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U.S. personal income continued to decline in the first quarter of 2009, falling 0.5 percent and encompassing 37 states, according to estimates released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2008, U.S. personal income fell 0.4 percent.
Income in Montana in the first quarter of 2009 dropped have 0.5 percent, ranking the state 23rd as a percent of change in personal income. The quarter prior to that Montana declined 0.3 percent, which followed quarters of increasing personal income, having increased as much as 1.8 percent the second quarter of 2008. Montana had 33.055 million dollars in personal incomes revenues in the first quarter of 2009.
Wyoming had a decline in the first quarter 2009 of -1.6 percent, ranking it 47th. North Dakota decline 2.6 percent and South Dakota 0.4 percent, ranking the states 49 and 21 respectively for that quarter in terms of growth rates.
The declines in U.S. personal income were offset by inflation, as measured by the national price index for personal consumption expenditures, which fell 0.3 percent in 2009Q1 after falling 1.2 percent in 2008Q4.
Job losses, lower interest rates, and smaller corporate dividend payments all helped to push personal income down in the first quarter. The decline in personal income was moderated by rising unemployment insurance benefits for displaced workers, cost of living adjustments for retirees, and pay raises for government employees.
Personal income in the fastest growing state, Hawaii, was up 0.8% while personal income in the next fastest growing state, Virginia, grew 0.3%. Earnings growth in these states was concentrated in the federal civilian and military sectors and was accounted for by first-quarter pay raises as well as some initial hiring for the 2010 Census. The federal sector also made substantial contributions to personal income growth in Alaska, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.
The largest percentage decrease in personal income, 3.2%, was in Alaska, reflecting a return to normal levels of payments to residents from the Alaska Permanent Fund after a special $2,000 per person payment to residents in 2008. Personal income fell by more than 1.0 percent in five other states, including North Dakota, Missouri, and Iowa in the Plains region as sharply lower farm commodity prices reduced farm income.
The Montana Chamber of Commerce gave the Governor a pro-business rating of only 31% on his positions on legislation during the 2009 State Legislative Session. The rating was part of the Montana Chamber’s 2009 Voting Review of the 61st Legislative Session.
The review is the most comprehensive look at the business and economic issues addressed during the 90-day session. Over 100 bills are included in the scorecard, which received national recognition for its scoring methodology after the 2007 session.
The Governor was judged on his signing or vetoing of bills, committee action, and bills that originated from his departments and agencies.
The Business Scores for legislators ranged all the way from 0% to 100%.
The Montana Chamber looked not just at floor votes, but also committee votes and bill sponsorship. This holistic approach has given the most comprehensive look at business issues ranging from work comp to health care to taxes. Legislators were notified of the Montana Chamber position before key votes.
.“The Montana Chamber Voter Review is a great resource for the businesses and voters in Montana,” said Montana Chamber President/CEO Webb Brown, “it gives the most accurate look at who is pro-business and who is not. We have pioneered a new way to look at legislative work, and many states are following suit.”
“By considering factors beyond floor votes and bill signings, we have been able to more accurately score an individual lawmaker’s philosophy on business, government regulation, and job creation,” said Brown.
Scores for Billings area Senators are: Roy Brown 100%, Taylor Brown 98%, Jeff Essmann 100%, Kim Gillan 31%, Dan McGee 93%, Lynda Moss 16%.
Scores for Billings area Representatives are: Elsie Arntzen 98%, Arlene Becker 17%, William Glaser 75%, Dennis Himmelberger 100%, Krayton Kerns 87%, Tom McGillvray 93%, Penny Morgan 85%, Ken Peterson 64%, Kendall Van Dyk 10%.
For more details on how legislators voted go to: www.montanachamber.com.
The Lockwood Water and Sewer Board was quite pleased last week to see bids come in for the first phase of their new sewer project over a half million dollars below projections. At a special meeting set for Wednesday, June 17, the Board anticipates accepting the engineers’ recommendation to award the bid to Cop Construction at $2,662,295.
Six bids were submitted ranging from $3,476,988 to the second lowest bid of $2,988,886. Two were above and four below the estimate of Morrison Maierle, Inc. of $3,196,990. Dave Mosser, Project Manager for Morrison Maierle, said that he wasn’t too surprised with the low bid given the economy and what they had been seeing in bids for other projects.
The first phase of four phases of $20.4 million project involves primarily laying pipe along the industrial/commercial district in Lockwood which roughly parallels the Interstate Highway and Old Hardin Road from the Lockwood Exit to Johnson Lane.
Formal awarding of the bid awaits the submittal and review of a number of documents, which must be made available within seven days of the bid opening.
Bids were received from Wetern Municipal Construction, Inc., SJ Louis Construction, Inc., DePATCO Construction, W Construction, LLC, Williams Civil Division, Inc.,
A second phase, involving boring under the interstate highway and the railroad is expected to go to bid in August, with pre-bid meeting set for August 3 and opening of the bids on August 11.
Phases 3 will include connecting the smaller lines into the residential and commercial areas. It is hoped that by the third quarter of 2010 some businesses in the commercial areas will be able to start connecting to the system. The sooner customers can start using the system the sooner the district will generate cash flow, which is important to cover increased costs of operating the district.
The fourth phase involves the connecting of outside properties on Highway 87.
The project is expected to be completed in 2011.
Costs to the district to build the sewer system will be defrayed more than originally expected with the receipt of two additional grants. A Treasure State Endowment Grant (TSEP) of $500,000, and $750,000 in federal stimulus funds, to be applied half as a grant and half as a low-interest loan. The grants will considerably reduce the funds that will have to be borrowed under the general obligation bond authority granted by voters last fall. The district may only have to borrow $700,000 the first year, said District Manager Woody Woods.
The Yellowstone County Elected Officials Compensation Committee recommend increasing the salaries of county elected officials by an average of 2.8
percent for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Yellowstone County Commissioners adopted the recommendation last week.
The base salary was raised two percent to $58,938.69.
The maximum longevity pay a county official can get is $20,572.06, which is incrementally increased over their first five years as county officials. Pay levels
do vary according to other state statutory requirements and historic consolidation of duties. For example, the Clerk and Recorder and Treasurer’s positions
have assumed the duties of Surveyor and Assessor, respectively, and receive a 10 percent addition as compensation for those duties.
Clerk and Recorder/Surveyor Tony Nave and Treasurer/Assessor Max Lenington will have salaries of $85,404.61 – both have achieved their longevity caps.
All three county commissioners will receive $81,570.74, reflecting $2,000 granted by state law and also maximum longevity caps.
Auditor Deby Hernandez will have a salary of $79,510; as will Justices of the Peace Larry Herman and Pedro Hernandez.
The Compensation Committee approved adding $1000 to the salary of Superintendent of Schools A. J. Micheletti, which is a half time salary for the half-time
position. Micheletti was entitled to the addition under state law which allows calls for an addition of up to $2000 for superintendents who hold a Master
Degree. Micheletti just this year drew attention to the fact that he was qualified for increased salary. His total salary will be $40,155.
County Attorney Dennis Paxinos’ salary is tied to that of District Court Judges and will be $106,870.
Sheriff Chuck Maxwell’s salary is also governed to a large degree by state law, and will be $85,404.
BOZEMAN – A survey of the six largest cities in the state shows speeding tickets are up in two communities through the first four months of this year but down in four others.
The mixed results come on the heels of a study released earlier this year that found the number of traffic citations issued by local governments tends to rise in the year following a decline in local revenue.
The authors of that study examined 14 years of revenue and citation data from North Carolina to support their findings, which were published in the February issue of the Journal of Law and Economics.
However, the number of speeding tickets has fallen in Bozeman, Helena, Butte-Silver Bow, and Missoula compared to the first four months of 2008, according to court officials in those communities.
Great Falls and Billings were the exceptions. The chiefs of police from both departments say there is no link between a slumping economy and the increase in speeding tickets.
"It had nothing to do with economics," Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said.
St. John said the increase could be attributed to the increase in the size of the department. The department has added a total of 26 officers since 2007. Newer officers tend to run more traffic enforcement, he said.
"It’s the easiest thing to acclimate to."
In Great Falls, speeding tickets for January through April increased nearly 22 percent from a year ago, according to numbers provided by a municipal court official.
Great Falls Police Chief Cloyd Grove said he was not aware of the increase and that officers are simply enforcing the law when they see a violation.
"The city has not told us to increase any traffic (enforcement)," Grove said.
He said the department focuses on a philosophy of educating the public and trying to reduce injury accident rates.
The biggest drop in tickets occurred in Missoula, where tickets fell from 2,080 in January through April of 2008 to 1,214 this year, according to the court administrator.
Asked for possible causes behind the decline, Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said his department was 20 percent short on officers through the first three months of this year. That was due to combination of injured officers, military deployments, and a permanent reduction of three positions within the department.
"Our citations all the way around are down," except for criminal cases, Muir said.
Responding to the study that showed tougher economic times lead to more traffic tickets, Muir said in some departments it could have just the opposite impact.
Muir said lost revenue means departments may not have officers to devote to traffic enforcement, which could lead to a reduction in tickets.
"It turns into kind of a downward spiral," Muir said. "Most (police) chiefs I know would just be happy to maintain the status quo. No one is looking to get greedy."
In Helena, Police Chief Troy McGee said there has been no reduction in the size of the police force. However, with officers busy on other details, not as many have signed up for the overtime traffic enforcement that is typically funded through state grants.
McGee said officers have not been given directions to increase enforcement, and noted that state law prohibits making citations issued a part of an officer’s evaluation.
While the number of officers increased, tickets issued for speeding in Bozeman declined from 684 last year to 578 through April of this year, according to a municipal court official.
Police Chief Mark Tymrak said while the overall number of officers increased the number of officers doing traffic enforcement may have stayed the same or gone down as several rookie officers have been in training.
Tymrak said he wouldn’t promote stronger enforcement based on economic conditions.
"That is not my philosophy. That is not my style," he said. "Writing tickets is not about revenue. It’s about public safety and compliance."
The chiefs in Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, where the number of tickets dropped, said they don’t believe the reduction indicates safer driving.
"We haven’t experienced any change in traffic patterns in the city," McGee said.
The new Clerk of Court Carol Muessig is asking for a hefty $93,460 in additional budget, which includes $33,000 for the addition of one full time employee “to get someone on board and trained so they can go right into the court room” when the new judge is added to Yellowstone County‘s District Court.
Muessig told county commissioners last week during budget hearings that as things are her office is short-handed on any day that one employee is out.
It takes two years to fully train a prospective new court clerk, said Muessig. “If they are just thrown into the court, everyone is learning backwards,” she said.
Her additional budget request includes the cost of a new management software system – one that can mesh with the state’s new system and handle the county’s filing requirements and microfilming needs. Muessig said that her office is three years behind on microfilming. The new state system does not accommodate records that precede it, she explained.
Included too was an additional $10,000 to cover costs associated with the new jury selection process, which requires much more mailing and printing needs. Commissioners said that that cost comes out of the county’s general fund and not the Clerk of Court’s budget.
Director of Finance Scott Turner commended Muessig for getting the department’s overtime costs and temporary help costs under control. In 2009, overtime for the department was $25,949 and temporary help costs were $19,670. In 2008, over time costs were $36,169 and temporary help was $11,971.
The Clerk of Court’s projected budget without the additional requests for 2009-10 is $769,550. For 2008-09 the department’s budget was $716,350, and in 2007-08 it was $754,473.
After being closed for the first two days of this week, the Yellowstone County Treasurer’s office opened on Wednesday to resume licensing and titling vehicles, resuming the use of a new computer system which counties across the state have been struggling with for over a month. Even with assurances from the State Department of Justice that the new system, MERLIN, will operate better, County Treasurer Max Lenington is not optimistic.
Citizens have been waiting hours in line, the past month, to process applications that used to take less than ten minutes under the old system. Yellowstone County staff is four days behind dealing with mail-in applications, which they previously prided themselves in getting out on the same day. The new system has put the county 30 years behind in customer service, said Lenington. His staff has put in many hours of overtime and were quite stressed. Lenington said he was glad for the opportunity to give them a break when they received word from the state wanted to close for two days.
The situation reached a point, last week, in which county treasurers from throughout the state were registering strongly worded complaints with the State Department of Justice for whom the counties process data and collect taxes. Lenington’s letter to Attorney General Steve Bullock and Department Administrator Brenda Nordlund, as well as Governor Brian Schweitzer, advised them that the new computer system is "totally inadequate and unacceptable."
Even if functioning properly MERLIN’s total output capacity "is just totally inadequate," said Lenington, because it collects so much more data and is intolerant of the slightest deviation of input. MERLIN stands for Montana Enhanced Registration and Licensing Information Network
"We have given this system a 30 day trial period and Yellowstone County is unable to ‘keep our heads above water’ and we are falling further behind daily under the current MERLIN configuration."
"If the MERLIN system does not drastically improve," said Lenington, "we will begin forwarding out title transfer documents and mail-in renewals directly to the Title & Registration Bureau for completion."
Lenington said that the state should expect more from an expenditure of $28.3 million. Last year Yellowstone County processed 165,000 vehicles on the old Legacy system – "an impossible feat for us to accomplish with MERLIN. MERLIN is a product of Archon Technologies, a 3M company.
Lenington told Yellowstone County News that the county is in a better position than some counties, since the process of paying property taxes is separate from that of licensing and registering vehicles. Some counties have a combined process of paying property taxes and licensing vehicles. With tax statements having gone out last week, they are faced with even greater problems.
Contributing to the slow processing time of MERLIN is the fact that it gathers so much more data than in the past, and the data regarding vehicles is being attached to drivers’ license information, explained Lenington. For the first time people registering vehicles in Montana must have a valid driver’s license, he said. It is all part of the "enhanced" nature of Montana’s driver’s licenses.
While Governor Brian Schwieitzer may have rejected the concept of a national ID, he has adopted an "enhanced" driver’s license which gathers the same level of identification data and transfers it to the federal data basis. One benefit of the enhanced driver’s licenses, which only three or four states are issuing, is that it may be used in lieu of a passport to drive across the Canadian and Mexican borders, which have recently enacted heightened requirements for passports.
Montana’s new drivers’ licenses are impossible to forge, said Lenington, pointing out that drivers who are underage for alcohol use, actually have licenses set up vertically rather than horizontally (landscape profile).
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103