$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

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.

New Missoula County Election Center is now open

Missoula County Election Center
The new Missoula County Election Center is located at 140 N. Russell St. in Missoula.

Need to register to vote in Missoula County? Update your address? Sign up for an absentee ballot?

If you’ve needed any of these services over the past 10 years, it’s possible you showed up at the county courthouse on Broadway, only to find that you actually needed to head to the Election Office’s temporary location at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. That’s because a few months before each election, Elections Office staff routinely moved from their permanent location at the courthouse and set up shop at the more spacious fairgrounds so they could accommodate increased demand for voter services.

Hopefully, most people were still able to trek across town and take care of their registration. But what might be a minor inconvenience for some may be a major setback for others, especially those running on tight schedules or who rely on public transportation to get where they need to go.

And while the fairgrounds provided more space and parking, operations still had to be spread over multiple buildings. And with renovations slated to continue at the fairgrounds for several more years, this solution was becoming increasingly unsustainable. (Not to mention the thousands of dollars it cost each time to move).

Fortunately, Missoula County voters now have a year-round, one-stop shop for all their voting needs: the county’s new Election Center, located at 140 N. Russell St.

Elections staff have moved into the facility and are providing voter and election services from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The centrally located facility will eventually provide about 200 parking spaces, and it’s accessible via Mountain Line’s Route 2 BOLT bus, which offers service every 15 minutes, and from the Milwaukee Trail, located a block south.

“We’re excited about this new, permanent location that will allow us to better serve voters,” says Dayna Causby, the county’s elections administrator. “We’re looking forward to working out of the new facility and providing the customer support that ensures everyone who’s eligible to vote can cast their ballot.”

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An election staff member helps a voter at the new Election Center.

The 14,500-square-foot center, which includes the main office space and a warehouse, will also host trainings for emergency management, law enforcement and other county staff. The county will remodel the buildings to best accommodate the various uses. Renovations are projected to cost around $500,000 and slated to be complete ahead of the June 2020 primary election.

The county acquired the property from the Western Montana Mental Health Center in October for $2.78 million. In addition to renovation costs, the financing package includes the purchase of about $255,000 in elections equipment, including an additional ballot processing machine and updated elections software, bringing the total to $3.5 million.

So next time you need an election-related service, be sure to visit the friendly staff at the new Russell Street location. If you’re driving, it’s best to enter the parking lot via the entrance on Wyoming Street, just west of Prince Street.

You can contact the Elections Office by phone at 406-258-4751 or email at electioninfo@missoulacounty.us. You can also check your ward, registration status and polling place location at www.missoulavotes.com.

How do we get Missoula’s seatbelt-use rate to 100 percent?

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Photo: Pixabay

The results are in: After observing more than 5,000 vehicles in Missoula, officials with the Missoula City-County Health Department report that they saw about 92% of occupants wearing their seatbelts.

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Steve Schmidt

Steve Schmidt, senior community health specialist and Buckle Up Montana coalition coordinator for Missoula County, spent a week observing vehicles at 11 different locations in Missoula at the end of September. He says that of the 5,262 vehicles he saw, he observed 4,844 with occupants wearing their seatbelts.

This is up significantly from the 2018 survey, when only about 76% of Missoulians were observed wearing seatbelts. In 2017, the rate was 81%. This year also saw a considerable increase in seatbelt use among pickup truck occupants, from about 71% in 2018 to 86% in 2019.

Though 8% of Missoulians are still not wearing seatbelts, today’s numbers stand in stark contrast to those collected in 1987, when only 34% of vehicle occupants were observed wearing seatbelts, a spike apparently so dramatic for that year that it prompted the surveyor to draw a smiley face on the report.

Seatbelt use, then and now

So why are 8% of Missoulians still not wearing their seatbelts? And why is that rate even higher for pickup truck occupants? Though it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons, Schmidt says a variety of factors could be at play.

“I’ve occasionally come across individuals who have indicated that they have known someone who died in a crash and they were wearing their seatbelt,” he says. The seatbelt doesn’t guarantee survival − it just greatly increases the chances. And when your world is being flipped upside down, I would bet on the numbers.”

Schmidt also says he’s heard that some people who drive larger vehicles, like pickups, feel safer and don’t believe they need seatbelts. That’s why public health officials have focused over the past few years on the “Buckle Up in Your Truck” campaign. He’s happy the rate among pickup occupants is increasing, but there’s still work to do.

2019 Missoula Seatbelt Use Survey

“I believe that educating young drivers will have an impact on older drivers,” Schmidt says. “When my kids had their learner’s permits, they actually ensured I was wearing my seatbelt before they moved the vehicle. It was nice to see, and it appears to be more normalized. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘coolness factor’ in play. It’s just what we do.”

The education on seatbelt use also need to evolve, Schmidt says. The “scare tactics” of the past doesn’t seem to be as effective, and he’d like to approach seatbelt use from a different angle.

“For me, it’s about control,” he says. “We all like to be in control, and the best way to stay in control of a vehicle is to remain behind the wheel of that vehicle. A seat belt will help keep you behind the wheel, where you have the ability to control the vehicle.”

Education is just one component of increasing usage. Proactive legislation could also increase the rate. Montana is currently one of 16 states that does not have a primary seatbelt law, meaning law enforcement cannot stop someone solely for not wearing a seatbelt. They can only cite someone for not wearing a seatbelt if they initially pulled them over on suspicion of another violation.

“States with primary seatbelt laws have a higher percentage of people who wear seatbelts,” Schmidt says. “I’d love to see and work for a primary seatbelt law here in Montana.”

You can learn more about the work the Buckle Up Coalition is doing to increase seatbelt usage by visiting their website and Facebook page.

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Now is the time to weigh in on the Missoula County budget

Revenues

Missoula County has released its preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020, and now commissioners want to hear from you.

To review the budget, head to http://missoula.co/budgets. There, you can access:

  • The preliminary, aka sustainment, budget. This budget reflects what it will cost to sustain current county operations. The sustainment budget factors in any increases in employee wages, benefits, utility costs, etc., that the county will experience in the coming fiscal year.
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    The sustainment budget is based on last year’s revenue. (Read How Missoula County calculates expenditures and revenues to understand why the county is using last year’s revenue to build this year’s budget.)

    Expenditures
    At first glance, it may look like the county’s expenditures will exceed revenue by $16.4 million, but that’s not the case. The reason revenue appears to be $16.4 million less than expenditures in FY20 is because the revenue needed to complete construction of the new Missoula Public Library was received in FY19 after the county issued voter-approved bonds to finance the project. The $27.5 million in bond revenue was placed in a construction reserve account (a savings account, basically) and is used to pay construction invoices each month. The county had approximately $18.8 million in that reserve account at the beginning the FY20, which will cover the cost to finish building the library by the end of the fiscal year (June 2020). So even though the county won’t receive that revenue in FY20, we have the money on hand to cover those expenses in FY20.

    As it currently stands, the county will need an additional $1.1 million to sustain current operations this year, when basing the budget on last year’s revenue. Once the county receives certified taxable values from the state Department of Revenue in August, we’ll adjust the budget to more accurately reflect how expenditures compare to revenues.

  • The list of budget requests that departments are asking for to enhance services and improve current operations by adding new staff, technology or equipment. Approved requests would add to the $1.1. million already needed to sustain operations and services as-is. (County staff are working to compile descriptions of these requests and will post those online as well.)
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    The commissioners have yet to make any decisions on which requests to fund. This is where you come in: The commissioners want to hear from taxpayers on what you think their priorities should be when considering these requests.

You can comment by:

  • Calling the Commissioners’ Office at 406-258-4877
  • Emailing bcc@missoulacounty.us
  • Mailing comments to the Commissioners’ Office, 200 W. Broadway St., Missoula, MT 59802.
  • Attending any public meeting, which are listed online at http://missoula.co/bccmeetings.

After considering public comment and weighing priorities, the commissioners will vote to approve or deny each request, which will be reflected in the final budget presented at the public hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, in the Sophie Moiese Room in the Courthouse Annex, 200 W. Broadway. If you don’t get your comments in by then, you can attend the hearing and make your voice heard.

After they consider additional public comment received at the Aug. 22 hearing, the commissioners will vote to adopt the final budget at their administrative public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 4. That meeting will take place at 10 a.m. in Room 206 of the Missoula County Administrative Building, located at 199 W. Pine St. in Missoula.

Additional Missoula County budget resources:

2019 Budget in Brief
Video Tutorial: How to Look Up Your Property Taxes Online
Commissioners’ schedule
Commissioners’ meeting minutes and agenda portal