City, county officials open lines of communication

For the first time in several years, the Custer County Commissioners and members of the Miles City City Council got together Tuesday to re-open the lines of communication between the entities, and discuss matters of mutual concern.

County Commission Chairman Kevin Krausz opened the meeting by explaining there was no formal agenda. He explained that the commissioners have been talking for the “last couple of years” about having a joint meeting with city officials “every month or every other month” just to discuss “whatever comes to mind.”

Initial conversations on Tuesday included the potential for sharing more services as a cost-saving move.

Krausz noted that the City County Health Board has recently been re-established and he wanted to discuss combining services whenever possible. “We’re the community,” he said in reference to both government entities.

Attending the meeting were Krausz and commissioners Jason Strouf and Keith Holmlund. Representing the city were council members Susanne Galbraith, John Uden, Jeff Erlenbusch, Brant Kassner, Dwayne Andrews and Rick Huber.

The commissioners updated city council members about the county’s possible acquisition of the VA Medical Center complex in Miles City. 

Council members had several questions about the complex ranging from size and maintenance costs to possible subdivision of the property.

Councilman Rick Huber said he was surprised to learn that the Miles City Police Department did not pay rent for their space in the complex, providing security in exchange for free space.

 Uden, who retired from the Miles City Police Department several years ago, said the police location in the VA Complex is not particularly “public-friendly.” Krausz, a former police chief, also stated that it was his “pet peeve” that the “public doesn’t know where” the police department is located.

Andrews expressed concern that the businesses being considered by the county to conduct a feasability study on the county’s possible acquistion of the complex are not familiar with Montana, but Holmlund assured him that all three firms competing for the contract were Montana-based.

The study will be completed just a few months before the county has to make a decision on Dec. 31, which concerned several council members. Strouf explained that the county would be receiving information as the study was conducted and that there would be public hearings as well.

Everyone agreed that a repeat of the problem that occurred 20 years ago with the abandoned Holy Rosary Hospital high-rise must be avoided. That building was acquired by a firm that stripped the building of valuables and left the taxpayers on the hook for demolition.

Krausz suggested that among services that could be consolidated were the Justice of the Peace and City Judge offices. The legalities of the move were discussed and Uden suggested consolidation of support staff, at the least, be brought before the city’s Public Safety Committee.

Galbraith wanted to make sure consolidation was legal. Erlenbusch wanted to know if there would be restrictions due to Montana Code.

The complexities of the funding for the joint 911 emergency service was also discussed. Strouf said the current 911 board includes members and funding from both Garfield and Custer County, and that the state is advocating “regional hubs” for 911 services.

There is some concern that Garfield County is not entirely satisfied with the current services. “We don’t want to lose Garfield” not just because of the funding but because if Garfield withdraws, it would be hard to convince other area counties to join with Custer, Krausz stated.

“It would be a hard sell,” to other counties, Strouf said, if the one partner Custer already had withdrew. Strouf also explained that because technology is changing quickly and requires costly updating constantly, it will benefit the counties financially in the long run, especially the smaller ones, to join in a regional hub.

Uden noted that the dispatch center in the new detention center is already designed to handle future expansion.

Strouf brought the meeting to a close saying that he would like to see meetings like the one just held on regular basis. Andrews suggested that meetings be held bi-monthly “with someone to take notes.”

Holmlund finished by saying he found the meeting to be “very productive and good to know each others’  thoughts.”

Future meetings will be scheduled with the city and county taking turns “hosting” the event. The time, date and location for the next meeting has not been set.

(Contact Amorette Allison at 234-0450 or mcreporter@midrivers.com).