Emergency Services a focal point of joint meeting
April 27, 2022
Concern about emergency services in the southern end of Broadwater County was a focal point of the discussion of last week's joint meeting between the Gallatin and Broadwater County Commissions.
The meeting last Wednesday at the Three Forks Ambulance Barn also included several Law Enforcement Officials, Three Forks City officials, Ambulance Representatives, and area residents.
Broadwater County Undersheriff Brandon Harris and Captain Nick Rauser both discussed ongoing law enforcement efforts in the southern end of Broadwater County and their appreciation of mutual aid efforts from the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office.
Harris detailed their successes, including getting a COPS Hiring Program (CHP) grant for two additional deputies in the southern end of the county, and expressed setbacks they have encountered. Harris said they had one of the deputies hired through the grant funding leave, and with taxes and home values going up, deputies cannot afford to live in the area on a single income. He added they are residing in Townsend and driving down on shifts.
Harris said they are coming to the end of the grant but will reapply for future funding and have future goals for services in the area.
According to Harris, one of the biggest hurdles now is they do not have a space that would allow them to conduct interviews of felony suspects.
Harris said a law enforcement office in the new Headwaters Rest Area would help with doing investigation until they figure out what to do with a facility in the future.
Broadwater County Commissioner Darrel Folkvord said they are trying to provide a home for law enforcement, but the rest area office is not the answer.
"They need a place to work out of to do the work they need to do," he said.
With growth all over the county, Harris said call volumes are going through the roof and have risen from 1,500 in Broadwater County in 2004 to 25,000 last year.
Rauser said they are doing their absolute best to go down to the county's southern end, even the deputies who are not assigned down there. He also voiced concern about the growing number of calls in the area but added they are trying to develop a future plan.
"The growth happened so fast, and nobody was prepared for it," Rauser said.
Harris said they have a very close working relationship with the GCSO, who have responded to a ton of calls in the area.
Looking toward the future, Harris said they would like to eliminate the number of calls the GCSO responds to.
Gallatin County Commissioner Zach Brown was appreciative of the BCSO acknowledging the help from the GCSO and will continue to be a good partner.
Three Forks City Councilmember Gene Townsend said they pay around $345,000 to the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office and asked why they are paying for deputies that go out to Broadwater County, but also acknowledged the importance of mutual aid in the area.
Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner said they are looking for equity from the services provided by the GCSO.
Wheatland Area resident Elizabeth Barton said she had noticed more of a presence from the BCSO in the past several years, and it makes those that live in the area feel better.
"Believe me. It does," she said.
Gallatin County Sheriff Dan Springer also discussed the relationship between the two Law Enforcement Agencies. Springer said they have a great relationship with the BCSO for years, and they will go and help them when they get calls, but it is vice versa with them helping out too.
"We go and help them when they get calls...on the same token it is paid back," Springer said.
Brown and Springer both discussed possible contracted work from the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office, similar to what they do for Madison County in Big Sky.
Brown opened the meeting by bringing up the topic of the possible consolidation of the Three Forks Ambulance and Three Forks Rural Fire District. Brown said he had no agenda with the issue other than starting a conversation about what the community of Three Forks wants. He added Gallatin County would be happy to help bring in a third-party consultant to help with the issue.
Folkvord discussed a survey sent out earlier this year asking residents their thoughts about emergency services in the southern end of the county, including a possible new facility.
Folkvord said they wanted to use the survey to help guide them in the direction they would want to go with an issue like a possible interlocal fire agreement.
The commission plans to share the survey results with the public soon. Folkvord said almost everybody who responded said they would like to have fire service, ambulance service, and definitely more law enforcement presence.
County officials also recently met with an architect about the type of building to serve their purposes and to get an idea about cost.
According to Three Forks Ambulance board member Barbara Mutter, they are waiting for the fire district to put together a meeting to discuss the issue of consolidation.
Mutter said historically, the Three Forks Ambulance has always served the same district boundaries as the rural fire district.
Mutter also expressed concern about having enough volunteers. Also a State Emergency Response Commission member, Mutter said there have been 360 EMT's across the state who did not relicense, and six smaller ambulance services have closed their doors.
In the past, Mutter said businesses would often let EMTs respond during their shift, but that has gone away, and they are finding it difficult to get volunteers, and they really need to turn the corner and get some paid people available during the day.
"We are all in this together, and we all want services in this area and are trying to come up with some sort of plan to make this happen for all of us," Mutter said.
The meeting also focused on the possible replacement of two bridges on Old Town Road.
The two governing bodies discussed the possibility of each applying for $750,000 from the Montana Coal Endowment Program.
Gallatin County Lead Grants Coordinator Jamie Grabrinski estimates the total for each bridge to be around $2 million, adding the idea is to have Gallatin apply for the most eastern bridge, and Broadwater for the western bridge and then coming up with a funding strategy.
Brown said that with a May 19 deadline, the timing is tight to get the grants put together and submitted to the state. He added since the Montana State Legislature would rank the projects applying for MCEP grants during their next session, it would be a year before they would receive word about funding.
Folkvord said he agrees the MCEP application is a good way to go, adding they have also learned of some other funding options that may be able to help Broadwater County.
Brown said funding for the bridges would not implicate this year's budget and could be spread over several years.
The progress of the Meridian Bridge Replacement was also discussed during the meeting.
Gallatin County received a Montana Treasure State Endowment Program grant in 2020 for bridge replacement. Gallatin, Jefferson, and Broadwater Counties also contribute to the project's funding.
Grabinski said they are waiting on one permit before they can start construction, and they are planning to bid out a contract soon, which would allow for construction this fall.