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June 2, 2019     Sidney Herald
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June 2, 2019
 

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SIDNEY HERALD.‘SUNDAY.jUNE 2, 20l9 A7 NEWS Grappling with rural ‘brain drain,’ Montana _ leaders mull incentives to lure in college grads BY ERIC DIETRICH Montana Free Press A state program that would have offered profes- sional workers grants and tax breaks to settle in rural Montana didn’t pass muster at the state Legislature this yean However, the bill’s spon— sor, Rep. Joel Krautter, says he’ll take another run at the idea —— dubbed the "Catch and Keep Act" ——— in 2021. And, as Montana leaders and lawmakers look at ways to help rural communities draw in skilled workers, it isn’t the only incentive pro— gram in play. Lawmakers, for example, did fund a program geared toward addressing rural teacher shortages by of— fering educators help to pay off student loans when they take jobs in small dis- tricts. In healthcare, the Montana University System has had a 'Ioan repayment program for rural Montana doctors since the early 19905. The recruiting challenge for small-town employ— ers is that they often can’t compete with the wages and benefits offered in cit- ies. Rural positions can also be a tough sell for twenty— something college gradu- ates where the obvious career path leads to urban areas with a more vibrant nightlife and more job op- tions. The key, said former Lt. Gov. Angela McLean, is fig- uring out how to get young professionals "to take that bite at the apple” — to en- courage them to try out ru— ral living so they can expe- rience the community inti- macy that makes it special. "Small—town Montana has opportunities and it has I think a great deal of mag- nificence about it,” said McLean, now the chair of the state's Rural Educator Recruitment and Retention Task Force. "The opportuni-‘ ties are certainly there, but they may be different than they would be in a big dis- trict." *l-rll- Montana’s Quality Edu- cator Loan Assistance Pro— gram aims to tackle one of the hurdles between young teachers and small—town jobs —~ student debt that can make it harder to resist higher urban salaries even if for teachers interested in working in rural areas. Before it was defunded by the 2017 Legislature, the program had 170 par- ticipants and provided about $492,300 in annual assistance, according to the state Office of Public Instruction. This year's re- newal bill, House Bill 211, restored $500,000 in annual funding and tweaked the program’s structure. Gov. Steve Bullock signed it into law May 7. As the quality educator program sits now, licensed teachers at schools with recruiting struggles are eli- gible for state-funded loan repayment aid for three years after their first year teaching $3,000 after their first year, $4,000 after their second and $5,000 after their third. School dis— tricts also have the option of drawing on their own budgets to offer $5,000 of assistance for a fourth year. Rep. Llew Jones, R—Con- rad, who sponsored the re- Montana gas prices on the rise . Montana gas prices have risen 2.8 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.91/g today, according to GasBuddy’s daily survey of 615 stations. Gas prices in Montana are 8.5 cents per gallon higher than a month ago, yet stand 0.9 cents per gallon higher than a year ago. According to GasBuddy price reports, the cheapest station in Montana is priced at $2.69/g today while the most expensive is $3.29/g, a difference of 60.0 cents per gallon. The IOWest price in the state today is $2.69/g while the highest is $3.29/g, a difference of 60.0 cents per gallon. The cheapest price in the entire country today stands at $2.03/g while the most expensive is $5.19/g, a difference of $3.16/g. The natiOnaI average price of gasoline has fallen 2.4 cents per gallon in the last week, averaging $2.82/g today. The national average is down 6.0 cents per gallon from a month ago, yet stands 14.1 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. Historical gasoline prices in Montana and the national average going back a decade: May 28, 2018: $2.90/g (U.S. Average: $2.96/g) May 28, 2017: $2.36/g (U.S. Average: $2.36/g) May 28, 2016: $2.26/g (U.S. Average: $2.32/g) May 28, 2015: $2.59/g (U.S. Average: $2.74/g) May 28, 2014: $3.41/g (U.S. Average: $3.65/g) May 28, 2013: $3.62/g (U.S. Average: $3.62/g) May 28, 2012: $3.76/g (U.S. Average: $3.64/g) May 28, 2011: $3.77/g (U.S. Average: $3.79/g) May 28, 2010: $2.89/g (U.S. Average: $2.72/g) May 28, 2009: $2.46/g (U.S. Average: $2.44/g) Neighboring areas and their current gas prices: Idaho- $3.16/g, down 0.7 . cents per gallon from last, week’s $3.16/g. 2l2 2nd St. SE, Billings- $2.78/g, down 0.3 cents per gallon from last week’s $2.79/g. Wyoming- $2.81/g, up 2.8 cents per gallon from last week’s $2.78/g. "With the summer driving season kicked off, gasoline prices have continued to moderate with nearly all areas off their 2019 high water mark with more declines on the way,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. "While the next 90 days may see some bumps in the road here and there, most motorists will be greeted with prices " under $3 per gallon for a majority of the summer while the West Coast will see continued relief and prices likely above the $3 mark for most of the summer, but under the $4 levels we saw in the last month. Overall, the biggest risk factors for rising gas prices this summer: unexpected refinery outages mainly in challenged areas like the Midwest or West Coast, a potential trade deal between the US. and China, and any rise in Middle East tensions, mainly between the US and Iran. Otherwise, expect this summer’s gas prices to be similar but lower than they were last year." ate. newal bill, said the intent is to not only draw teachers to rural areas but to encour- age them to stick around for three or four years. Young people who stay in a small town that long, he said, generally grow roots strong enough to keep them there long term. "It’s getting that initial step,” he said. "There’s plenty to do in a rural area, but it requires more rela- tionships.” *** Krautter, a first-term Re— publican from Sidney, de- scribes the catch and keep bill’s intent in similar terms. The difference, he said, is that Montana’s rural areas are hurting for professional skills beyond just teaching and medicine. Lawyers and accountants, for example, provide ser- vices necessary for anyone who wants to start or grow a business. If would~be en- trepreneurs in Sidney have to drive four hours to Bill- ings to get that help in per- son, he said, that becomes a major drag on the town’s ability to support new busi- nesses. As introduced this ses- sion, the catch and keep bill, House Bill 405, would have let county commis- sions designate high-pri— ority professions for local recruiting efforts, which would let degree-holding workers in those fields qualify for grants and prop- erty tax credits. "I was trying to build in flexibility, knowing that each county, each commu- nity, might have different professional needs," Kraut— ter said. Catch and keep grants would have come to as much as $15,000 for partici— pants with recent graduate degrees who committed to living and working in a participating community for five years. Recent gradu- ates with four—year or voca— tional degrees would have been eligible for smaller grants and grantees would also have been eligible for as much as $10,000 in prop- erty tax credits over five years. The catch and keep bill was killed last month by the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, where lawmak- ers worried about some implementation details and its projected cost, roughly halfa million dollars a year. "It’s a good idea, but it’s not ready for its time,” said Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Ka- lispell before the commit- tee’s vote. *** Krautter said he was pleased with how much support there was for the catch and keep idea, which did pass the House with bi- partisan support before its demise in the Senate com- mittee. He said he plans to fine—tune the legislation and bring it back for a sec- ond attempt in the 2021 session. Until then, McLean said she thinks it makes sense for the state’s rural recruit- ing efforts to focus in large part on helping pull talent into public education, since schools are both major em- ployers and social hubs in much of rural Montana. "The core of the commu- nity is the school,” she said. "If we can create stability for K—12 schools, we can go a long way toward creating stability as a whole.” Annual Fort Union Rendezvous set for June 13-16 Step back in time at the upper Missouri’s finest fur trade fair at one of the West's most imposing historic sites. Over 100 re—enactors will demonstrate a variety of 19th century skills including; blacksmithing, beaver skinning, pottery wheel demonstration, frontier cooking, period music and bead making. "Traders’ Row” will again feature many shops with furs and handcrafted items for sale. New for 2019 is a Red River Cart maker and spinning wheel demonstrations. The 2019 Headliner, Living Historian Hasan Davis, will present the Journey of York, the Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition at 2 pm, Saturday, June 15, and Sunday, June 16. He is an author, performer, youth advocate and motivator. Hasan’s one— man shows are a superb example of experiential, interactive learning that is engaging for adults as well as youth. The 25th annual Rendezvous Run is Saturday morning at 8 a.m. (CDT), sponsored by the Williston Parks and Recreation Department and will include an 11K, 1 Mile Kids Walk, 5K Run/ Walk and a "one-mile” fur trader’s run/walk. New in 2019 the run will also include a half marathon. Registration for the run ends at 7:30 a.m. for the marathon and all other races at 8:45. a.m. Find out more about the run at willistonparks.com/ rendezvous-run. Kids Day is Thursday, June 13, from 10 a.m. 2 pm. (CDT). Kids can enjoy various stations of games and hands on activities. Park hours are from 8 a.m. 6:30 pm. (CDT) daily at Fort Union. Scheduled activities run 10 a.m. — 4 pm. CDT. Find more information and the full schedule of events at: nps. gov/fous/planyourvisit/ rendezvous-information- for:participants.htm For more information about Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, please visit nps.gov/fous. Ballast boats neea’ decontamination at watercraft inspection stations r - Boat owners trans— porting watercraft with ballast tanks or bladders will undergo additional cleaning at watercraft inspection stations to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Montana Legislature passed a law requiring watercraft with ballast tanks or bladders to be decontaminated before launching on Montana waters. Decontamina- tion is required when coming into Montana from out—of—state or when traveling west across the Continental Divide into the Colum- bia River Basin. Because some aquatic invasive species are mi- croscopic, standing wa- ter inside ballast tanks or bladders can uninten- tionally transport these invaders. 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