Commissioner Rowley leaving office for position with Gallatin County

Rowley headshotCommissioner Nicole “Cola” Rowley announced today that she will step down from the Missoula County Commission to take a position as deputy county administrator with Gallatin County. Rowley, whose term expires at the end of 2020, will assume her new role on July 1.

“This is an amazing opportunity to further my dedication to public service for years to come,” Rowley said. “It will allow me to capitalize on my strengths and interest in data, administration and collaborative innovation. I’m excited for a new challenge and the accompanying personal and professional growth.”

Rowley is the current chair of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners. Since taking office in 2015, she has worked to bring data to the forefront of local government and is passionate about finding data-informed solutions to address issues like climate change, criminal justice reform, public health and land use planning.

“In a few short years, Cola has left an indelible impression on Missoula County government,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “Among other things, her data-driven approach to criminal justice reform has put Missoula County on the map and will position us well for realizing jail diversion efforts and fostering healthy communities. She’s smart, motivated and passionate — all attributes that will serve Gallatin County well. I look forward to collaborating across county lines, and I wish Cola the very best in her new role.”

Rowley currently serves on several boards and authorities, including the Partnership Health Center, Western Montana Mental Health Center and Missoula Aging Services boards and the Housing Policy Steering Committee. She’s also the elected chair of the Urban Counties Coalition of the Montana Association of Counties and serves on the National Association of Counties Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee.

“Cola’s encyclopedic understanding of local government, focus on data-driven solutions and commitment to an equitable future have made her an effective elected official,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “I have appreciated Cola’s openness and willingness to pass on her knowledge, as she has been a great help to me as well as the county. Our loss is indeed Gallatin County’s gain.”

With Rowley leaving before her term expires, an appointee will fill her seat upon her departure. Pursuant to Montana Code Annotated 7-4-2106(2), the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee will provide a list of three names to Strohmaier and Slotnick. The commissioners will decide on a process and timeline for selecting the candidate and issue an announcement when finalized.

The newly selected commissioner will carry out the remaining year and half of Rowley’s term and have the opportunity to run for the open seat in the November 2020 election. The winner of the election will then serve the standard six-year staggered term beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

“It’s been an honor to serve Missoula County and to work with such amazing people every day, within the organization and in the community,” Rowley said. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done forwarding the redevelopment of the fairgrounds, justice system improvement, addressing climate change and resiliency planning, policy and regulatory updates and development, transparency and efficiency. Missoula County has been recognized nationally for the work we do on many fronts, and I look forward to its continued success.”

Missoula County Budget in Brief: A primer on where your tax dollars go

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You receive your tax bill from us each year, but do you ever wonder what the taxes you pay to Missoula County help fund? Then be sure to check out the fiscal year 2019 Budget in Brief, our annual publication breaking down the various aspects of the county budget process.

From calculating property taxes, revenue and expenditures to highlighting the services, capital projects, and voter-approved levies and bonds taxes will fund, the Budget in Brief demonstrates how the county aims to be a responsible steward of our constituents’ dollars.

While property taxes aren’t the sole source of revenue for the county, they do make up the largest share. Elected officials and staff want to make sure they’re being put toward protecting and enhancing the quality of life we enjoy here in Missoula County. The Budget in Brief is an opportunity for taxpayers to review and understand the process so they can more effectively weigh in on this mission.

Think there’s room for improvement? Stay tuned for more details on how you can get involved in the FY 2020 budget process, which will kick off this spring. Once finalized, we’ll publish more information and a schedule of public budget meetings on this blog.

Commissioner Rowley heads to D.C. to take on criminal justice reform

Capitol

Current Missoula County Commission Chair Nicole “Cola” Rowley is headed to Washington, D.C., to continue her important work on law and justice issues, this time on a national stage.

Rowley headshot
Commissioner Rowley

Earlier this year, the National Association of Counties named Cola to its Justice and Public Safety Policy Steering Committee, and she boarded a plane Friday morning to make her way to NACo’s annual Legislative Conference in the nation’s capital. At the conference, she’ll join county representatives from across the country to help inform NACo policy and advocacy in the realm of law enforcement, courts, corrections, homeland security, community crime prevention, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, emergency management, fire prevention and control, and civil disturbances. She’ll also participate in a panel discussion on “Connecting Federal and County Systems of Care,” which will highlight county efforts to improve child, adult and family outcomes through local health and human services integration models and the collaboration needed among local, state and federal entities to make that happen.

“Missoula County has been a leader in the state when it comes to criminal justice reform, and it’s rewarding to know the hard work of so many people will now spur discussion and strategy at a higher level,” Cola says. “I’m excited for this opportunity to continue to expand my knowledge on innovative, evidence-based best practices and be involved in justice systems policy nationally.”

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Door to a housing unit at the Missoula County Detention Facility

The list of qualifications that earned Cola this role is impressive. She’s engaged in criminal justice analysis and improvement since she took office in 2015, collaborating with county departments, partner jurisdictions, nonprofits and other agencies to address inequalities in local systems. Her efforts include:

  • Partnering with Sheriff T.J. McDermott to apply for and receive a grant from the Policy Innovation Lab at the Sorensen Impact Center to study the feasibility of implementing a Pay for Success financing model to address overcrowding at the Missoula County Detention Facility.
  • Engaging Missoula County in the Stepping Up Initiative, a national movement to reduce incarceration of mentally ill individuals. This included successfully applying to bring a team, which included staff from the Sheriff’s Office, County Attorney’s Office and the Western Montana Mental Health Center, to Washington, D.C., for planning and technical assistance to address the issue. Rowley was later invited to speak at the 2016 National Stepping Up Summit.
  • Coordinating implementation of many recommendations in the city-county Jail Diversion Master Plan, adopted in 2016. Jail diversion efforts helped the county land two MacArthur Foundation grants in recent years: $50,000 in 2017 for the Native Outreach Project to address over-incarceration of Native Americans, and $700,000 in 2018 for the Safety and Justice Challenge, an over-arching, data-driven justice improvement effort.
  • Facilitating formation of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a collaborative, cross-jurisdictional governance structure that oversees more than two dozen justice system projects, services and initiatives in Missoula.
  • Helping launch the Kindness, Elegance and Love Project (KELP), a novel collaborative effort at Partnership Health Center that aims to more effectively funnel parents involved in dependent-neglect cases to appropriate services and support. The project was one of four in the country selected for NACo’s Cross-Systems Partnerships Leadership Lab, which helps counties improve the social, health and economic outcomes of populations involved in the justice system.

You can learn more about the county’s initiatives in criminal justice reform on the Missoula County website. More details on the Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee are also online.

Q and A with new Commissioner Josh Slotnick

Josh Slotnick hit the ground running as Missoula County’s newest commissioner at the beginning of the year. He took a break from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his experience so far and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Josh Slotnick headshot
Josh Slotnick

Why did you want to run for public office?

I came here 30 odd years ago, to go to college and quickly fell for Missoula. Every time I left, I ended up coming back, and I came back because of Missoula’s special combination of landscape and culture. We’re straight up not like everywhere else, we’re better. Eventually, the greater world found that out, and with our popularity has come ever more vexing challenges. We’ve seen mad growth and a concurrent rise in housing costs and development pressure, and an intensifying of use of some of our most fragile and loved places. While we’re busy wrestling with all that, our climate has become ever more volatile, and smoke, fire and floods are now nearly seasons unto themselves. In the face of these challenges we must be tremendously thoughtful in how we set the stage for the future. I want to help make sure the next wave of people who come here have the same opportunity I did to fall for this place and build a life. Given my deep commitment to Missoula, the position my last workplace afforded me, and the skills I’ve picked up from decades of community work, I feel a sense of obligation to service.  I also have one more big chapter’s worth of energy to give. I added all that up and it equaled running for office and working with the county.

What does a typical day look like for you so far?

I listen a lot. The BCC meets with staff to do the peoples’ business, and often this means talking through thorny, complicated issues and making decisions, and sometimes it’s the perfunctory workings of local government. The diversity of issues before us reflects the diversity of concerns in life here, and that makes for interesting, if not sometimes information-stuffed, days.

What do you think are the most pressing issues facing Missoula County?

Planning for future development – that means considering affordable housing, preservation of natural resources, transportation and resiliency in the face of climate change in how we make all planning decisions. The growth I mentioned earlier has not brought everyone along; we must care for those left behind and work to make sure we all have a solid chance. We must also continue to protect and enhance the cultural amenities that make this place what it is. Our economic development depends up on our character and landscape. In this way economics, job creation and our general vibrancy are knit tightly to how well we care for this place and each other.

What are some of your goals for your first year in office?

I would like to be part of the following:

  • Real, tangible and practical steps towards remedying our housing crisis.
  • Bringing zoning and subdivision regulations in line with the land use map we’re in the process of updating and making possible conservation development where we construct needed housing while protecting our best ag soils and most vulnerable landscapes.
  • Real efforts to make decentralized renewable energy production a possibility for residents of Missoula County.
  • New approaches to property taxes and revenue generation for the county.

What has surprised you most since you started your new job?

The great diversity of issues, the size and scope of the work of the county and the tremendous depth of experience and knowledge of staff.

Community and Planning Services moving to new location

New CAPS office
The new Community and Planning Services office will be located at 127 E. Main St., Suite 2, in the Radio Central Building in downtown Missoula. 

Residents looking for information from the Missoula County Community and Planning Services department should expect delays in service and correspondence over the next week or so while the office moves to a new location.

The department will set up shop at 127 E. Main St., Suite 2, in the Radio Central Building in downtown Missoula. Staff will begin moving in on Monday, Feb. 11, with the move expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Staff in the three CAPS divisions – Grants and Community Programs, Planning, and Parks, Trails and Open Lands – provide planning, permitting, community development, and parks and trails management services to Missoula County residents. The office sees considerable foot traffic, around 150 visitors a month, mainly from residents with questions on land use planning and permitting, floodplain administration, rezoning and subdivision projects, sustainability, and the county’s parks and trails.

Services at the department’s popular Planning Information Desk will likely be interrupted on Monday. Residents who need information should email zoner@missoulacounty.us for faster service.

Staff phone numbers and email addresses will not change, and the department’s mailing address will remain 200 W. Broadway, Missoula, MT 59802. Staff phone lines will be down during the transition, but they will still be available via email.

Visitors should note that parking is somewhat limited at the new location. The public can park for free for one hour at the nearby Park Place and Roam parking garages, located a block away on Front Street. A Mountain Line bus stop also is located nearby.

CAPS staff thank you for your patience as they get settled into their new space!

Affected by the shutdown? These resources can help

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PHOTO: Andrew Kemmis Photography

As it enters its second month, the government shutdown continues to impact hundreds of federal employees and contractors in Missoula County. With more missed paychecks on the horizon, Missoula County has compiled the following list of resources that are providing assistance to furloughed federal employees and contractors in our communities.

Financial assistance

Several local banks are offering low or no-interest loans and other financial assistance to furloughed workers:

Missoula Federal Credit Union
Emergency loans for federal employees. The maximum loan size will be one month’s gross pay, up to $5,000, and there will be no payments required for the first 90 days.  Full-time financial counselor on staff to help members free of charge.

Farmers State Bank 
Emergency Assistance Consumer Loans. Designed for those affected by the government shutdown, this consumer loan is meant to assist individuals with mortgage or car payments, groceries, medical bills, etc. Proof of furlough is needed or proof of working with payment being held during shutdown. Details online.

First Interstate Bank
Offering payment due date extensions, minimal fees.

Wells Fargo
Call the recently established customer assistance line at 800-219-9739 to be connected with a team member who can assist based on needs, or visit any Wells Fargo branch for assistance. Fees waived. Individual assistance offered based on needs.

Navy Federal Credit Union
The credit union is offering 0% APR loans during the government shutdown.

First Command Financial Services
Offering clients who are federal employees interest-free payroll advances and other assistance.

Democracy Federal Credit Union
Call 800-742-5582 for information on short-term emergency loans with 0% interest.

Agencies providing unemployment information and financial advice include:

Montana Department of Labor and Industry
FAQ for furloughed federal employees. Due to high call volume, the best way to file a claim is online at www.ui4u.mt.gov. Furloughed employees needing computer access can visit the Missoula Job Service, 539 S. Third St. W.

VALIC
Can assist with emergency hardship withdrawals from retirement plans for Missoula County staff who have family members impacted by the shutdown.

Nationwide
Can assist with emergency hardship withdrawals from retirement plans for Missoula County staff who have family members impacted by the shutdown.

TANF
Income-based cash assistance program providing temporary assistance for families in need.

Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer
Will offer temporary assistance for motor vehicle registration and property tax payments. Federal employees can fill out a form before renewing their registration at the courthouse, and the department will place a hold on cashing checks until the shutdown ends. Should the shutdown last through May, when the next property tax bills are due, property tax payments will be discussed.

Temporary work

Furloughed employees seeking temporary work can tap into the following resources:

Missoula County Human Resources 
Missoula County frequently has openings for short-term employment. Go online or call 258-4874 for more information.

Temp agencies in Missoula
Express
Nelson
People Ready
Work Force
LC Staffing
A to Z Personnel

Energy, utility and housing assistance

The following programs can offer assistance with household utilities during the shutdown:

LIEAP
Provides supplemental heating assistance for a household’s primary source of heat. To apply, call the Human Resource Council at 728-3710 or walk in from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located at 1801 S. Higgins Ave.

Energy Share
Helps households facing an immediate energy emergency when they have exhausted all other resources. Energy Share can help households who have used up their energy assistance benefit or do not qualify for LIEAP. To apply, call the Human Resource Council at 728-3710 or walk in during business hours.

Missoula Electric Cooperative
Furloughed employees should contact billing department at 541-4433 to discuss payment options.

Missoula Water
Offers a monthly credit to LIEAP-eligible households. Complete a request form at the Human Resource Council, 1801 S. Higgins Ave.

Salvation Army Winter Shelter Program
Helps with rent for individuals and families who are at risk of being evicted. Call 549-0710 to make an appointment.

Grocery assistance

Those needing assistance with grocery costs during the shutdown can access the following programs and services:

Missoula Food Bank
No criteria or questions. Those in need of food should go to 1720 Wyoming St.

WIC
Call 258-4740 and state that you are furloughed employee; month by month eligibility; based on family income.

SNAP
Provides supplemental food assistance to individuals and families with qualifying incomes.

Other assistance

Partnership Health Center
Provides integrated primary care health services to the public including medical and dental care, behavioral health counseling, pharmacy and a lab. Offers a sliding fee scale for those with and without insurance.

Human Resource Council/2-1-1
Provides general information and resources for those affected by the shutdown online at http://211.org/services/govshutdown.

Is your organization offering a service or other benefit to furloughed workers? Let us know by filling out the Community Services for Furloughed Workers form.

How can Missoula County help you?

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PHOTO: Andrew Kemmis Photography

Though our operations can affect your day-to-day life, navigating county government can be confusing. After considering the input you provided through our online survey, we’ve made a few changes to our website that will help connect you to the information and services you need.

First, we streamlined our Help page to more clearly direct you to useful information. From here, you can search the site, browse frequently asked questions, locate a county building and find department contact info, among other things.

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Second, we launched a customer service request form you can use when the other options come up empty. After completing a short questionnaire and providing any additional details, your request will be forwarded to the appropriate department and reviewed within three business days. Easy peasy!

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Do you have any other suggestions on how we can better serve you? Feel free to comment below or send an email to communications@missoulacounty.us.

We look forward to helping you!