. There may be a temporary increase in truck traffic in the downtown area.
Beginning later this week, workers may be dressed in haz-mat protective clothing that is required by federal regulations for asbestos cleanups. Municipal officials want the public to know that there is no disease or any threat to the public.
Safetech Inc., a Billings asbestos abatement contractor, began moving equipment to the site Tuesday, Oct. 21.
There is a 45-day limit for completion of the clean-up phase of the project.
City officials have been working with Great Northern Development Corp. and environmental consultant Newfields of Missoula to clean up the site and redevelop it.
The city now owns the property and city officials hope to sell the property to a developer next year.
The site is a designated Brownfield site where expansion, redevelopment or reuse of the property might be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. The designation would make the city eligible for funding through a revolving loan fund and/or federal grant funding for remediation and clean-up of the site.
A fast-moving fire on March 10 destroyed the two adjacent Gysler buildings, leaving portions of block walls and other charred remains, some of which contain asbestos.
While the buildings dated to the early 1900s, remodeling of both structures during the 1960s included roofing and flooring materials made of asbestos, which the fire this year rendered as “friable asbestos,” which is any building material containing more than 1 percent asbestos that could be pulverized or powdered by hand pressure, including asbestos that is damaged by fire, and is subject to federal regulation.
For more information, contact the city office at 653-1852 and speak to Marlene Mahlum or Rick Isle.