By Lowell Cooke, Coldwell Banker The Brokers

In a survey of closed home sales in the Billings Metro area, 502 single family homes closed from January 1 to April 30th.  Of the 502 sales (including mobile, manufactured and modular homes) 72% sold for full price or greater.  72%!!  Many of the homes selling for over full price sold anywhere from $500 to $30,000+ over asking price.

Cash Vs Financing

Having been on the losing end of several multiple offers, representing the buyer, and with over asking price offers, some of those loses were to cash offers.  I thought I would do a little research into how many of these closings were cash sales.  In this “feeding frenzy” environment, where the true laws of supply and demand are in play, where too many buyers chase too few homes for sale, multiple offers for over full price seem to be the norm.  Even with an offer many thousands of dollars over full price, an offer which involves bank financing is more likely to lose to a cash offer, even if it is more than the offer which is cash. The reasons sellers like cash offers, other than the obvious, there is no appraisal or loan constraints and close sooner.

“Escalation” Clauses

Obviously, most of us don’t have cash to buy a home. So, depending on how badly a buyer wants to buy a home, there have been some creative methods used to make offers involving financing more attractive to sellers when the buyer doesn’t have cash.  One I have seen, is where an offer involves an “escalation” clause.  Since only the seller and the listing agent are privy to the details of all the offers (it is unethical to disclose what the offers details are) some buyers are offering to pay over what the highest offer was, by a certain dollar amount or escalating their offer up to a maximum amount the buyer would be willing to go.  This can lead to some contentious offers and counteroffers.

Appraisal and Inspection Contingencies

Another way buyers are using to make their financed offers more attractive is to forgo the appraisal and inspection contingencies.  Buyers forgoing the inspection contingency will accept the property in “as is” condition and will not require the seller to make any repairs.  This can be a risky situation and even if the buyer gets an inspection and finds reasons to back out, earnest money will be forfeited.  Removing the appraisal contingency means if the property fails to appraise for the sales price, the buyer is willing and has the ability to pay, in cash, the difference between the appraisal price and the sales price, since the lender will only loan on the lower value.  In other words, if a property sells for $300,000 and it appraises for $295,000, the buyer must have an additional $5,000 over and above the required down payment.  

Guerilla Warfare

This is the guerilla warfare which is taking place in our current real estate environment.  So, is cash king?  It certainly has been a factor and one which has increased by roughly 30% since last year.  Of the 502 closed sales through April 30th  this year, 20% involved cash sales. Putting that into perspective, cash sales in 2019 accounted for 17% of the closed sales, 15% in 2020.  While cash sales have increased, as a buyer, you still can compete against cash offers, but is not what our typical modus operandi has been forever.  The buying environment right now is one of increasing prices and buyers having to give up contingencies which were a standard of practice. 

Price Gouging?

Once again, if you are a buyer, be prepared for these realities and if you are a seller be prepared for multiple and more than likely, offers over asking price.  One caveat, as a seller, the market still knows an overpriced property.  Thinking you can set an outlandish price and get it might not happen.  The typical situation now when a home comes on the market, is to allow 3-5 days of buyer showings and then having sellers evaluate all the offers and responding to them at the end of that period.  As a seller, if you have many showings and no offers after the initial showing period, you have a pricing problem.  The market will always find its level. 

Beartooth Bank, a division of American Bank Center, celebrates the grand opening of its newest location in downtown Billings with a ribbon cutting on Monday, May 17. This is Beartooth Bank’s second location in Billings and is located at 123 N. Broadway Ave. 

The community is encouraged to visit the new 7,000 square-foot bank and register for prizes during the grand opening celebration May 17-20. There are chances to win prizes each day with a grand prize drawing on the last day.

In addition to personal banking services, the new downtown location is focused on offering effective and efficient banking solutions for businesses as well. Services provided include commercial lending, agricultural banking, retail, digital services, consumer lending and home mortgage. There will be an opportunity for future expansion to meet customers’ trust and insurance needs.

It also features American’s Branch of Tomorrow concept, which includes industry-leading technology and a model of service that provides more convenience by having one point of contact for all of a customer’s banking needs.

 Beartooth Bank’s other location is at 4130 King Ave. W., Billings.

Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) will receive a $12,000 U.S. Bank Foundation Community Possible grant to be directed toward financial education for small businesses and workforce development initiatives.

The U.S. Bank Foundation is committed to making Community Possible through the areas of Work, Home and Play to create lasting change. The foundation does this by focusing on meaningful impact in the communities it serves and through meaningful partnerships with local nonprofits, like Big Sky Economic Development.

Bill Davies, U.S. Bank Regional President, said “We know that a strong small business environment and an educated workforce ensures the prosperity of our communities. We provide grant support to programs and organizations that help small businesses thrive, allow people to succeed in the workforce, provide pathways to higher education and gain greater financial literacy. Big Sky Economic Development is a tremendous advocate for small business and workforce development, and we can’t think of a better partner to help us fulfill this work.”

“This grant will allow us to continue our mission of helping small businesses start and grow in our region and allow us to continue to offer key programs related to workforce development,” said Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director for BSED.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority (BSPRA) grew a bit larger when its board of directors approved Carbon County as the newest member of the Authority. The addition of Carbon brings the number of counties that have joined the BSPRA to 13, stretching across the state from Wibaux County on the North Dakota border to Sanders County on the Idaho border.

“Being a member of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority is a big deal for Carbon County, and we look forward to what it brings to citizens of our county,” Carbon County Commissioner Scott Miller said. “Montana is moving forward into the future, and Carbon County has to move with the state to bring the economy and infrastructure needed to support this and the next generation. We need Montanans to stay in Montana and good people to move in to help keep Montana alive.”

With the addition of Carbon County, the BSPRA will look to continue growing in the coming months. Other counties are currently considering petitioning the Authority for membership. The BSPRA remains hopeful that eventually all the counties eligible to join the authority – both those along the former Amtrak North Coast Hiawatha route and those along the former passenger routes running south to Denver and Salt Lake City – will do so.

Bridge girders, the horizontal beams that will support the new roadway, are being placed on the Billings Bypass Yellowstone River Bridge. The new bridge will consist of 112 girders constructed of weathering steel, which provides a protective coating that does not require painting. The girders are being placed on the concrete bridge piers that were constructed earlier this winter. The temporary bridge will be removed once the new bridge deck has been built. Wadsworth Brothers Construction is building the bridge and are planning to be mostly complete by the end of 2021. The bridge will provide motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians a connection between Lockwood and the Billings Heights.

By Evelyn Pyburn

A new law has been passed by the state legislature which prohibits local governments from requiring business owners to act as an extended arm of law enforcement, when ordinances or regulations are too unwieldy for policing and to force compliance through normal law enforcement.

HB-257 was sponsored by Jedediah Hinkle  (R) HD 67. The legislation basically says that municipalities or counties may not compel a private business to deny customers goods or services, nor may local governments take retroactive action against a business for not turning away their customers. 

In introducing his bill to the House, Hinkle said, “…In Gallatin County we have had some of the strictest ordinances” with a devastating impact on business…” many have closed and others are barely hanging on.” He noted that one “hallmark eatery” in Bozeman has closed forever after 35 years in business.

The approach used by health departments across the state, Hinkle likened to “a death by a thousand cuts.” Health departments commandeer private resources to enforce ordinances. Public officials expect that “through fear, threats of revocation of licenses, fines, charges, misdemeanor violations and lawsuits,” business owners will coerce customers and their staffs into compliance. “They use their own tax dollars against them to destroy them in courts,” said Hinkle. The businesses “are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

Hinkle likened the practice of requiring businesses to act as an arm of law enforcement to a takings – when government confiscates without just compensation.

One businessman, Randy Chamberlin,

explained to law makers, “We have to walk a fine line…while employees and customers need to feel safe and confident… we can alienate one side or another.”

“I believe it is totally unfair to make businesses be the enforcement

arm of any government policy, ordinance or regulation,” he proclaimed, “Business people should not be subject or penalized if we do not enforce these ordinances and policies that are being put on us.” The situation creates an unfair situation among businesses, he said, because while some “trying to be good citizens and honestly follow the law” are put at a disadvantage to those who “wouldn’t necessarily do that.

Mike Hope, owner of the Rocking R Bar

 in Bozeman, said he got sued by the county because he refused to close his business at 10 pm. Up until then he said that he and his staff had done everything they could to comply with the mandates. He said he was proud of the extent his staff went to, to make sure everyone was safe. Having to close at 10 pm meant his business would not be able to make enough money to keep his staff employed … “it was about my employees and my industry and what it has done to people around us.” Hope said his business is  facing $40,000 in legal costs. “That is probably a month’s worth of wages for four or five employees.”

He said that he is fortunate in that he has been in business long enough that it had the capital to withstand the financial blow, but most businesses would not be able survive a lawsuit. The Rocking R Bar has been in business since 1947 and Hope has owned it since 2000.

His small business confronted “the whole weight of the state government, because all their expert witnesses were … Montana State employees. .. the county attorney had three attorneys working on it… I had one attorney….”

“What is happening to me is what is the fear of my fellow constituents within my industry. They are afraid. And when government operates from a position of fear …that is not a good position ….This was like a sledge hammer that came down on us.”

“I just think we carried this too far. … If I have respect for the person that doesn’t agree with me and I respect the person that does agree with me, that is how we are going to get through this. ..the  market place is going to drive us to make good decisions . ..because if we don’t take care of our customers and our guests we aren’t going to be in business very long.”

“My property taxes paid the salary of the people that were suing me. I didn’t sue them, they sued me. And the reason they chose to sue me … I was told.. is they could fine me criminally but they couldn’t shut me down. The only way they felt they could shut me down was to sue me. .. When we give up our freedoms , we have to really ask ourselves where we want to live and what we want to be. As a business owner I am 100 percent committed to our community … I am only as good as my community so if I am killing off my community, I am not going to last in business. I think we need to put faith in people to make decisions, not unelected bureaucrats, quite honestly.”

“What I really like is that this bill takes away the ability to sue. Most people don’t have the resources to go and make this fight. That is not a fair fight.” Regarding the health department, he said, “They had all the authority in the world and they used it … it needs to be taken away from them.”

Hope also explained it was difficult getting an attorney, because they too are afraid of the power of the government. “I reached out to four different attorneys before I could get one to agree because they were afraid to take the case because of the retribution they would get. That’s scary. Two days before our court hearing, our two expert witnesses backed out because they were afraid of retribution …We were scrambling. We got expert witnesses lined up now, who have a little more back bone, but that is the type of fear that we are up against. That is not what this country is built on.”

Sarah Capp, also a resident of Gallatin County, talked about the impact on her family as customers trying to navigate their way through local businesses who were intimidated into bullying her and her children, two of whom who have hearing impairments. She said that her nine year old, Liam, has a significant hearing loss. But “ …he is an expert lip reader so you can imagine how the last six months have been on him….each day over the last six months has been a battle for our family, a battle that pits us as paying customers against store employees, managers, business owners, restaurant servers and even medical professionals … It has forced me to explain more times than I can count, ‘our family doesn’t wear masks for the sake and safety of our son… who has a hearing loss.”

This they had to do all the time even though Governor Bullock’s mandate specifically said that those who were exempt from wearing masks should not be asked why they were exempt. “You would be amazed at how many people don’t know that and aren’t aware of that medical exemption. Just imagine as a nine- year- old, and you have a medical exemption that has to be pointed out and explained in front of your face over and over again.”

Capp said, “Many employees have been gracious, many employees have rolled their eyes and sneered at us as though we were lying. And a few even denied our medical exemption and asked us to leave.”

“The mask mandates and business restrictions we have in place today are nothing more than wishful thinking of power-hungry county health officials,  many of which don’t have a bit of health education. As an animal science degree major I have more micro biology and chemistry experience than many of the people who sit on county health boards making these rules,” said Capp.

Doug White is a third generation business owner in Flathead County. He said, “Our small business has the highest traffic count in a small area of any business in our area…we serve 800 to 1600 customers a day, through a 2000 square foot store with a single entrance /exit door, making it virtually impossible to comply with COVID -19.”

He said, “Many businesses in our area have been temporarily closed due to their employees testing positive for COVID 19 – and we are just the opposite. But,  still we have been labeled as an egregious offender…in mid-July the health department called and stated that they had three complaints about our failure to enforce the mask mandate.  As for the health board’s rules we got a phone call after the three complaints as we are supposed to.” But the rules say that a business should get another phone call after ten additional complaints and a follow up visit. “None of this ever happened,” said White, “until the phone calls from the media came, making us aware of the state’s intent to sue …”

“I was contacted on my personal cell phone at  9:30 am by the Flathead Beacon asking me for comments and thoughts about being sued by the Bullock administration  They were aware of this suit eight hours before we were even process served. Fortunately for us the lawsuit was eventually dropped, however it cost us more in legal defenses.”

During the course of trying to be the enforcement arm of the state….  one of my employees was threatened by a customer with a side arm, when he asked the patron to please put on a mask. This young man quit as our employee the very next day, stating that he just couldn’t do what we asked  him to do in enforcing this mandate. He has yet to be replaced.

“Additionally my granddaughter received a profanity –laced slur from a disgruntled patron when she asked them to put on a mask. … as you can see … it is literally dangerous to our employees to be the enforcers of these mandates. They neither have the proper training or know-how to deescalate a situation that may arise.  Also, a private business should not be forced to expend its own financial resources to enforce the mandates of these governmental entities, as you can see  even with our efforts to comply we were still sued.”

Maria Wyrock, Bozeman,

testified, “Our county health board has caused us a lot of stress and undo harm. They have become  one of the most feared agencies acting on their own agenda that simply go beyond promoting health. 

Wyrock said that she was part of a public records request from the Gallatin County Health Board regarding the Governor’s mask mandate. While the agency refused to turn over the records and the county attorney “stonewalled,” they were able to obtain the records through a lawsuit that subpoenaed for the information. “A committee is still going through thousands of emails and text messages,” said Wyrock, “but the overall theme uncovered is how the department is not following the same rules they have laid out for Montana. They are complicit in denying people with disability and medical conditions access to private  businesses while they are aware it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the governor’s exemption in the directive.”

An exchange discovered in the missives, “even more shocking,” underscores why HS 257 is “imperative,” Wyrock continued.  Missoula County Commissioners  said that they think masks should be mandated and enforced. “The County Health Officer said she didn’t want to go there” so the county commissioners “instructed their emergency manager to research ways the commissioners can do it without the health officer.”

“This message is a prime example of the county getting involved to pass ordinances that mandate… a level of enforcement that goes beyond the health board and the health officer.”

“Our Gallatin County Health Board and health department created orders and mandates that they knew were not enforceable on a regular citizen. Even our county sheriff has gone on record and states his office will not enforce these mandates. Instead the department crafted ways that ensure that businesses would become the enforcers , however the same businesses are not getting protection from the police or from the sheriff and especially not from the county attorney  to defend their ability to stay open and their ability to access paying customers.”

Brooke Carlson, Choteau,

said that she too had submitted a public records request last summer and began suffering retaliation from the health department. “I was harassed at my job because of my medical exemption and then slandered and shamed publically on social media by those same health officials. I quit my job after the owner grew tired of the harassment by the health department and because of fear they would fine her for honoring my exemption.”

Carlson further stated, “Those same officials attempted to remove my young children from public schools due to their medical exemption, even though the school accepted it. Our only local grocery store was notified by health officials to discriminate against those with medical exemptions, and so they started calling the police to enforce it. I now have to drive an hour to buy my groceries to feed my family at big box stores that aren’t as fearful of health department harassment. Other small businesses in town, many who survive on the revenue from tourists, were harassed by health department officials and intimidated into denying service to the same community members that were capable of sustaining their businesses with their loyalty.

“These two health department officials used that same harassment technique to photograph unmasked families, particularly those with businesses or jobs at stake, in an attempt to scare them into compliance.  These same officials then turned neighbor against neighbor, stating on the department Facebook page that those who are unmasked are purposely spreading the virus and even went as far as to contact local TV news saying that anyone claiming a medical exemption is just making an excuse.

“I have seen firsthand the effect of giving the health department the power to force individuals and businesses into compliance. They have burned every bridge and caused every small business to exist in constant fear that they will get turned in for non-compliance and literally turn neighbor against neighbor because of fear of fines. I cannot work in my town nor buy food for my three small children. Businesses are losing revenue and local support because of threats from the health department and this is money and support they will never earn back.”

Carlson said she spoke with county commissioners –and  “after six month of no response from them … I walked into their office that morning and discovered that the commissioners were only not active on the health department board but they did not know that by law one of them was required to be on the board. They showed up to their first meeting the next day… they were not given the opportunity to vote because the director of the health department also did not know that they were on the board . This means that not only is the county health department harassing private businesses, schools, individuals, violating open meetings laws, they are acting without voting members participation. This also means that those two women who have been harassing our town …have also been spending all the CARES Act money without any board approval.”

Darin Gaub, Helena,

said that he is completely disabled because of breathing problems and has been denied access to private businesses and goods and services by local health officers. “This bill is much needed to curb systemic discrimination that only began once the health department got heavy-handed after masks were made mandatory and not voluntary.” He further said  his wife, who has a business in which she tutors children with special needs, had to resign her position because she could not wear a mask for more than 30 minutes.

Esther Fishbaugh

operates 39 campgrounds in Montana and Wyoming. They dealt with 165,000 people last year and have 40 employees, she said, and they had no employees  contracted COVID 19. “We did lose employees because they were fearful.”

“I wrote compliance plans over and over and over again,” she said, “as all the directives were changed on us. So it was quite a bit of work to comply with ever changing rules… It was hard for us to hire extra employees to meet that demand…  We just could not get the extra help. .. I lost employees from coming back. They were fearful for their health. They were over-worked…  Supplies were interrupted because of the fear that was out there. .. perpetuated by many of our health departments, which… over-hyped.”  Fishbaugh said that instead of being helpful, “our health department is being adversarial and punitive… instead of collaborative…. instead of looking for ways to minimize how many people had to be quarantined…. how many people had to be shut down.”

Nellie Nicol with the Freedom Protection Project

explained that the organization was  created because of the health departments’ “overbearing and unconstitutional mandates thrust upon small businesses.”  She said, “We do not believe the health board should be issuing fines or threatening the revocation of licenses for noncompliance of these mandates .  Many businesses particularly restaurants run on a thin margin. Imposing fines just adds insult to injury during a time many people are trying to feed their families and pay their mortgages. In times of emergencies most businesses cannot afford to hire an attorney to fight a misdemeanor charge or any other retribution the health board sees fit. Fighting criminal charges just adds to the emotional and financial stress of an already highly stressful situation.  These business owners are already losing sleep at night worrying about keeping their employees’ and their families fed with a roof over their heads. These mandates are dividing our communities.”

Nicol continued, “In one instance a small town created a tattle tale line, so that locals could take videos of business owners not enforcing mandates and turn it into the officials. The tattle tale line went as far as to make a list of Republican business owners in town This tattle tale line resulted in businesses being threatened to be fined and fear of closure. In the meantime, business owners are forced to police their customers out of fear that they will be shut down. The business owner and their employees safety is compromised while policing their customers, as you are aware not every customer is willing or able to comply with some of the mandates, putting the business and customer at odds. These mandates force the business to decide whether they should comply with the mandate and turn a non-compliant customer away, or keep their doors open.”

Don Frye owns the Hot Rod Filling Station

in Bozeman. He is a second generation owner of two 50-year restaurant businesses. “I hope to pass these businesses on to my children and keep this legacy alive if the health department and the county board of health do not completely crush the independent bar and restaurant industry.  It is for the future generations that we are here for today, to make sure they do not have to navigate the same path for the next virus or pandemic.

“I have experienced the inconsistent and arbitrary power of the Gallatin County Board of Health at a sickening level this past year. I am forced to turn away 50 percent of my regular customer base and to run business at break even or less. “

Frye said, “In short our local board of health has lightened their work by forcing small businesses to enforce their arbitrary and inconsistent rules.”

Jackie Wahl

is the mother-in-law of a fallen deputy, Jake Almond Jr. She talked about having to cancel a fundraiser softball tournament for his family, “even though we made every concession to comply with safety measures. … They decided to cancel it, but keep in mind that regular softball season went on all year long, with no problem at all, with a lot more teams.”  

Andrew Cetraro

spoke on behalf of the Gallatin County Licensed Beverage Association, which has over 200 members. “Many times these licenses are a huge investment. …they can pay upwards of a million dollars,” said Cetraro, “This bill gives us the protection needed to pay for our investments and daily costs and mortgages.”

Charlotte Snyder

also said that she doesn’t believe the health board should be able to compel a private business to deny a customer entrance to their business or access to the goods and services, which they provide . “In many cases by denying a customer those goods and services they are denying the public access to basic human necessities. The local boards have erroneously turned  business owners into enforcement arms of the government. When you deny a business the ability to sell a good or service to a customer you are robbing that business of the ability to provide financial stability to their employees, themselves and their families.

“A local small business told me that they were reported for the lack of enforcement of the mask mandate. The health department actually told this business owner they need to have someone at the door opening it and telling the people to wear a mask. They are a small business! They certainly cannot afford to hire a person to open a door. These people, enforcing these mandates, do not have to worry about losing their jobs, yet they are the ones telling small businesses to hire people to open doors.  This is beyond ludicrous .. .the health department clearly has no concept on how private businesses operate and survive.”

Dax Cetraro , owner of the Rialto Bar in Helena,

said “COVID 19 has had devastating impact on our small business. We have had to lay off a good portion of our work force … and up until the 10 pm closing we were barely breaking even and we were able to pay the bills. If it wasn’t for the PPP we would have been out of business a long time ago.” But, he continued, “when they kicked us down to 10 pm, 60 percent of our revenue disappeared. So we have been unable to hire more people.

“If I were in the Rocking R’s situation, I would be crushed. Out of business for good. The Rialto has been around in Helena since the 1930s. That would be a tragic thing to be put out of business because of litigation against something like that … All we want to do as small business people is work. I don’t want the handouts. I don’t want the PPP money. I want to make a living, allow my staff to make a living, earn tips and take care of our guests .. the most horrifying thing in this whole epidemic is this power the boards of health have right now. I am more worried about that than COVID 19.

Franz Glaus, Four Corners

 near Bozeman, said, “We are speaking about the abuse of power. .. the list is long of those who were seriously compromised last year. … We have seen where some Orwellian shared values are ginned up and introduced and rise above the Constitution… in Hunger Games fashion we are muzzled before the community. We are quarantined for Grandma. Our business is decreed non-essential for the greater good. The aged die alone to flatten the curve. This bill 257 and others like it .. are the tools and materials we wish to use to fix some leaks in the roof of state, that shelters us from the occasional deluge of petty tyrants.”

Ken Miller, Laurel, 

testified that as a business owner and property owner with tenants he and his wife have been greatly affected. “We have learned a lot,” he said, “but in most cases most of these things have caused more harm than good… the bottom line is the free enterprise is always the best approach to handle the concerns.”

Raven Dighans

 had only opened her business in December 2019. “We were hopeful…we  continued to adjust our practices so our customers would feel safe .. but then mandates started to come down …with those mandates came a distinct fear that if we as private business owners did not enforce the rules being dictated by the health department there would be retributive action taken against us. I distinctly remember lying awake in my bed at night fretting how we could possibly recover financially if our license was removed or if we received a huge fine or were sued because somebody walked through our door without a mask. The mandates … pitted neighbor against neighbor and incited a witch hunt for businesses  Not only has my business been reported to the health department three times because the wording on our required signage did not dictate the local mandate, letter for letter, I have also been visited by our County COVID Inspector. Yes, that is a thing, if you are not familiar.  Upon entrance into my shop, without identifying herself, the COVID Inspector demanded to know if everyone in the room was from the same family. With that the very few customers that I had had for the day, left.

“This particular representative of the county continued on to inspect me to make sure I was following … not the health regulations that determine the continuation of my license but instead the COVID guidelines dictated by the county health department .

“In speaking with other private business owners who received the same kind of inspection from the county inspector, it became increasingly clear that we all felt that these visits were designed to undermine us as private business owners and to drive home the idea of the seriousness of the retributive action that could take place if we do not concede to and enforce the county mandates.”

Carolyn Truscott

said,  “In my opinion taking steps to limit contact between people is too broad to be comfortable with …limiting contact between people is impossible to implement without a police state and oppression of our right to assemble  How far would local health officers go to limit contact requiring masks , six foot distancing, shorter business hours and reduce business capacity? We see how all of those steps to limit contact backfired and killed businesses and those steps restricted our ability to patronize these businesses.” She called it an “over reaction to a virus”… “as if it were a nuclear meltdown. We can’t cry wolf every time the common cold or flu comes to town.”

Conrad Everetts

represented a campground called Mountain Bike City, west of Helena, said that if HB257 didn’t pass “We are not opening this year.” He said the county’s deference to health officers is based  on three “false premises”: 1.) government health experts are a not political. 2.) that government health experts are competent. 3.) that government health experts are benevolent.  “We spent the last year out-sourcing our politics and allowing our livelihoods to be destroyed by bureaucrats who heretofore were trusted mainly with insuring refrigerators  and tap water were a certain temperature …”

Cindi Hamilton

said, “I am here as a previous business owner. Our business was completely destroyed by the egos of local government agencies. We probably spent a $100,000 trying to save the business but we were not able to. .. I used to support local government. At this point local government has become a power drunk tyranny. What is going on is destroying our lives. Government is supposed to make our lives better.”

Heather Richards of Gallatin County said that life has been “like prison… it is stressful.. we are not thinking about what is happing to the future of our children. We are being muzzled. Our identity is being taken away.” She relayed that “there have been countless times in stores that I have been harassed by total strangers ..  we are being forced by unelected bureaucrats to do things that should not be happening…  I have so much anxiety going into a store today that I have had to take my money away from Montana to shop on- line because I’m fearful of going out in my own town …where I have been for 25 years – How did we get here?”

Gabe Lynn Johnson, Great Falls,

spoke that ”we have lost our freedom. She quoted a holocaust survivor who said that “memories are not the key to the past but to the future.”

Barbara Friend told about what happened when she asked some teenagers at a public pool why they were taking her temperature and that of her children. She was in the pool with her children when a policeman arrived and pulled her out of the pool to question her after the pool workers reported her. She said, “All this ‘ratting out’ has made little teenagers into brown shirts.”

Her statement elicited a response from a legislator on the committee who was indignant, explaining that “brown shirts” were Nazi storm troopers” and “it is wholly unacceptable to throw around insults like that.”

Bryan Miller, Flathead County,

 told a similar story about taking his three children to swim lessons. He said he had an exemption from wearing a mask. The police came, took him into custody and took him to jail. His wife had to come to retrieve the children and bail him out of jail.

Cheryl Tuscan commented that the issue of mandates “have been very divisive and have torn the fabric of our society.” She was astonished about “snitch lines” made available for people to report non-compliance, and of the “undercover health department employees” visiting bars and restaurants to  monitor obedience. “Businesses are afraid… and customers are afraid. We should be able to make informed decisions and NEVER, EVER TOLERATE censorship of the medical community.”

Donna Elford, Helena,

 brought a petition with 69 signatures. She reported that “because of the over reach of the health department the oldest farm market in the state has been destroyed. . . little mom and pops,  little farmers who brought produce were forced to do the mask mandate when there wasn’t even a mandate and so they killed the market.”

Eileen Guthrie said, “No health board or government  should require a business to discriminate. Last Saturday I went to a local store, when I walked in the clerk asked me about a mask …I said no. Privacy laws say they are not to ask you about all your health background… I proceeded through the store. A large man, very tall, came up to me and said I needed to wear a mask . I said no. I proceeded through the store. He came up to me again to make sure I understood that without a mask they would not sell me anything. I said that was fine I was checking prices… As I went through the store he came to me a third time to make sure I knew he would not sell me anything if I did not wear a mask. The store was not crowded. There were no lines at the checkout. There was plenty of room for distancing. It was clear discrimination  and I am guessing it is fear of the health boards that these private employees felt necessary to discriminate against me.

Opponents to the legislation who testified were considerably fewer and tended to represent entities of government or their professional organizations. They voiced concern that HB257 went too far in that it seems to allow businesses to ignore the specific regulations governing how they operate. They seemed not to understand that the issue was about business people being required to police the compliance of others. No opponent addressed that issue nor did they attempt to explain  reports of aggressive and abusive actions of those from government agencies. They had no explanations nor apologies.

Jim Murphy with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services testified that he believed the legislation will lead to confusion. He also said, “The bill limits the ability to take action against some of the businesses that they may regulate. Some of the regulation is very broad . .. and very little action could be taken to address a very valid health concern. .. it may lead to many unintended  consequences.”

Tim Burton, Executive Director for the Montana League of Cities and Towns, and Kelly Lynch, also with the organization, said that they represent 127 municipalities in Montana and urged for postponing action. Burton said, “I don’t think now is the time to re-invent our public health system in the middle of a pandemic.” He said that he understands the economic impact, but the status quo should remain until after it ends, when they can have “an after disaster assessment. Where we can sit down and thoroughly review what worked and what didn’t work and what is a better practice.”

Emily Coyle with the Montana Association of Health Care Purchasers, said “We are concerned with the potential negative unintended consequences of HB257. She said they are opposed to any changes in the state that could hamper our health and recovery …now is not the time to make such drastic changes. It would over burden local boards and governing bodies.

Lance Richards was an opponent who called in to say that individuals have a responsibility to others. He said, “I believe this isn’t the last of have a responsibility  and obligation to oppose the passage of this bill for future generations.”

Michael Biggins, Seeley Lake,

 said it was good to be able to “pursue action against these businesses” and see them fall into compliance and “make life safer for everyone.”

Hinkle said that he would make an amendment that would make clear that the intent of the legislation is


Chapel Court LLP/Jones Construction, Inc, 3940 Rimrock Rd, Com Addition, $25,000

Cornerstone Community Church,  4525 Grand Ave, Com New Other, $20,000

McCall Development /McCall Development, 1703 St George Blvd, Com New Townhome Shell, $520,000

Broadwater Ventures LLC/Neumann Construction, 1110 Broadwater Ave, Com Remodel, $225,000

Larsen Properties LLC , 1045 N 27th St, Com Remodel, $95,000

RPR Properties LLC/Neumann Construction, 1211 Main St, Com Remodel, $20,000

Morledge, Karl/Robert Nelson Const  2702 Minnesota Ave, Com Remodel, $4,000

Andrews, Mary Ann/Big Sky Custom Builders,  404 N 30th St, Change Of Use From A-2 To A-2/B,   Com Remodel – Change In Use, $25,000

Magga LLC/Bighorn Drywall, 5435 Midland Rd, Com Remodel, $15,000

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc, 1585 Governors Blvd, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500  r

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc, 1585 Governors Blvd, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $5,000

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc, 1585 Governors Blvd, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $6,200

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc, 1585 Governors Blvd,  Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $12,000

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc  1545 Governors Blvd    Com Fence/Roof/Siding           $15,500

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc  1515 Governors Blvd,, Com Fence/Roof/Siding     $15,500

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc  2750 Nottingham Cir     Com Fence/Roof/Siding     $15,500

Iret Properties/Drytech Co Llc  2736 Nottingham Cir,  Com Fence/Roof/Siding     $5,500

Hall & Company Llc/Dick Anderson Construction, 80 Shiloh Rd, Com New Other, $900,000

Hall & Company Llc/Dick Anderson Construction, 80 Shiloh Rd, Com New Other, $30,000

Hall & Company Llc/Dick Anderson Construction, 80 Shiloh Rd, Com New Other, $30,000

Sisters Of Charity Of Leavenworth/ Saunders Construction Inc., 1233 N 30th St, Com Remodel,                  $200,000

A Better Property Management Fi/A1 Property Improvements, 328 Grand Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $7,100

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 751 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 751 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $5,850

City Of Billings/C&C Construction Of Northwest Florida LLC, 6th St W, Terry Park, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $78,404

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC,735 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 706 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1572 Nottingham Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 707 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1573 Nottingham Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1573 Nottingham Pl. Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $3,000

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1551 Nottingham Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1574 Guinevere Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

Food Services Of America Inc/Centimark Corp, 1011 S 32nd St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $378,350

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1575 Guinevere Pl   Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1575 Guinevere Pl,   Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $5,850  

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 665 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1576 Lancelot Pl,  Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1576 Lancelot Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $3,000

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1550 Lancelot Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

 IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1577 Lancelot Pl,  Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 1577 Lancelot Pl,  Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $5,850

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 641 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 605 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 605 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $5,525

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 621 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,500

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 621 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $5,525

IRET Properties/Drytech Co LLC, 606 Nottingham Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $8,775

Magnus Land Development LLC/Brown Builders Inc., 6436 Signal Peak Ave, Com New Townhome Shell, $305,827

Kohl’s Illinois Inc, 3900 King Ave W, Com Remodel, $300,000

LKF Investments LLC, 2044 Broadwater Ave, Com Remodel, $1,500

NJ & S Properties Inc/Jones Construction, Inc, 1518 1st Ave, Com Remodel, $140,000

United Properties Inc/Star Service, Inc., 490 N 31st, Com Remodel, $150,000


NA/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 804 Presidio Ln, Res New Single Family, $184,608

Copper Ridge West Inc/Bob Pentecost Construction, 7033 Copper View Way, Res New Single Family,     $415,000

Kammerzell, Tyler L/Image Builders, 5871 Autumnwood   Dr, Res New Single Family, $324,110

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 3101 70th St W, Res New Single Family, $207,770

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 3104 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $199,696

Emineth Custom Homes inc/Emineth Custom Homes, 3761 Donna Ct, Res New Single Family, $373,580

Formation Inc /Helgeson Construction, 4635 Elk Ridge Trl, Res New Single Family, $286,938

Allen, Mark Trailhead Builders Of Montana Llc, 4544 Iron Horse Trl, Res New Single Family, $500,000

Wagenhals Land And Livestock/Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 5523 Morning Star Ln, Res New Single Family,  $270,000

McCall Development/McCall Development, 1703 St George Blvd, Res New Townhome, $43,333

McCall Development/McCall Development, 1703 St George Blvd, Res New Townhome, $43,333

McCall Development/McCall Development, 1703 St George Blvd, Res New Townhome, $43,333

Doschert, Dan, 3727 Colton Blvd, Res New Accessory Structure, $8,000

Donovan, Kelly J/Mac Leffler Construction, 3206 Peregrine Ln, Res New Single Family, $550,000

Kirkpatrick, Stewart & Kelly/ Jorden Construction, 4731 Rim Point Pl, Res New Single Family, $650,000

Newman, Levi, 864 Garnet Ave, Res New Single Family, $282,992

Sider, Nathan Edward & Melissa/Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 930 Vineyard Cir, Res New Single Family, $350,000

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6119 Norma Jean Ln, Res New Single Family, $300,720

Blain, Bobbi, Myers Custom Homes, 518 Shadow Lawn Ct, Res New Single Family, $1,187,000

Heeg, Timothy T/A-Team Contracting, 690 Tabriz Dr,    Res New Accessory Structure, $150,000

Berg, Roxy G/South Pine Design, 4757 Gold Creek Trl,     Res New Single Family, $344,544

Bruechert Custom Homes/Bruechert Custom Homes LLC, 5210 Grass Mountain Rd, Res New Single Family,   $347,120

William P Underriner Irrevocable/Laughlin Construction Inc, 2610 Westfield Dr, Res New Single Family, $609,796

CDH, LLC/CDh, LLC, 4639 Audubon Way, Res New Single Family,  $378,704

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6115 Eva Marie Ln, Res New Single Family, $269,472

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1662 Annas Garden Ln, Res New Single Family, $216,808

Infinity Home/Infinity Home LLC, 5440 Beringer Ln, Res New Single Family $276,616

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1631 Annas Garden Ln, Res New Single Family, $386,992

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1632 Annas Garden Ln, Res New Single Family, $220,774

Na/McCall Development, 6105 Johanns Meadow Ln,        Res New Single Family, $310,624

Wagenhals Land And Livestock/Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 1202 Daybreak Dr, Res New Single Family, $300,000

Copper Ridge West Inc/Infinity Home LLC, 3103 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $217,332

Magnus Land Development LLC/Brown Builders Inc., 6436 Signal Peak Ave, Res New Townhome, $38,228

Soon all local calling will require dialing the “406” area code in order to make the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline effective.

Spectrum announced the implementation of a new 10-digit dialing procedure for Spectrum Voice customers and Spectrum Business Voice clients in Montana, allowing users to easily reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via the new 988 dialing code when it launches in July, 2022.

While seven-digit dialing will remain enabled for several months, beginning October 24, all local calls will require customers dial the area code followed by the seven-digit phone number in order for a call to be completed. Additionally, important safety and security equipment, such as medical alert devices and alarm systems should be programmed to use 10-digit dialing. Beginning July 16, 2022, dialing 988 will automatically route calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Prior to next year’s launch, customers must continue to dial 1-800-273-8255 to reach the hotline.

The new dialing procedure is the result of an FCC order approving 988 as the three-digit abbreviated dialing code to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In order for 988 to operate correctly for Spectrum customers in the 56 area codes listed below, every customer in those area codes must be transitioned to 10-digit dialing for local calls.

The City of Billings hopes to be able to issue a request for bids for the Inner Belt Loop a year from now.

The City of Billings Planning Department released an update last week on the progress of the Inner Belt Loop as it relates to the federal Build Grant, which the city won to help fund the project.

City staff is in the process of meeting all the requirements outlined in the grant in order to enter into an agreement with the Federal Highways (FHWA) department. The agreement cannot be submitted until the construction documents are ready, which means the completion the right-of-way purchase, environmental documents and final construction documents. Staff expects to be able to submit all that information by fall, with another six months required for the FHWA review, putting an executed agreement into April 2022. 

Once the city receives the executed agreement from FHWA, the project will be put out for bid.

Billings was awarded $11.6 million in federal BUILD grant funds to construct the Inner Belt Loop and Skyline Trail in September 2020. The grant award was for only a portion of the requested sum of approximately $16.8 million to complete the Inner Belt Loop, and the pedestrian/bike trails, Skyline and Stagecoach. The City of Billings is supplementing the project with $7 million and $85,000 is being donated from Billings TrailNet.

City planning expected to receive six appraisals for right-of-way procurement at the end of April.

The city has also been in negotiation with an environmental professional who has completed the NEPA environmental process for other recent TIGER and BUILD grants, and believe that his services will cost less than $50,000 to do similar work for Billings. 

They anticipate completing the environmental scoping and contracting also by the end of April, with the environmental (NEPA) work completed within about 6 months.  The consultant will work to prepare the field review and reports, submittals by the consultant to various agencies, and review by agencies for approval.

A date will be announced for the official kick-off event of the project.

As marijuana becomes legalized in more parts of the country and as an increasing number of states grow, harvest, store, sell and allow consumption, the nation’s real estate industry has felt the effects.

According to a new report from the National Association of Realtors, there has been a noticeable rise in demand for warehouses, land and store fronts used for marijuana.

A DEA agent in Montana concurred with that assessment, advising that one of the economic impacts that Billings will see is the buying up of large warehouses or other large open-spaced buildings which will be “gutted” and converted to the growing and production of marijuana.

The 2021 survey, Marijuana and Real Estate: A Budding Issue, examines the impacts of marijuana on real estate in terms of both “medical only” and legalized “medical and recreational” comparing data going back to before 2016.

More than one-third of respondents in states where marijuana has been legalized, said inventory is tight for multiple reasons and cited the marijuana industry as one of the factors. This is also true for those in areas where marijuana was more recently legalized, as 23 percent of Realtors also partially blamed the marijuana industry for the limited inventory.

“The dynamics of marijuana have been far-reaching over the past year, which is evident when you see how it has impacted real estate,” said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for NAR. “As the marijuana laws continue to evolve, Realtors have witnessed increased demand for commercial properties to store, grow and sell marijuana.”

Additionally, 29 percent of commercial members in states that legalized recreational marijuana during the past four years reported growth in property purchasing over leasing in the last year. Nearly half of those in states that legalized both medical and recreational marijuana before 2016, said that they have experienced addendums being added to residential leases that restrict tenants growing marijuana on properties, compared to one quarter or less in other states. Sixty-nine percent of commercial members in states, where only medical marijuana is lawful, said that no additional addendums were being seen in leases concerning marijuana plants. This compares to 45 to 55 percent, where both medical and recreational use are legal.

Possibly in an effort to steer clear of landlord addendums, some marijuana business investors outright bought property rather than leasing, which means they no longer had to adhere to marijuana rules or regulations that they may have considered burdensome. This trend was seen the most in states where marijuana is newly legal.

Among respondents in states where recreational marijuana is legal, they more often said that homeowner associations regularly had policies or restrictions in place pertaining to smoking and growing marijuana. Nearly half of homeowner associations were against smoking in common areas, while about two-fifths prohibited growing in mutual open areas, such as a private yard without fences.

“We saw that a number of property owners at some point in the past had difficulty leasing their property after a previous tenant consumed marijuana there over an extended period,” said Lautz. “To avoid repeats of those issues, landlords have implemented various guidelines that place numerous restrictions on the use of marijuana.”

Lautz says property owners who have imposed such constraints tend to reside or own property in states where marijuana has been legal the longest.

As the marijuana industry evolves, both commercial and residential landlords are balancing efforts to profit from it, while also ensuring that their property remains desirable and at a high value, Lautz said.