Yellowstone County’s Disaster & Emergency Services Coordinator K. C. Williams has received a letter from the Department of Military Affairs for Montana announcing that his application for a grant to improve cyber security for Yellowstone County has been approved.

Official notification will probably not come until about September, said Williams, but at least tentatively the Senior Advisory Committee and the Homeland Security Advisor has selected Yellowstone County’s Cyber Security project for inclusion in Montana’s application to the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA for fiscal 2020. (Emergency services in Montana operate under the auspices of the Department of Military Affairs.)

The $75,000 grant will allow the county to make the needed improvements in a more complete, holistic approach than the phases that the county would otherwise have had to pursue. The end results will be much better, said Williams, and it won’t have to be funded by Yellowstone County taxpayers.

A few months ago, Jeff Slavick, Director of Information Technology in Yellowstone County, submitted a proposal to County Commissioners to begin the process of updating the county’s cyber security which he said was woefully inadequate. Upon learning this, Williams pointed out that improving cyber security of government agencies was a high priority of Homeland Security and they were making grants available.

Williams submitted an application for Slavick’s proposal. Some security the county has to provide by law, but much of it is just matter of good stewardship.

“It is just a better idea to be more secure” with all of the county’s electronic documents and data storage, said Williams, explaining that the county interacts with a lot of government agencies, as well as the civilian population, all of which are subject to potential cyber threats.

The grant will probably have an effective date of October 1. Williams said that he expects that the federal government will require that the project be completed within a year from the effective date.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced that the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award $1.187 billion in airport safety and infrastructure grants. The total includes $731 million in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants and an additional $455 million in Supplemental Discretionary grants. The money will be available for 100 percent of the eligible costs under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“This Federal investment of over $1 billion represents the Department’s continued commitment to the safety and efficiency of our nation’s airports for the traveling public,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

 A complete listing of grants (PDF) and an interactive map of airports receiving funding is available on the FAA website. Montana has received about $15 million and in this award will receive a total of $7.7 million.   Billings Logan International Airport will receive $255,410  to reconfigure the runway;  $ 2,117,366  to expand the terminal and $663,063                            to acquire land for approaches.

 “The 439 grants will ensure that airport sponsors can make the necessary improvements so their airports can operate in a safe and efficient manner for years to come,” said FAA Administrator Stephen M. Dickson

By Michael Lucci, The Center Square

Real-time unemployment rates climbed across all states during the week ending April 18, based on data from the Department of Labor. A new wave of 4.4 million American workers filed for unemployment insurance benefits, bringing the total count of initial unemployment claims up to 26.4 million in the last five weeks of Department of Labor data.

Montana’s real-time unemployment rate was 18.7 percent. Nationally it had climbed to 21.4 percent on the initial claims data, based upon 50 Economy labor market estimates. Initial claims have decreased week-over-week for three weeks in a row. However, the total count of unemployed American workers continues to climb by millions per week even as new claims slow down.

Real-time unemployment rates vary widely across the states from Kentucky (31.2%) Pennsylvania (29.1%) and Michigan (28.7%) at the high end to Wyoming (12.5%) Utah (11.7%) and South Dakota (9.3%) on the low end.

The real-time unemployment rate uses March Bureau of Labor Statistics data as a baseline, and includes recent workforce dropouts as unemployed. This baseline unemployment count is combined with 5 weeks of initial unemployment claims from the Department of Labor to arrive at the total estimate of unemployed for each state.

This method shows an estimated 35 million unemployed Americans through April 18.

The federal CARES Act and the extensions of its aid provisions have provided financial support to workers and businesses affected by the crisis in order to help them survive the crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically depressed economic activity, consistent with prior economic research on pandemics, and economic activity will not return completely until there is a vaccine or curative drug for the virus. States now have the tremendous responsibility of executing safe strategies to gradually reopen their economies, balancing the trade-off between healthcare risks and the risks of an economic depression.

Once states are re-opened, they can ease regulatory red tape in order to allow for more efficient business formation and job creation. Re-opening strategies should be followed up by public policy reforms that make it easier to start businesses and find new jobs. State and local red tape should be scaled back, and state tax codes should improve their treatment of operating losses and the depreciation of new business investments.

America needs innovation and growth from the private sector in order to pull the economy out of crisis. This can occur more rapidly if there is policy innovation in the public sector to clear the pathway to economic success. Federal government aid to help businesses survive should not be unwound by state and local red tape. Policymakers can instead take a proactive role in advancing overdue measures to produce a better tax code and lighter regulations.

Michael Lucci is the President and publisher of He also serves as a Senior Policy Advisor to the State Policy Network. He  was the Vice President of State Projects for the Tax Foundation.

By Evelyn Pyburn

While getting a disaster loan through the US Small Business Administration is an important salvation for many businesses suffering losses because of the COVID-19 business closures, waiting weeks for the loan approval process may still be too much for some small businesses to survive.

To bridge that gap Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) has structured a more immediate loan process designed to get cash into the hands of small businesses, as soon as possible.

In talking to many small businesses in the Billings area and asking them what they needed to survive, Dena Johnson, SBDC Regional Director and BSED Entrepreneurial Development, said that they were repeatedly told that weeks will be too long to wait. She said that one businessman of ten years in Billings said, “I won’t make it if funding takes more than a couple weeks… I need cash and I need it fast.”

A BSED team went to work structuring a program that would fit the urgent need, which will utilize funds from a reserve set aside by BSED for just such a purpose.

In a special BSED “zoom” board meeting, on Monday, the program received approval and Brandon Berger, BSED Director of Business Finance, was given authority to administer it.

Berger explained that the board made available $250,000 to make interim loans of up to $15,000 per owner /business who has filed for an SBA Disaster Relief Loan. Upon application the funds should be available within 24 to 48 hours. The one year loan will be charged 2 percent interest. When the SBA loan comes through for the business owner, the first disbursement will be to repay the $15,000.

If the applicant should be refused by the SBA for a disaster loan, the BSED bridge loan will convert to a three-year loan.

Details for the “BSED Stabilization Loan Program” are still being worked out, but the US Small Business Administration is accepting applications for disaster loans now. BSED will announce when they are ready to accept applications.

Since SBA 504 loan clients are being offered an opportunity to defer their principal and interest payments for six months to help cope with the losses suffered from COVID-19 economic impacts, Berger said those clients will not be considered eligible for the BSED Stabilization Loan Program. Many of those clients have already applied for deferred payments. Berger said those applications are coming “fast and furious.” So far they have received 19 requests.

[Forms to apply for SBA loans is available on line at https:// disaster/ apply-for-disaster-loan/ index.html? mc_cid= 00841b9e69& mc_eid= 906d2a23d1]

Berger explained that the $250,000 is being drawn from a reserve of $1 million that BSEDA acquired through the administration of a federal Small Business Credit Initiative. BSEDA was charged with loaning the money to businesses and as the principle and interest was repaid the agency was allowed to retain the funds to use as they see fit to support businesses.

Pedestrian fatalities have been increasing over the past decade, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, which expresses puzzlement as to why.

In the end, their analysis seems to blame it on drivers shifting from the use of cars to SUVs and pickup trucks. Pedestrians struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to die as those struck by a car.

Another possible reason is the legalization of pot.

Based on data from the first six months of 2019, the Association projected there were 6,590 pedestrian deaths that year, which would be a 5 percent increase over the 6,227 pedestrian deaths in 2018 — the highest number of such deaths in more than 30 years, according to the association.

“In the past 10 years, the number of pedestrian fatalities on our nation’s roadways has increased by more than 50 percent,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins, calling the trend “alarming.”

Pedestrians are projected to account for 17 percent of all traffic deaths in 2019, compared to 12 percent in 2009.

While nationally the increase (based on 2017 data) was 35 percent over a decade, in Montana the increase in pedestrian fatalities has been 20 percent – increasing from 5 to 6 in 2018.

The report mentions that of “[t]he seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and DC that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017 versus the first six months of 2016, whereas all other states reported a collective 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities.”  But so far the data is inconsistent about the impact of pot legalization.

The Association’s report states, “In recent years, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States has grown sharply. During the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017, the number of pedestrian fatalities increased by 35 percent (from 4,414 deaths in 2008 to 5,977 deaths in 2017); meanwhile, the combined number of all other traffic deaths declined by six percent. Along with the increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities, pedestrian deaths as a percentage of total motor vehicle crash deaths increased from 12 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2017. . . . GHSA estimates the nationwide number of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018 was 6,227, an increase of four percent from 2017.”

Unmentioned in the association’s conclusion is the fact that there has been an all-out press by the federal government trying to encourage, if not force, more people to walk and cycle rather than drive. If there are more pedestrians as a consequence, would not that increase explain the increase in the number of pedestrian / vehicle accidents?

According to the report:

—25 states (and DC) had increases in pedestrian fatalities;

—23 states had decreases; and

—Two states remained the same

— Five states (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas) accounted for almost half — 46 percent — of all pedestrian deaths. On a per capita basis the highest is New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Hawaii,

—  New Mexico had the highest rate of pedestrian deaths per resident population, while New Hampshire had the lowest.

— Increases in pedestrian fatalities are occurring largely at night.

The study suggests that pedestrian fatalities may be linked to population growth in specific cities and states.

It also states: “The increasing shift in U.S. vehicle sales away from passenger cars to light trucks (with light trucks generally causing more severe pedestrian impacts than cars) is also a factor. Although passenger cars are the largest category of vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian crashes, the number of pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs increased at a faster rate — 50 percent – from 2013 to 2017 compared to passenger cars, which increased by 30 percent.”

An analysis of states with an increased number of fatalities compared to those with a reduced number, interestingly reveals that most of the states with increases are southern states, while those with lower rates are northern states.

One analysis of the data by ………..suggests that the reason for increased pedestrian fatalities has to do with the trend of states legalizing the use of marijuana and the fact that more pedestrians and drivers are under its influence.

Despite the state’s number of SUVs and pickups on the highways, Montana, on a per capita basis comes in just below the mid-point of a ranking of the states in terms of pedestrian fatalities.

From Center Square

Earning a salary of $100,000 a year is a major financial milestone for many Americans. The good news is that with steadily rising wages and increasing demand for skilled jobs, the goal of earning a six-figure salary is more attainable than ever before.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the percentage of individuals with a total income of $100,000 or more per year (in 2018 dollars) has increased dramatically. While only 3.5 percent of earners in 1980 had the equivalent of a six-figure salary, that number rose to over 11 percent in 2018. This upward trend closely follows the trend in mean individual income over the same period. Nationwide, the mean annual income was $50,413 in 2018 for all individuals ages 15 and over.

The share of high-paying jobs is expected to increase significantly over the next 10 years, especially due to increased demand in the healthcare, management, and technology industries. The average projected employment growth rate across all occupations for the period 2018-2028 is 5.2 percent, but occupations with a mean annual pay of $100,000 or more are expected to increase twice as fast, at almost 10 percent. High-paying healthcare jobs, in particular, will expand rapidly as an aging population requires increased medical care.

Jobs that are most frequently attaining this goal are CEO’s, college health specialties teachers,  Health Specialties Teachers, marketing managers, construction managers, administrative services managers, pharmacists, medical and health services managers, sales managers, computer and information systems managers, financial managers, lawyers, physicians and surgeons, software developers and programmers, general and operations managers.

When it comes to how much income taxes Montana collects per capita, it ranks 24th highest in the nation collecting $ 1,119 for the most recent year in which there is data.

The individual income tax is one of the most significant sources of revenue for state and local governments, states The Tax Foundation.

In fiscal year 2017, individual income taxes generated 23.3 percent of state and local tax collections, right behind general sales taxes (23.6 percent).

On average, state and local governments collected $1,198 per capita in individual income taxes, but collections varied widely from state to state, a function of both rate structures and income distributions, with higher-income states generating significantly more revenue per capita whether they have a high graduated rate system, like California, or a modest flat-rate income tax like Massachusetts.

New York ($2,877), the District of Columbia ($2,815), Maryland ($2,390), Connecticut ($2,227), Massachusetts ($2,145), and California ($2,137) came in with the top five collections per capita. Tennessee ($37) and New Hampshire ($49) tax investment income but not wage income, making them the states with the lowest individual income tax collections per capita. Of the states that tax wage income, the lowest collections per capita in fiscal year 2017 can be found in North Dakota ($423), Arizona ($489), Mississippi ($614), Louisiana ($632), and New Mexico ($640).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the Justice Department, announced the release of the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit (BPSOU) consent decree.  This document provides the framework for the continued cleanup of mining-related contamination to protect public health and the environment in Butte and Walkerville, Montana. 

The consent decree requires Atlantic Richfield to undertake or finance over $150 million in cleanup actions, provide financial assurances for future cleanup actions, and provide enhanced community benefits through the implementation of end land use plans along the Silver Bow Creek Corridor.

Additionally, EPA Region 8 is releasing an amendment to the 2006 Record of Decision for the BPSOU Operable Unit in this matter that will expand cleanup efforts. The amendment will require the removal of contaminated tailings at the Northside and Diggings East Tailings areas and contaminated sediment and additional floodplain contamination from Silver Bow and Blacktail Creeks.  The amendment will also require the treatment of more contaminated stormwater before it flows into the creeks, and the capture and treatment additional contaminated groundwater.  Once executed by the parties and entered by the Court, the consent decree will implement this amended remedy.

The release of the consent decree will provide the commissioners of Butte Silver Bow County – who must approve the document before it can be submitted to the court – an opportunity to consider the document in a public forum.  This process allows Butte Silver Bow County to inform and educate the public and the county commissioners about the content of the consent decree. Once that process concludes, the county commissioners will vote on whether to approve the document.

Once all consent decree signatures are obtained, the consent decree documents will be lodged with the federal district court of Montana.  The Justice Department will publish a formal notice in the Federal Register, stating that the department is accepting public comment on the document for a period of thirty days from the date the notice is published.  Under State law, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is also required to hold a public comment period on the consent decree, which will run concurrently.

While the public comment period will not start until after the consent decree is lodged with the court, EPA, the state, Butte Silver Bow County, and Atlantic Richfield have posted the document on their websites, and paper copies will be made available at the Montana Tech Library (1300 W. Park St.) and Citizens Technical Environmental Committee (27 W. Park St.) for public review at

What does Home Science Tools have in common with Billings Flying Service? What does Heights Eyecare have in common with Montana Peterbilt?

All are among the 21 businesses in Yellowstone County that have received tax abatements to encourage the expansion and growth of their businesses. In doing so they have invested a total of $480 million in capital improvements and new construction, and created 25 new jobs between 2017 and 2018, which have total payrolls of $153 million.

The list includes the tax abatements granted to CHS Refinery in Laurel and Phillips 66 Refinery, which tend to distort what the economic development tool does for Yellowstone County, explained Patrick Klugman, Senior Project Manager for Big Sky Economic Development, who oversees the program. Leaving those two companies out of the totals gives a more realistic picture of the impact of the program.

All of the other 19 companies experienced payroll increases in 2018, said Klugman. They had a payroll total of $106,228,797.

Tax savings in 2018 for the 19 companies was $373,905. Including the refineries, tax savings was $5,265,000.

Last week, Klugman highlighted Home Science Tools in making a report about the tax abatement programs to Yellowstone County Commissioners. The company celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The company sells, through an on-line website, science educational tools all over the world. Frank Schaner, President, said, “The property tax abatement program has contributed in part to our success by reducing the risk of establishing a permanent place of business operation and freeing up funds for future growth.” He said that since 2006 the company’s annual payroll has increased $870,000 or 2.4 times.

Also, highlighted was Billings Flying Service. Since 2018 the company has added 18 new full time jobs. It had a $2.5 million payroll increase from 2017-18, and currently employs 84 full-time and part –time employees.

Say co-owners, Al, Gary and Bridger Blain, “There is a reason ‘Billings’ is painted on the side of our helicopters. Billings is our home. The tax abatement process helped ensure that our operations center would stay here, and the tax savings helped our company attract top talent to make Billings their home as well. We are forever grateful for the community / businesses partnership championed by so many in Yellowstone County.”

The programs were established by the State of Montana in 1988.

By Evelyn Pyburn

If it seems that there have been fewer wildland fires in southeastern Montana, over the past few years, that is indeed the case. And, the reason could be the results of a new approach to firefighting that is being explored by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).  It’s an idea devised by Derek Yeager, DNRC Southern Area Fire Program Manager and Montana Fire Warden.

Formerly a member of “hot shot crews” himself, after the devastating fire season of 2012, Yeager started thinking “Something has to change. We have to do it better.”

2012 was a particularly bad fire year.  The Southern Area experienced over 1,000 wildland fires exceeding the 5-year average of 704 a year. The year was dry, with lots of ignition sources, and resources were slim. . Large fires burned homes, property, natural resources like pasture land, destroyed fences, and forced people to evacuate, and others lost all they had.

Said Yeager, “ We were dealing with 1,000+ acre fires literally every other day, sometimes daily.  Volunteers were on fires daily, sometimes for multiple days straight. The costs of fighting those fires was particularly troublesome to me. Being the local guy, I knew of fire departments who were engaging fires. I saw their efforts. I went out and lived it with them and gained an appreciation and respect and understanding of what they were experiencing. I also recognized the value in applying as much common sense to this situation as could be.

“The idea to redirect our focus and commit funding and time and energy into increasing the capacity of local fire departments to respond fast and heavy, to hit fires small, to keep them small was the product of simple common sense, and in recognition that the wildland fire system abroad, while purposeful and powerful in many ways, has a finite capacity for the number of large fires it can staff.”

In analyzing the situation and, most of all, in talking to all the factions involved –Yeager came up with an idea, which, as Southern Area Fire Program Manager with oversight of seven counties, he has been able to try out in a pilot program, beginning small in the fall of 2015 in Yellowstone County.

Calling the new strategy a really big deal, Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund said that he is proud that Yellowstone County has been able to serve as its proving ground. The new approach in dealing with fires is going to have major impact across the country, believes Ostlund.

“It has been enormously successful,” said Ostlund, “It is saving millions of dollar in firefighting costs, and saving in lost property, injuries and lives.”

At the base of Yeager’s idea is to get resources onto a fire as soon as possible. Instead of hours or even days, his goal is to have resources on a fire within minutes.

The approach seems to be working. After a number of years in which major fires would routinely rage through the region in late summer and early fall, filling skies with smoke and ash, and costing hundreds of millions of dollars to battle, Yellowstone County and surrounding areas haven’t seen a major fire in over three years. And, the fires that have occurred have been under a hundred acres.

Yeager emphasized that simply communicating – having discussions with the various factions involved with firefighting, has been key to developing and implementing the program. “There are so many different levels of government agencies involved, and while all have the same interest, they couldn’t come together in a way that kept fires small,” he said.

As a state agency, the DNRC maintains an operating agreement with the BLM, USFS, NPS, USFWS, BIA, and numerous other states, which allow them to trade and utilize each other’s resources, with each paying the costs associated with using the resource.

Simply by talking with all the many individuals and agencies, Yeager created “buy-in,” to “give it a try.” Continuing that process of getting “buy in” will be vital in advancing the approach. The program is in its “infancy” characterized Yeager, “but it is starting to get attention.”

According to Commissioner Ostlund, explaining how the program works will be part of the agenda of the next statewide meeting of the Montana Association of Counties, where “for the first time” he expects to get “buy-in” from most of the county commissioners “who are excited about being able to better protect landowners.”

Almost all of the area fire districts are participating in the program, although some districts are too small or face other barriers to participation.

 Last year, had the largest participation, involving 400 volunteer fire fighters at 31 of 54 fire departments throughout the seven counties, including those in Yellowstone County, such as Worden, Shepherd, Lockwood, etc.

According to Yellowstone County’s Disaster and Emergency Coordinator and Fire Warden, KC Williams, Yellowstone County’s fire chiefs are excited about the program. He added, that although Yellowstone County’s fire chiefs and agencies always worked well together – and although he hasn’t been long on the job – as the plan has been implemented he has witnessed even greater coordination and better communication among the local  factions.

Under the new program, no more waiting after a fire starts to see if it becomes large enough to justify greater assistance, which has been the strategy of the past. Now, resources are put into place in advance. The results have been that rather than taking days to get resources to a fire, they now are there in a matter of minutes, while it is still a small fire.

The approach has made all the difference in the world.

Not only is it more effective, it is less expensive and it is a boon to local fire departments. It supports the volunteer fire fighters, bearing in mind, says Yeager, volunteer fire fighters are at the core of success in all firefighting efforts.

The new plan serves to support local fire departments through an agreement between them and DNRC, which places DNRC fire fighters on duty at local fire stations under the supervision of local fire chiefs. The fire fighters are local volunteers, who become employed by DNRC, throughout the core fire season.

In the past, after a fire became large enough to be deemed qualifying, fire fighters and equipment from elsewhere in the country would be brought into the area to help fight it. Transporting them to the fire site would take critical hours and perhaps days – with the fire burning and expanding all the while. Once they arrived, the fire fighters invariably were unfamiliar with the area, with its culture and priorities, and with the local people with whom they had to work. The cost of transporting, housing and feeding fire fighters contributed greatly to the cost of firefighting.

Under the new program not only are local departments reinforced with the addition of the state-paid fire fighters, the fire fighters are local people, emotionally attached to the area’s well-being, familiar with the area and with the people and agencies with which they have to work.

The arrangement also helps local fire departments with the common dilemma of having to send their own fire fighters to fight wildland fires, elsewhere, for what is often a matter of days or even weeks – leaving little back up to provide protection for the local community.

While the DNRC fire fighters are on-duty they perform duties related to being successful in performing “rapid and aggressive initial attacks,” including  training, maintaining equipment, and checking out lightning strikes.

The wages the volunteers receive improves their ability to be available. Most  volunteers are usually dependent on other jobs, which they can’t afford to leave for extended periods to help fight fire, but being paid by DNRC not only makes that a greater possibility, but becomes an incentive for others to serve as volunteers.

The idea of sharing resources with local fire departments is not new for the DNRC. For some time now they have loaned local departments fire trucks in order to have the equipment available in locations with potential fire risk. Across the state DNRC has 75 fire trucks on loan to local stations under cooperative agreements – eight of those are located at fire districts in Yellowstone County.

Yeager’s program also has in place, in advance, many other processes, permissions and contractual arrangements required in dealing with firefighting, which before were not dealt with until a fire had grown large. Previously, a fire chief would call for help and then physically have to go through a required check list before anyone would give assistance. Getting through that check list could take from 24 to 72 hours, said Yeager. “That meant that meaningful help would not happen.”

The data shows that the new approach has a 8-1 benefit ratio, says Yeager. That means it costs about 1/8 of that of fighting a raging wildland fire.

While the number of reported fires has not changed – about 800 fires per year – “We don’t have any large fires,” said Yeager.

Although July through September is the core fire season, fires happen year round. They are more prevalent when there is no snow cover. For example last weekend, before it snowed, there were over a dozen wildland fires reported within a 48 hour period. So, the DNRC plans for fire occurrence during all 12 months of the year.