Commissioner forecasts – Schulz sees a busy year ahead for commissioners, county residents

For Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz, part of looking forward means looking back and in his district, 2010 was a pretty big year.

“Last year was an incredibly successful year in district one,” Schulz said in a recent interview about his thoughts on the upcoming year.

Schulz is commissioner of Madison County Commission District 1, which covers an area from the edge of the Madison Valley around the southwest portion of the county nearly to Twin Bridges. It includes the towns of Virginia City, Alder and Sheridan.

Highlights of last year’s projects include major road work in the upper Ruby Creek drainage, beginning a major addition project to Tobacco Root Mountains Care Center in Sheridan, work on the historic grandstands at the Madison County Fair Grounds in Twin Bridges, and progress on addressing the ongoing access issues at the Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City.

Some of those projects will continue on into 2011, Schulz said, pointing specifically to the grandstand projects, dealing with access to the courthouse and wrapping up the construction project at TRMCC.

Other changes this year include a new face in the commissioner’s office as Dan Happel starts his term as commissioner from district 2.

Happel replaces Marilyn Ross, who Schulz heaped praise upon.

Ross was particularly valuable to the county in her efforts to address senior services and affordable housing in Madison County.

Ross will continue to work in a voluntary capacity to help advise the commissioner on those issues, now as a concerned and active citizen.

“She had enough commitment into it and created enough relationships that she was more than willing to come on in that capacity,” he said.

Schulz’s main focus this year will be much the same as in years past – to run county government as efficiently and proactively as possible.

That means continuing to work with every department in the county, as well as the county’s more than 200 employees to be conservative with budgets and spending, Schulz said.

“This last year I’ve tried to maintain a fairly conservative approach at spending and budget,” he said.

With the Montana Legislature being in session, he is going to be watchful of bills and issues that arise which could impact counties.

One issue that has gained a lot of local attention in years past in Madison County is stream access. Past legislation has settled most of the access issues as it pertains to county owned bridges and roads, but Schulz believes there will be more to deal with this legislative session.

“I’m fairly confident that stream access is going to be dealt with again,” he said.

This time around it may be looking at stream access on prescriptive roads and bridges, Schulz said. These are roads and bridges that the county may not have owned originally, but have become public over time and years of public use.

Much is uncertain about these prescriptive roads, such as easement width and right of way, he said.

Another legislative issue this session will be several bills dealing with coordination of state and federal governments with county and town governments, Schulz said.

It will be important for commissioners to follow discussion of these bills through the legislature, because it could impact how various agencies work with the county in the future, he said.

Another issue the commissioner will be keeping close tabs on is the Mountain States Transmission Intertie, which is an electric transmission line that is proposed through the western part of Madison County.

The county has contracted with a consultant to look at the fiscal impacts of MSTI for the county and its residents as well as to help them prepare to make comments once a Draft Environmental Impact Statement is released by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Bureau of Land Management, Schulz said.

He’s heard from a lot of people in the county that are opposed to MSTI, he said. He’s not excited about the potential project coming through the county.

“I’d just as soon it went someplace else,” Schulz said. “I’d just as soon it not be in Madison County.”

Along with MSTI, he is going to continue to keep close tabs on two major issues impacting livestock producers in the county: wolf management and brucellosis.

Both issues have been very taxing on the agriculture community in the county, he said.

He is also still concerned with the somewhat stalled Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which is a bill proposed by Montana Sen. Jon Tester, which would direct forest management around southwest Montana and have a big impact in Madison County by establishing more wilderness area.

“I’m going to continue to oppose any legislation Tester has as it pertains to wilderness,” Schulz said.

In writing his bill, Tester didn’t consult enough with local officials and residents, he said.

“I’m very aware that Jon Tester promotes his bill as a jobs bill, yet there’s no evidence that one job will be preserved or created because he doesn’t address the appeals process,” Schulz said. “I’m very adamant about Tester’s wilderness bill and I’m very discouraged about the approach he’s taken on it.”

Another hot button issue coming before the commission soon will be streamside setbacks along the Madison River and its tributaries. The commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue at their regular meeting Feb. 15, where they will likely schedule some sort of public hearing on the topic.

Schulz knows it is a very important topic for people in the Madison Valley and that many other Madison County residents are paying close attention. He is still keeping his opinions about setbacks somewhat guarded until he’s had more opportunity to hear from the public about the issue. However, the thought of imposing setbacks makes him uneasy.

“I’m just very hesitant to impose a restriction on lands that are not affected by wetland issues or erosion issues,” Schulz said.

Next week, look for Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart’s forecast for the coming year in commission district 3.

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