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If the federal government wants additional space in downtown Billings to build the proposed $80 million federal courthouse they will have to bring a proposal to the Yellowstone County Commissioners. And, part of that proposal should include “backfill” for the $9 per square foot the county lost on the first part of their deal, said Commissioner John Ostlund, on Monday, as the commissioners discussed the issue with other county officials.
Real Estate Broker Charlie Hamwey brought several options to the commissioners regarding properties that they might acquire to replace the parking they would loose in selling an additional 14,000 square feet of county property near the Sheriff’s Office.
But in discussing the pros and cons of different properties that might serve for replacement parking, county commissioners said that the problem is one that the federal GSA (Government Services Administration) should solve.
“We aren’t going to do another upside down deal with them,” said Ostlund, “I want them to solve the Sheriff’s Department problem. We need adequate parking that’s a done project; we don’t need a construction project.”
Acquisition of the county property to supplement the footprint for the proposed federal building will eliminate up to 40 parking spaces, some of which directly serve as immediate parking for the Sheriff’s Department. The federal government purchased parcels at 3rd Ave. North and 26th Street in a multi-faceted transaction last month which included the purchase of property owned by the county.
“We sold county property at $37 per square foot,” said Ostlund, “and had to replace it with less desirable property at $46 per square foot.” That happened, he explained, because the county committed to the proposal up front based upon the promises of the federal government, in a deal that changed mid-stream, when federal officials, decided that rather than a build-to-lease project they would double its size and own the building.
The county is now in the process of razing the DHL building they purchased, developing a parking lot design and getting bids for its construction.
Commissioners directed Chief Deputy County Attorney Dan Schwarz, who is representing the county in negotiations, to ask GSA for a written proposal for a “finished product.”
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.
A lot of issues were covered in the course of this month’s regular meeting of the joint boards for the Big Sky Economic Development Authority (BSEDA) and the Economic Development Council (EDC).
BSEDA/EDC Director Steve Arveschoug reported that the Montana Business Incubator needs to be looked at and perhaps revamped. The incubator, which is located on the MSU-Billings campus lacks funding to continue, said Arveschoug. It’s former director Dave Stoltenberg has resigned.
Arveschoug said that he has met with Chancellor Ron Sexton to discuss the matter and to “look at planning money to re-do it.” Over the past several months, said Arveschoug, the University has been doing most of the work associated with the incubator.
He said that the incubator has a vested interest in three to four companies, and if they grew it would have some financial return. One board member said that it needed those kinds of revenues to sustain it’s self, otherwise it is just “pie in the sky.”
Dale Dietrich, Field Engineer for the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, has said that the incubator could benefit his clients “if it was focused in a certain direction,” said Arveschoug.
Two members of the BSEDA board are supposed to be on the Incubator’s board, but they have not been active. Arveschoug said they need to appoint two people to assume those positions.
Having hired a new staff member to assist the BEAR (Business Expansion and Retention) program, they are now planning to hire an assistant for Brandon Berger who manages EDC’s loan department.
It was noted that a loan from the Revolving Loan Funds has been paid off early by one business.
Berger reported to the board that the SBA (Small Business Administration) is insisting that EDC get their board structured to meet their requirements to be a certified loan agency for SBA. The SBA rejected a proposal to phase in membership changes as they make their yearly board changes. SBA requires that the EDC board be comprised of members representing, equally, four different groups – local business, finance, community, and government. Currently, 11 of EDC’s 15 board members represent businesses.
In order not to have to ask board members to leave, the only solution is to increase the membership of the board, appointing the new members from the under represented categories.. Berger said that the organization’s bylaws allow up to 21 board members. Board members were asked to consider who they would like to nominate.
EDC has 92 members, currently, reported Shari Nault, just a few short of their goal of 100 members.
Finance officer, Jim Tevlin, in reviewing the budget was asked where the $450,000 proceeds from the sale of the MDU building were. He said that it is in an interest bearing account at First Interstate Bank. He said he would like to see it earning more interest and would be working on that over the next couple of weeks. In the mean time it awaits a “worthwhile endeavor.”
Arveschoug reported that BSEDA is getting an increase in rent for their offices in Granite Tower. He explained that the previous contract was a very good rent and the increase brings it up to the market rate. He noted that paying $70,000 a year would be “more than enough” to justify the agency owning its own offices.
The master plan for the East Billings Tax Increment Finance District has been completed and is being reviewed by city and county officials to be included as a part of the Growth Policy. The final document is available on line at BSEDA’s website.
Patty Nordlund said that the next step for the development of the east end is to come up with recommendations for projects that should be first steps in its development. Among some of the initial recommendations are to remove barriers to development such as building infrastructure or adjusting the parking regulations in the zoning code.
The two boards will meet on Monday morning, Aug. 27, 7 a.m. to review their plans for the future which have been compiled by staff following a couple of planning sessions with board members.
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.
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 Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103