Missoula County to dedicate CSKT flag, Native artwork at courthouse ceremony

CSKT flag

Missoula County commissioners and members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Tribal Council will hold a flag and artwork dedication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will recognize the county and tribes’ longstanding relationship and honor that present-day Missoula County is located on the aboriginal lands that the Salish people inhabited until the U.S. government forcibly removed them to the Flathead Reservation in 1891. The southeastern edge of the reservation also overlaps with Missoula County.

Following opening remarks from Commissioner Dave Strohmaier and CSKT Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant, Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola will lead the dedication. Tribal drum group Yamncut will perform, and the CSKT Veterans Warrior Society will present the flag, which the tribal council gifted to the county. It will stand alongside the U.S. and Montana flags at the head of the room.

“Missoula County respects the sovereignty of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and feel it is long overdue that we honor our government-to-government relations with the tribes by displaying the Flathead Nation’s flag in the commissioners’ public hearing room,” Strohmaier said.

“This dedication is an important moment in our history,” Fyant said. “Our Tribal Council relishes the support and friendship offered by Missoula County and hopes it serves as a model statewide for improved relations between tribal governments and counties. We thrive as a community when we find ways to work together.”

Jaune Quick to See Smith artwork
A 1996 lithograph, “Survival Series: Tribe/Community,” is one of two pieces by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith currently installed in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. 

The ceremony also will include dedication of the artwork by Salish artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith currently on display in the room. The two pieces, “Nature/Medicine” and “Tribe/Community,” are on loan through the Missoula Art Museum’s Art in Public Places program. MAM Executive Director Laura Millin will share insights about Smith and her work. Smith, who was born in St. Ignatius and is an enrolled CSKT member, now resides in New Mexico.

Commissioners have made it a priority in recent years to honor and foster the relationship the county has with CSKT. Leaders from the two governments meet at least once a year, and in November 2018, commissioners named their public meeting room in honor of Sophie Moiese, one of the most highly respected Salish cultural leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries.

$600,000 Grant Will Boost Mental Health Services in Missoula County Criminal Justice System

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Commissioners Josh Slotnick and Juanita Vero listen to Missoula County Detention Facility Assistant Commander Sheryl Ziegler during a tour of the jail in January. Missoula County recently received a $600,000 grant to incorporate more mental health services into the local criminal justice system, including in the jail.

Missoula County will continue to integrate more mental health services into the local criminal justice system over the next year and a half thanks to a nearly $600,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services Addictive and Mental Disorders Division.

The $584,652 in funding through the department’s County and Tribal Matching Grant program will pay for staff and programming to address mental health and substance abuse issues that often coincide with criminal behavior. It will allow the county to continue providing crucial crisis stabilization services at the Missoula County Detention Facility, which include a jail therapist; a care coordinator who provides case management and peer support, both during incarceration and for up to three months after release; and Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for law enforcement.

The grant will also provide additional funding to support new resources, including:

  • A CIT coordinator to lead training efforts, which includes organizing Missoula’s annual CIT Academy that provides training to law enforcement and other first responders on how to best help individuals in crisis. Around 40 representatives from local law enforcement agencies and other criminal justice sectors have received this training annually since 2016.
  • A mental health coordinator at Partnership Health Center to facilitate communication among mental health providers, law enforcement and anyone seeking information on local services.
  • A full-time referral and outreach coordinator at Western Montana Mental Health Center, who, in addition to providing case management for involuntary mental health commitment cases, will work with law enforcement to provide outreach and early diversion work with vulnerable populations.

Missoula County and its partners identified these necessary additional resources last April during a Sequential Intercept Mapping workshop, a process that pinpoints gaps in services that would help divert individuals from jail at the different points in which they interact with the criminal justice system.

“Studies show that providing crisis services locally is better for the person in crisis and saves the community money in the long term,” said Josh Slotnick, current commission chair. “Missoula County is committed to using collaborative, innovative and effective strategies to better respond to these crises and provide the best available quality of care.”

Increasing access to resources for individuals experiencing mental health and substance abuse crises is a key component of the Jail Diversion Master Plan, which Missoula County and the City of Missoula adopted in 2016 with the goals of reducing jail overcrowding, decreasing criminal recidivism, enhancing public safety and more effectively using taxpayer money. According to the National Institute on Mental Illness, people in a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter police than get medical help. As a result, 2 million people with mental illnesses across the country are booked into jails each year. Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition.

Other jail diversion efforts through Missoula County and its partners include:

  • Involvement in the National Association of Counties’ Stepping Up Initiative, which provides participating agencies with a planning framework and other resources to develop policies, programs and practices to safely reduce the number of people with mental illness or substance abuse disorders who cycle through the criminal justice system.
  • Creation of the Strategic Alliance for Improved Behavioral Health and Wellbeing, a collaboration among local elected officials and high-level stakeholders from the community interested in improving services and responses for individuals with mental illness. This group recently received additional funding from the Montana Healthcare Foundation to continue their work for the next two years to address, at the systems-level, the unmet behavioral health care needs of Missoula’s vulnerable populations, which specifically includes low-income residents, people experiencing homelessness and individuals who have co-occurring substance use disorders.
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  • Development of data-driven solutions to address over-incarceration of vulnerable populations through a $700,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. This funding led to the creation of the Criminal Justice Coordination Council, which studies Missoula County’s adult and juvenile criminal justice system to identify challenges, raise public awareness, consolidate efforts, and formulate policy, plans and programs to improve the system. The MacArthur grant also funded the Sequential Intercept Mapping workshop.
  • Donation of a four-acre parcel near the Missoula County Detention Facility to the City of Missoula, which will use the land to develop permanent supportive housing for at least 30 people experiencing chronic homelessness. This facility, which will include a navigation center offering support services, will help reduce this population’s interactions with law enforcement and local emergency departments. Many studies show that when people with mental health disorders are housed, the number of crisis mental health incidents, and subsequent criminal behavior, is reduced.
  • Establishment of ROAD Court, a DUI treatment program in Justice Court aimed at reducing the number of repeat DUIs in Missoula County. The program uses evidence-based practices to help repeat DUI offenders with substance abuse issues become healthy and productive community residents.
  • Creation of Calibrate, a prosecution-led pretrial diversion program in the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. Calibrate is a first-of-its-kind program in Montana that identifies low-risk offenders early and gives them an opportunity to avoid criminal conviction by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior, such as addiction. The program will save taxpayer dollars, improve the chances of offenders succeeding and free up resources so prosecutors can focus on violent criminals.

Learn more about Missoula County’s jail diversion efforts online.

Skip the line at Missoula County DMV with online options

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It’s the rare person who actually looks forward to standing in line at the DMV to get their license plates renewed or secure a title for their new car.

If you live in Missoula County, you now have options for skipping the line at the courthouse all together when you need these services.

Launched earlier this month, the Clerk and Treasurer’s Office now offers “title by email.” If you purchased your vehicle from a dealership or financed it through a bank, you can head to http://missoula.co/titlebyemail to complete the process via email and text.

Missoula County is the first in the state to offer online titling services.

You can also renew your registration online, a service that’s been available for several years. As long as none of the following criteria apply, you can complete your renewal online, and the Missoula County Motor Vehicle Division will mail you your new tags.

  • Your name or address changed, you moved to a different county, or you no longer live in Montana.
  • You now qualify for an exemption (e.g., military, tribal) that is not reflected on your registration renewal notice. You will be required to show proof of eligibility to receive the benefit of the exemption.
  • You want to change your registration period, request a new license plate or adjust your vehicle’s GVW.
  • Your deadline to renew has passed, as the state requires in-person registration at that point.

DMV virtual queueIf any of these conditions apply and you do need to head to the physical courthouse, be sure to take advantage of Missoula County’s Virtual Queue at getintheline.us. You can sign up when you get to the courthouse, or online before you even leave your house. After you sign up, you’ll receive a text message that will let you know when there are only a few people ahead of you, allowing you to leave and come back to the courthouse when your wait will be much shorter.

Also keep in mind that Missoula County does not issue driver’s licenses! The State of Montana does that. In Missoula, you can head to the Driver Services Bureau, 2681 Palmer St., No. 1707, to renew or replace your license.

The Missoula County Motor Vehicle Division is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. (Please note though that all Missoula County offices will be closed Monday, Jan. 20, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.)

You can find more information about the Missoula County Motor Vehicle Division online.

Census 2020: Another representative, billions of dollars at stake for Montana

State Capitol, Helena

Now that 2020 has arrived, the decennial Census is right around the corner. There’s a lot at stake for Montana: In addition to $3 billion in federal funding, the state has a legitimate chance of regaining a congressional representative. A complete count of all residents will ensure Montana receives adequate federal funding and representation.

The Census is required by the U.S. Constitution, which mandates a headcount every 10 years of everyone residing in the 50 states and territories. This includes people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, and citizens and non-citizens. The first Census was conducted in 1790, and one has been conducted every 10 years since.

2020 will be the first year residents can respond online, as well as by mail or phone. In March, Montana households will start receiving postcards inviting them to respond to the Census. The U.S. Census Bureau will send several reminders before Census takers start visiting non-responsive households in May.

As the lead agency heading up the Complete Count Committee for our area, Missoula County is charged with making sure everyone is counted in 2020, including those populations deemed “hard to count,” which include:

  • Children under 5
  • Highly mobile people
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Non-English speakers
  • Low-income people
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Undocumented immigrants
  • People who distrust the government
  • LGBTQ people
  • People with mental or physical disabilities
  • People who do not live in traditional housing

Missoula County has partnered with dozens of local organizations and agencies who work directly with these populations to help get the word out about how crucial it is to participate in the Census.

Census 10 for 10

All Montanans can rest assured that the information they provide to the Census will remain secure and confidential. Census workers take an oath to keep your information private, and disclosing it is a federal offense with serious penalties, including a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

It’s also important to remember that the official Census will never ask you to pay to participate or provide personal information like Social Security numbers. Unfortunately, scammers will likely take advantage of the publicity around the Census, so be on the lookout for imitations.

View a sample Census questionnaire online

To ensure every Montanan is counted in the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau is looking to hire thousands of temporary staffers in the state. Jobs offer flexible schedules, pay a starting wage of $19.50/hour in Missoula County and require no related experience. You must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and complete a background check to be hired. Learn more and apply online.

Be a Census taker

Missoula-area zoning update aims to reflect community values

Zoning map

Zoning determines what kind of development can take place in an area, and values-based zoning helps create a community that’s a great place for everyone to live, work and play. That’s why Missoula County Community and Planning Services has embarked on a year-long mission to update the zoning code for the Missoula urban area outside the city limits.

Over the past several months, county staff met with residents and stakeholders − including community and neighborhood council members, developers, real estate agents, architects and designers − to gather input about the current zoning code and how it can improve. The resulting zoning audit is available now and includes six core recommendations:

1. Align zoning with community values

In some areas, residents see the value of being able to run a business, like cabinet making or an art studio, from their home, and they appreciate a “live-make” zoning option. Other communities prefer a more defined separation between residential and commercial. To gauge opinions on this and other community values ahead of the zoning update, Missoula County completed the Missoula Area Mapping Project to find out how people would like to see those values reflected in future growth and development. This results of the MAMP, which was also incorporated into the Missoula County Growth Policy, will heavily inform the zoning update.

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Commissioner Juanita Vero looks at a map of the areas in Missoula County where the zoning code will be updated.

2. Correct zoning misalignment between city and county

As more people move to the area, it’s only a matter of time before emerging neighborhoods need to connect to city infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, to keep up with the demands of a growing population. Better alignment with the city zoning code will decrease roadblocks along the way.

3. Incentivize density, where appropriate

With home prices continuing to rise in the Missoula area, it’s more important than ever that zoning allow for increased density and more housing choices, especially where existing infrastructure can accommodate it, so all Missoulians can access homes they can afford.

4. Overhaul design standards to promote quality development

Creating a place where everyone can thrive means encouraging development of complete communities that emphasize pedestrian infrastructure, blend of housing types, agricultural uses, parks and trails, and sustainable development, all while keeping emerging trends, such as energy efficiency and 5G infrastructure, in mind.

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Updated design standards can promote quality development.

5. Update code reorganization and formatting

When a zoning code is clear and easy to read, it makes the process to follow it much smoother. The names of zoning districts in the updated code will accurately reflect intent, character and use, and definitions will be consolidated, updated or, when outdated, eliminated entirely. Graphics and tables will be used in place of text, when possible.

6. Create unified code and enhance enforcement tools

A zoning code is only as good as the enforcement of it. The zoning audit calls for establishing a streamlined enforcement process that encourages collaboration among county departments, as well as the possibility of adding a dedicated enforcement officer who can focus on the front-end portion of the process.

Want to take a deeper dive into the world of zoning? Check out the full zoning audit online.

Want to share your perspective? You can submit your comments online or by calling 406-258-4657. The process to update the zoning code is expected to last through June.

Want to better understand zoning and how it can affect you? Watch “An Introduction to Zoning” on the project website.

Missoula County awards $800,000 in grants through Community Assistance Fund

Food truck CAF
The Missoula Food Bank and Community Center provides many services, including the mobile meal bus, beyond the walls of its facility on Wyoming Street.

During the school year and even into the summer, the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center provides more than 40,000 weekend meals to kiddos experiencing chronic hunger throughout Missoula, Lolo, Frenchtown, Bonner and Clinton. On Fridays, a Kids Empower Pack containing two entrees, snacks, fresh fruit and milk is tucked into the backpacks of school children who otherwise may go hungry over the weekend.

The program is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Missoula County Community Assistance Fund. The CAF is an individual county fund that supports people in our communities who face barriers to the basic needs of food, shelter, medical services and emergency transportation. It accounts for around 2 percent of the taxes you pay to the county (or about $14 on a $300,000 house), and it helps provide a continuum of services to some of our most vulnerable populations.

For fiscal year 2020, Missoula County awarded $805,996 in CAF grants, providing critical financial assistance to the following organizations:

CAF list.png

This year, Partnership Health Center received a $100,000 CAF grant, which will assist in opening a satellite clinic at the Missoula Food Bank. PHC currently serves about 16,000 patients annually throughout Missoula and Mineral counties. In some parts of the city and county, PHC serves up to 95% of people living at low income. In the neighborhood around the Missoula Food Bank, PHC’s data show only 32% of eligible patients are being seen. PHC Director Laurie Francis says the clinic should be open in the spring of 2020, which will help them reach many of the food bank’s 26,000 clients who may not have easy access to medical care.

“We are so excited about this project,” Francis says. “It brings together partnerships and support from Missoula County, as well as the city, PHC and the food bank, to better serve that part of the community.  The amount of good we can do together is astronomic!”

The process to secure a CAF grant is rigorous and involved, requiring a thick stack of documents from local organizations that apply.  A review committee comprised of four community members and one county commissioner independently score the applications. The committee then interviews each organization to learn more about its project to determine which requests will be the best use of taxpayer dollars. County grants staff forward the committee’s recommendations to the county commissioners, who vote on whether to approve them.

CAF chart

“Managing the Community Assistance Fund on behalf of Missoula County is one of the highlights of my position,” says Nancy Rittel, a grants administrator for the county. “Seeing how such a broad array of nonprofit organizations are able to provide vital, basic human needs to babies, children, teenage youth, the elderly and disabled because of the county’s assistance is extremely gratifying.”

As Amy Allison Thompson, executive director of the Poverello Center, notes, “Without CAF funds, we would be hard-pressed to offer the level of assistance to people experiencing homelessness, both on-site at our shelter and throughout the Missoula Valley through the efforts of our Homeless Outreach Team.”

Rittel expresses the county’s appreciation for the important role the citizens review committee plays in awarding CAF grants.

“We always owe a big thank you to the members of the citizens review committee for the hours of unpaid service they spend reading hundreds of pages of application materials and taking time from their lives to participate in agency interviews,” Rittel says. “Ultimately, their dedication leads to funding recommendations for the commissioners that are based on vetted, informed decision-making.”

If your organization provides food, shelter, medical services or emergency transportation and is interested in applying for fiscal year 2021 funding, email Nancy Rittel at nrittel@missoulacounty.us. The application deadline is typically the first week of April. More information on county-funded opportunities is online at http://missoula.co/countyfundops.

Solar array purchase moves Missoula County closer to clean energy goals

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Missoula County will move a step closer to achieving its renewable energy goals by purchasing a portion of the clean electricity generated by the Missoula Electric Cooperation’s newest community solar array in Bonner.

By subscribing to 37 of the 189 panels that make up the project, the county will own 20% of the electricity generated by the array for 25 years. The cost to purchase the output of the 37 panels is about $24,000.

Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Juanita Vero, along with staff and officials from the county and City of Missoula, joined MEC General Manager Mark Hayden on an appropriately sunny day last week for a tour of the Solarshare K3 Garden at the KettleHouse Brewery.

“Missoula County is committed to 100% clean electricity by 2030, and that means maximizing our investments in renewable energy today,” Strohmaier says. “This is a great opportunity to purchase clean, affordable energy, and we encourage county residents who are MEC members to join us and buy into the project if they’re able.”

Hayden says there are about 30 panels left to purchase in the Solarshare K3 Garden. MEC members interested in purchasing a panel can find more details online.

The purchase helps the county make progress on two major goals aimed at combatting climate change: In March, the county adopted a goal of carbon neutrality in county government operations by 2035, and in April, commissioners approved a joint resolution with the City of Missoula, which also subscribes to output from K3 Garden panels, to achieve 100% clean electricity for the Missoula urban area by 2030.

With the K3 Garden purchase, about 63% percent of county operations are now powered by clean energy. Missoula County also owns the output of 10 panels from MEC’s Solarshare 1 project in Lolo and 49 panels from its Solarshare 2 project in Frenchtown.

“Our goals are ambitious but necessary, given the great risks that climate change poses to Missoula County,” says Diana Maneta, the county’s energy conservation and sustainability coordinator. “In addition to participating in Solarshare K3, we’re looking at opportunities to use energy more efficiently, incorporate solar into our buildings and support the development of larger-scale clean energy projects.”

The county, in partnership with Climate Smart Missoula and the city, is also leading the Climate Ready Missoula planning process to prepare for the local impacts of climate change.

Missoula County has also received recognition for its sustainability efforts several times in the past year, including:

  • Silver designation from SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that recognizes local governments for making it faster, easier and more affordable for property owners to go solar. Missoula County was deemed the first SolSmart county in Montana when it earned a Bronze designation in 2017.
  • A 2019 U.S. Green Building Council Mountain West Leadership Award for the Missoula County Courthouse, which achieved LEED Silver status following a years-long renovation.
  • The Emerging Conservationist Award from the Missoula Conservation Roundtable, which honored Maneta for her role in establishing goals and regulations related to renewable energy and sustainability.

To learn even more about Missoula County’s sustainability and conservation efforts, head to http://missoula.co/sustainability. There, you’ll find information on going solar, recycling and composting, building climate resiliency and more.