Apply to serve on the new Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board

20180728_OrchHomes_8359

Are you interested in increasing local food security, promoting sustainable agriculture, building regional self-reliance and climate resiliency, and connecting food access programs to local, nutritious food? Then apply to serve on the Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board!

Missoula County, the City of Missoula and the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition recently partnered to establish the board, which will consist of seven voting members: three appointed by the county commissioners, two appointed by the City Council, one appointed by Missoula Mayor John Engen, and one appointed by CFAC. There also will be two alternate members who serve on the board and vote in the absence of a regular member.

“The creation of the Food Policy Advisory Board came as the result of fantastic intergovernmental cooperation and community participation,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “I look forward to integrating expertly designed food and farming policy recommendations into our deliberations at the Board of County Commissioners.”

The appointing bodies may consider candidates who represent or specialize in these suggested areas:

  • local agricultural producers
  • retail food outlet (specifically a retail grocery and/or local restaurant)
  • educational institutions
  • emergency food providers
  • a nongovernmental organization or researcher working in the area of health, nutrition or medical care
  • a nongovernmental organization or researcher working in the area of local food systems and/or sustainable agriculture
  • a Missoula city/county established farmer’s market
  • a food-related, non-farm business
  • the youth community and other related fields of expertise required to accomplish the purpose of the advisory board

“I look forward to the Food Policy Advisory Board supporting existing community efforts and creating systemic change, on the city and county level,” said City Council Member Heidi West, who sponsored the initiative for the city. “This board has the potential to lead to improvements for all components of the local food and agriculture network while also resulting in policy to further existing goals around health equity, climate change resiliency and zero-waste goals.”

Meetings will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the third Monday of every month at the Missoula County Administration Building. Those interested in serving on the Food Policy Advisory Board and who represent one of the areas of expertise can apply for both city and county appointments online at or at the Commissioners’ Office at 199 W. Pine St. The deadline for all applications is Saturday, March 28.

Missoula City-County Health Department asks travelers to call as coronavirus preparations continue

Coronavirus

The Missoula City-County Health Department’s infectious disease and emergency preparedness teams, along with local and state partners, are continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation overseas and in the United States and have created a response plan should any cases be confirmed in Missoula County.

“We’ve increased communications with the state, local hospitals, clinics and emergency responders, and we also designated staff to monitor information daily. Our team also created targeted messaging for groups, such as medical providers,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander for the county’s response team. “We’ve used preparedness exercises to test our response plan and are taking proactive steps to make sure the public has the necessary information.”

The department also urges Missoula County residents who have traveled to China, Italy, South Korea, Japan or Iran to contact them as soon as possible, as these countries have experienced sustained or widespread COVID-19 cases.

“If anyone has recently visited the countries of concern, we need them to talk to the health department,” Farr said. “We want to make sure they don’t develop symptoms.”

People who have traveled to the affected countries in the last 14 days should call 406-258-3896.

While Missoula County currently does not have any cases, the health department encourages the public to take the following basic precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces with regular household cleaners.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not available for handwashing, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Do not travel to areas identified as being at elevated risk for the virus.

The department also encourages people to watch for symptoms such as a fever greater than 100.4 F, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Those who do develop symptoms should call their medical provider and stay home except to receive medical treatment. Farr also said that despite the hype, wearing masks is not a recommended way to prevent the disease.

“We need the public’s help at this point,” Farr said. “There’s no cause for panic, but being aware and increasing basic things like hand washing can go a long way,” Farr said.

The county also is ramping up communications and collaboration with state and local partners as the situation unfolds. Partners include the City of Missoula, the University of Montana, Missoula County Public Schools, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, Partnership Health Center and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Residents with questions or concerns can call 406-258-INFO from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Accurate, updated information also is available at missoula.co/cvirus. 

Missoula County commissioners to consider placing countywide gas tax on primary ballot

Deschamps Lane
Deschamps Lane west of Missoula. Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Missoula County voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

The first public hearing on the issue will be at the commissioners’ public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. The board will take constituent comments until the public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 5, when they will vote on whether to adopt the resolution.

In addition to attending the meetings, the public can submit comment by calling 406-258-4877 or emailing bcc@missoulacounty.us.

If adopted, commissioners will sign the resolution at a special administrative public meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, March 9, in Administration Building Room 206 so it can be delivered to the Elections Office by the 5 p.m. filing deadline.

In an effort to pursue revenue sources beyond increasing property taxes, Commissioner Josh Slotnick has worked on this initiative with the City of Missoula and a recently formed local advocacy group over the past several months. Figures estimated by staff indicate a 2-cent per gallon tax would generate an estimated $1.1 million, which would be split equally between Missoula County and the City of Missoula to pay for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads. Estimates show that non-residents visiting the county would generate around $400,000 of the total revenue.

Montana Code Annotated 7-14-301 through 7-14-304 gives county commissioners authority to adopt a resolution placing a local option fuel tax on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax must be imposed in increments of 1 cent per gallon and cannot exceed 2 cents per gallon. Revenue derived from the tax must be divided among the county and municipalities in the county according to one of the methods outlined in MCA 7-14-303. Missoula is the only incorporated municipality in Missoula County.

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

Jail
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.
    Jail 2
  • 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.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.”

Election services
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.