Missoula County Attorney Appointed to Board of National District Attorneys Association

Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst

The National District Attorneys Association has named Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst to its board of directors as a vice president and member of its executive committee.

“Pabst was chosen because of her leadership and long-standing commitment to criminal justice reforms and prosecutor well-being initiatives,” said NDAA President Nancy Parr. “We welcome her expertise and look forward to working with her.”

“It’s an honor to be chosen to work with such dedicated leaders,” Pabst said. “Criminal justice is at a crossroads on so many levels — racial inequality, gender inequality, mass incarceration – and it is exciting to be in a position to effect positive policy changes, not just at the local and state level, but nationally.”

Pabst has served as county attorney since 2015. She started her career as a prosecutor 25 years ago and has worked with the NDAA as a trial instructor for the past 20 years.

Formed in 1950, NDAA is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country. With more than 5,000 members representing more than two-thirds of the state and local prosecutors’ offices, NDAA is recognized as the leading source of national expertise on the prosecution function and is a valuable resource for the media, academia, government and community leaders. NDAA’s mission is to provide state and local prosecutors with the knowledge, skills and support they need to ensure that justice is done and that public safety rights are protected.

Pabst will also chair NDAA’s new Prosecutor Wellbeing Task Force, designed to develop and disseminate resources, training and peer-to-peer exchanges for prosecutors around the country to promote their health and well-being.

Affordable housing and nonprofit assistance are top priorities in the Missoula community

Missoula County should prioritize increasing affordable housing for all and assisting nonprofits that provide public services, according to the results of a recent survey on community needs.

The Community and Planning Services Grants and Community Programs Division conducted an annual community needs assessment to gauge the community’s interests and funding priorities. The needs assessment was the first step in determining how to effectively use potential state and federal funds and to ensure that community development projects reflect community needs.

The following priorities were established through an online survey and virtual meeting.

  • The top two actions Missoula County should prioritize overall:
    • Increase housing that is affordable for all
    • Assist nonprofits that provide public services
  • Top two priorities for housing initiatives:
    • Support initiatives to maintain and/or increase affordable housing
    • Down payment assistance for low- and moderate-income homebuyers
  • Top two homelessness priorities:
    • Mental health and substance abuse services
    • Increased supply of permanent supportive housing
  • Top two strategies for increased economic development:
    • Increase the supply of housing that is affordable to the workforce
    • Job training and opportunities for at-risk populations (e.g. prisoner, re-entry, homeless, recovery, etc.)
  • Top two public infrastructure priorities:
    • Broadband internet coverage and access
    • Bike lanes and trails and streets and roads
  • Top two community facility needs:
    • Mental health center
    • Emergency housing facility (youth, domestic violence survivors, homeless individual/families)
  • Top two public services priorities:
    • Mental health services
    • Homelessness services including prevention
  • Top two priorities for COVID-19-related assistance:
    • Emergency rental assistance payment for low-to moderate-income households impacted by COVID-19
    • Financial assistance for small business owners

Every year, Missoula County conducts a community needs assessment to prepare for the release of federal funding opportunities, namely Home Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants and Brownfield Assessment Grants. This assessment addresses the public participation requirement of the federal funding application process and is used to identify funding priorities in the county.

Missoula County competes with other Montana counties and communities for CDBG funding, which is awarded to the State of Montana from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Missoula County has secured CDBG funding to partially support the construction costs of the Poverello Center and the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark. State CDBG funding also partially funded the updated wastewater system in East Missoula and an updated wastewater system for the resident-owned Buena Vista trailer court near the Missoula International Airport. Furthermore, the county has a CDBG housing repair grant for eligible households to support the costs of repairs needed due to health or safety concerns.

An artist rendering of the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark.

The Missoula County Brownfields Assessment Program is just getting off the ground. This grant from the Environmental Protection Agency provides funding for phase I and phase II environmental assessments on properties where its expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The grant also supports cleanup and redevelopment planning. Nearly every community in Montana has brownfield sites. Left untouched, a brownfield can pose insurmountable environmental, legal and public and private investment challenges. The grant is earmarked for properties outside of city limits; however, all potential properties would be considered.

This year’s assessment included an online survey distributed to Missoula County residents from June 3 – 17 through email, social media and ads in the Missoulian and Seeley Swan Pathfinder. The survey included questions about Missoula County’s housing, public services, public infrastructure, economic development and COVID-19 response and recovery. Staff received 207 responses. In addition to the online survey, Grants and Community Program staff conducted a virtual meeting seeking additional community feedback on June 25.  Representatives of Missoula service agencies and 13 community members attended the meeting.

Staff presented information on the assessment to the Missoula County commissioners on July 7, and it will be compiled into a final report that includes the survey results, meeting minutes and public comment. This report is a required component of federal and state grant applications, which are due in September; interested parties can contact the Grants and Community Planning staff to learn more.

To view the presentation, go to www.missoulacounty.us/grants and click on Community Needs Assessment.  

Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council lands grant for mobile crisis team

The Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has received a $125,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services to fund a mobile crisis team to respond to calls for people in mental health crisis instead of law enforcement or other first responders.

The grant will help fund a 10-month pilot project, which will create a team of two mental health professionals with basic medical training to assess and assist a person in crisis, and a peer-support specialist and/or case manager to ensure the person receives follow-up treatment and mental health services. Missoula County and the City of Missoula will provide matching funding, which, coupled with other grant funds received earlier this year, totals $380,000 to get a mobile crisis team up and running. Data from the pilot project will be used to inform future funding decisions.

“Having a mobile crisis team in Missoula County has been a need for a long time,” said Kristen Jordan, CJCC manager. “There is tremendous support for the implementation of this mobile crisis team from our community, our first responders and law enforcement and our Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.”

Mobile crisis teams reduce jail bookings and emergency room visits, decrease arrests and prosecutions, and allow for more appropriate use of law enforcement and first responder time. Research shows that every dollar spent on mobile crisis saves $5 to $7 elsewhere in the mental health and criminal justice systems.

Having a mobile crisis response team will allow people to call 9-1-1 and have a mental health team dispatched to the scene, independent of law enforcement or first responder presence. The county will contract with a mental health provider to deliver mobile crisis services through an RFP process expected to start next week. The goal is to have the mobile crisis team active by September.

Status of Missoula County operations amid COVID-19

With the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, some Missoula County offices have delayed plans to reopen further or have returned to working remotely. Below are details for public-facing Missoula County departments.

Clerk and Treasurer’s Office, Missoula County Courthouse First Floor, 200 W. Broadway 

  • The office will close to public entrance starting Monday, July 13, but will honor all previously scheduled in-person appointments. This includes motor vehicle registration, renewals and transfers, property tax payments or changes, and requests for birth certificates and other records. 
  • Customers are encouraged to complete services online at missoulaclerk.us whenever possible.  

Clerk of Court’s Office, Courthouse Second Floor 

  • The office is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with limited staff. 
  • In-person services will be by appointment-only by calling 406-258-4780.  
  • Jury notices will mail next week. Residents with questions about jury service are encouraged to email clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us if possible. They can also call 406-258-4780 but should expect longer than usual wait times as the county continues to experience a large volume of calls.  
  • The office requests no more than one person to attend an appointment but will make accommodations for marriage license applicants to appear together. 
  • A maximum of three people will be allowed in the customer service area at a time. 
  • Those with appointments should wait in their vehicle until called to limit congestion and must maintain physical distancing of 6 feet in the customer service area. Tape markings on the floor will indicate 6-foot distancing. 
  • A cloth face covering is strongly encouraged for all customers. Disposable masks available upon request. 
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for customers, and staff will wipe down pens, counters and other items between customers. 
  • Only one person will be allowed in the public search area at a time. Customers should call 406-258-4780 to schedule an appointment. 
  • Marriage applicants may continue to apply for marriage licenses online, without an in-person visit. 
  • Self-represented litigants are encouraged to continue to submit paperwork by email, fax, mail or drop box. The regular fee for email/fax will be waived. 
  • Attorneys in cases not yet available for e-filing are encouraged to continue to submit pleadings by email, fax, mail or drop box. The regular fee for email/fax will be waived. 
  • Email: clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us 
  • Fax: 406-258-4899 

Commissioners’ Office, 199 W. Pine St. 

  • Commissioners will continue to hold their public meetings virtually via Teams through July. 
  • The public can check the commissioners’ schedule for information ahead of each upcoming public meeting. 
  • Staff check email, mail and voicemail each day. 

Community and Planning Services127 E. Main St. 

  • The office is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. 
  • Members of the public are strongly encouraged to wear masks when visiting the office, and disposable masks are available if needed. 
  • Guests will need to use the self-check station and sign in (including date and contact info) to assist with contact tracing, if necessary. 
  • The info desk will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily to field questions from the public about zoning, permits, land use, projects or plans and can be reached by phone at 406-258-4642 or email at zoner@missoulacounty.us.  
  • The department encourages the continued submission of documents and forms electronically when possible. 

County Attorney’s Office, Courthouse Fourth Floor 

  • Majority of employees returned to working remotely and can assist the public by phone, mail or email.  
  • In-person assistance is available by appointment/invitation only for purpose of trials, hearings and prep. 
  • Employees working in the office must practice physical distancing for any in-person meetings, including department meetings, public meetings, meetings with law enforcement, victims, witnesses, other attorneys, etc.  
  • Attorneys, court staff, law enforcement, witnesses, etc., may be allowed in the office if accompanied by an employee, necessary for trial or trial prep, and NOT exhibiting any symptoms.  
  • Anyone in the office must adhere to strict social distancing guidelines and comply with check stations in place. It is strongly recommended that employees wear a face mask, especially in common areas such as halls, entryways and stairs, and wash hands/sanitize often.   
  • Disposable face masks will be available for those who need one.   

Crime Victim Advocate Program, 317 Woody St. 

  • The office remains open with limited staff. 
  • Telephone-based services are strongly encouraged. 
  • Walk-in are welcome from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., though appointments are strongly encouraged as staff are only meeting with one client in-person at a time.
  • People can call 406-258-3830 to make an appointment.  
  • The office encourages no more than one person to attend an appointment but will make accommodations for parties of two. 
  • A maximum of two clients will be allowed in the office at one time. 
  • Clients will be required to wear a face covering to enter the office. Paper masks will be provided to those who don’t have them.  
  • Visitors should plan to maintain a 6-foot distance from staff when visiting the office and/or when attending court with an advocate. 
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for clients, and staff will wipe down pens and other items between customers. 
  • For general information, visit www.missoulacounty/cva 

District Court, Courthouse Second and Third Floors 

  • Trials in District Court, which is a function of the state, have been postponed for the week of July 6. Those with questions should contact their attorney or the courts for additional information. 

Elections Center, 140 N. Russell St.  

  • The Elections Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and providing voter services with social distancing and sanitation measures in place.  
  • Voters are encouraged to access services online at www.missoulavotes.com.  

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula3400 Captain Rawn Way 

  • Due to the uptick in COVID cases, the main museum building will close to the public effective Wednesday, July 8.  
  • Museum grounds and outbuildings will remain open.  
  • The museum is currently accepting book donations by appointment only.  
  • Volunteer activities are currently on hold. 
  • Groups of up to 50 can gather on the grounds starting Monday, July 13, but must submit a plan for approval.   
  • The museum plans to resume all normal activities when the state enters Phase Three.  

Justice Court, Courthouse, First Floor 

  • All court hearings other than trials, order of protection hearings, and landlord/tenant possession hearings will be held by conference call or video. Parties should not appear in court unless a judge or clerk instructs them to. 
  • Anyone who receives a ticket should contact the clerk of court at 406-258-3470 to schedule an initial appearance. 
  • Anyone physically appearing in a courtroom must use cloth face coverings. The court will provide disposable masks for those unable to provide their own.  
  • The court will not begin conducting criminal jury trials again until later this month, at the earliest. Civil jury trials will not resume until September, at the earliest. 
  • The court is officiating weddings again under limited circumstances.  
  • Upon request, initial appearances, trials and other proceedings will be available to the public via Zoom.  

Missoula County Fairgrounds, 1101 South Ave. W. 

Missoula Public Library, 301 E. Main St.  

  • Curbside service will continue at the current facility from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday through Wednesday, July 22.  
  • Beginning July 22, the library will temporarily suspend curbside lending, online/virtual programming and reference services. Service suspension will allow staff to focus on the safe and orderly moving and restocking of the library’s extensive collection to the new building at 455 E. Main St.  
  • Curbside service will resume Monday, Aug. 3, at the new facility.  
  • The tentative opening date for the new building is Monday, Aug. 31. This is subject to change as conditions warrant.   

Public Works, 6089 Training Drive 

  • The main office in Missoula is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. 
  • No more than two customers at a time are allowed in the lobby. The department asks that when visitors see more than one customer inside that they wait in their vehicles until a customer leaves.  
  • Signage is in place to help customers adhere to social distancing while inside. Public Works recommends that customers wear masks, and a limited number of disposable masks are available upon entry.  
  • The Seeley Lake satellite office is open by appointment only. Please call 406-396-8148 to make an appointment. 
  • Public Works inspectors have resumed all inspections, including interior inspections. The department encourages on-site customers and contractors to wear appropriate PPE during the inspection and follow social distancing guidelines. 

Superintendent of Schools, 410 W. Spruce St.

  • Office is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., though office hours may vary due to limited staffing.
  • Public is encouraged to make appointments, use the drop box or send correspondence through the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Masks are required to enter the building.
  • There is a limit of one person at a time due to the small size of the reception area.  

Weed District and Extension Office, 2825 Santa Fe Court 

  • Some programming is being provided virtually or has been postponed or canceled. Some programs are running, with special arrangements.  
  • Office is open by appointment or no-contact drop-off of samples only.  

Missoula County to host virtual summit on restoring passenger rail to southern Montana

Missoula County will host a virtual Montana Passenger Rail Summit on Thursday, Sept. 17, to educate and advocate for the restoration of passenger rail service to southern Montana.

The summit is open to elected officials, government staff, business and tourism professionals, and anyone interested in restoring passenger rail service to southern Montana and increasing rail connectivity across the region.

Organizers are still finalizing the agenda, but confirmed speakers include:

  • Elaine Clegg, city council president, Boise, Idaho
  • Robert Eaton, director, State Supported Service and Government Affairs, Amtrak
  • Jordan Hess, councilman, City of Missoula
  • Jim Mathews, president and CEO, Rail Passengers Association
  • Roger Millar, secretary of transportation, Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Andrea Olsen, representative, Montana House
  • Beth Osborne, director, Transportation for America
  • John-Robert Smith, chairman, Transportation for America
  • John Spain, vice chairman, Southern Rail Commission
  • Dave Strohmaier, commissioner, Missoula County

“Restoring passenger rail service to southern Montana would be transformative for the state — economically, socially and environmentally,” Strohmaier said. “As we recover from the effects of COVID-19, it’s more critical than ever to make smart transportation investments that further community resiliency. Passenger rail is key to realizing that vision, and there is no reason why Montana shouldn’t be a leader in making this a reality.”

Strohmaier, with the support of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners and others, has spearheaded the current renewed effort to restore passenger rail service to the southern part of the state, similar to the North Coast Hiawatha Amtrak route that served Montana until 1979. In addition to providing long-distance transportation within the state, passenger rail restoration would provide for greater connectivity regionally, with possible connections to Seattle, Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City.

State statute allows for counties to create a regional rail authority as a framework for administering and funding passenger rail service. Earlier this month, Missoula County commissioners finalized a resolution to create the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and commissioners from Dawson, Park and Sanders counties have expressed their intent to join.

“Bringing passenger rail back to southern Montana would be a game changer for our state, but it is no small task,” Hess said. “We need broad support and coordination from cities and towns across Montana. The summit will be an opportunity to add to the growing chorus of voices supporting passenger rail.”

Pre-registration for the virtual summit is now available at https://montanapassengerrailsummit.org/. Participants who pre-register will receive an email update when summit details are confirmed and full registration is available. The summit was originally scheduled to take place in-person in April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.