County commissioner candidates debate issues in Alder

ALDER – On Monday night The Madisonian hosted a debate at the Alder Fire Hall for Madison County Commission District 1 candidates to voice their positions on pertinent political issues in the county and Ruby Valley area.

The debate was moderated by Madisonian editor Greg Lemon and featured incumbent District 1 Commissioner Dave Schulz and challenging Sheridan resident Ken Yecny. Lemon explained the purpose of the debate was to give voters a chance to hear where Schulz and Yecny stand because the county commissioners are one of the most important elected officials in the county.

The debate is one of two forums that will include Schulz and Yecny. The Twin Bridges Rotary Club will hold a candidate forum Wednesday Oct. 11 in the Montana Room at the Twin Bridges High School at 6:30 p.m.

Lemon began Monday’s debate by asking about the overall growth trend in the county budget in recent years, and Yecny expressed his concerns about waste within county departments. He cited the counties’ junk vehicle program as an example, claiming that the $900 cost to the county per vehicle was excessive compared to the rest of the state.

“The economy is depressed … There is over $11 million that was not spent from last year’s budget,” Yecny said. “My feelings are the budget shouldn’t be that big.”

“I think (the extra money) would go around in the county and do a lot more good than being in the budget and not being used,” Yecny said. “I think if there is extra money, it shouldn’t be spent.”

Commissioner Schulz replied that the growth trend in the budget reflects the change in mill values around the county.

“If you look at mill values in Madison County, they’ve well over doubled in the last nine to 10 years, which certainly reflects a minimal if any tax increase to the taxpayer,” he said.

Schulz noted one area that has grown dramatically out of necessity is public safety, and he said that he would like to see public safety decisions turned to the taxpayers.

“I believe that that’s one area that we should put it back to the voters,” Schulz said. “We should remove public safety or law enforcement from the general fund and put it back to the voters and let you folks determine how much public safety we really need.”

Yecny agreed with Schulz on the law enforcement issue.

“Many people have approached me about law enforcement, they think it’s grown too much. If you carried a pager 24/7, you would know we don’t have enough law enforcement,” he said.

The discussion transitioned to plans to expand the county offices in Virginia City.

Madison County has approximately $3.7 million in a capitol improvement fund that will go toward expanding existing office space. Schulz explained that the plans stem from a previous lawsuit over accessibility to the historic courthouse, an issue he said needs to be addressed to keep the courthouse open.

“We’ve made some dramatic changes in the office space at the courthouse,” said Schulz.

“We don’t have a lot of planning going on, we have limited activity in a number, not all, but a number of our office departments,” he continued.

However, Schulz added, cost of the new building won’t necessitate an increase in taxes.

“When we do move forward with this project, there won’t be a mill levy requirement,” he said.

Yecny did not have an easy answer to the question, but cautioned against putting “all your hay in one stack” with the county offices.

“I question putting all of your resources, you might say, in one building. It might be cheaper to have a couple of smaller buildings,” he said, quickly adding, “I realize there is no space in Virginia City for something like that.”

Lemon shifted the conversation to Yecny’s opposition to a permanent mill levy for the Ruby Valley Hospital that passed this spring, which he voiced in a letter to the editor earlier this year.

“My reason for opposing that mill levy was four years before that there was a mill levy passed for the hospital that was supposed to generate about $250,000 a year,” Yecny explained. “Three years into that mill levy, the hospital still had over $500,000 of that money and still another year coming in.”

“So I question why they need that kind of money,” he said. “Of the possible million dollars produced by the levy, they still had approximately $700,000 of it, so why do they need a permanent mill levy of $250,000 a year?”

Schulz outlined his position on the mill levy by explaining the role the Ruby Valley Hospital plays to the community.

“The hospital is an imperative and very necessary part of the health care environment for Madison County, for the Ruby Valley. And if the hospital isn’t there, the nursing home will quickly diminish,” he said, adding that “If Sheridan were to grow and the medical needs were to change, so would the hospital.”

Yecny argued that the county should not be involved in the Ruby Valley Hospital’s affairs.

“I don’t believe that the county should have anything to do with the hospital. It’s a private entity, and I don’t think the government should get involved in it,” he said. “Our hospital, whether we like it or not, is a first aide station.”

“We don’t do surgeries. We don’t deliver babies. All things that we used to do in years past, we don’t do that anymore. We probably never will again because of the liability insurance associated with it, the cost of building a structure you could have a surgery in, and there are too many other bigger hospitals too close to warrant that kind of stuff at Ruby Valley,” Yecny continued.

The next question turned to how the county might best address the needs of the growing population of elderly residents.

“We are getting older, and there is going to be more of us up in that level where we need those kind of services,” Schulz said. “I think the nursing homes, one in Ennis and one in Sheridan, are a very important part of what happens with our aging population.”

“The nursing homes are cyclical. They’re up and down. We’ve got good populations in them at one point, and a few months later you wonder where everyone went,” he continued.

“There’s no question it’s a concern today, but I really believe its going to improve,” said Schulz. “We will get back up there and we will have a financial break even I believe.”

Yecny criticized the Tobacco Root Mountains Care Center for lacking a better business plan to repay lenders for the significant remodel to the facility that took place last year.

“There are no provisions for payback,” he said. “What it is is an additional burden on the taxpayers. You have the loan payback, you have upkeep, you have utilities.”

“We need the facility, but when they did the expansion there should have been something for some payback,” Yecny explained. “That’s the way business works.”

Lemon also asked about how the county might address the hotly contested wolf management issue that Madison County residents are currently facing. Yecny proposed an alternative solution to the wolf hunting season implemented by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“Fish, Wildlife and Parks sold approximately 47,000 wolf tags last year at $19 apiece,” he explained. “Instead of buying a wolf tag, you send a $20 bill to some livestock group that will control the wolves, that can put a chopper in the air when there is wolf a problem.”

“If only 20,000 hunters sent a $20 bill to a stockman’s group, that would put $400,000 in their funds to control wolves,” Yecny continued. “The main thing it would do is take $400,000 out of FWP’s pocket and that would open their eyes.”

“I hate to say it, but people are going to get up in arms with the wolves when they kill a person, or they kill a child, and we’re going to see that coming here before too long,” he predicted, adding “I’m sending my $20 to the livestock protective committee.”

Schulz agreed with Yecny that there is no easy solution to the problems wolves create for local ranchers and stockgrowers.

“This summer there were eight or 10 known depredations in the Upper Ruby alone, and there was very, very limited interest by the agency to proactively do anything,” he said in reference to FWP. “They got rid of them one other time for a reason, but I do believe they are here to stay.”

“I think most hunters and ranchers have conceded that we’re going to have wolves,” Schulz said. “Until they actually get out there and do the collaring, nobody knows what the actual numbers are.’

“The protocol for managing wolves has changed where the Wildlife Services person, the trapper, will have more latitude now in how to make the determination of a depredation, make the determination of what control needs to occur and then follow through with that without having to wait for FWP,” continued Schulz.

“Until they start getting some good counts and start being honest with the public on what’s out there, I don’t know how it can be fixed.”

The election for Madison County Commission District 1 will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6. For more information contact the Madison County Elections office at 843-4270.

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