Missoula County’s Subdivision and Survey Tracker Reduces Review Time by Half

Missoula County has cut land division and survey approval times in half by transforming the review process. Over the last two years, county departments, led by the Clerk and Treasurer’s Office, built and implemented the Missoula County Subdivision and Survey Tracker – an innovative tracking and approval system for development projects. 

When a landowner outside city limits wants to divide property for development, they need approvals from Community and Planning Services, Public Works, the City-County Health Department, Clerk and Treasurer’s Office, County Attorney’s Office and Board of County Commissioners. Reviewing departments ensure proposed divisions are in compliance with state and local regulations.  

In the past, these reviews were linear with physical documents moving from department to department. Now, the tracker allows departments to conduct reviews simultaneously, increasing transparency and allowing for greater collaboration. As a result, smaller projects are approved four to six weeks faster and larger subdivision approvals are obtained 10 weeks sooner. 

“Before we implemented the tracker, projects were often delayed at critical moments,” Project Manager Sam Scott said. “The tracker gives us the opportunity to communicate issues when they are more easily addressed. Our office is the last step for most projects, so we are uniquely positioned to drive innovation. The tracker saves the public and the county time, money and frustration.” 

The streamlined process has been well-received in the development community.  

“Prior to the current process, there would be multiple trips downtown to move the plat and documents from one office to the next,” PCI Principal Land Surveyor Toby Dumont said. “With the current process, all the original documents are held by the Clerk and Treasurer’s Office with a master scanned folder that contains all the supporting documents. This eliminates the loss of individual supporting documents during the office shuffles.”  

The tracker was developed without purchasing specialized software, saving taxpayer dollars and providing increased opportunity for customization.  

“This is a great example of county departments coming together to improve a public service without additional cost to the taxpayer,” Recording Director Shyra Scott said. 

Missoula County implemented the tracker for county projects in August 2019, allowing the office to continue the electronic review process when COVID-19 interrupted government services.  

“We continued to keep projects moving despite these unique circumstances,” Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer Tyler Gernant said. 

Clients have welcomed having required approvals and supporting documents in one location, especially during the pandemic. 

“This move toward a digital review and sign-off process not only limits in-person contact, but is efficiency that was long overdue,” Montana Northwest Company President Ken Jenkins said. “These efforts to keep our projects moving are an important factor that ripples throughout the building and development industries.” 

The Clerk and Treasurer’s Office hopes to expand the tracker to include projects within the City of Missoula. Additionally, county staff are identifying new ways the tracker’s data can be used to better inform decisionmakers and improve how Missoula County engages with the public. 

Thank you, Missoula County Elections!

Election Day 2020 was an impressive turnout for Missoula County!  

Missoula County has 91,080 registered voters, and 72,632 of them cast ballots in the Nov. 3 general election. This equates to a 79.74% voter turnout and a ballot return rate of 90.84%. This is an impressive jump from the 2016 general election, when 60,088 ballots were cast by 81,579 registered voters, resulting in a 73.66% voter turnout, with 71% of ballots returned by mail.  

For the safety and health of our Missoula community, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners approved an all-mail election that was allowed under Gov. Bullock’s directive. Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman and his team incorporated best practices from the all-mail June primary election and set up an efficient work plan to make Election Day a success.  

As early as Sept. 23, staff, election judges and election aides were hard at work preparing. The Elections Center opened for early voting on Oct. 2 and then on Oct. 9, absentee ballots and the “I Voted” sticker mailed to over 79,000 active registered voters. Once the Elections Office drive-thru ballot drop-off opened the week of Oct. 12, a steady stream of vehicles hummed through the parking lot to deliver ballots. On Election Day eve, an estimated 82.4% of ballots had already been returned.   

The morning started early on Election Day, with the first person in line around 5:15 a.m. The line held a steady pace throughout the day as it ebbed and flowed between 200-250 people until 8 p.m., with an average wait time of 1.5-2 hours. Those waiting were mostly there for same-day registration, change of address or to register to vote in Missoula County (new, precinct to precinct or county to county). Thanks to coordinated efforts with ASUM, the Election Day shuttle ran every 15 minutes from McCormick Park to help everyone conveniently access the Election Center with ease. 

Citizens delivered pizzas, and a snack table also appeared, full of energy bars and water to keep people satisfied while they waited. A solo guitarist played to pass the time, while another voter pulled along their wireless speaker on a cart, booming their beats. Children joined their parents and were enamored by the appearance of Super Voter and our helpful sheriff’s deputies. When the last person exited the Elections Center around 10:15 p.m., staff had served over 1,150 voters, of which 328 are new voters in Missoula County’s system.

Eleven ballot drop-off locations were also busy throughout the county. Each station had a group of about five friendly workers accepting ballots and were stationed throughout Missoula and all the way out in Lolo, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake. These locations were a quick and easy way to vote and helped reduce the congestion in the Elections Center parking lot. All ballot drop-off locations, even as far away as Seeley Lake, had their final batch of ballots delivered to the center by 9 p.m. for signature verification and processing.  

At the fairgrounds across town, the counting center buzzed with ballots delivered from the Elections Center. Montana law allowed counting to begin on Monday, Nov. 2, and the team worked hard until about 11 p.m. on Election Day. New to this general election was the ability for anyone to watch the process via the YouTube live stream, which captured both days of counting.

The 45-member team consisted of five DS-850 high speed tabulator operators who received ballots from the five tabulator runners. If a ballot was sorted by the tabulator for review, the runners also carried ballots to the resolution and write-in boards for evaluation. The 15-member resolution board reviewed ballots to determine voter intent using the Secretary of State materials provided in the election judge handbook. Additionally, a 15-member board was designated to validate and tally ballots with write-in candidates. They also assisted the resolution board. Once processed and counted, two ballot sealers placed the counted ballots in ballot style containers.

One individual was responsible for operating the Balotar machine, which was used when the resolution board determined a ballot must be duplicated for a reason, such as a torn ballot.

On Friday, Nov. 13, the county Audit Board met to complete the post-election audit. In Montana, after each federal election, the Secretary of State’s office will randomly select precincts that must be hand counted by the county and compared to machine totals to ensure that the equipment worked correctly. Missoula County completed a successful audit of precincts Chief90, Clinton92 and Evaro94. This is done in addition to the public testing on and before Election Day to ensure that all equipment functioned properly on Election Day.

Missoula County verified and finalized the election results at the canvass on Tuesday, Nov. 17, when Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman, Missoula County Auditor Dave Wall and Missoula County Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick accounted for every ballot cast and ensured that each valid vote was included in the official results. This included absentee, early voting, Election Day, provisional, challenged, and uniformed and overseas citizen ballots. The canvass provides the space for resolution of any discrepancies to ensure completeness and accuracy before certifying the election.

Election Day couldn’t have happened without the team of five full-time elections staff, who led 284 extra workers who worked a total of 1,340 eight-hour days, – or a total of 453 extra day shifts – between Sept. 23 – Nov. 3.

Thank you to everyone who played a part in ensuring the integrity of the election in Missoula County.

Missoula County Elections Office Issues Important Reminders for November Election

As preparations continue for the Nov. 3 general election, the Missoula County Elections Office wants to remind voters of important information, including upcoming key dates.

Since Missoula County opted to conduct the election by mail, polling places will not be open on Election Day. All active registered voters will receive a ballot after they’re mailed Friday, Oct. 9. Ballots are due back to the Elections Office by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3. Postmarks are not sufficient. Return postage is paid.

Residents can verify they are registered to vote at their current address at www.myvoterpagemt.com. Residents who need to register to vote or update their registration need to fill out the voter registration form found at http://missoula.co/registertovote.

Voters should keep the following dates in mind as the election approaches:

Friday, Oct. 2: All elections services, including voter registration, will be provided at the warehouse on the east side of the Elections Center complex at 140 N. Russell St. Voters should enter the parking lot at the corner of Prince and Wyoming streets. Look for the large “Enter Here” sign.

Friday, Oct. 2: Ballots will become available for in-person voting at the Elections Center. Voters can come by the Elections Center weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Election Day if they want to vote a ballot in person instead of their mailed ballot. The office also will offer extended hours leading up to and on Election Day:

  • Saturday, Oct. 24: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Monday-Friday, Oct. 26-30: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Oct. 31: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Monday, Nov. 2: 8 a.m. 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

(Note: Office will be closed Monday, Oct. 12, in observance of Indigenous Peoples Day.)

If a voter chooses to vote at the Elections Center and does not wish to use their mailed ballot, their mailed ballot will be voided before the database will issue a new one. Residents who vote before Oct. 9 will still receive the voided ballot in the mail, but the voter database will not be able to accept the voided ballot if another ballot has been accepted.

Friday, Oct. 9: Ballots will be mailed out, which is the earliest the office can send them, per state statute. If voters have not received their ballot by Tuesday, Oct. 13, they should contact the Elections Office.

Tuesday, Oct. 13: The Elections Office will hold a satellite voter event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Frenchtown Fire Station, 16875 Marion St. Residents can register to vote, receive a replacement ballot, vote a ballot in person or drop off a ballot at this event.

Tuesday, Oct. 20: The Elections Office will hold a satellite voter event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Tax Extension Office, 3360 Hwy. 83 N. Residents can register to vote, receive a replacement ballot, vote a ballot in person or drop off a ballot at this event.

Monday, Oct. 26: Last day of regular registration. After this date, residents will need to appear in person at the Elections Office to register to vote or update their information.

Tuesday, Oct. 27: The Elections Office will hold a voter satellite event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the University of Montana Adams Center. Residents can register to vote, receive a replacement ballot, vote a ballot in person or drop off a ballot at this event.

Tuesday, Oct. 27: The U.S. Postal Service recommends mailing a ballot seven days before the election to ensure delivery by Election Day. If a voter has not mailed their ballot by this date, they should drop it off at the Elections Center during the previously listed hours through Nov. 2, or at one of the Election Day ballot drop-off locations listed below.

Monday, Nov. 2: By state law, voter registration will be unavailable after 12 p.m. Voters can still drop off ballots, receive a replacement ballot or vote a ballot in person until 7 p.m. that day.

Tuesday, Nov. 3: Election Day. Residents can register to vote, receive a replacement ballot and vote in person at the Elections Center from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Drive-thru ballot drop-off will not be offered at the Elections Center on Election Day; this service will be provided at McCormick Park instead. The following ballot drop-off locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day only:

  • Missoula Early Learning Center (Cold Springs), 2625 Briggs St.
  • Frenchtown Fire Station, 16875 Marion St.
  • Spring Meadows Fire Station, 9350 Ladyslipper Lane
  • Lolo Elementary School, 11395 Hwy. 93 S.
  • McCormick Park, 600 Cregg Lane
  • Clinton School Annex, 20359 E. Mullan Road
  • Potomac Greenough Community Center, 29827 Potomac Road
  • Seeley Lake Elementary School, 200 School Lane
  • Missoula County Fairgrounds, 1101 South Ave. W.
  • UM (Adams Center), 32 Campus Drive
  • Clearwater Credit Union, 2610 N. Reserve St.

Common voter questions are online at http://missoula.co/election2020faq. Residents can call the Elections Office at 406-258-4751 or email electioninfo@missoulacounty.us if they have additional questions.

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.