Glacier County officials are still researching the feasibility of purchasing property in Browning to house a permanent Glacier County Satellite Office. The Glacier County Commissioners continued the discussion at their Jan. 21 meeting in Cut Bank.
Commission Chair Mary Jo Bremner said her “trepidations” and concerns about the most promising property–the former Blackfeet Construction site owned by Harry Barnes–were addressed during a recent tour of the property. Bremner assured, “We’re not going to rob Peter to pay Paul…we have a long way to go” before a final decision is made.
“The building was impressive,” said Bremner, adding it was clean, empty and featured many improvements, including a new roof, making it move-in ready.
Commissioner Michael DesRosier, who toured the building separately, said it was the “obvious choice” and “large enough” to meet current and future needs of Glacier County.
DesRosier said the remaining funds from an election grant would be “enough for the purchase and renovations.”
Glacier County received a $263,830 grant for election expenses from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) last October. The grant was written by Crystal Cole, who is the Deputy Assistant Election Administrator.
DesRosier said “the granting agency (CTCL)” had been contacted and had approved using the remaining funds for the purchase of a building for elections.
Currently, the Brow-ning Satellite Office space, which is rented from Pat for $1,000 per month, houses both offices for the Clerk and Recorder and Treasurer.
Cole questioned the Commissioners during last week’s discussion if the Treasurer’s Office would be paying for a portion of the cost of the building or rent.
Cole also had toured the facility and said it was “good” and “big enough” that County officials would no longer need to utilize the CCD space in Browning for elections. She pointed out Blackfeet Community College is interested in renting or leasing the big shop which would be included in the sale of Barnes’ property, which would help offset some of the operational costs of the office.
Cole said she believes a Satellite Office is needed in Browning. She pointed out if the CTCL grant is used for all the election expenses incurred by the county, there would be $24,930 remaining. According to Cole’s calculations, actual election expenses were over $227,000.
Commissioner John Overcast did not tour the buildings during the Commissioners last meeting day in Browning, citing his concern the tour was not on agenda.
“I’m totally confused,” said Overcast last week. “Where is the rest of the money going to come from?”
Cole said she gave her report to Chief Financial Officer Chancy Kitttson who was going to review it and see what expenses could be moved and taken out of the County General Fund’s election budget. Kittson was unavailable for last week’s meeting due to a “family issue,” explained Bremner.
“We’re not worried about the money,” stated former Glacier County Commissioner Tom McKay during the public comment portion of the meeting. McKay was defeated by Bremner in the November General Election. It was originally McKay’s idea to utilize the remaining grant funds to purchase a permanent Satellite Office site. “I’m going to continue being involved as much as I’m allowed,” he stated.
Cut Bank resident Kim Stoltz asked how much money is available to spend to purchase the building and what the cost of the building was. Until Kittson is done with his calculations, the answer to her first question is not known. The cost listed in Kittson’s property descriptions was listed at $203,000 but that includes additional parcels of property, explained Bremner.
Elaine Mitchell, also of Cut Bank, stated she was not against having a Satellite Office in Browning and she was not against transferring funds from the election budget to cover the election costs. “I don’t understand how you can purchase anything when the County is broke,” she stated.
Mitchell pointed out there has been not discussion about the County’s five-year long term spending plan, which Kittson submitted to the State of Montana last fall. “You’re not in the position to buy property anywhere.”
The question of adding on and using the Browning branch library as a Satellite Office was also brought up. Bremner said County officials looked at that option, but parking would be an issue.
Glacier County Attorney Terryl Matt confirmed there would be some legal steps, such as public notices, the county would need to adhere to before any final action is taken to purchase property.
Bremner thanked the public and county officials for their comments and input and invited county residents who have questions or comments on the issue to email her at email@example.com.
In other news from last week’s meeting, the Commissioners:
•Heard concerns about the county library still being closed, especially in light of the recent discussions of spending $300,000 for new software and $200,000 for a building. Stoltz told the Commissioners she feels strongly they need to take care of the library issue and any other debt first. Bremner assured earlier in the meeting, “We will have a meeting about the library.”
•Heard from Commissioner Bremner she would like to meet with department heads and employees to hear regular reports. She would also like to meet with all elected county officials, or executive departments. The public will be invited to the meetings and the reports will be available for the public to review, she stated.
Bremner expressed concern over the small meeting space in the Commissioners’ chambers which did not allow for proper social distancing and will look at holding meetings in the court room. If needed, chairs could also be set up in the hallway outside the commissioners’ chamber with some sort of sound system, she said. Bremner assured “we will address all public access issues” while adhering to COVID-related guidelines for safe meetings.
•Discussed and then approved the Glacier County Regional Port Authority submitting a press release on Glacier County’s involvement with the Big Sky Trust Fund’s grant to LinkOne Holding, Inc., in support of the new AgroLink business in Glacier County. The press release must also be approved by the Montana Department of Commerce prior to release.