Yellowstone County Commissioner, John Ostlund, a Republican, has announced that he plans to run for re-election for a fourth term. Ostlund was first elected to the board in 2002. He is the first county commission candidate to announce for the 2020 election.
Ostlund said he wants to continue as commissioner because he enjoys working, and also because it is the best position in which to meet the public and to help people. From maintaining roads and bridges to land development, from building infrastructure to incentivizing business, from mitigating tax issues to responding to emergencies and public safety issues – county commissioners are at the forefront, and Ostlund has served as one of the county’s three commissioners for the past 17 years.
In making his announcement, Ostlund outlined a list of accomplishments that have been achieved in the county during his tenure, and he vowed to continue his commitment to support business development, and most importantly, to promote and support agriculture, the state’s primary industry.
Posing as significant to the future of Yellowstone County is the building of the Billings Bypass, the highway that will connect the Heights and Lockwood. Ostlund noted that the project has been over two decades in the planning and has demanded the constant support and oversight of county commissioners to assure its advancement. It is the biggest project ever designed by the Montana Department of Transportation, and is more important than – “as important as they are” — the Airport Road or Shiloh Road. Ostlund said he wants to make sure that the project, which began the first stage of construction this fall, continues.
Part of the significance of the Bypass is its connection to the industrial park that is being developed by the TEDD in Lockwood, a county project that Ostlund is very proud of advancing. He foresees a need to continue to support the TEDD, as a vital component to the county’s economic future.
During the past four to five years, without increasing taxes, the county has met head-on some significant demands and challenges to its $100 million-plus budget, including a major addition and renovation of the jail.
Since the rebuilding of MetraPark that resulted because of the 2010 tornado, a great deal more has been done to improve and update the county –owned fair grounds and trade facility, including the building of a new livestock barn, bathroom facility, and most recently a new shop, as well as improving the sound and lighting in the arena, and updating the Pavilion and Expo buildings.
An infrastructure study of MetraPark has enabled forward movement to rebuild and update its utilities and underground systems during the coming year, including repaving of the carnival lot. Other plans are underway to tear down more of the 100-year old livestock barns, to be replaced by another barn or livestock facility, “which will serve the county for another 50 or hundred years.”
The county’s ability to address such demands is largely due to its sound financial planning and past fiscal restraint. Ostlund said that he has always been a fiscal conservative and is proud of a finance department that has worked diligently to maintain the county’s AA+ bond rating.
With the help of a voter –approved safety mill levy increase, the county has also been able to deal with the ever increasing problems associated with drug abuse and related crime. The problem is one which Ostlund does not believe will go away any time soon, but it was incumbent on the county to deal with it by moving the sheriff’s department to a larger facility, expand the county attorney’s department, and renovate the courthouse to accommodate two more district court judges. In something of a domino – effect, other county departments were squeezed out of the courthouse and county commissioners had to find additional office space for them. The crunch for office space is not over, said Ostlund, not as long as the demand to address public safety issues continues.
Ostlund said he has come to understand some of the legal issues that must be addressed in order to mitigate some of the problems of crime, and hopes to take proposals to the next state legislature that will do so.
Ostlund believes he has played an important role in encouraging development and in helping developers of property meet subdivision and other regulatory requirements in a process made as easy and efficient as possible, while maintaining a profound respect for private property rights.
One of the most significant tools the county has to help incentivize business development is the tax incentive program that reduces, for five or ten years, the level of new taxes on new development. Ostlund said that he has always supported the program and believes it has been significant in helping to grow Yellowstone County’s economy.
The county has, also, kept pace with the growing demands on a 800-mile road system in the county, which Ostlund noted is very important to agriculture. Ostlund, who prior to being a county commissioner headed the public works department, boasted that the Yellowstone County Public Works Department is second to none.
Ostlund is seeking to represent Commissioner District No. 1, an area south of Billings including Lockwood. As required by law, he and his wife, Kristi, live in that area. While commissioners must live in the area which they represent, they are voted upon by voters throughout the county. County commissioners are elected to six-year terms.