July 9, 2020

July 9, 2020

Commissioners Scott Blain and Bill Bullock; Administrative Officer Angela Newell; Commissioners’ Secretary Barbara Daniel; and Scott Miller were present.

8:30 Pledge of Allegiance

Commissioner Bullock reported on his Pryor Mountain Wind Farm site visit this week; though construction is behind due to COVID-19, they still believe they will finish on-time in December.

8:40 Gordon Sirrine joined the meeting via tele-conference.

9:00 Missoula County Commissioner David Strohmaier joined the meeting to present the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority initiative. The Southern tier passenger rail service ended in 41 years ago in 1979. There is currently no government agency or public institution in Montana that oversees expansion of passenger rail service through the Southern tier of the state. A regional passenger rail authority, allowed under Montana state law (MCA 7-14-16), would fill this gap by creating the governance structure to investigate, analyze, seek or accept funding for, and facilitate implementation of, long-distance, inter-city rail service across southern Montana. Thus far, seven counties have indicated their intent to sign a joint resolution to establish a rail authority. The rail authority joint resolution will be finalized this month with all participating counties appointing a board member to serve on the authority. Though the initial focus will be re-establishing a Southern tier East-West route, they hope to later explore North-South routes to Denver and Salt Lake. Should the Federal government choose to invest in infrastructure, having a legal rail authority in place would be advantageous. Commissioner Blain inquired about whether there would be any short-term or long-term costs to the County in joining the authority; Strohmaier explained that State law allows counties to provide financial or in-kind support to the authority if they so choose, but they are under no obligation to do so, and it also allows the rail authority to place before voters in participating counties a mill levy for authority operation. Commissioner Bullock inquired what inspired the Southern Tier shut-down in 1979; Strohmaier stated that the Northern Tier lacked air service, so when one rail line had to be chosen to be eliminated, the Southern Tier was eliminated. Strohmaier stated that he is in communications with State legislators and that Senator Daines supports a feasibility study. Commissioner Bullock noted that with a lack of a North-South service, the passenger rail system wouldn’t come through Carbon County. Commissioner Blain would like a seat at the table with regard to input and decision-making in the rail authority, as long as there wouldn’t be an obligation of County funds or significant time. Red Lodge Mayor Bill Larson joined the meeting. Commissioner Blain opened the floor for public comment; Miller voiced that for very little risk, the County could have a say in the future; Mayor Larson concurred with Miller. Carbon County News Reporter Eleanor Guerrero joined the meeting. Sirrine voiced that he’s not sure how Carbon County would benefit from rail service. Strohmaier needs indication by next week whether Carbon County intends to join the other counties in a joint resolution to form the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. Commissioner Bullock moved to provide letter of support to the counties forming the rail authority as an outside commentator (as Carbon County does not have passenger rail and would not directly benefit); Commissioner Blain seconded; motion carried.

Commissioner Bullock reported on a meeting with County/City Law Enforcement representatives that should they witness violations of the Governor’s COVID-19 guidelines, they should be reported to County Public Health. Larson reported that two side-streets will be closed during the Beartooth Rally next weekend to provide spacing for motorcycles. Discussion that local businesses appear to be thriving despite COVID-19 restrictions. Mayor Larson reported that with the passing of the Resort Tax ballot measure last month, parks/roads will be improved and that the city pool re-habilitation is still in planning.

9:50 Guerrero departed the meeting.

10:00 County Attorney Alex Nixon joined the meeting for his weekly update. Discussion regarding a complaint filed from the Human Rights Bureau aimed at the District Court. Nixon stated that the complaint is misdirected towards the County as it is actually against the Twenty-Second Judicial District and Judge Wald. Discussion regarding the Industrial Communications litigation and delays due to COVID-19. Discussion regarding a revised Employee Drug and Alcohol policy specifically with regard to “reasonable suspicion”. Discussion regarding the vacant Bridger District Commissioner position and whether to appoint someone until the November election; Commissioners stated that they’ve been without a Commissioner since April and they prefer to wait until the election. Once a clear election winner is determined, Commissioners will appoint immediately.

10:30 County Attorney preliminary budget. Discussion about Deputy County Attorney longevity computation in salary and costs expected with upcoming trials. Commissioners approved raising Deputy County Attorney Mike Ellinghouse salary to 80% of elected official rate.
10:45 Miller departed the meeting.

Commissioner Bullock moved to approve Claims for the Accounting Period June 20th; Commissioner Blain seconded; motion carried.
11:00 Red Lodge hangar owner Steve Smith entered the meeting to inquire about Red Lodge Airport issues. He would like to encourage prospective interest in the airport by exploring adding water/sewer/septic options for existing and new hangars and moving dirt fill piles onto potential hangar taxi-way ditches. Commissioner Bullock welcomed Smith to bring forth his recommendations at the next Airport Board meeting on July 28th.

11:10 Commissioner Bullock moved to approve the proposal from Quartz Construction for gravel crushing; Commissioner Blain seconded; motion carried.

11:15 Sirrine departed the meeting.

11:50 Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Regional Supervisor Barb Beck entered the meeting. Beck reported that Parks (ie Cooney) now fall under her direction; Commissioner Bullock recommended that Cooney Park budgets for dust control since the last time it was done was 2017 and because the road receives a high volume of traffic. Beck reported on a new program for Public Lands Access providing compensation to private landowners who allow the public to traverse private property en route to public land.

12:15 Adjourned.