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.

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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

brown bridge against green scenery
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.

help screenshot

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!

csrf screenshot

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!

New leadership on horizon for Community and Planning Services

The new year brings with it new leadership for the Community and Planning Services department, affectionately known as CAPS here at Missoula County.

After a decades-long career with the county, including the last seven as chief planning officer, Pat O’Herren is hanging up his hat at the end of the year. During his tenure, O’Herren built partnerships with other agencies, nonprofits and private property owners, helping Missoula County evolve as a leader in protecting and enhancing our cultural, economic and conservation resources. He’ll leave some pretty big shoes to fill.

Chet Crowser
Chet Crowser

Stepping into those shoes will be Chet Crowser. Crowser comes to Missoula County from Fish, Wildlife and Parks, where he served as the regional parks manager for Montana State Parks in Missoula. He’s well-known for his leadership skills – just ask anyone who’s had him as a boss – and that’s exactly why county commissioners chose him to fill the role.

“As CAPS evolves to focus more on broad community issues and services, we are thrilled to bring on someone with Chet’s relationship-building skills and knowledge of the public engagement process,” Commissioner Nicole “Cola” Rowley says. “We’re confident Chet will provide the leadership necessary to successfully guide the department as it fulfills the many roles it plays in our communities.”

Those roles include land-use planning, zoning, parks and trails management, and grant administration, just to name a few. Engaging a leader who can manage such a diverse array of responsibilities is key.

Having worked in a variety of city, state and federal recreation programs throughout the West, including his experience overseeing 10 state parks while at Montana FWP, Chet has an extensive background in parks management. He’s also participated in many planning, visioning and policy-development efforts while with the agency, and he looks forward to bringing this experience to CAPS.

“I’m excited to join CAPS and take part in the great work that staff do every day to maintain and enhance the quality of life we all value so much in Missoula County,” Crowser says. “I look forward to working with the commissioners, county staff, partners and the public to address the important issues our communities face now and into the future.”

A new boss isn’t the only change in store for CAPS in 2019: The department will soon move from its current building on West Alder Street to a new location at 127 E. Main St., Suite 2. That transition is expected to take place in mid- to late January.

 

Hate the Missoula County website? Help us make it better!

Website screenshot

Have you ever spent an hour or two you’ll never get back trying to find information on our website, which may or may not have ended with you throwing your hands up in frustration?

We know. Well, anecdotally, anyway.

Now, we want to figure out and quantify exactly what information you need and how we can help you find it more easily. You can let us know by taking a short survey (five to 10 minutes, tops), which is online at http://bit.ly/MCWebsiteSurvey. The 11-question survey asks for feedback on your experience using the website, including what info you’re typically looking for, how easy it is to find and understand that information, how easy it is to a submit a service request or concern, etc.

The survey will be open through Monday, Nov. 12. Once we’ve  collected and analyzed the responses, we’ll use it to remap and reorganize the information on our current website, as well as to help us develop a user-friendly customer service tool. We’ll also take the feedback into account when redesigning the site, though that’s not slated to happen until late next year.

When you take the survey, don’t be afraid to be brutally honest — we can take it, we promise. As a local government funded by taxpayers, we work for you, and we want to do so as efficiently as we can. Thanks in advance for helping us do that.

 

Long overdue restoration underway for iconic Doughboy memorial

Doughboy statue on courthouse lawn
The World War I Doughboy memorial on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn is undergoing a grant-funded renovation, which includes cleaning and waxing the bronze, cleaning and repointing the granite base, and building a ground-level plaza so the statue is accessible to all.

Passed by the Missoula County Courthouse lately and wondered what’s going on with the historic World War I Doughboy memorial on the corner of Broadway and Ryman? You’re not the only one; the infamous chain link fencing surrounding the memorial has prompted numerous inquiries concerning the statue’s status.

Don’t worry  ̶  the Doughboy will not endure the same fate as the aging trees removed from the lawn last year. The statue, a tribute to the 39 Missoulians who lost their lives in the First World War, is undergoing a much-needed restoration, thanks to funding from 100 Cities/100 Memorials, a matching grant challenge spearheaded by the United States World War One Centennial Commission that’s funding restoration of WWI memorials nationwide.

According to the 100 Cities/100 Memorials website, the program “was created to help draw attention to WWI memorials across the United States and enables all of America to take part in the WWI centennial commemoration. Many of these WWI memorials have deteriorated due to the ravages of time, exposure to the elements, neglect and even vandalism.

“The funds will be used to conserve, restore or improve these memorials. More important, the program is designed to raise community awareness of those who served and provides a tangible connection to the profound impact this war had on local towns and cities, securing an important place in military history.”

Doughboy plaque
The bronze plaque memorializing the 39 Missoulians killed in the First World War.

Last year, the Missoula County Grants and Community Programs division, with the support of American Legion Post #27 and the Western Montana Military Officers Association, successfully landed one of these grants, one of only 100 in the country. Now, for the first time in more than 90 years, Missoula’s Doughboy bronze will be properly cleaned and waxed, so the names and language honoring the fallen servicemen will be easier to read. The county has partnered with Jackson Construction to complete the restoration, which also includes cleaning and repointing the statue’s granite base, as well as building a ground-level plaza to make the memorial accessible to all.

The memorial commemorates the significant role Montana and Missoula played in World War I. According to information provided by the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, around 12,500 Montanans volunteered for military service, and another 28,000 men were drafted, due to the federal government overestimating the state’s population. In total, nearly 40,500 Montana men, roughly 10 percent of the state’s population, served “Over There”  ̶  the highest percentage of any state.

By the time the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, Montana had one of the highest mortality percentages in the country, with 939 servicemen killed in action, including 39 from Missoula. In 1927, the American Legion Auxiliary erected the Over the Top to Victory Doughboy Memorial Statue on the courthouse lawn to honor those killed in action. Sculpted by John Paulding, it’s one of only 55 such memorials across the country.

Dedication of statue Nov 11 1927_Missoulian.photo.11.11.2017 (002)
The Over the Top to Victory Doughboy memorial on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Missoulian)

For the past 30 Veterans Days, Missoula’s American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 has sponsored a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial at 11 a.m., and they’ll continue that tradition on Nov. 11 this year. With the restoration work slated for completion by then, it’ll be the perfect opportunity for Missoula County residents to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during such a pivotal moment in our shared history.