The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners

Looking Back on 2023 with the Missoula County Commissioners

December 26, 2023 Missoula County Commissioners
Looking Back on 2023 with the Missoula County Commissioners
The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
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The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
Looking Back on 2023 with the Missoula County Commissioners
Dec 26, 2023
Missoula County Commissioners

This week the commissioners reviewed memorable projects from 2023, including those that address homelessness, affordable housing, recreation opportunities and much more. Tune in for a conversation that covers everything from property taxes to new parking lots to wildfire prep.

Do you have something you'd like the commissioners to discuss in 2024? Email!

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Show Notes Transcript

This week the commissioners reviewed memorable projects from 2023, including those that address homelessness, affordable housing, recreation opportunities and much more. Tune in for a conversation that covers everything from property taxes to new parking lots to wildfire prep.

Do you have something you'd like the commissioners to discuss in 2024? Email!

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Josh Slotnick: [00:00:10] Welcome back, everybody, to the agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners. I'm Josh Slotnick and I'm here with my fellow commissioners Juanita Vero and Dave Strohmaier. Today, we're taking time to reflect on 2023 and to look forward to 2024. So I'm going to pitch right to you guys on what a year it's been. What a year it's been.


Juanita Vero: [00:00:28] I'm going to my photos right now because man, that'll that'll guide us.


Josh Slotnick: [00:00:32] That'll guide us so well. While Juan is looking at the 3 or 4 pictures she took this last year. Dave, what are you what are you thinking about? And things you're proud of over the last year and things you're looking forward to?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:00:43] Oh, man, where to even begin? And I don't want to be kind of stereotypical here, but I will be, since one of the issues, one of the initiatives I've invested a fair amount of time and energy into over the past several years is seeing what we can do to bring passenger rail service back to southern Montana, right here through our home county of Missoula County. And we just celebrated this fall the third anniversary of the big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. This is something that Missoula County played a pivotal role in making happen, and I think we are seeing the fruits of our labor. We are in the midst of a nationwide study looking at restoring discontinued Amtrak routes. That is a direct result of the work of the big Sky Passenger Rail Authority and by extension, Missoula County. We went from 12 counties, initially up to 20 counties. We are the largest transportation district in the state of Montana. We have become nationally known as a leader on passenger rail issues, and I think we are seeing a real chance that we will in the next number of years, be able to hop on an Amtrak train here in Missoula and travel to Billings, to Fargo, to Chicago or to Seattle or Portland. This is something that I think we can take pride in as a community that initially you might think, what the heck are we doing working on something that is so big as this? Well, I think we will reap direct results as a community when this comes to pass. So we've invested energy into this and we're not over the finish line yet, but the train is rolling down the tracks.


Josh Slotnick: [00:02:27] That's fantastic. Juan, how about you? What are some things coming to mind for you that you're proud of?


Juanita Vero: [00:02:31] Well, I'm looking outside at some of our neighbors who used to be living literally up against the building on the sidewalk here, 199 West Pine, and they're no longer here. And I like to think that is in part because of some of the investments communities made. And I know that you're fired up about we're all fired up about this, but.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:02:53] Maybe.


Juanita Vero: [00:02:54] I want to hear more.


Josh Slotnick: [00:02:55] Yeah. These are things I'd love to talk about. Yes.


Juanita Vero: [00:02:57] Go for it. I'm still scrolling, man. Okay.


Josh Slotnick: [00:03:00] So in general, over the last year, two years really since covet ended, we saw a great increase in the amount of people living outdoors. And we're very aware of the economic effect this has on businesses, the social destabilization this has on our community, and how horrible it is for people who are living outdoors themselves. And this is a problem we really need to address. We have three initiatives right now that have proven to be successful in getting people off the street. All these things I'm going to mention are done in partnership. The mobile sport team. Case in point, done in partnership. If you see somebody in mental health crisis, you can call 911 and a paramedic and a social worker will arrive at the scene roughly 60% of the time, they can stabilize a crisis in place, and they check in with people over the next 24 hours and really help them get to a better situation. Starting right now, we have a crisis receiving center. That means if that mobile support team can't resolve a crisis in place, they have a place to bring someone who is in some type of mental health crisis. Or maybe they're profoundly under the influence of some substance, and it cannot be determined if they have a mental health issue under the influence of something, or both.


Josh Slotnick: [00:04:07] Often jail or the emergency department are the wrong places to bring this person. We can bring them to crisis receiving, where again, we have a mental health professional and we have people who deal with physical health and a space where a person can decompress and then get evaluated to a certain degree, be out of a space of intensity for 24 hours, and then brought to an even better place, wherever that next place might be. Third feature of this that I'm really proud of all around. This effort around homelessness is our temporary, safe outdoor space again, another effort done in partnership. Big ones here with Hope Rescue Mission and United Way. We have people who used to be living outdoors now, living in hard sided shelters with a door that locks with heat and electricity and cooling in the summertime. And the little neighborhood that we together have created is clean and predictable and safe. And we've seen more than a third of the people who are staying there move on to permanent housing under the big umbrella of addressing homelessness. I feel like we've made great progress with these three projects.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:05:03] Oh, I think so too. It's clear that there's a lot more work yet to be done. I am also super interested looking at. Had. What impact will see housing wise on the community and by default? Homelessness in our community by virtue of additional units coming online. So we now have right next to the temporary safe outdoor space, the TSOs, the Trinity project partially online, coming online with permanent supportive housing built into that. We have a number of other projects around town that are on the cusp of actually being able to be occupied.


Josh Slotnick: [00:05:37] So hundreds of units.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:05:41] Hundreds, 200.


Josh Slotnick: [00:05:42] Units at the Trinity that are set aside for people of low or moderate income. 30 units that are permanently supportive housing. As you said, most of the housing starts happening in the county have been in the Sx͏ʷtpqyen or the BUILD grant area where we partnered up with the city and we're able to put in sewer, water and road grid and development is following at a breakneck pace.


Juanita Vero: [00:06:02] And for folks, sorry, this area is between Reserve Street and the airport and Broadway and Mullan.


Josh Slotnick: [00:06:07] I think Martin at the Missoula current described the growth there as explosive, with the hopes that an increase in inventory will decrease home prices or at least slow their growth.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:06:16] Well, and cut the ribbon on that this year as far as wrapping up that major infrastructure project. So that's super.


Josh Slotnick: [00:06:23] Good. Yeah. Also in housing, we have an infrastructure study happening right now out at the Y. And the establishment of a targeted economic development district at the Y, with the hopes in the not too distant future of establishing sewer, water and road grid out there so development could follow out there. And we're talking thousands and thousands of units of housing over the next 20 years. But hopefully this increase in inventory will put some downward pressure on the increase in home prices at the Y. If we want to see housing density look more like an urban density rather than one per acre or one per five acres, we need to have that sewer, water, road grid. Without that infrastructure, that area will absolutely be developed, but it will be developed at a low suburban level of density, which is poor land use planning and pretty expensive.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:07:06] As important as these projects are in the Missoula urban area, less folks think that we are only concerned about the Missoula urban area. There are lots of places in outlying communities in Missoula County. Take Seeley Lake is a great example where there is work currently being done and much more to do to figure out what are the impediments to addressing housing in communities that might be deficient in infrastructure, wastewater infrastructure, other sorts of infrastructure that would provide ability to create housing for a school teacher, for someone who works for the Forest Service, for a sheriff's deputy.


Juanita Vero: [00:07:43] And in the same breath, oh, sorry. Go ahead.


Josh Slotnick: [00:07:45] I was going to throw you on.


Juanita Vero: [00:07:46] Oh.


Josh Slotnick: [00:07:47] Are you ready?


Juanita Vero: [00:07:47] I just missed.


Josh Slotnick: [00:07:48] Oh, there was the.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:07:49] Bone. That was.


Josh Slotnick: [00:07:50] Here's the thing I was going to throw.


Juanita Vero: [00:07:51] To, because I can hear us talking about this excitement about development and growth. And I always get worried that we start to sound like we're talking about a cancer cell. And so we are excited about housing and smart development. And maybe smart is the wrong word. That sounds triggering for some people, but we are doing growth in a way that is aligned with the county's values.


Josh Slotnick: [00:08:14] Absolutely.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:15] I think that is really special.


Josh Slotnick: [00:08:17] We were able to do that with the establishment of our new zoning, where we created some pretty amazing incentives for people to do conservation, and we zoned the best soil in the county at one per 40.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:08:29] In much like that, some of our recent meetings in Condon and Seeley Lake, where we've discussed with area residents, what is it that you love about your community, being able to identify that and make sure that we can align whatever housing or development that occurs with those values so that you don't end up degrading the very thing. That is the reason why you live there in the first place.


Josh Slotnick: [00:08:53] That was the thing I was going to throw you on.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:54] Oh. Got it.


Josh Slotnick: [00:08:55] Ready? Got it. Not yet. I got to say, I haven't even said it yet.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:57] It might be my left hand.


Josh Slotnick: [00:08:58] I haven't even said it yet. Oh, it has not yet been thrown.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:02] Always got to be ready.


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:03] He's ready. Here we.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:04] Go. Okay. Where is it?


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:05] We were able to reach out to some of our more rural areas and have some pretty intensive listening sessions, and really hear what people have to say about what they're interested in in the future of their community communities and what they feel like the challenges are. Remember, we did one in Seeley where we did. I'm talking about where we brought a whole bunch of staff and went table to table. Pretty intensive, pretty intensive listening session Seeley.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:27] And West Side.


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:28] Yeah, if you want to talk about that a little bit.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:29] Well, I didn't go to the West Side one, but Seeley one was fantastic. We did learn that we need to pay attention to acoustics a bit.


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:36] That is that our take home?


Juanita Vero: [00:09:38] That was my take home because my brain was full. But that was really exciting and I'm really looking forward to us doing more of those.


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:45] What does it look like.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:46] For people who weren't there to have to have pizza and water? There was really good energy because we had subject matter experts that were there and and folks got to spend time with some of our staff leaders to really talk about whether it was building permits, sewer, wastewater, wildfire smoke, burning permits, just understanding how the county works. It was it was a great way. To engage folks, but we really did learn that we needed to have it. It was hard to hear, so it could be frustrating for folks, but it was wonderful to be able to mix it up with what didn't have quite the same kind of sterile format that it can be in typical public meetings, or a city council meeting or commissioner meeting, it was very engaging and and neighborly and that that felt really good. And you could really feel the distinct communities and, and people could share what was on their mind.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:10:40] And it was a packed room, packed room.


Josh Slotnick: [00:10:42] And we had a similar experience out in West Riverside. People were very engaged in talking about their communities.


Juanita Vero: [00:10:47] I'm looking at photo here from April 25th and we're all up. Where were we? We were at Marshall Mountain. What do you guys think of that?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:10:54] That is another big project. And and really an opportunity that only comes around in a generation, I think. And and this is a much beloved piece of Missoula County that we are on the cusp of acquiring and being able to use for generations to come, maybe not necessarily the same sort of ski experience that you've had in the past, but it's a site that is is ripe with opportunity for recreation, for educational opportunities. And it's something also, this is something unique that Missoula County is attuned to, is that we do live in the aboriginal territories of the Salish and Kalispell people, and because of that, have had some great conversations with tribal leadership about how they can be a part of planning the future of this much beloved location.


Juanita Vero: [00:11:48] And you also said unique to say more about because because folks will say like, oh, we got plenty of parks opportunities or recreation opportunities. And some people don't quite see the vision or why is it important that we say yes to Marshall now? So say say more about why this is such a unique piece of property and a once in a lifetime opportunity.


Josh Slotnick: [00:12:11] For multiple generations. People who live in this area have been going to Marshall Mountain. It's a site of public access to the outdoors for many, many generations. There are people who learn to ski there and then brought their grandkids to learn to ski there, and it's developed into hiking and biking and all kinds of other access of of the woods. To see this go away would be tragic. One way to judge the value of something is to consider its absence. Given that people have been going to this place for multiple generations, its absence is almost unthinkable. Well, if.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:12:43] If this had been on the cusp of slipping away.


Josh Slotnick: [00:12:46] This, that, that is the essence of the opportunity. Absolutely. That this was going away. Some private folks stepped in, bought it in the hopes of selling it back to the county and the city. In this case, we played the leadership role, but city open space funds were there as well. The folks bought it, held it, and then sold it at a discount to the city and county so that this land could be here and accessible for people who live in this area forevermore. That, to me is the unique nature of this, that if we hadn't taken advantage of this right now, it would have gone away. Lastly, not only is the recreation really important to our culture, recreation is super important to our economy. I believe our economy in greater Missoula County exists because people choose to be here. They don't come for a job in a specific industry. They choose to be here. And the reason they choose to be here in large part, is because we have such fantastic access to public land and public water. People make a choice to be here, and then they create a livelihood that kind of rhymes with their values. And we have seen if this is a tool of economic growth, mad economic growth, everyone and their cousin seems to want to live here and move their business here. This actually works as an economic engine right now.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:13:49] So speaking of recreation and recreation as an economic engine or just something that those of us who call this place home 365 days a year. Enjoy. Josh, maybe you could talk about this, the Sharan parking lot, because just.


Juanita Vero: [00:14:05] Down the road downhill from here.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:14:07] So so this this is something else that on the face of it, a parking lot that doesn't sound too sexy, but but this is a big deal a big deal.


Josh Slotnick: [00:14:16] Thanks. And this is something my daughters teased me about. They said you started doing this work and then you got so excited about parking. What happened to you? So Sharon is has been for years a fabulously popular place. Add Covid into this. The potential for remote work. So many people moved to Missoula County and when they moved here, they began doing the things that locals have been doing forever. And one of those really easy paths to fun on a hot summer day is to throw your inner tube in the water at Sharon and float into the city. All well and good, except the amount of people that wanted to do this, much greater than the amount of places to put cars. So we had people parallel parking on a highway for hundreds and hundreds of yards. And imagine people, young people, stepping out between two parked cars with a beer in one hand and an inner tube into the other, attempting to cross 55 mile an hour traffic. It's just a disaster waiting to happen. It took years to create a new parking lot and again, like all these things that we've been able to do, we. We did this in partnership. The key partners here were the Montana Department of Transportation and Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Who's going to manage the site? We were able to construct this new parking lot for, I believe, 80 plus spaces in the easement. So thanks to MDT for allowing us to do this and thanks to fish, wildlife and parks. And then we put in a parking resolution to make sure we didn't have cars parallel parked on the highway anymore.


Josh Slotnick: [00:15:31] We enjoy a lot of recreation here. We also endure the effects, the impacts of recreation, people parking on a highway as one of those. Another one I want to mention people parking near the McClay bridge and disrupting that neighborhood. We were able to make real progress there, just with delineating more carefully where parking could be and couldn't be. Other thing we did in partnership, again with a bunch of other organizations, in this case F-w-p and the Clark Fork Coalition, were the really key ones. The River ambassador program, which is now in its third season. So we have young people in brightly colored t shirts with a smile and some information going back and forth between the multiple heavy use river access sites that are close to the city, helping folks figure out where they should put in, where they should take out, how they should behave, where they should Park River Ambassador Program has gotten rave reviews as one one person told me who was involved in this, most people out on the river want to do the right thing. Sometimes they just don't know what it is. And there are so many people and they're in a hurry that the environment doesn't push them in the right direction. They need to be given some guidance. So we've taken we've taken on this role of attempting to address recreation management in a new way, because it has such an impact of quality of life here. Now.


Juanita Vero: [00:16:41] It's super exciting that I love that it is a parking lot. No, I'm looking at May 15th now going back. Well, back from Sharon, but but this.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:16:54] Is the three hour edition of the agenda. So we're up to May 15th and.


Juanita Vero: [00:16:58] It's a beautiful photo of us at lowland. That was yeah.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:17:02] That is a big deal also. And until I took this job seven years ago, I had no idea that the historic lowland ranch, which is for any of you out there who do not know where this is or what it is, it's that cool looking historic ranch at the air. Is it Airport Boulevard, airway, airway Boulevard off of the interstate? It's it's tucked in right behind Dino's, next to big Sky brewing, historic old farmstead. It's actually owned by Missoula County. And it includes the oldest structure, potentially the oldest structure located in its original location in Missoula County. It shows the progression of agricultural history in Missoula from that earliest homesteaders cabin to the larger brick house, a couple of different eras of barns on the site. Its fate has been really up in the air for many years. And finally this last year, and I'm super proud of Missoula County for taking this step. We were able to preserve this site, restore the main house out there, and now as our tenant is the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, who has their offices out there on the Lowland Ranch. They are going to be in a just a super great location to to welcome the public and, and others to hear about what they are doing, but also to be ambassadors for Missoula County in this location. So that is hopefully going to be open to the public at some point in the not too distant future for self-guided tours. But that's something that has happened and will continue to evolve over time.


Juanita Vero: [00:18:44] And that's another thing that man, I must admit, I was a little kind of dragging my feet on that I just wasn't as enthusiastic when you first talked about it, because again, all I could see was Dino's and the interstate and I didn't have the vision and strohmeyer. It's just amazing what you're able to do there.


Josh Slotnick: [00:19:01] It was well done, well done. And one thing that made me very excited about this, you mentioned that the tenancy, the rent from Cfac, so we were able to do this without big outlays of taxpayer dollars. Redevelopment was paid for by the folks who are using that space. And I love this saying I heard a long time ago, preservation and use go hand in hand and historic preservation is what happened here. And use is what's happening here. And the use is covering the cost of the preservation. So it was a really great equation.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:19:29] Well, and speaking of use and preservation, I am looking across town to the east and can not quite but almost see the top of what used to be the Missoula Federal Building. And we talked about partnerships also, and this is a prime example of partnerships of looking for ways to accomplish multiple goals. So what was basically a mausoleum for years with with hardly anyone occupying this 100,000 square foot plus building since the Forest Service vacated the location about a decade ago, it is now in the ownership of the city of Missoula and. Missoula County, and we are in the process of planning for moving a good chunk of Missoula County and City of Missoula administrative offices and functions into that building. So a couple of the at least from my standpoint, I'd love to hear from you, Josh or Juanita, but from my perspective, this accomplishes a few goals. It takes what very well could have ended up being a massive hole in the ground here. If this building went unused for many more years, it basically would have been subject to demolition by neglect and fallen into disrepair, and probably have been demolished. An iconic location in Missoula's history and Missoula's downtown is going to be revitalized for this community. But also what that does is realize the vision of the downtown master plan by opening up for commercial development. Other locations such as this very building we are sitting in today, perhaps, or City Hall or the City Council chambers. Yeah, all of the above. And other offices that are currently kind of scattered around downtown Missoula.


Josh Slotnick: [00:21:19] Yeah, I mean, this is the piece of this that I think I'm most excited about. These are large chunks of prime real estate in the heart of downtown that right now house people for work. That's it. That work can be done in the new John Engen Local Government Building. And these spaces that we're talking about, formerly owned or right now owned by city and county and occupy a ton of real estate, will give birth to new commercial development.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:21:42] And what you just said is super important. What was once known as the Federal Building is now the John Engen Local Government. And these and.


Josh Slotnick: [00:21:50] These spaces that had not been contributing to the tax rolls, which adds more burden to residential taxpayers, homeowners and renters, will be filled with commercial entities that could help take, to a very small degree, the edge off property taxes by contributing to that system.


Juanita Vero: [00:22:05] And what about the one stop shop for all your city county services?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:22:08] Oh, how many folks show up downstairs at our reception desk wanting to know something about a pothole in the city of Missoula, only to find out that this is a Missoula County office, not the city of Missoula. To have a one stop shop for the treasurer's office, clerk and recorder. Vehicle registration.


Josh Slotnick: [00:22:28] There's security folks at the courthouse who do nothing but play traffic cop, and I've heard them plenty of times say, oh, you need to cross the street. And when they cross the street, there are which street are you going to? City Hall? Three different options. Or are you going to the county administrative building. So there's a lot of government in this area but not self contained. So the one stop shop should help increase convenience. Co-location should should do the trick.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:22:51] I'm seeing an elephant in the corner of the room over here. I think its name is t a x e s.


Juanita Vero: [00:23:01] I see magic!


Dave Strohmaier: [00:23:02] You see magic, I see.


Josh Slotnick: [00:23:03] I see opportunity, Dave, I see opportunity.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:23:06] So.


Josh Slotnick: [00:23:07] So can I talk about the opportunity?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:23:10] Talk about the opportunity.


Juanita Vero: [00:23:11] Give us the magic. All right.


Josh Slotnick: [00:23:12] Here's the opportunity. Property taxes are way, way out of control. This system is absolutely broken. And I would say rigged against homeowners and renters. Why is this a moment of opportunity? Because it is not just us. We all know very well our state legislature's attitude towards Missoula. I think they would gladly sell us to Idaho in a heartbeat if they got the right price. But this problem I'm talking about is affecting everybody across western Montana and deep into central Montana. There is a Momentrillionight now where I think we can actually do property tax reform, because it isn't just Missoula County and Gallatin County. It's probably 25, 30 plus counties that are in this. We will do. And excited to do is work with other county commissioners and state legislative folks in other places. So by the time the legislative session comes around again, we will have some ideas for reforming the system we have right now. Not just junking it, but tweaking it such that the tax system is more balanced. And when I say more balanced, I mean all the burden isn't carried by homeowners and renters, but other entities out there, other taxpaying entities right now.


Juanita Vero: [00:24:14] What's an example of one of those entities?


Josh Slotnick: [00:24:16] So the biggest one we've heard about and we heard about again today are centrally assessed property. So we're talking railroads, telecoms pipelines, airlines and energy transmission entities. These entities in Missoula County last year, this last year saw $54 million decrease in their tax liability. And what that meant is an increase for others. And it's not the fault of those entities. I'm not saying they are bad or did anything wrong. They played by the rules, as do homeowners and renters, as does Missoula County. We need to rewrite those rules, and there's an opportunity to work with other counties in the state to rewrite those rules, because for the first time ever, it's affecting them, too. So I think there's a window here that didn't previously exist to fix the property tax system that.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:24:59] Is a glass half full.


Juanita Vero: [00:25:03] But when else has the entire state been engaged in a conversation like this?


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:08] Two thirds of the state?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:09] No.


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:09] That's very true. Never. Not that I can recall. I mean, there's a moment here that has not existed before.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:15] No, that's very true.


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:16] Thanks for calling out the elephant in the room, Dave.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:17] Well, there might there might be others. I have to look under the table here. Juanita, are we up to the month of June?


Juanita Vero: [00:25:24] Oh, July. June. June. June. June 24th. I see in June there's a rhinoceros beetle on my arm. And 30 years in the making, the Jerry Marks Exploration Center.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:36] Holy smokes! How could we forget that?


Juanita Vero: [00:25:38] And butterfly house, that's going to be huge.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:41] So Fairgrounds is looking better than ever. Successful.


Juanita Vero: [00:25:45] You're right. And fair made.


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:46] Money.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:47] The fair made money. And they were using.


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:49] The money that the fair made to pay for developments at the fair. We are going to have a new rodeo arena. Thankfully, it's going to happen this year because those grandstands would not have made it, according to our inspectors, until next year's fair. So we're and also thanks greatly to a private donation, we're going to have a new rodeo arena for next year. Okay.


Juanita Vero: [00:26:10] What else have we got here?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:26:11] Oh, I've got while we're in the middle of summer, something that we have been working on as Missoula County and will continue is our fire program, our wildland fire program, looking for ways in which we can, I think more truthfully address mitigation of risk for for homeowners. And that is focusing on mitigating and lowering risk within that 100 foot circle around your home, the home ignition center, and doing simple things.


Juanita Vero: [00:26:38] Like what?


Josh Slotnick: [00:26:39] This isn't just talk. We have to staff we do on this.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:26:42] No, we we do. And we we may be the only county in the state that has invested this much energy into this issue, but I think it is critical because I think we've seen in plenty of places where there has not been that focus and there's been community disaster as a result of it.


Juanita Vero: [00:27:00] Denton.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:27:01] Yeah. So yeah, we are well on our way to, to working on that issue a lot more yet to, to be done.


Juanita Vero: [00:27:09] But some of these, some of these. Oh, some of the simple things.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:27:11] Simple things. Well yeah, some of the things that if, if one of our staff members takes a field trip to your community or to your doorstep, that if they were doing an assessment of your property in your home, which.


Juanita Vero: [00:27:23] Sounds scary, but no, this is not scary.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:27:25] No, no, I mean, are your gutters filled with pine needles? Is your roof a carpet of pine needles? Do you have juniper vegetation butting right up against that wood pile on your deck? Does this sound like the property of either Juanita Vero or Josh Slotnick? I don't know, but. So there's a lot of relatively simple, inexpensive things that people can do if they were. Maybe it's like the the River example you used earlier. Josh. People, well-meaning people just might not know what the the answer is or what even the the question is that they should be asking.


Josh Slotnick: [00:28:05] So given that we're at the 120 minute mark.


Juanita Vero: [00:28:11] We're still in June.


Josh Slotnick: [00:28:13] So let's pass on a cool thing you learned this year.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:28:16] I went to Leadership Montana program this last year, and I was thoroughly impressed with the concept of gracious space. And what this basically means is creating a spirit and a setting where you can invite the stranger in, who might not be someone who necessarily agrees with your position, but you can have a civil discussion, you can learn in public, you can have a conversation with folks who are not like minded, but as a result of that, not just tolerate or put up with that difference or dissonance, but actually grow out of that experience. And there's lots of opportunities that we in local government, I think, can realize that. And what we do in the work that we do every day.


Juanita Vero: [00:29:04] And just saying that such a good one, realizing like the, the spirit of, of gracious space and it can be kind of bleak and local government, but realizing that the spirit with which we show up to tackle these problems. That's really all we have control over.


Josh Slotnick: [00:29:18] Inviting the stranger is the antidote to polarization and misunderstanding and making assumptions, and then taking actions without having real information, disregarding folks who don't think just like us, it's our big challenge. I think our meaning, the greater we not not just local government, we all need to be doing this because we're in such a divided moment.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:29:38] Oh, absolutely. What about you, Josh?


Josh Slotnick: [00:29:41] Man, the things that I'm going to mention are around homelessness, but this came out of an article that I read that dove deep into the research on this. And simple truths just stuck with me that there are two types of homelessness short term and chronic. And the short term, if you take a high cost of living place and hit someone who's in that place with a powerful financial event like the transmission fallen out of their car, or the need for emergency dental work. You can get short term homelessness. Take those same two things. High cost of living, intense financial impact event and add a disability to it. Whether that's an addiction or mental health issue, you get long term homelessness. The way to address the first one is getting funds available, small amounts of money available to people who are living right on the edge so they can deal with that big financial impact event. And United Way is doing this really well in Missoula County with their Housing Solutions fund. A few hundred bucks can actually keep somebody in their house just for that one month, and then they pay for the dental work and they're okay. The second one, how do we address chronic homelessness is through permanent supportive housing because it addresses that disability. According to the research, costs about $40,000 a year to keep someone in this type of space. Without that, people incur costs far greater than those $40,000.


Juanita Vero: [00:31:01] Like millions of dollars.


Josh Slotnick: [00:31:02] Millions of dollars. If somebody is a frequent flier at the jail or the emergency department, we spend far more than that. So we haven't licked this by any stretch in Missoula County. But these were take home lessons for me in reading and listening that, wow, there is a path forward here, and also somewhat reassuring that every popular population center in the country is facing these issues. Good.


Juanita Vero: [00:31:23] So for my my path forward and simple truth, a buddy of mine just reminded me of this. To fill what's empty, empty what's filled and scratch what itches.


Josh Slotnick: [00:31:32] I like that that's.


Juanita Vero: [00:31:35] Thanks everyone.


Josh Slotnick: [00:31:36] Thank you.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:31:37] Everybody. Thank you.


Josh Slotnick: [00:31:38] We'll see you next year. Thanks for listening to the agenda. If you enjoy these conversations, it would mean a lot. If you rate and review the show on whichever podcast app you use.


Juanita Vero: [00:31:48] And if you know a friend who would like to keep up with what's happening in local government, be sure to recommend this podcast to them.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:31:54] The agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners is made possible with support from Missoula Community Access Television, better known as mCAT, and our staff in the Missoula County Communications Division.


Josh Slotnick: [00:32:06] If you have a question or a topic you'd like us to discuss on a future episode, email it to


Juanita Vero: [00:32:14] To find out other ways to stay up to date with what's happening in Missoula County, go to


Dave Strohmaier: [00:32:21] Thanks for listening.