Written by Eric Killelea
As Roosevelt County’s crime rate continues to rise, its commissioners promise to build a new jail by the end of 2017.
Commissioner Gary Macdonald says the county jail, built more than four decades ago, has long been insufficient. The jail currently has 17 beds, but the county spends thousands of dollars each month to house inmates in neighboring facilities. Last month, the county paid $5,000 to Valley County to house an increasing number of its citizens jailed on drug-related charges.
“We have been full forever,” Macdonald said Tuesday, Oct. 27.
That afternoon the county commissioners completed financing for the first portion of $11.86 million in bonds for the construction of a new 60-bed jail and the renovation of the existing jail into law enforcement offices.
A representative from Great Falls-based D.A. Davidson Companies told the commissioners they would receive $9.1 million of the bonds on Nov. 5 and the remaining $2.78 million in 2016. The commissioners say the design of the new jail is underway and construction should start in the spring of 2016.
The bonds will be paid over the next 20 years. The interest rate is 2.91 percent, which is 1.21 percent less than the election estimate presented. In the county, 64 percent of taxes are paid by the top 10 taxpayers, of which half are pipelines and the other half are utilities, a railway and a grain elevator. Based on the county’s median home value, taxes on the bonds will be about $27.68 for the next two years.
Roosevelt County Sheriff Jason Fredrick and the commissioners have urged the public to support a new jail, saying the need to replace the aging facility is critical due to overcrowding and liability concerns. In previous years, the American Civil Liberties Union brought legal action against the county and moved officials to reduce the number of beds by nearly half.
Still, getting the bonds publicly approved was no simple task.
In a set of unique circumstances, a public safety bonding measure to start the jail replacement process failed at the voting polls in June 2014. Despite approval of the measure, only 34.88 percent of the 1,702 registered voters cast their ballots. The state mandated 35 percent of the voters turn out.
The ballot measure then passed with 57 percent approval in November 2014. But one month after, Bill Juve, of Wolf Point, filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices that alleged misuse of county funds in support of the measure he claimed violated an opinion by the Montana Attorney General.
The state commissioner of political practices decided in favor of the commissioners and stated only one misstep by them involved a statement supporting voter approval of the measure in a paid letter to the editor published in October 2014 in The Herald-News and The Searchlight.
Written by Eric Killelea
Although Roosevelt County has boasted several new jobs over the year, its unemployment rate remains the highest in northeastern Montana, according to the latest report from the Montana Department of Labor released last week.
The county’s unemployment rate is currently 4.5 percent, which is 0.1 percentage points lower than a year ago yet ranks 47th in the state. There are currently 4,814 people employed in the county, an addition of 36 jobs from September of last year.
By comparison, the five surrounding counties have significantly lower unemployment rates near the Montana and North Dakota border: McCone at 1.7 percent, first in the state; Sheridan at 1.9 percent, ranked second; Valley at 2.2 percent, ranked fifth; Daniels at 2.6 percent ranked 10th; and Richland at 2.8 percent, ranked 14th.
“Several agricultural jobs will pop up, but until the oilfield resumes I don’t anticipate anything,” said Roosevelt County Commissioner Duane Nygaard, who added that he was doubtful of an increase in oil-related activity here during the upcoming months. “We’ll just have to maintain what we have.”
Meanwhile, the Fort Peck Indian Reservation’s unemployment rate is 5.5 percent yet ranked second among the seven reservations in the state. The Fork Peck Tribes added 40 jobs throughout Roosevelt, Valley, Daniels and Sheridan counties over the past year.
Data shows 615 employers on the Fort Peck reservation and in Roosevelt County.
The largest employers were the Fort Peck Tribes and Trinity Hospital in Wolf Point with figures ranging between 250-499 staff members. Roosevelt Medical Center in Culbertson had between 100-249 staff.
Listed business descriptions of clinics, federal government offices, tribal housing authorities, a livestock breeder and an oil and gas producer employed between 50-99 staff.
State Increases Jobs
Montana’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in September to 4.1 percent, a decline of 0.1 percentage points from the August estimate of 4.2 percent.
“Montana’s economy continues to show strength as we head toward the end of the year,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement. “Over 10,000 jobs have been added over the last 12 months, and wages are outpacing the national average.”
The state’s labor force includes more than 524,000 people. Nearly 503,000 of them are employed, leaving just over 21,500 unemployed.
Written by Herald-News
Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes executive board member Grant Stafne testified recently on the need to increase energy development at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.
“Despite our best efforts over the past decades to develop our natural resources in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, the difficulty of tapping these reserves, along with the challenges of dealing with multiple jurisdictions, have made it difficult for our tribal government to make a significant dent in the unemployment and poverty that still plague our reservation,” Stafne said. “We can and must do better, but this will only happen if our federal trustee works with us to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
Vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Jon Tester, D-Mont., expressed frustration over the federal government’s failure to uphold its trust responsibility and assist tribes who are pushing to increase energy development on tribal lands.
During an Indian Affairs hearing Tester pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office study that identifies multiple factors that have hindered the ability of Indian tribes to develop natural resources. These include a lengthy review process, inconsistencies within the Interior Department, and a lack of geographic mapping information in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ land records system.
“The decision to develop resources and create good jobs should be in the hands of the tribes, not government bureaucrats,” Tester said. “The federal government must uphold its trust responsibility to Indian Country and provide tribes the tools they need to responsibly develop their natural resources.”
In addition to oil and gas development, many tribes are exploring renewable energy development. According to the Department of Energy, in the lower 48 states, tribal lands contain potential to produce 1.1 billion megawatt hours of wind energy and 9 billion megawatt hours of solar energy.
Tester is cosponsoring the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act that will address many of the issues highlighted in the GAO report that have inhibited tribes’ ability to develop natural resources.
Written by Herald-News
Wolf Point High School senior Kirsten Keiser paints Ali Corpron’s face during the WPHS 3-Spot Shoot Out Parent and Community Night Thursday, Oct. 22. Keiser and WPHS art teacher Vivian Schultz painted faces. Corpron is a Southside Elementary School third-grader. (Photo by John Plestina)
Written by Herald-News
The Roosevelt County DUI Task Force brought a pair of D.W. Eyes goggles, that simulate being drunk to Fall Festival, a family-oriented event that promoted healthy living at the Fort Peck Tribes’ new community center in Wolf Point, Friday, Oct. 23. The goggles, borrowed from the Wolf Point Police Department, create an instant sensation of being under the influence of alcohol that includes visual distortion, lack of control and loss of perception. The goggles have been used at Wolf Point High School to educate teenagers about the danger of drinking and driving. County commissioner Gary Macdonald and Mary Vine of the Roosevelt County Health Department, both representing the DUI Task Force, challenged adults and children to wear the goggles while Vine tossed a ball to them. Pictured is Jaycen Williams, 8, of Wolf Point bobbling the ball. (Photo by John Plestina)