Brian Lubinski has recently joined Stockman Bank as a Real Estate Loan Officer at the Billings Heights location. His responsibilities include assisting clients with their goal of becoming a homeowner or refinancing to consolidate debt, lower current monthly payments, or utilize their home as a tool for further investment in real estate.

Lubinski brings over 11 years of banking experience to the position, which includes commercial and consumer real estate lending. He most recently served as a Real Estate Loan Officer for a regional bank in Billings. He will be an asset to Stockman Bank and the Billings community.

Lubinski earned his Bachelor of Science degree in business finance for the University of Montana. He will be an active participant in various Stockman Bank related activities.

His office is located at 800 Main Street.

Melissa Yackley has recently joined Stockman Bank as a Commercial Loan Officer for the King Avenue office. Her responsibilities include developing and servicing commercial and construction loans, and assisting clients with their lending and credit needs.

Yackley brings over 14 years of banking experience to the position, which includes commercial lending and business development.

Yackley earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND. 

She is located at 2700 King Avenue.

Roshon Foran has recently joined Stockman Bank as a Real Estate Loan Officer at the Billings Grand location. Her responsibilities include assisting clients with their goal of becoming a homeowner or refinancing to consolidate debt, lower current monthly payments, or utilize their home as a tool for further investment in real estate.

Foran brings over six years of banking experience to the position, which includes commercial and consumer real estate lending.

Foran earned her Associates degree in arts from Miles Community College. She is active in the community serving as a board member for the Billings Association of Realtors. She is also actively involved in the Billings Chamber and Billings HBA.

Her office is at 1405 Grand Avenue. 

By Daniel Nordberg, SBA Regional Administrator

It is a sobering fact that 25 percent of businesses that close because of a natural disaster never reopen. Small businesses can improve their chances of successful recovery by assessing their risks and developing a preparedness plan, and the U.S. Small Business Administration can help. Following a declared disaster, the SBA assists in the rebuilding and economic recovery of a community by providing affordable, timely, direct loans to businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, homeowners and renters to cover uninsured losses.

Any disaster can have devastating effects on an entire community. One of this region’s most destructive disasters unfolded the night of Sept. 9, 2013, when over 10 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period, devastating Boulder, Colo., and several other communities. Flash floods killed eight people and inflicted damage on nearly 20,000 homes and hundreds of small businesses. Unfortunately, our region is prone to a variety of natural disasters such as flooding in North Dakota and Utah, tornadoes in South Dakota, and wildfires in Montana and Wyoming.

Establishing a disaster recovery plan makes good business sense. Being prepared for any kind of emergency means you’ll rebound sooner with less impact to your financial capabilities. Now is the time to consult your insurance agent to determine whether your coverage is sufficient. Make sure you understand what’s covered by your policy and determine if you need flood insurance. Remember, many general policies do not cover flood damage.

Check into business interruption insurance, which helps you cover operating expenses if you’re forced to temporarily close. Calculate the cost of business interruptions for a day, week, month or more. To the extent possible, set aside a cash reserve that will allow your company to function during the recovery phase.

Strategically develop professional relationships with alternate vendors just in case your primary supplier isn’t available. Place occasional orders with them so they’ll regard you as an active customer. Create a contact list for important business contractors and vendors you plan to use in an emergency. Keep this list with other documents in an easily accessible place at a protected off-site location.

Create a crisis communications plan so that your staff, customers, vendors, contractors-everyone you do business with-know what’s going on in the aftermath of a disaster. Establish an email alert system, keeping primary and secondary email addresses for your employees, vendors and customers. Provide real-time updates to your customers/clients and the community so they know you’re still in business and in the process of rebuilding after the disaster. Don’t forget to test your plan beforehand.

The SBA works with its federal partners to ensure all people are aware of the options available to them after declared disasters. Developing an effective and workable disaster recovery plan is critical for all small business owners. For more information on how to create a disaster recovery plan,  visit

“You did that.”

“We need to talk about it more,” said Blu Hulsey, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs at Continental Resources. The accomplishments and technological development of the petroleum industry goes far too much unremarked upon, Hulsey told the audience at the Montana Petroleum Association’s Appreciation Luncheon at the DoubleTree in Billings, on August 28.

The technology that has been developed within the industry “is equal to the technology of putting people on the moon,” he said,

Continental Resources is one of the largest oil producers in the Bakken.

“We are the greatest oil country in the world,” Hulsey unequivocally stated at one point.

The accomplishments of the industry “has changed the world,” said Hulsey, pointing to the recent antics of Iran capturing oil tankers and threatening other countries militarily “…and the price of gas in Billings doesn’t go up a penny,” he exclaimed. In the past, with the US dependent upon the Middle East for oil, any kind of incident like those recently witnessed, would have caused oil prices to sky rocket, but not anymore.

“You did that,” he told the room packed with representatives of all aspects of the petroleum industry. The US petroleum industry is now the world’s largest producer of oil and an exporter of oil and gas to the rest of the world.

As the cost of production continues to decline because of the new technology, and the level of production continues to increase there will continue to be a lot of changes to the world and to the industry itself.

The industry is changing how it looks at itself. “Everyone is looking internally,” he said about petroleum businesses.

You don’t need 150 rigs in the Bakken, 60 will produce just as much, now.

Returns that were projected on $70 per barrel oil prices are now being experienced with $50 per barrel oil prices. 

“We have almost doubled production in four years because of technology,” said Hulsey.

At one point it was impressive that there were 12 wells in the Bakken that hit 100,000 barrels of production in the first 90 days. Now there are 157 wells that hit that level of production in 90 days, and more and more continue to hit that goal.

“You are going to see long-term growth in the Bakken,” predicted Hulsey, “and we are going to continue to get more recovery.”

Investors are not being apprised of this reality as much as they should be, Hulsey lamented.

Hulsey praised the people in the industry. When the industry encounters barriers, “our people get better – American ingenuity is making a difference.”

Hulsey talked about the Bakken as a world class resource, saying that 150 miles wide and 150 miles long, it is comparable to the Permian Basin, which while impressive and larger doesn’t have the same quality of oil. There is more water in the Permian oil. Having considerably less water reduces production costs in the Bakken. Efficiencies being achieved in the Bakken are not necessarily found in every oil field – many won’t be found in the Permian.

The Bakken will eventually produce 30 to 40 billion barrels of oil.

Hulsey lauded the Trump administration. “We have an administration that is not stopping us from doing long-term development…that means big improvements for the long term.”

Property taxpayers will see lower county tax levies on their property tax bills this year, in Yellowstone County, because the overall amount of taxable value on property in the county has increased by $24.88 million. Over half of that increase is due to new construction – new wealth – in the county.  

Total tax revenue for county government is projected to increase by $2.86 million in the current year.  New construction is projected to generate $1.99 million of that total, which is that much less that all other taxpayers will have to pay.

The County’s Finance Department is hammering out the FY2019-20 budget for the county, to be considered by county commissioners at their September 3 meeting. It is projecting expenditures of $117.5 million, less than one percent more than last year. Of that, $54.6 million is projected to come from property tax payers in Yellowstone County.

Non-tax revenues are projected to increase by 3.15% over FY19 to $48.25 million. 

According to Finance Director Kevan Bryan, the increase in overall valuations led to slight declines in almost all levies.  FY20 will see a decrease in the countywide levy of 1.71 mills, or 1.43% below last year’s levy total.  Bryan declared, “…the County is in sound financial shape. This is due to both decisions by the Board and the budgeting and spending approaches undertaken by our departments throughout the County.” 

The tax levy for the Big Sky Economic Development Authority is fully authorized by the Board of County Commissioners for FY20, in the amount of 3.24 mills, an increase of $56,959.

The permissive medical levy will be set at 11.84 mills.  While continued escalation of costs warrant this slight increase of .22 mills, said Bryan, the State of Montana allows the county to levy up to 16.56 mills.  County Commissioners have chosen not to levy that amount, “thus saving the taxpayers $1.79 million.”

Because it is still too early to know what protests might be filed regarding property valuations, it is prudent in the process of budget-setting, for the county to error on the side of caution and make allowances for potential protested taxes. Bryan increased the set-aside for estimated tax protestes for FY20 to 4.0% for most levied funds, up from 2.4% last year.   

Staffing levels are budgeted to increase 1.8%, almost completely due to continued public safety and judicial related needs.  Of the total 8.5 FTEs projected to be added, 8 fall into this category. 

The budget allows room for the possible need for building projects and remodeling of courthouse space (or further utilization of the Stillwater building), should it be needed by the County Attorney or Justice Court, two departments that are facing “operational stress” due to increased workload and staffing in their current space.

Now that the construction of a new addition and remodeling and refurbishing of the jail is wrapping up, the county’s next major infrastructure needs are those for Metra Park. An infrastructure study of Metra Park, conducted last year, showed several million dollars of underground needs for that facility.

“Funding for those projects will prove difficult,” said Bryan, “We have been as proactive as possible with limited resources for the task.  The County has saved $3.2 million that can be utilized to begin this long process.” Administrators will be working to develop a prioritized list in the coming months.

The final budget must be adopted by the later of the first Thursday in September or 30 days after the State provides certified taxable values.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris scheduled a hearing for Oct. 9 from environmental organizations suing to stop construction of the $7 billion Keystone XL Pipeline authorized under a new permit from the Trump administration.

“Specifically, this permit reinforces, as should have been clear all along, that the Presidential permit is indeed an exercise of Presidential authority, that is not subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act,” a White House spokesman said.

The Sierra Club, Northern Plains Resource Council, Bold Alliance, and other groups filed a suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, contending the pipeline violates the Clean Water Act.

Justice Department attorneys also will present their argument at the hearing to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trump signed the new permit after Morris blocked construction of the 1,184-mile pipeline from Canada to Nebraska, in a ruling that stated officials had not fully considered oil spills and other impacts.

Empire Petroleum Corp. of Tulsa paid $5.6 million for 184 stripper wells producing 375 BOEPD in a dozen Williston Basin counties covering leases on 20,700 acres. Much of the acreage is located near leases already owned by Empire. The assets were sold by EnergyQuest II LLC. Empire is financing the transaction through an existing senior revolving loan agreement with CrossFirst Bank located in Tulsa, OK, that was increased from $1.3 million to $9 million. (Oil Patch Hotline)

Montana State University – Northern Alumni Foundation has hired Shantel Cronk as their new Executive Director. Cronk  takes over from Jim Bennett, who left the position in June. Cronk, a fourth-generation Montanan who grew up on a ranch along the Hi-Line, is a graduate of Chinook High School and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Concordia College in Minnesota, majoring in both Communications and English. For the past 20 years, Cronk has worked for global companies, including Nike, Adidas, Red Wing Shoe Co., and most recently, Deckers Brands based in Santa Barbara, CA. 

Median sale prices rose and the inventory of single-family homes tightened in July, according to the Gallatin Association of Realtors. The number of new single-family listings increased compared to July of 2018, rising from 198 to 206, a 4% increase. Pending sales increased 6.9%, going from 145 to 155, while the number of closed sales spiked from 135 to 192, a 42.2% increase. The median sales price increased 10.1%, from $420,000 to $462,350. The average number of days a home spends on the market decreased 8.2%, from 49 to 45. The inventory of available homes decreased 15% compared to last year, dropping from 560 to 476, while the months supply of inventory decreased 18.6%, from 4.3 to 3.5. Sellers received 98.7% of their list price in July, a slight increase from 98.5% last year.

The board of directors of MDU Resources Group, Inc.declared a quarterly dividend on the company’s common stock of 20.25 cents per share, unchanged from the previous quarter.

Bozeman is asking for the public’s input on community housing. Officials say starting professional wages aren’t enough for housing, and employers can’t find enough laborers who can stay in Bozeman. The housing crunch is pushing many workers into neighboring communities such as Livingston.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce in Helena is moving to the Steamboat Block building in downtown. The new address is: 616 Helena Ave., Ste. 300. The mailing address is PO Box 1730, Helena, MT 59624.

ClassPass  will create 80 additional jobs, bringing the positions filled in the company’s Missoula office to more than 100, as it continues its pursuit of expanding globally. ClassPass, a business which came to Missoula a year ago, connects members to fitness studios and gyms through technology. Provided by the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, the worker grant provides a reimbursement of up to $7,500 for each job created. The positions must pay at least $18.99 an hour to be eligible for that level of reimbursement.

A groundbreaking event celebrated the future of the Alpenglow Apartments, 38 new affordable homes for families and individuals in Whitefish. Homeword, a Missoula nonprofit housing developer and the Whitefish Housing Authority partnered to put the estimated $8.7 million deal together, primarily using $6.75 million of federal Housing Credits allocated by Commerce’s Montana Board of Housing and nearly $1.5 million from Commerce’s HOME Investment Partnerships and Housing Trust Fund programs.

The Rand Corporation has reported that in Montana health care has one of the highest markups. Patients pay an average of 2.77 times what Medicare pays. The study of hospital pricing for privately insured patients said in all 25 states, these patients paid an average of 2.4 times what the government-insurance plan Medicare pays, for the same procedures.

W+H Babcock, two five-story structures are to be located in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of West Babcock Street in Bozeman. The building is named after William H. Babcock, a historic architect and carpenter from Bozeman. The buildings will come to 163,500 square feet. They are separated by a driveway and will share similar designs.

Low interest rates are driving the $125 million Bozeman voters agreed to spend on a new high school and renovation of the old high school down by approximately one-third. The savings are projected to be approximately $35 million.

Belgrade has long been thought of as a bedroom community to Bozeman, with a sleepy downtown and suburban feel. In the recent past downtown Belgrade has seen an increase in economic activity. Vacant retail space is being occupied and there are more cars on the street.

New Mexico-based Navajo Transitional Energy Co. will pay Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy Corp. $15.7 million for the coal mining company. The deal was recently approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross in Delaware. The Navajo Transitional Energy Co., owned by the Navajo Nation, will assume Cloud Peak’s debts. The debts include a $40 million, second lien promissory note and up to $20 million in debts accrued since Cloud Peak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

An email filter is being blamed for blocking a majority of 19,000 emails that were sent to the Public Service Commission in support of a public hearing on the expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline from 570,000 to 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day. The North Dakota Public Service Commission has set a public hearing for the pipeline’s expansion at 9 a.m. Nov. 13 at the Emmons County Courthouse Auditorium, 100 Fourth St. NW in Linton.

Showboat Cinemas in Polson is adding four new screens and auditoriums in the coming months. The company recently broke ground on the two building project. Local cinema company Polson Theatres is adding two buildings on the north and south sides of its existing theater in downtown Polson. The expansion will result in six movies screens.

The Flathead National Forest is preparing to make improvements to the Lion Lake dam located near Hungry Horse. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built the Lion Lake dam in the late 1940s for the government’s camp water system during construction of the Hungry Horse Dam. At some point, the original lake elevation was raised 3 feet above the design level to enhance the lake’s fishing and recreation features. The plan is to make the repairs during the summer of 2021.

The almost century-old Firestone Building in Missoula was demolished recently to allow for the construction of a six-story, $22 million hotel. HomeBase Partners, a Bozeman-based development group, is developing the project at 139 E. Main St. There will be 105 rooms.

Helena officials recently revoked Sapphire Bar’s ability to allow patrons to drink on an outdoor patio. Officials have now closed the city-owned patio due to concerns about “public health and safety.” The Sapphire Bar has long been a center of controversy on the Downtown Walking Mall. Residents of nearby buildings have reported vomit, glasses, bottles and other waste around their buildings.

By Evelyn Pyburn

If in no other way, the significance of the impact of drug abuse and the illegal trafficking of drugs, as well as related crimes, in Yellowstone County can be made clear by an evaluation of the budget for Yellowstone County. It would not be a stretch to conclude that as much as half of the $117 million county budget is in one way another spent to mitigate crime in the county, and without doubt a significant amount of that crime stems from drug abuse.

Given that, it would not be outlandish to declare that if one is interested in reducing taxes, one has to be interested in reducing crime and most especially curbing the use and flow of illegal substances.

So how much are we talking about? Dealing just with county taxes for one year: $34,261,059

But, before itemizing the budgets of county departments impacted by crime, we must give pause to the fact that the county has just completed a two to three year process of building an addition onto the jail, as well as refurbishing the 30-year old facility, to the tune of about $19 million.

Add to that the refurbishing of space in the courthouse to accommodate two new district court judges and their staffs, which cost $2.6 million, which the county is responsible to provide, for what is otherwise a state department. And, bear in mind, that does not include the $359,000 that the county is now paying to lease space in the Stillwater Building that was necessary to move some departments, to make room in the courthouse for the district court expansion. AND, further bear in mind, none of these figures include the state’s cost to fund District Court judges and staffs, and to fund the cost of defense attorneys for those who cannot afford an attorney.

Following are the current budgets for county departments that are largely, if not totally, impacted by crime:

  • Public Safety Mental Health Mill Levy           $1,254,585
  • Public Safety Mill Levy for County Attorney’s office                    $6,325,841
  • Youth Service Center                                   $ 2,915,052
  • Alcohol Rehabilitation                                 $    240,868
  • DUI Task Force                                          $    107,620
  • Justice Court                                              $ 1,605,110
  • Clerk of Court Department                          $ 1,419,490
  • Coroner                                                      $    513,575
  • Sheriff Administration                                 $    581,306
  • Detectives                                                  $ 1,409,532
  • Patrol                                                        $4,990,403
  • Records (law enforcement)                         $    850,166
  • Detention Center                                          $11,111,784
  • Detention Facility (maintenance)                 $     935,727

Of course not all of these departments deal totally with criminal issues, but there are other county departments not included here, whose services are used by these departments – such as technology, personnel, facilities, etc. And, quite often the county directs funds from the general fund to shore up a department when unexpected or special situations arise.

Also – capital costs for additional facilities are almost certain to mount as the jail is already – despite its 100 bed addition – overcrowded. AND … while the state recently provided two additional district court judges, statistics justify the addition of six more. As caseloads only continue to mount it is almost certain the state will be forced to add at least two more judges and Yellowstone County and its taxpayers will be scrambling to provide more space for them.

And, there are more costs that are never calculated into these totals.

It was recently stated about the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, that it has come to a point that almost all inmates in it are being held on felonies. Misdemeanor charges are seldom incarcerated any more, but even more interesting, is that increasingly misdemeanor crimes are not even charged in order to avoid further burdening the system. That is one reason so little happens to discourage vagrants in downtown Billings, which is imposing a cost on downtown properties and businesses.

In fact, laws are being changed to redefine what is criminal. In the State of Montana it is really no longer a crime to shoplift – ie. steal — so long as the value of the theft does not exceed $2000 — in order to avoid having to put the perpetrators into the system. While that saves on costs for law enforcement, courts and jails, business owners are suffering the loss of millions of dollars to theft that is now legal and they have no recourse but to endure until they are forced to close their doors.

So if you are a taxpayers who doesn’t like to pay taxes, know from whence the problem comes, and know what must surely be the most serious problem with which we must deal.

Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is applying for a CDBG Planning Grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to hire a professional consultant to create a concept play for the redevelopment of the MetraPark border with US Highway 87. A hearing date was set by the county commissioners last week to consider the application on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 9:30 am in the county commissioners’ conference room, 3rd Floor of the Stillwater Building.

The estimated cost of developing a plan is $60,000. CDBG Planning grants require a one-to-three match. The proposed application would seek a $45,000 grant paired with a $15,000 local match. Yellowstone County, Metra Park, and Big Sky Economic Development have each committed $5,000 to provide the matching funds.

BSED has created a Request for proposal for the purpose of soliciting a professional consultant to complete the proposed plan. The scope of work being requested includes a preliminary design, oversight of public meetings, coordinating the permitting process, preparing plans, schematics, visual aids, and estimates.

The proposed project is an important next step in the continuing improvement of the Metra Park facility,  said Thom MacLean, BSED Community Development Project Manager, who presented the proposal to County Commissioners.

The Montana Department of Transportation’s planned Expo and 1st Avenue North project will modify the junction of US Highway 87 and 1st Avenue North and affect the southern and western edges of Metra Park. The proposed concept plan will provide options for how Yellowstone can redevelop this area after that project is completed.