Commissioners support effort to add fourth District Court judge to serve Gallatin County

On Feb. 1, Bozeman Senator JP Pomnichowski introduced a bill requesting the Montana State Legislature create a position for a fourth District Court Judge in the 18th Judicial District, which serves Gallatin County.

Senate Bill 203 is co-sponsored by a majority of the Gallatin County state legislators. If approved by the Legislature, the new judge would be elected during the general election in November 2020 and begin a six-year term starting January 1, 2021.

The Gallatin County Commissioners voted unanimously to support SB 203 at a public meeting on Feb. 6. The commissioners noted Gallatin County is the fastest growing area in the state, and a fourth District Court judge is necessary to address and serve the public’s needs. The three current District Court judges were in attendance, and stated their appreciation for the Commission’s support.

SB 203 is scheduled for its first hearing on Thursday, Feb. 14 before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol in Helena at 9 a.m.

Approval of the position would include state funding for the judge and three support staff positions. The county would be responsible for housing the judge, which would be done by sharing space in the current Law and Justice Center and in any future facility.

District Court judges handle a wide range of cases, including felony criminal cases, involuntary commitments, child abuse and neglect cases, probates, family law matters, appeals from the courts of limited jurisdiction, and an array of civil matters.

In the last decade, the overall caseload in the 18th Judicial District has increased 40 percent. According to the Montana Judicial Branch’s workload review, Gallatin County is in need of 2.36 additional judges to handle the increasing number of cases.

“My concern is truly for the citizens of the County and to make sure they’re served,” said Commissioner Don Seifert at the Feb. 6 meeting.

Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said another judge would be extremely beneficial to the public, observing that the backlog of cases causes a cumulative stress to a community that depends on judges’ decisions.

Commission Chair Joe Skinner said in a growing area like Gallatin County, services have to expand to meet the community’s needs. “This is just something we have to do,” Skinner said.

The legislation is also supported by Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert and Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

(Photos courtesy: Gallatin County)

Media contact:
Whitney Bermes, Gallatin County communications coordinator
Office: 406-582-3008
Cell: 406-595-8963


Gallatin County 911 working through big changes

It has been a year of change at the Gallatin County 911 Dispatch Center, including brand new dispatching, paging and phone systems, among many other improvements.

Couple growing pains from adopting new systems with a shortage of dispatchers, however, and that has made for some struggles. But staff is optimistic, saying they are making big strides in improving service to the community as well as to the agencies the center works with.

“It’s been challenging, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Jim Anderson, interim 911 communications director. “Dispatchers have been fantastic and really working on all cylinders through all of the changes. They’re the backbone of this system and I cannot say enough about how proud I am of their dedication and professionalism.”

Some of the biggest upgrades and changes in the last year include:

  • Gallatin County 911 implemented a new Computer Aided Dispatching, or CAD, which is used to dispatch calls to law enforcement, fire and medical. The new program by Zuercher Technologies was part of a joint project with other agencies, including the Bozeman Police Department, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and area fire departments, which also included a new records management system for law enforcement.
  • A radio system upgrade as the first phase of a comprehensive radio communication improvement plan upgraded the City of Bozeman police and fire departments to an 800 MHz frequency system, the first 800 MHz trunked site in Montana. What that means for those first responders is better radio coverage in places where they couldn’t communicate prior to the upgrade. It also included other special features, like radio ID with the user’s car or badge number showing on portable radios to an emergency button that with one tap alerts dispatchers to a problem. The Montana State University Police Department also opted to join the 800 MHz system.
  • The paging system was also upgraded, converted to an IP system, that has improved reliability in paging, mainly to area fire departments
  • A new phone system was installed for dispatchers.
  • Gallatin County 911 received money from the Big Sky Resort Tax Board for a Big Sky public safety communications upgrade that will improve emergency communications in that area.

This year also saw a number of IT upgrades, like new computers for dispatchers, replacement of outdated servers and a storage cluster, and resolving phone issues.

At the center’s front desk is Lacy Moore, administrative assistant, has picked up new duties to include helping with the department’s budget and cross training to assist dispatchers when needed, among others.

Moore praised Anderson, saying when he came on board as Interim Director in August of 2017, he jumped into changing life in the department for employees for the better.

“He’s an amazing leader. He’s definitely changing the culture here,” she said.

Staff agree that the department is headed in a positive direction, by both implementing new systems to better communicate with emergency services and the public, as well as promoting a healthier and happier environment within the dispatch center.

But those changes don’t come without their issues, they emphasized. There are trainings to do, kinks to work out, and ongoing maintenance that take time.

The center is also dealing with short staffing. The department, which is authorized for 19 full-time dispatchers, is currently down to nine. However, five are currently in training and hiring efforts are continuing.

Michèle Blais, training manager, has been working to build a new training program that cuts down the training time from up to eight months, down to three or four months. Blais also said, while many of the skills dispatchers will need can be taught, they are putting a renewed focus on getting the right personalities for the dispatch center to help with overall culture and retention in the building.

The department is also in the process of hiring an assistant director, as well as a second radio technician. And later this spring, Gallatin County will be taking over dispatch for the MSU Police Department, which will move a number of new dispatchers into the center.

Due to the changes, as well as the short staff, Anderson said the department has struggled, but continues to push forward with what he says are positive steps.

County Administrator Jim Doar said he appreciates all the work and dedication the dispatchers are doing to meet the challenges. He added, “They care deeply about the community and their role in emergency services. They’ve persevered through some difficult transitions and we are asking them to dig even deeper; they’re rising to that challenge.”

Doar also noted that the progress made so far would not have been possible without Anderson’s leadership and is grateful that the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office was able to assign Anderson to 911 to help.

Echoing 911 staff, Doar also cautioned that the transition to new systems is always difficult and people need to be patient with the changes.

“911 is fundamentally changing the way they do business in order to better serve our fast growing county. Nothing will be perfect overnight,” he said.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin acknowledged frustrations with the changes and challenges 911 has been facing, but voiced optimism about the future of the center.

“We have to eat this elephant one bite at a time and focus on the big picture, otherwise we’ll be right back where we were, which no one wants,” Gootkin said. “We have incredible, dedicated people and that’s why I’m confident we will build a system that our first responders and citizens can count on for years to come.”

Gallatin County 911 Communications provides emergency dispatch services to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Bozeman, Belgrade, Manhattan and Three Forks police and fire, rural fire districts and areas, Gallatin County Search and Rescue, ambulance services and other emergency response units.

Media contact:
Jim Anderson – interim 911 director

Photo courtesy: Gallatin County 911




Gallatin County finalizes Logan Landfill land exchange

After over a decade of work, a land swap between Gallatin County and the state has been finalized, giving the county ownership of the ground the Logan Landfill sits on, and increasing access to public lands for citizens and visitors.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, Gallatin County Commission Chair Steve White signed closing documents finalizing a land exchange between Gallatin County and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. White was joined by Jim Simon, district manager of Gallatin Solid Waste Management District, and Mike Atwood and Craig Campbell of the DNRC to sign the paperwork at Security Title Company in Bozeman.

As part of the deal, Gallatin County received 636.12 acres of land from the state, and the state is getting 620.13 acres of agricultural land from the county. State land appraised for $647,000 while the county’s land appraised for $708,000.

Included in the state land were 80 acres for permanent landfill easement and 8.81 acres of commercial lease for the landfill’s scale house facility. The county’s land was about half agricultural land and half grazing land.

As per the deal, Gallatin County paid a one-time annuity payment of $18,037.73 to the state.

The Montana Board of Land Commissioners gave final approval for the exchange in October.

The county’s land, which abutted the western edge of the Logan Landfill, was purchased in 2009 with plans to eventually buy the rest of the land. Gallatin County has been renting a portion of the landfill from the state.

Now, rather than leasing state land, this critical exchange will put the Logan Landfill on county-owned ground and provide for future growth of the county’s landfill for decades to come.

And importantly, the exchange will also improve access to public lands, creating a contiguous and publicly accessible block of four sections of state-owned land in Gallatin County.

At a public hearing late last month, the commissioners praised Chairman White for his work on this project over the years.

“This may be one of his crowning moments,” said Commissioner Joe Skinner.

Commissioner Don Seifert said the move “brings a lot of certainty to the whole county.”

“Thanks to you, commissioner, for sticking with it,” he said.

White thanked his partners at the DNRC, the Gallatin Solid Waste Management District and the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office.

“This is a big deal,” White said.

The total cost of project for Gallatin County, which includes purchasing and improving the land, was $1.8 million. It was paid for with landfill operation funds and not taxpayer dollars. White noted that tipping fees at Logan Landfill have not been raised in more than 12 years.

And it will be business as usual in Logan as the exchange will not impact day-to-day operations at the Landfill.

Media Contact: Commission Chair Steve White, 582-3000

Gallatin County Treatment Court honoring participants with Christmas celebration

Gallatin County Treatment Court will be holding its annual Christmas celebration on Friday, Dec. 14.

The celebration is to honor the participants’ commitment to changing their lives.

Treatment Court starts at 9 a.m. in Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown’s courtroom at the Law and Justice Center, located at 615 S. 16th Ave. in Bozeman.

“Treatment Court Christmas is a very special event. It is an opportunity to celebrate the ongoing success of our participants, some of whom have not celebrated Christmas in years,” said Judge Brown.

“Prior to Treatment Court, their lives revolved around drugs, alcohol, and jail. But this year, with the support of the Treatment Court team, our participants are clean and sober. They are employed, and they have stable residences. And they are free to experience the joy of the holidays with their friends and family,” he said.

At the Christmas celebration, the 23 current participants will receive gifts and treats provided by Friends of Treatment Court, a group that gives financial support to the program, as well as the Alumni Club, who are past Treatment Court graduates.

“This is a great example of the support to Treatment Court by the community,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Steve White. “Over the years, I have seen how the participants appreciate the Christmas celebration.”

Gallatin County Treatment Court was the first adult treatment court in the state and is now one of 31 drug courts across Montana.

Started in 1999, Treatment Court is an 18-month voluntary program that is an alternative sentencing for adult offenders whose crimes were motivated by substance abuse.

Participants receive treatment for chemical dependency and mental health issues. Among a number of things, participants are required to attend addictions counseling, mental health therapy and support groups, as well as submit to frequent drug and alcohol testing, report weekly to a case manager and perform community service.

The five core values of Treatment Court are honesty, integrity, responsibility, sobriety and service.

Brown also voiced his appreciation to the Gallatin County Commission.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Gallatin County commissioners for their continued support of the Treatment Court,” he said. “Their emotional and financial support is greatly appreciated.”

The program is managed by a team that includes:

Judge John Brown, Gallatin County District Court
Steve Ette, Director of Court Services
Eric Kitzmiller, Chief Deputy with Gallatin County Attorney’s Office
Kirsten Mull-Core, Attorney
Dr. Jim Murphey, Psychologist
Vicki Deboer, Clinical Supervisor with Alcohol and Drug Services of Gallatin County
Erin Diehl, Probation and Parole Officer for Montana Department of Corrections
Gen Stasiak, Misdemeanor Probation supervisor for Gallatin County

Media Contact:
Steve Ette, Treatment Court coordinator

Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office deputies participating in Shop with a Cop

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with area law enforcement for the annual Shop with a Cop event, taking place in Bozeman on Saturday, Dec. 8.

Eleven members of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Brian Gootkin, will be joined by officers from the Bozeman, Manhattan and Montana State University police departments to take kids shopping at Target.

Each kid receives $75 to buy presents for their families. The child’s parents also get $25 to buy gifts for the participating children as well.

After the deputies and officers are done shopping, they will gives the kids tours of their patrol cars. They will then drive to Bozeman City Hall where law enforcement will help the kids wrap their presents and all will be treated to a pizza party.

Money for the event is donated with the help of the Gallatin County Public Safety Foundation.

There will be two shopping shifts on Saturday. The first runs from 9 a.m. to noon and the second from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Shop with a Cop is a national event with law enforcement from around the country participating during the holiday season.

Donations for next year’s event will be collected at Target on Saturday.

Donations can also be mailed any time to the Gallatin County Public Safety Foundation, PO Box 3612, Bozeman MT 59772. Cash or checks made out to GCPSF are accepted.

Media contact:
Deputy Jackie Stewart