The Billings City Council has approved placing a $7.1 million mill levy on the November 2 ballot for public safety. A study has found that public safety is a high priority of citizens, concerned about the increase in crime in Billings.
If it passes the increase in mills will be part of a $434 million budget that was also passed by the Billings City Council. The city’s budget has been bolstered this year by COVID relief funds which allocated money to specific needs that then freed up funds for other needs. The budget includes $11.6 million to purchase the Stillwater Building, as well as $80 million for a new westend water treatment plant and $18 million to construct the Inner Belt Loop and Skyline Trail, and an additional $7 million for the airport expansion.
An increase in the public safety funds will allow an additional $800,000 for the police department, in addition to more funding for enforcement of the recently rewritten building codes, the court system with the development of a law and justice center, and more services for mental health and substance abuse. It will also help fund a new division of the fire department that will be dedicated to responding to Emergency Medical Service calls.
If voters approve the proposed 34 mill increase it will add about $100 a year in property taxes on a $200,000 home in Billings.

From the Northern Ag Network

The Bureau of Land Management has released a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a bison grazing proposal from the American Prairie Reserve on 69,000 acres of BLM grazing allotments in Phillips County.
In November of 2017, the APR submitted a proposal to modify terms and conditions of 18 BLM administered permits, which was revised to 7 grazing permits in September of 2019. APR requested from BLM a change in class of livestock for cattle and bison, changes to the authorized seasons-of-use, construction, reconstruction and/or removal of some fences and adjustments to allotments (such as combining pastures).
In the spring of 2018, the BLM conducted public scoping which included meetings in Northcentral Montana. The BLM received 2,497 submissions which they reviewed and considered in determine the issues to be included in the NEPA analysis.
Now the BLM has come back with their analysis of the proposed action and has found that it conforms with their Resource Management Plans. The bureau has determined the changes will not significantly affect the land, wildlife or human environment.
Jay Bodner, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association told Northern Ag Network that the announcement of this decision raises a lot of concerns from the livestock industry.
“Certainly, from a resource management standpoint, which we take a lot of pride in our stewardship of our rangelands, we’ve moved away from these kind of grazing practices,” Bodner says. “It seems to be moving our grazing systems back 30 years. So, there’s a lot of concern from just the rangeland health standards.”
“Secondly, it looks like if a livestock producer would have made this proposal, I’m not sure if it would have been met with the same kind of decision that this one is dealing with bison.”
Bodner adds that in previous documents that the BLM had released, they had recognized that with year-round grazing and removal of interior fencing there was a high likelihood of resource damage in those riparian areas. However, in this assessment BLM found no significant impacts.
“One of the challenges we see with this proposal,” Bodner says. “is that if you remove a lot of that infrastructure, to be able to address any kind of resource damage, you basically have to rebuild fence to try to move animals around. So that’s going to create a lot of challenges to address any potential challenges that may arise.”
This has been a controversial topic for 4 years now and Bodner says the MSGA membership will be engaging in the discussion and making public comments.
Sidney, MT rancher and President of the Montana Stockgrowers Jim Steinbeisser commented that, “Our organization has consistently provided comments outlining concerns regarding the impacts a request like this can have on rangeland health, riparian areas and economic impacts to the livestock industry. Today’s release of the draft EA and Finding of No Significant Impact is very impactful to ranchers across the state. This assessment may have a much larger ripple effect moving forward on setting precedent for public land grazing permits.”
“The fences represent a significant monetary investment in improvements, and if this change in grazing management proceeds, BLM must analyze what steps will be taken to address any resource damage”,” continued Steinbeisser. “We feel many of the request changes in the draft have significant resource impacts and have not been fully vetted or analyzed by the BLM.”
Before the Environmental Assessment can be finalized the BLM will conduct a public comment period running from July 1st through August 29th. Comments can be submitted online and a virtual public meeting is planned for Wednesday, July 21 from 1-4pm.
The public may comment on the Draft EA and FONSI by visiting the BLM’s ePlanning website at Search using the NEPA number: DOI-BLM-MT-L010-2018-0007-EA. Public comments may also be submitted via the U.S. Postal Service addressed to: BLM Malta Field Office; Re: APR Grazing Proposal; 501 South 2nd Street East; Malta, MT 59538.

Presbytery Of Y’stone Of The U/Perfect 10, 180 24th St W, Roofing, $42,500
Tobacco Row Of Billings LLC/Kohlman Construction, 655 Main St, Roofing, $9,700
School District 2/Empire Roofing Inc, 82 N 31st St, Roofing, $260,000
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 850 Daytona Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $625,536
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 882 Daytona Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family, $625,536
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 889 Miami Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $625,536
Billings Sapphire LLC ABCO Billings LLC, 859 Miami Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $417,024
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 879 Miami Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $417,024
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 849 Miami Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $428,7680
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 860 Miami Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family, )$392,610
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 4113 Palm Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $392,610
Billings Sapphire LLC/ABCO Billings LLC, 4104 Palm Beach Way, New 3+ (Multi Family), $392,610
Fagg Family Properties LLC/Jones Construction, Inc, 222 N 32nd St, $65,000
Shiloh Silver Partners/Saunders Construction Inc., 1027 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Remodel, $250,000
Alice Parker/Morgan Contractors Inc, 3839 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $10,000
Shiloh Silver Screen Partners/Jones Construction, Inc, 1027 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Remodel, $100,000


Ouzts, Samuel & Kara, 3010 Colton Blvd, Res New Accessory Structure, $8,000
L & L Construction LLC/Lorenz Construction, 3436 Tahoe Dr, Res New Single Family, $257,346
Diverse Construction/Diverse Construction LLC, 2236 Gleneagles Blvd, Res New Single Family, $159,432
Mark Dawson/CDH, LLC, 4030 Hyalite Ct, Res New Single Family, $228,123
CDH, LLC/CDH, LLC, 5332 Dovetail Ave, Res New Single Family, $333,126
HG Design/HG Designs, 1918 W Thunder Mountain Rd, Res New Single Family, $306,580
McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6108 Norma Jean Ln, Res New Single Family, $367,138
McCall Homes/McCall Development, 1808 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $253,792
Magnus Land Development LLC/Brown Builders Inc., 2903 Eagle Butte Trl, Res New Townhome, $0.00
Magnus Land Development LLC/Brown Builders Inc.2903 Eagle Butte Trl, Res New Townhome, $0.00
John Scott/Kay Homebuilders LLC, 4140 Cambridge Dr, Res New Accessory Structure, $30,000
Harwood, Althea, 2135 Windsor Cir N, Res New Accessory Structure, $1,500
Sorenson, Joan F/Ty Nelson Design And Remodel, 4555 Upland Dr, Res New Accessory Structure, $100,000
High Sierra Ii Inc/Infinity Home LLC, 2430 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $264,184
Rimrock Builders/Rimrock Builders Inc, 2501 Blue Mountain Trl, Res New Single Family, $400,530
Tri B Property Solutions LLC/Kutil Inc, 863 Tierra Dr, Res New Single Family, $375,000
Square Butte Builders/Square Butte Builders LLC, 705 Cherry Hills Rd, Res New Single Family $290,000
Boyer Land LLC, 2524 Aspen Creek Trl, Res New Single Family, $302,269
Boyer Land LLC/Design Builders, Inc., 2517 Blue Mountain Trl, Res New Single Family, $323,554
McCall Homes/McCall Development, 1860 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $141,098

From Northern Ag Network

Beef imports were up 1.5 percent year over year in April but are down 7.0 percent for the January to April period compared to last year.  Year to date beef imports are down 4.0 percent compared to the same period in 2019. U.S. beef imports are projected to decrease in 2021 by 10-13 percent year over year, which will put total beef imports below the 2015 – 2019 average.
In the 2015-2019 period, Australia was the largest source of beef imports, followed by Canada, with New Zealand at number three and Mexico ranked fifth.  Brazil, Nicaragua and Uruguay round out the top seven sources of beef imports.  From 2015-2019, the top seven countries accounted for 98.7 percent of beef imports with the top four accounting for 85.5 percent of total beef imports.  In 2020, beef imports spiked to the highest level since 2015 due the supply chain disruptions resulting from the pandemic.
Thus far in 2021, Canada has been the largest source of beef imports and is up 17.0 percent year over year.  Mexico is the number two source of beef imports for the year to date with imports down 6.0 percent compared to last year.  New Zealand is the third largest source of beef imports in 2021, down 9.9 percent year over year.  Australia is currently the fourth largest source of beef imports, down 48.1 percent from last year.  Australia is experiencing reduced production due to herd liquidation in previous years resulting from drought, wildfires and floods.  Australia is now attempting to rebuild herds, which further reduces beef production and exports in the short run.
Argentina does not make the list of major sources of U.S. beef imports but the country has rebounded sharply in recent years as a beef exporting country.  U.S. imports of beef from Argentina in 2020 were the highest since 2007 but represented less than two percent of total U.S. beef imports.  Recently, the government of Argentina announced a 30 day ban on beef exports from the country, which has disrupted the rebuilding of beef exports from the country and is indicative of the challenges faced by the Argentinian beef industry in recent years.
Global beef trade continues to grow.  Total beef imports by major world importers is expected to increase in 2021 along with increases in total beef exports by major world exporters.  U.S. beef exports and imports take place in the context of a much larger and growing global beef market.

After 100 years serving the families and businesses of North Dakota and Montana with a full range of banking, trust, investment and insurance services, Beartooth Bank, a division of American Bank Center, is changing its name to Bravera Bank. The new name, along with a new logo, tagline and visual identity, will launch this Fall. The change in brand does not reflect a change in ownership, as Bravera Bank is still employee- and director-owned.   
In recent years, American Bank Center has grown, expanding its network of branches across North Dakota and Montana. Its growth represents a continued investment in the region’s strong future, competitively positioning the bank to serve customers with more resources, a greater geographic reach and a broader promise to new people moving into the area. The new name unifies the current network and creates a consistent banking experience all under one brand: Bravera Bank.
“We are so proud to unite our banks under a new name and brand experience that reflects our bank’s strong future,” says Cill Skabo, American’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Bravera is a distinct and unforgettable name that captures our spirit and helps us stand out and connect with our customers and communities.”
The word Bravera combines “Bravery” and “Truth” for a new name with strong ties to the pioneer spirit and honest values that define the northern plains. The new name will be accompanied by a new logo, look and feel that will touch every part of the bank’s experience, from signage in the branches and the bank’s website to brand communications and advertising.
“The move to the Bravera Bank name is exciting and delivers on our mission of embodying a financial institution that supports the growth of the region’s future. From Bismarck to Billings, Dickinson to Devils Lake, we see tremendous opportunity in helping our customers forge success, under a single, powerful brand name,” says David Ehlis, American Bancor President and CEO.

Yellowstone County News reports that the weekly newspaper bought home three awards from the Montana Newspaper Association’s annual convention, including an award for Evelyn Pyburn, who won first place as “Best Editorial.” The Yellowstone County News moved into a different category of newspapers throughout the state because of an increase in its circulation.
Comments from the judges in the contest wrote about Evelyn Pyburn’s editorial writing skills, “Evelyn Pyburn contrasts the calm of local government in her community with what’s happening for much of the nation. Crisp, easy-to-read writing. Pride in her community is strong.”
In its other awards, Yellowstone County News’ Production Specialist and Graphic Artist Elisa Schlosser was recognized for her skills in the category of Best Ad to Sell and Promote Services.
YCN Submitted a portrait photo from the Carol William’s funeral and gathering where many of the participants were reading the YCN newspaper resulting in a third-place award.
Yellowstone County News was also recognized at the MNA Awards banquet for selling the most statewide Display Ads (out of 63 newspapers) throughout 2020 – the fifth year in a row that YCN has won this award.
Publisher Jonathan McNiven stated, “Our newspaper continues to be recognized for all the hard work that is being put towards making our newspaper the best we can and it shows with the new recognition of these new awards for our staff. Many thanks go out to our great staff who deserve the recognition for all they do to make our hyper-local newspaper a success. I look forward to the day when our newspaper is recognized as the best weekly newspaper in the state. In the meantime, we will focus on the little wins we receive each year.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

The prolonged search by Commissioners for a solution to meet Yellowstone County’s space needs for future growth will be resolved with the purchase of the Miller Building in downtown Billings. County Commissioners voted two to one, to proceed with purchasing the building following months of due diligence and an appraisal that came in less than expected.
The decision ends considerations of both city and county officials of jointly developing the Stillwater Building into some kind of arrangement for a centralized local governmental facility.
Commissioner Denis Pitman voted against the purchase saying he wanted to continue exploring the possibility of the county remaining in the Stillwater Building and finding a way the county could partner with the city.
The prospects of pursuing a joint tenancy in the Stillwater Building seemed to strengthen with the news from City Administrator Chris Kukulski that the city had a “handshake” agreement on a price for the Stillwater Building of $17 million with owner Joe Holden of WC Commercial. The County currently has a lease agreement for offices on the third floor of the Stillwater Building, which has four years remaining.
County Commissioner John Ostlund pointed out that the $17 million agreement on the Stillwater Building could not be accepted by the county since state law prohibits the county from making a purchase in excess of appraised value, and the appraisal on the Stillwater building was $13.5 million.
Ostlund urged action on the Miller Building because their Memorandum of Understanding for first right of refusal on the property ends July 1, 2021.
On March 2, 2021, the commissioners offered a non-refundable $33,750 to owner, Miller Trois, LLC (Norman Miller) to take the property off the market until July 1, in a vote that Pitman also opposed. Last fall, the Board approved on the consent agent a contract with Cushing Terrell to analyze the suitability of the property for the County’s future needs. The property inspection found that the property would be sufficient to meet the county’s needs.
An appraisal ordered by the county placed a value of $4,375,000 on the Miller Building on May 21, 2021 – – $125,000 less than the county’s offer in the MOU to pay $4.5 million or the appraised value, which ever was less. Ostlund voiced concern about losing the opportunity to purchase the Miller Building which he believes would greatly diminish their options going forward. He said that the building is in very good condition, with new elevators, parking and more than sufficient space to house all county departments, excluding the courts, which would remain in the Courthouse. The inspections and assessments of the building unveiled no issues that would result in uncertainties or contingencies in the proposed purchase.
Pitman urged that the county work with the city and do what is best for the community. “We have other options,” he said, citing the possibility of building next to the jail or near MetraPark or other spaces in the community not necessarily downtown. He said “we could continue to rent or condo or purchase other property. “We need to have an open discussion on what a partnership would look like.” He noted that there are other costs associated with acquiring the Miller Building, such as hiring more maintenance staff. And, with the county purchasing the Miller Building and if the City purchases the Stillwater building that would be taking two buildings off the tax rolls rather than just one, Pitman pointed out.
Commissioner Don Jones said that the county has spent considerable time – since 2018 when they launched their search for more space – exploring all kinds of options, and this is the point to which it has led. Jones also said that he preferred the Miller Building as opposed to the much larger space available with the Stillwater option, since government has a tendency to grow to fill the space it has and he is opposed to unnecessary growth in government. He likened it to “build it and they will come.. but, we will grow.”
He also pointed out that with either option it will be awhile before the county would be needing the space and with the Stillwater that would mean holding an empty shell of a structure while the Miller Building is occupied with renters who would continue paying rent to the county and in essence helping to defray the cost of acquiring the building.
The County’s Finance Director, Kevan Bryan reported that the County has the capability to completely remodel the building for its use as existing leases term out in the Miller Building. He said that the expansion can be accomplished with no tax increase or need for debt on the County’s part.
Bryan said he would advise the commissioners to look at the numbers over the issue of cooperating with the City. He said, “…we respectfully disagree that the decision here boils down to whether we want to share a physical facility with the City of Billings, or that this shows taxpayers that we in local government can work together. Who can oppose us working together?” Both the city and the county seek the same things, he explained, “efficiencies of operations, common purpose and the wise spending of tax dollars. While the thought of a combined administrative facility on the surface has promise, it’s not necessarily a guarantee of any advantage to either governmental entity, or the taxpayers themselves.”
Bryan reminded that the county’s needs are for long-term space for the inevitable growth of the district and justice courts and the departments that work with the courts. The goal is to keep those services located in one building while moving most other county functions other than the Sheriff’s department to a “Yellowstone County Administration Building.”
The Miller Building presents a “very, very long-term solution for the County,” said Bryan. He said the county tried to work out the possibility of purchasing two floors of the Stillwater building, but its owner sought a selling price “well above market value,” which the county “would not and could not entertain.”
In discussions between city officials and county officials, Kukulski urged the county to postpone their decision and to explore the Stillwater option further. Without the county’s interest in partnering in some manner with the city the potential of the Stillwater deal isn’t as promising, pointed out Kukulski and Mayor Bill Cole, both of whom noted that the final decision is up to the City Council. Kukulski said that the matter would be on the City Council agenda on July 12.
In response to a comment that the city ownership would somehow impact the county’s lease, Kukulski said that the city wanted the county to remain. He said that he was sure the city and county could come to some acceptable arrangement in either leasing or condo-ing the floors of the five story building. He did note that the city has its own due- diligence to do on the Stillwater Building in making sure they understand what would be needed to remodel it for city offices, including using the basement for the City Police.
Ostlund said that the county had been attempting to negotiate with Holden for what has come to be years without success and he didn’t want to delay the matter any longer. He further questioned how it would be beneficial to the city to pay more for space than what they would later lease or sell it to the county.
The Miller Building is a six-story, plus basement building, located on 3rd Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets, downtown. It was the former Security Trust & Savings Bank Building.
The Stillwater Building, located at 316 N. 26th, in downtown Billings, is the former James F. Battin Federal Building, which stood vacant for several years until it was purchased for $3.2 million in 2017 by Holden, who has removed asbestos and prepared it to remodel on a build-to-suit basis for future tenants, the first of which was the county two years ago. Holden also built an adjacent parking garage.

Despite a remodeling bid that was $1 million over projections, Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is moving forward in renovating the former Montana Bank Building in downtown Billings, under Sky Point, to become their headquarters and for the new home of Rock 31 Entrepreneur Center.
Budding entrepreneurs of local start-up businesses and members of BSED leadership took turns last week demolishing an interior wall of the bank building with sledge hammers as part of the “ground breaking” ceremony that marks the end of a three-plus year planning process and the beginning of a new era for the community’s economic development agency.
The $3 –plus million project has been enabled to move forward because of some value engineering recommendations from the architectural firm, Cushing Terrell, and the contractor who won the bid, TW Clark Construction, who whittled away about a half million dollars in cost savings. Most of the balance of the over-bid is expected to be funded through fund raising campaign, directed by Becky Rogers, BSED Director of Operations, who has overseen the unfolding of the project since its inception. The goal is to raise $275,000 between now through May 2022. Rogers said they have already raised $48,000 from various local companies.
Rogers expressed gratitude to Cushing Terrell and TW Clark Construction for concessions that both companies made in helping to reduce costs. She also pitched those assembled inside the former Montana Bank Building to help support the project by making contributions.
While EDA developed a budget for what was expected to cost about $3 million, the bid they received from TW Clark Construction was $4,075,000. TW Clark is a Spokane-based company with Billings’ offices at 609 Charles Street.
Besides providing administrative offices for BSED and its numerous programs and affiliated agencies, upon the completion of the project, which is expected in ten months, it will be home base for start-up businesses and a training center for entrepreneurs. The facility will have training rooms and media, as well as space for production efforts and to facilitate networking opportunities. There will also be office space for lease to start-ups.
Kevan Scharfe, Rock 31 Director of Entrepreneurship, spoke to say, “Our main goal is to make it feel like home for entrepreneurs, and to help them find counseling and a mentor,” as well as easy access to all the different programs available through EDA.
Chairman of the EDA Board of Directors, Paul Neutgens, said “It is so exciting to see the resources the community is bringing to Billings.”
BSED Executive Director Steve Arveschoug underscored the purpose of Rock 31, saying that “we have to feed our strength and one of our strengths is home grown businesses with their passion and dreams.”
Arveschoug also thanked Chris and Mike Nelson, from whom BSED purchased the building, for donating a significant portion of the value of the building and their continued support throughout the project.
The project received a $2.1 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2019 for the purchase of the building and renovation.

A proposed new industrial park at Fort Benton has been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the federal government to provide transportation, water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The grant is expected to be matched with $1.7 million in local funds, according to an announcement from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA)
The project is projected to create 75 jobs and generate $12 million in private investment.
Raimondo said the expenditure of federal funds “will provide critical infrastructure for a new 105-acre industrial park that will support the growth of the local agricultural industry and diversify the regional economy.”
Governor Greg Gianforte said, “Through infrastructure improvements like these, Fort Benton and Chouteau County will boost their thriving agricultural community and attract businesses to locate, bringing more good-paying Montana jobs to the area.”
This project is being proposed by the Bear Paw Economic Development District (EDD).

Most of media is remaining silent on a huge movement sweeping the country regarding gun rights.
States are not only passing strong “Constitutional Carry” laws, but 61 percent of counties are now “Second Amendment sanctuaries”, according to a report in The Epoch Times.
As of June 20, there were 1,930 counties “protected by Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation at either the state or county level.” The count does not include specific cities, townships, boroughs, etc. that has taken action at the local level.
The movement is a grassroots movement from the bottom-up, according to a website called Sanctuary Counties, which notes that becoming a sanctuary county is different from passing Constitutional Carry laws which many states have done, and which has had more media attention. Sanctuary counties or other communities vow not to enforce “new / unconstitutional gun laws.”
Constitutional carry means laws are in place that allow citizen’s to carry a weapon without a permit. Some states have enacted both approaches in support of the Second Amendment which asserts, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Democrats and gun-control organizations usually oppose such legislation, saying it will increase the number of mass shootings and criminal use of firearms.