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Drought leads to Hill County drought declaration

Fire restrictions may be implemented soon

The Hill County Commission voted to declare a disaster situation in the county at their weekly business meeting Thursday because of the ongoing drought and the devastating effects it’s had on the area.

This declaration, which was voted for unanimously, will allow people who have suffered significant losses due to the drought to apply to state and federal assistance programs.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said it is not the intention of the commission at this time to implement an emergency levy, and if they decide to pursue that later, they will make that intention known.

Peterson said this declaration is made with a heavy heart after conversations with Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Amanda Frickel, who said the ongoing drought and dryness of the area will prompt discussions about fire restrictions in the coming week.

Peterson said local agriculture and livestock producers have already suffered a great deal due to the drought, having to sell animals, buy high-priced hay and deal with low crop returns.

He said people in Hill County, and the adjoining counties, will now have more opportunity to get help from the state and federal governments and he hopes the situation will prompt more programs to be created.

“This opens the door part way, it may open quite a bit more over the next weeks and months,” he said.

Peterson said local MSU Extension offices and Farm Service Agency offices are a good place to start for people looking for assistance.

At the meeting, the commission also discussed possible changes to how the county goes about paying for property-casualty insurance.

Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said when the Montana Association of Counties made changes to how it handles this insurance, they sat down with Hill County Auditor Kathy Olson to create a new system that breaks out the cost of that insurance between Hill County’s general fund and the various departments.

McLean said those contributions are based on how much those departments make use of the insurance and how likely it is that they would need to make use of them.

“We feel like it’s fair, we feel like it attributes a certain amount of that liability to every department that is benefiting from our coverage,” she said.

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Sue Armstrong said she was concerned about not being involved in creating this new method and asked why neither she, nor Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown, were involved like they have been in years past.

“Well, we put it on our agenda,” McLean said.

Armstrong said she and Brown should have been involved in the process from the beginning, but McLean said Armstrong, when this issue was being discussed a year ago, “threw up her hands,” saying she didn’t know how they were going to do it and told the commission to figure it out.

Armstrong said that is completely untrue and she asked just a few weeks ago to be part of the process.

She said she doesn’t know that there is necessarily anything wrong with this new method, but she at least needs to look it over.

This was an assessment Peterson and fellow Hill County Commissioner Jake Strissel agreed with, saying they think other departments at least need the opportunity to figure these costs into their budgets.

McLean said under the new plan 53 percent of the costs would still come out of the county’s general fund and if departments can’t cover the change in the coming year the general fund would pick up those costs, however, she does think this needs to be figured out before the end of this fiscal year.

Peterson suggested that the matter be tabled for two weeks so the matter can be reviewed with the relevant departments, and the commission voted unanimously to table the matter until the meeting on June 16.

The commission also voted unanimously to support the City of Havre’s urban deer population management plan.

The city has been putting together a plan to address the increasingly large and problematic population of deer in town by providing licenses for bow hunting in certain parts of the city and trapping in areas where hunting would be dangerous or impractical.

Havre Mayor Doug Kaercher has said bow hunting would only be permitted in certain wide-open areas of the city and only if the land owner gives permission, so no one is going to be firing arrows in residential areas or anything like that, for obvious safety reasons.

Kaercher has said there are only a few areas within city limits where bow hunting would be safe and practical, so trapping will probably be the primary method of population control, in addition to education about why feeding deer is bad for them and for the city.

McLean said conversations she’s had with people indicate that there is support for the city trying to do more to curb this issue.

Peterson said he’s talked with a few people who like the deer but many others expressed similar sentiments.


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