Last week, temperatures across Montana ranged from -10 to -36 degrees, with the coldest spot south of the Little Belt Mountains in Meagher County.

Montanans relied on NorthWestern Energy to keep their homes and businesses operating safely. NorthWestern Energy’s Montana customers’ demand for energy, both gas and electric, was at an all-time peak. according to NorthWestern Energy Vice President Transmission Mike Cashell, however, there was almost no wind which helped created a shortage.  To fill the gap, the company went out into the market to purchase energy, but at such times prices increase dramatically because of the increased demand. Market prices on Wednesday were ranging from $50 to $100 per megawatt, compared with about $35 to $40 per megawatt Tuesday, Feb. 22. 

Plans are progressing for a proposed land trust in Lockwood that is envisioned to develop a downtown area for Lockwood and help address a critical shortage of affordable housing.

Three years ago a group of property owners in Lockwood announced a plan to develop a land trust to help develop a town center for Lockwood. The idea was inspired with the issuance of a plan for land-use development  in Lockwood from municipal  planners who had been overseeing a growth study for Lockwood.

Once Conrad and Teresa Stroebe realized that they owned property in the middle of what was being identified as Lockwood’s business center, they started thinking about how to best develop for a downtown – or what the Stroebe’s call an “uptown” since the area is actually at a higher elevation than much of Lockwood. They talked to other property owners in the area. What emerged was the first serious discussion about land trusts which the Stroebes have remained focused upon and hope that the other property owners will be able to become part of it. 

The fundamental purpose of the land trust is to help keep housing and development affordable for the people of Lockwood. “We want to build a village,” say the Stroebes.

Stroebe said that he believes they will have a master plan developed in the next 90 to 120 days. They will then start building the infrastructure so builders can start building on what is anticipated to be a minimum of 40 acres and hopefully closer to 170 acres, along the upper end of Johnson Lane as it joins Ford Road.

“We are not looking for investors but builders,” said Conrad. The proposed project does not have to be done all at once. It can be developed as the market needs.

Land trusts are not for everyone, explain the Stroebes. If you have to own “the dirt” you probably won’t  be interested in the land trust. “I’m one of those people,” said Teresa, but she sees the potential a land trust holds to address what is fast becoming a crisis of affordable housing. It has become a critical need for the whole county. The Stroebes also point to the need in Lockwood for many more retail stores.

Since the Stroebes first initiated their idea about three years ago, the concept of land trusts have gained more interest and have already been developed in some Montana communities such as Bozeman, Missoula, and Red Lodge. They are actually being used across the country to help deal with affordability issues. But actually the concept of land trusts is not all that new. A century ago people were utilizing the concept in building cabins on publically-owned forest service land with 99-year leases.

A more recent and perfect example for Lockwood, points out Conrad, is the development of the St. Vincent Clinic on the Lockwood School Campus.  While the school district retains ownership of the property, a developer leased the property , built the building, and is now leasing it to St. Vincent Health Care on a 30 year lease, which is renewable on into the future. The developer owns the building, which he can, with the school district’s permission, lease or sell to someone else. In their agreement with the developer, at the end of the ground lease with the school the building becomes the property of the school district.

That is exactly how a land trust can work.

Land trusts are increasingly being used across the country to meet a variety of community needs. Most commonly they are used in meeting residential needs, but they are equally adaptable to serving commercial and retail developments. What the Lockwood property owners are planning is essentially a “planned unit development”, which is a holistic concept  within which a general layout is designed, identifying structure types, streets, utilities, landscaping and other features.

The Stroebes envision a campus kind of development. They have already purchased 700 trees that will be planted this spring on the rolling Lockwood hills, so as the community grows so will the trees.

Stroebe pointed to the development of Shiloh Commons at Central Avenue and Shiloh Road, in west Billings, as an example of a planned unit development, except it isn’t as large, and it is a for-profit project.

As a non-profit organization, Lockwood’s Town Center would probably lease property, long term – such as 99 year leases – with all revenues generated reinvested in the maintenance and continued infrastructure development of the site. Administration of the development would be flexible enough to meet market demands and to be able to adapt as changes occur in the future.

The trust pays for taxes on the land and the home or shop owner pays the taxes on the building.

“It is not to make money but to save money for the community,” said Conrad Stroebe. Teresa noted that it will just be another option for people. They are not really intending to compete with more traditional developers, but they do want to create opportunities by keeping the ever escalating cost of land under control – most especially for low and middle income home owners.

A community land trust (CLT) model is a form of permanently affordable housing in which a community-controlled organization retains ownership of the land and sells or rents the housing on that land to lower income households in exchange for purchasing homes at below-market prices. Owners agree to resale price restriction  that keep homes permanent affordable to subsequent households with similar income levels. Meanwhile, the sellers are still able to build some equity.

Stroebe explained that what that means is that rather than having to spend $75,000 to $100,000 for a lot the builder or home owner just signs a lease. That alone can bring down the cost of a new home by 43 percent.

CLT provides not only the opportunity to get into affordable housing and to build equity, but to also learn about the responsibilities of property ownership.

If they are structured right, lenders are very willing to lend on the properties, because they have demonstrated to have far less risks associated with the property.

A historic number of small businesses are struggling to increase their workforce, according to National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB) monthly jobs report. A net 50 percent of small business owners reported raising compensation, up two points from December and a 48-year record high reading. A net 27% plan to raise compensation in the next three months, down five points from December.

“Small business owners are managing the reality that the number of job openings exceeds the number of unemployed workers, producing a tight labor market and adding pressure on wage levels,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Reports of owners raising compensation continues at record-high levels to attract applicants to their open positions.”

Twenty-three percent of owners said that labor quality was their top business problem, down two points from December. Eleven percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem. Reports of labor costs as the top business problem are at 48-year record high levels, just two points below December’s record-breaking 13%.

Forty-seven percent of owners (seasonally adjusted) reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, down two points from December. The number of unfilled job openings still far exceeds the 48-year historical average of 23%.

Small business owners’ plans to fill open positions remain at record high levels, with a seasonally adjusted net 26% planning to create new jobs in the next three months, down two points from December but only six points below the highest reading in the 48-year history of the survey set in August 2021.

Overall, 59% of small employers reported hiring or trying to hire in January, down one point from December. Ninety-three percent of those hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. Twenty-nine percent of owners reported few qualified applicants for their open positions and 26% reported none.

Thirty-six percent of owners have openings for skilled workers and 22% have openings for unskilled labor. Forty-four percent of the job openings in construction are for skilled workers. Sixty-four percent of construction firms reported few or no qualified applicants, one of the tightest domestic labor markets.

Commercial

Rent Is Due LLC/Jas Contracting, 1140 1st Ave N, Com Fence/Roof/ Siding, $5,000

G & J Diesel Performance LLC/ Raisin Contracting Inc, 1739 Main St,  Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $52,000

City Of Billings/Warren Transport Inc., 2216 38th St W, Com New Other $1,651,258

Landon’s Legacy Foundation/Bauer Construction, 2216 38th St W, Com New Other, $750,000

JNL Holdings LLC/Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 1450 S 32nd St W, Com New Other $2,850,000

W Rimrock Owner LP/Andre’s Construction, 316 S 24th St, Com Remodel $160,000

West Grand Plaza LLC/Jones Construction, Inc, 3039 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $190,000

Lads Hospitality Associates Ll/ Lads Hospitality Associates LLC, 956 S 25th St W, Com Remodel , $456,625

Shamrock Foods/Yellowstone Basin Construction, Com Remodel – Change In Use,

1323 Main St, $900,000

Jack Gray/ Golden Sands General Contractors, 1313 Grand Ave, Com New Other, $150,000

1400 S 24th LLC/T.W. Clark Construction LLC,1390 S 24th St W, Com New Restaurant/Casino/ Bar, $1,900,000

4M Properties/ JRB Construction, 50 27th St W, Com Remodel, $79,800

Residential

Ironwood Land LLC/Colters Construction LLC, 6056 Canyonwoods Dr, Res New Single Family, $405,500

Lorenz Construction/Lorenz Construction, 3504 Crater Lake Ave, Res New Single Family, $256,294

McCall Homes/ McCall Development, 1801 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $217,352

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6126 Norma Jean Ln, Res New Single Family, $409,521

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6047 Elysian Rd, Res New Single Family, $155,277

McCall Homes/ McCall Development, 6041 Elysian Rd, Res New Two Family, $224,432

McCall Homes/ McCall Development, 6041 Elysian Rd, Res New Two Family, $258,618

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6047 Elysian Rd, Res New Two Family, $260,768

Upfront Development/Aaron Higginbotham, 2203 Lindero Blvd, Res New Single Family, $252,888

Diverse Construction/Diverse Construction Llc, 2051 Gleneagles Blvd, Res New Single Family, $263,284

Ferguson, Kristy R/Capp, Jerry Construction, 2264 Greenbriar Rd, Res New Single Family, $268,732

Feusner, Leroy & Lynnette/Image Builders, 2504 Aspen Creek Trl, Res New Single Family, $560,000

Wagenhals Land And Livestock L/ Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 1105 Daybreak Dr, Res New Single Family, $211,452

McCalls Homes/McCalls Development, 6035 Elysian Rd, Res New Single Family, $260,968

McCalls Homes/ McCalls Development, 6140 Johanns Meadow Ln, Res New Single Family, $283,222

McCalls Homes/  McCalls Development, 1890 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $283,222

Founder and President of America21, Marc Malone, will present a two-hour talk on what the Great Reset actually is and how it can be stopped, on Feb. 18 at the  Big Horn Resort in Billings. Backers of the America21 Initiative of Repealing & Blocking Agenda 2030 include; Republican Central Committee, Yellowstone County GOP, Stillwater County GOP, Carbon County GOP, and the John Birch Society.

“From Lockdowns, Economic Devastation and Inflation to Vaccine-Passports and Shipping Shortages – everything is linked to the Reset which is fundamentally a Climate Change project – not a Covid one”, says Malone, a Philosophy-Science Academic and a man of Faith. “The Great Reset is politically underway via Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development in almost every city in America, and indeed the world. It happens locally. Nothing is more important than ending Sustainable Development, and regaining control of America’s economy and infrastructure. Our future must be the freedom to choose what we do or don’t do, instead of the UN’s Global State choosing it. Our future must be Sovereignty.” The Event will cover topics such as – the importance of faith and significance of the Biblical stories to the Great Reset, why America is under-attack, why Christians are under-attack, how Agenda 21 and 2030 are reshaping our civilization – and the political remedy to Save America from Global Governance. Tickets to the event can be found for $10 at https://big-sky-worldview-forum.ticketleap.com/malone-2-18-2022/details.Founder and President of America21, Marc Malone, will present a two-hour talk on what the Great Reset actually is and how it can be stopped, on Feb. 18 at the  Big Horn Resort in Billings. Backers of the America21 Initiative of Repealing & Blocking Agenda 2030 include; Republican Central Committee, Yellowstone County GOP, Stillwater County GOP, Carbon County GOP, and the John Birch Society.

“From Lockdowns, Economic Devastation and Inflation to Vaccine-Passports and Shipping Shortages – everything is linked to the Reset which is fundamentally a Climate Change project – not a Covid one”, says Malone, a Philosophy-Science Academic and a man of Faith. “The Great Reset is politically underway via Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development in almost every city in America, and indeed the world. It happens locally. Nothing is more important than ending Sustainable Development, and regaining control of America’s economy and infrastructure. Our future must be the freedom to choose what we do or don’t do, instead of the UN’s Global State choosing it. Our future must be Sovereignty.” The Event will cover topics such as – the importance of faith and significance of the Biblical stories to the Great Reset, why America is under-attack, why Christians are under-attack, how Agenda 21 and 2030 are reshaping our civilization – and the political remedy to Save America from Global Governance. Tickets to the event can be found for $10 at https://big-sky-worldview-forum.ticketleap.com/malone-2-18-2022/details.

By Michael Vondra

What are your financial resolutions for 2022?

      As you know, 2021 was full of challenges. We were still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic when supply chains shut down and inflation heated up. So, if you’re like many people, you might not be sorry to see the year come to a close. But now it’s time to look ahead to a brighter 2022. And on a personal level, you may want to set some New Year’s resolutions. You might resolve to improve your health and diet, and possibly learn some new skills, but why not make some financial resolutions, too?

      Here are a few ideas to consider:

      • Prepare for the unexpected. If you haven’t already created an emergency fund, now may be a good time to start. Ideally, you’d like to have three to six months’ worth of living expenses in this fund, with the money kept in a low-risk, liquid account. (If you’re retired, you may want your emergency fund to contain up to a year’s worth of living expenses.) Once you’ve got this fund established, you may be able to avoid dipping into long-term investments to pay for short-term needs, such as costly home or auto repairs or large medical bills.

      • Boost your retirement savings. The pandemic caused many us to reevaluate our ability to eventually enjoy the retirement lifestyles we’ve envisioned. In fact, 33% of those planning to retire soon said they started to contribute even more to their retirement savings during the pandemic, according to a study from Age Wave and Edward Jones. This year, if you can afford it, increase your contributions to your IRA and your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan.

      • Reduce your debt load. The less debt you carry, the more money you’ll have available to support your lifestyle today and save and invest for tomorrow. So, this year, resolve to cut down on your existing debts and avoid taking on new ones whenever possible. You can motivate yourself by measuring your progress – at the beginning of 2022, record your total debts and then compare this figure to your debt load at the start of 2023. If the numbers have dropped, you’ll know you were making the right moves.

      • Don’t overreact to the headlines. A lot can happen during a year. Consider inflation – it shot up in 2021, but it may well subside in 2022. If you changed your investment strategy last year to accommodate the rise in inflation, would you then have to modify it again when prices fall? And inflation is just one event. What about changes in interest rates? How about new legislation coming out of Washington? And don’t forget extreme weather events, such as wildfires and floods. Any or all of these occurrences can affect the financial markets in the short term, but it just doesn’t make sense for you to keep changing the way you invest in response to the news of the day. Instead, stick with a strategy that’s appropriate for your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. You may need to adjust this strategy over time, in response to changes in your own life, but don’t let your decisions be dictated by external events. 

      These aren’t the only financial resolutions you can make – but following them may help you develop positive habits that can help you face the future with confidence.

Michael A Vondra

Certified Financial Planner Practitioner

Edward Jones

Misty Wittman has been promoted to Assistant Vice President, Consumer Loan Officer for the Stockman Bank Billings Shiloh location. Her responsibilities include administering installment loans, lines of credit and home equity loan portfolios, along with assisting clients with their financial needs. 

Wittman brings over 20 years of banking experience to the position, which includes personal banking, customer relations, new accounts and business development. She has been with Stockman Bank since 2012 and most recently served as a personal banking officer.  

Wittman is active in the community, serving as a board member for the Laurel Exchange Club and is a member of the Billings Chamber Leadership Alumni Task Force. She is also involved in Stockman Bank related events.

 She is located at 1450 Shiloh Road.

The Flathead Lake real estate market set a record for sales in September. $43 million in lake shore properties were sold last month. The largest sales was a 15,000 plus square foot house that listed for $21 million. The year-to-date total sales on Flathead Lake is $157.4 million, compared to $117.5 million in 2020.

Daniel Pendergraph has voiced the question: What impact might this boom in human activity have on the pristine water quality of backcountry lakes? In a new study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, Pendergraph and others set out to determine if increased human visitation to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area led to an increase in human fecal contamination in backcountry lakes. The teams collected ssamples from 21 lakes and two snow melt streams. Human-associated bacteria were found in very low abundances in all sites tested, which means they were present but not quantifiable. Only one of the sites had a quantifiable presence of the bacteria, but the number was still relatively low.

Dan Graves, Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO plans to retire at the end of the 2021-22 ski season, according to a report from the resort. Graves helped grow and promote the resort during his 15-year tenure. The 2020-2021 season was the resort’s busiest ever, with nearly 460,000 skier visits. Nick Polumbus, the resort’s director of marketing and sales, will take over as CEO upon Graves’ retirement.

The Kalispell City Council has decided to put in place regulations that will restrict marijuana businesses to Kalispell’s industrial zones. Marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and manufacturing will be an administrative conditionally permitted use in those zones, as long as they are placed more than 300 feet from schools, parks, churches and residential zones.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has detected a groundwater plume containing toxic chemicals under Butte High School. The plume was first detected in 2009. The Environmental Protection Agency contracted a preliminary investigation of the site over a decade later. The 2021 report found the site posed a potential risk to human health and recommended a thorough site inspection. The chemical concentrations found in 2009 present a fairly low risk to people, as does the potential exposure pathway.

Hachi Sushi Pub is opening this winter inside the Market at Ferguson Farm in Bozeman. The restaurant will focus seasonal seafood from West Coast markets. They will offer different styles of sushi as well as fusion flavors. The restaurant and bar’s concept is heavily inspired by Japanese pubs, called izakaya, which serve drinks and a variety of small dishes and pub fare.

Tina Cusker and her husband, Brett Cusker, are opening La Cuisine, a kitchen store and culinary classroom. La Cuisine offers a variety of kitchen ware and supplies, including many Montana made products. La Cuisine plans to host weekly cooking classes in a newly renovated commercial-grade kitchen. La Cuisine, at 2405 W. Main St., is will be open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Weekly cooking classes are planned to be held Tuesday evenings.

The bank in Fairview has been a part of the Fairfield community since 1941. Over the years the name has changed from Fairview Bank to Montana Bank of Fairview, then to First Security Bank – West and currently Merchants Bank. Merchants Bank acquired the Fairview Branch on Oct. 14, 2011 and the ten year anniversary was celebrated recently.

Oil and gas operators across the nation are preparing to announce carbon reduction goals and ESG plans. ONEOK is the most recent Bakken company to announce an ambitious ESG goal. It will reduce both Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2019 levels. Scope 1 and 2 emissions include direct emissions from company-operated sources and indirect emissions from purchased power. Oasis Petroleum has released the first of what it plans to make an annual sustainability report, which outlines the company’s ESG measures. Liberty Oilfield Services ESG statement turns things around to look at energy through the lens of making human lives better.

Williams County commissioners have rejected a proposal that would have limited the number of TENORM facilities permitted in the county. The idea came up during discussion of requests by WISCO and Secure Energy Services for permission to accept up to 25,000 tons annually of TENORM wastes.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks has begun a significant restructuring including the hiring of new upper management that will oversee a responsibilities from statewide site maintenance to recreation management. Hope Stockwell is the manager of the new FWP Parks and Recreation Division. The division includes Montana State Parks and maintenance of sites including state parks, fishing access sites and wildlife management areas plus all of the department’s recreation and access programs including Block Management, trail grants and recreation planning such as work on the Madison River. While sites such as fishing access sites might be funded through license sales, they often see plenty of use for non-fishing recreation.

The Little Shell Tribal Health Clinic, which is located at 425 Smelter Ave. NE in Great Falls, is set to open on Nov. 11. Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency that provides medical care to federally recognized tribes, is expected to run the clinic initially, but the tribe plans to assume clinic leadership within three years. The 10,000-square-foot clinic includes 12 exam and behavioral health rooms and features a pharmacy with drive-thru access. 

The latest numbers show Williston Basin Airport was about half of what it was in 2019, but triple the numbers from the same time in 2020. Over the last few months both Delta and United Airlines have returned to a pre-COVID level of service at XWA.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, along with 46 state Farm Bureaus including the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and 280 organizations representing family-owned agribusinesses, sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to leave important tax policies in place as they draft legislation implementing President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. The letter addresses four key tax provisions that make it possible for farmers and ranchers to survive and pass their businesses on to the next generation: estate taxes, stepped-up basis, 199A small business deduction and like-kind exchanges.

“The policies Congress enacts now will determine agricultural producers’ ability to secure affordable land to start or expand their operations,” the letter states. “Regardless of whether a business has already been passed down through multiple generations or is just starting out, the key to their longevity is a continued ability to transition when a family member or business partner dies. For this reason, we firmly believe the current federal estate tax code provisions must be maintained.”

These tools are as crucial as ever as the number of farmers and ranchers 65 and older outnumber those 35 and under by a four-to-one margin. More than 370 million acres are expected to change hands in the next two decades.

“As the economic backbone of nearly every county and rural community across the U.S., the importance of American agriculture and related industries cannot be overlooked,” the letter continues. “Farmers, ranchers, and family-owned agribusiness operators are responsible for producing the safe, affordable, and abundant food, fiber, and fuel supplies Americans enjoy every day. As the stewards of nearly 900 million acres of crop and rangeland, farmers and ranchers play an important role in terms of natural resource and land conservation. For agricultural producers, carrying on the legacy of our predecessors and setting the next generation up for success is critically important.”

The full letter can be found at fb.org/newsroom.

Rimrock is planning a new multi-building treatment campus in the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD). The new campus will be located on 6th Avenue North between 13th and 15th Avenue and is key for the region to meet the growing need for substance use disorder treatment and mental health services.

Rimrock has operated from its current facility since 1981 and has added numerous remote facilities over the years. This campus will allow Rimrock to bring all services and resources to a single site. Rimrock provides medical detoxification, inpatient, residential, substance use assessments and outpatient services. Additionally, Rimrock is a licensed Mental Health Center and provides, family and individual therapy. Each of these programs is designed to treat the whole person, addressing the impact of substance abuse and mental health on a person’s social, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. With substance abuse on the rise and increased awareness of the importance of mental health, Rimrock is eager to grow in order to better serve the region.

With the growing demand for Rimrock’s services and the increasing opportunity for community partnerships addressing substance use disorder treatment and public safety, this new campus will become an integral part of the community’s strategy to provide needed resources. Rimrock was committed to staying in the downtown core, knowing this location is preferred for their clients to be able to access other community resources. Rimrock’s new location will re-develop an entire block in the EBURD.

The estimated total cost of this state-of-the-art mental health and substance use disorder treatment campus is $22 million. While construction won’t start immediately, the philanthropic fundraising will. Rimrock hopes to raise several million dollars through a capital campaign. In addition, the organization will contribute $2 million from savings. The balance will be financed through the sales of Rimrock’s current facilities, New Market Tax Credits, and private financing. The new facility will more than double Rimrock’s square footage, creating more than 78,000 square feet of necessary space to serve the needs of the region. Rimrock is working with local architects, Collaborative Design, and the new campus is expected to be open in late 2023.

“We are so proud of the work we’ve done here for the last 40 years, but we know we can do more,” said Lenette Kosovich, CEO of Rimrock. “We believe now is the time for expansion and a new neighborhood-like treatment campus. This envisioned campus will be intentionally designed to meet the needs of Rimrock’s clients and will create a more welcoming atmosphere. Expanding our services and creating this campus has been on the boards planning for many years and we are very excited to be taking this next step. People need us more than ever. We’re ready to step up to that challenge.”