Ballot Problems- Again

It’s not every day that Lincoln County makes the news outside of our state. Our recent primary election did just that due to an error in ballot size, resulting in a hand-count that delayed results.

Montana gained a new seat in the house of representatives- and the race to determine the republican nominee for that new seat was a tight one. Tight enough that Ryan Zinke and Al Olszewski had to wait until Lincoln County’s results were counted in order to know who had one (Zinke).

This isn’t exactly the first time we’ve had trouble with the ballots in Lincoln County, though admittedly the last time didn’t leave such widespread headlines. Last year Trego residents incorrectly received ballots for the Eureka Elementary School Board Election, which complicated the counting a bit. Before that, during the last presidential election, an entire box of ballots was left in north county and not counted until days later (County Clerk Robin Benson, running unopposed for reappointment this November, described this as impeccable). Of course, we have been replacing our election administrator, so the trend belongs to the county and not the person. Still, this doesn’t exactly inspire faith for November.

I’ve been complaining about the number of elections by acclamation in our county, but I think I have a new request. In addition to actually having an election, I’d like to have one where only the results made headlines. Hopefully November’s election runs more smoothly.


Why Can’t We Have An Election?

I just got my primary ballot and noticed the extreme lack of candidates. On both ballots there are plenty of positions with one candidate or no candidate at all. If you can only vote for one candidate, is it an election?

The following are running unopposed:

  • Michael Cuffe for State Senator
  • Niel A. Duram for State Representative
  • Jim Hammons for County Commissioner
  • Robin Benson for Clerk and Recorder/Auditor/Assessor/Surveyor
  • Darren Short for Sheriff
  • Steven Schnackenberg for Coroner
  • Marcia Boris for County Attorney
  • Taralee McFadden for County Superintendent of Schools
  • Sedaris Carlberg for County Treasurer
  • Mathew Cuffe for District Court Judge
  • Jay C Sheffield for Justice of the Peace

There is no candidate for public administrator. The only races with multiple candidates will be for United States Representative, for County Commissioner (district 1), for Supreme Court Justice #1, and for Supreme Court Justice #2.

In short, there were multiple candidates to vote for in only 25% of the races.

When was the last election?

It feels a bit odd to be asking “When was the last time there was an election?” about something local. As a kid, I sort of assumed that elections happened everywhere in our country, as scheduled, and it was only foreign countries that lacked elections. Unfortunately, it’s a question worth asking. About the Trego School Board, certainly. Last year, we were writing about vacant school board positions, and the need to get an application in to the school clerk, for an election to be held in May. That’s what should happen (every year). What actually happens (and not just on…


Lincoln County Facing More Elections by Acclamation

With the primary ballots available (due back by June 7th), it’s become evident that we can expect more candidates elected by acclamation, since 69% of the races are candidates running uncontested.

Some of our previous comments on local elections:

Be Nice to the Candidates

I can claim that I am an elected school trustee.  So can the school board members in Fortine and Eureka.  Yet I (and probably most of them) was elected by acclamation.  There may be a more politically correct way to describe it – but the reality is that I was elected without anyone voting for me.  A lot of school trustees share that reality – but I don’t believe it is a good situation. The challenge is that, on far too many local boards and commissions, we have the same situation.  When a candidate can be elected by acclamation, without…

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Uncontested Elections

What do you call it when only one person runs for office? An uncontested election. It seems like this must be a bad thing, and also that it is increasing in frequency. Is it? It seems, given the explanation about removing term limits at the last Interbel Meeting, that the situation is at least increasing in the telephone cooperatives. Watching the local school board shows a similar trend. How common are they by state? The data’s a bit hard to find- but at least some of it is out there. According to in 2020, 100% of Wisconsin’s local elections…

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Consolidated Polling Increases The Cost of Voting in Person

It’s only about four and a half miles from downtown Trego to the Volunteer Fire Department for Fortine, which is where we used to go to vote. Going into Eureka (as per that letter we all received from the county) will increase the distance by about thirteen miles (according to google maps). The distance I am supposed to travel to vote just got multiplied by a bit over 3. Of course, I live in downtown Trego, which means that my distance increased less than most. Looking at a map, it looks like the furthest up Fortine Creek Road are now…

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A Science for Everyone, Community, Demography

Thoughts on Inflation

I’ve been watching monetary inflation since 1976 when I voted for Jimmy Carter.  I still don’t give Jimmy full credit for that spate of inflation – Nixon made the call that the US dollar would no longer be backed by gold in August of 1971.

1968 had been an interesting election – I recall the unhappy observation “Nixon, Humphrey, Wallace – three strikes and you’re out.”  The picture below brought back memories of a happier time, when I would add a million dollar Zimbabwe bill to a retirement card, so that my retiring colleagues would be millionaires as they left the university.  Ten bucks bought all the Zim million dollar notes I needed for a slew of retirement receptions.

Now the thing about inflation is that it taxes savers, and can move into being a tax on investors.  If we look at the value of gold during the California Gold Rush – 1849 – it was $18.93 per ounce.  That same value held through the Virginia City days, and basically took Montana from wilderness to statehood.  In 1920, gold finally topped $20 per ounce.  When Franklin Roosevelt was elected President, gold was at $20.69 per ounce – the next year, 1933, it was $26.33.  In 1934, it went to $34.69.

A couple of old Winchester catalogs, from 1900 and 1916, suggest that my Grandfather paid about $19.50 or a little more for his 1894 32 special rifle.  A glance online suggests somewhere close to $1,200 dollars today.  As I write this, gold is going for $1890.35 – roughly 100 times higher than when the rifle was made in 1902 along with the new, more powerful 32 special.  The cost of the rifle hasn’t kept up with gold.  Inflation or not, it’s kind of nice to look off the front porch and see the spot where my grandmother got a four-point in 1922.

At that turn of the century, land here was still available for homesteading – land here in Trego had little value.  Thirty dollars per acre was still a norm for accessible land in the 1950’s.  It’s another basis for calculating inflation – and if memory serves, Lee Harvey Oswald was paid 85 cents per hour in 1963. 

Median family incomes were somewhere around $500 per year in 1900, and had risen to about $3,300 by 1950.  Still, that half century was a time of many new developments and a greatly improved living standard.  Part of the change was that people could buy more – much like during our more recent inflationary times – along with the inflation of the eighties came the personal computer, the compact discs, video players etc.  Technical advances reduced the impact of inflation.

There is a certain irony in Putin’s decision to tie the Russian ruble to the value of gold.  Since that decision the ruble has gone up 6% compared to the US dollar.  He’s kind of the anti-Nixon, creating a stronger currency instead of a weaker one.  I guess that inflation often boils down to a handful of government officials making the decision to print more money.  I have a hunch inflation helps the folks who get the new dollars a lot more than it helps those who are trying to hang on to the existing dollars.

Community, Meteorology

Stahl Peak Snow Pack Still Increasing

This graph, from 4-30-22 shows that the snowpack on Stahl is still increasing.  The upper line on the record suggests that there’s only a week or so left for it to increase.  Still, 127% of the long-term average is nice to see.

NOAA has this posted for May-June-July, suggesting we can expect the chances of warmer temperatures and less than normal precipitation coming up.


The Sign is Returning

Last year, we noticed the removal of the Trego School Sign. The removal occurred because the estate of Mr. Leroy Mee paid the school the remaining value of the lease in order to end the lease.

From Last Year: The Original Lease

Why is the Sign Gone?

As you may have noticed, the Reader Board for Trego School, situated between the community hall and the post office, is no longer present. So what happened? Some History: In June of 2016, Trego School entered into a lease agreement with Leroy Mee, allowing the school to place the Reader Board on Mr. Mee’s property. The term of the lease was ten years, at a rate of $100 per year. The school paid the full $1000 in 2016. Earlier this year, the Montana Department of Labor Safety and Health received an anonymous complaint about the…

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Some time later, a new location was found and a new lease signed. There were no costs to the school for the new lease, beyond the time/materials required to put up the sign.

Last Year: About the New Lease

The Sign Will Return

Earlier this month, we reported on the removal of the Trego School reader board, and noted that the board was looking into options for a new location. Last week’s meeting included a new lease for the reader board. This time, there will be no expense to the school beyond the time and materials to put…

With spring here, the holes have been dug, and the board has arrived. Keep an eye out for the return of the sign.


Uncontested Elections

What do you call it when only one person runs for office? An uncontested election. It seems like this must be a bad thing, and also that it is increasing in frequency. Is it?

It seems, given the explanation about removing term limits at the last Interbel Meeting, that the situation is at least increasing in the telephone cooperatives. Watching the local school board shows a similar trend.

How common are they by state? The data’s a bit hard to find- but at least some of it is out there. According to in 2020, 100% of Wisconsin’s local elections were uncontested. This seems a bit high- and they didn’t cover the local elections for Montana, so we can’t compare.

That said, Massachusetts had 100% for state executive and 75% for state legislative. Alabama and North Dakota were 100% for state judicial. If it’s showing up at the state level, where it really ought to be easier to find two candidates, uncontested elections are likely more frequent at lower levels.

Is this a bad thing? There’s an argument that electing (appointing?) the same people over and over ensures that an experienced person holds the position. However, there’s also an argument that doing so increases the likelihood of solving today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.

And, if the outcome is predetermined, why show up and vote? Our cooperatives have attempted to solve member disengagement by reducing the number required for a quorum. It’s a treatment- but it doesn’t consider any of the underlying causes.


In Case You Missed It

It’s that time of the year again- time to watch for frog eggs, listen for sandhill cranes, examine thatch ants and watch for salamanders.

Game Camera: Sandhill Cranes

Perhaps you’ve heard the distinctive call of the sandhill cranes recently? -Patches We’re actually in at the very south edge of the breeding range for Sandhill Cranes. They’re not particularly picky eaters- they’ll eat snakes, frogs, insects, seeds… Often, we’ll see them in the spring, hunting frogs in shallow water.

Frog Eggs and Toad Eggs

Spring seems to have finally arrived, and soon the pond will be full of little frogs. As it turns out, frog eggs and toad eggs are different, and far easier to tell apart than the tadpoles. Frog eggs typically form nice clumps. -this years batch are particularly muddy. Toad eggs, however, will generally be in…

Thatch Ants

Our mound-building ants in this part of the country are Western Thatching Ants, Formica obscuripes.These ants are rather special because they generally have multiple active queens in a single colony – the young queens often help out and reproduce at home, instead of founding their own new colonies…

Usually I don’t see Salamanders

We seem to have made a good location great for salamanders – ours are long-toed salamanders.  Despite being in a near-perfect location for salamanders, most of the time we don’t see them.  The information is online- and the field guide does a pretty good job explaining why we see them rarely.  They’re classified as “mole”…


Trego Excerpts from the Small School Survey

Looking at where your school ranks in comparison with others is important.  Montana’s Small School Alliance conducted a survey of small schools, and we’ve excerpted where Trego ranks in certain specific categories.  Here they are, with some explanations for abbreviations.  Many of us speak fluent English, but are not fluent in bureaucrat.

Taxable Value per ANB – $84,491 – pretty much the median.  Still, this category needs an explanation, and then the explanation needs a second explanation.  ANB is an abbreviation for Average Number Belonging.  Since that doesn’t really explain anything, consider this to be taxable value per student (it isn’t but it’s close enough).

General Fund Budget wo SPED – $190,972 – #20 out of 33.    Since the median is 16 or 17, 20 is pretty close to the center of the pack.  SPED is an abbreviation for Special Education – and for a small school, SPED can really affect the budget.  There are two ways SPED affects the budget – generally, somewhere around a sixth of the students qualify for SPED.  That’s the group statistic.  Then the individual student can qualify as needing very little, or a great deal.  It’s easy to see why the survey took SPED out of the calculation – if it were left in, the survey would be apples and oranges.

Cost per ANB to General Fund Budget wo SPED – $7,638 – right at the median.  Basically cost per student, excluding SPED.

General Fund Reserve as percentage of General Fund – 8.45% – third from bottom.   This number isn’t a great surprise – it’s only in the past couple of years Trego’s school board has even started on a building reserve fund.  Reserves are important, but need to be used at times.

2021-22 Guaranteed Tax Base – $0 – a dozen of the 33 surveyed schools tied for bottom.  I’m not sure this is a bad place to be.

Over Base Budget – $43,038 – 20th of 32 – still very close to the median.

Over Base Mills – 20.38 – median.

Transportation Budget per ANB – $1,960 – fourth from top, more than double the median.  This category shows Trego with high expenses to bring students to school.  Just the statistical placement of this category shows that it needs to be reviewed.  It may just be the remote nature of the district, but it may also mean alternatives need to be examined.

SPED personnel -17th out of 32 – another median.  Remember that SPED can be a statistical artifact – if it turns out to be 10% or 25% eligibility, opposed to 16%, the general statistic isn’t the controlling one.

Teachers Salaries as percent of General Fund – 59.81% -6th from top.  This means in the top 20% in this category. 

Teacher/Enrollment Ratio – 5.55 students per teacher – 27th lowest ratio of 31 schools.  This is probably a good thing from an education perspective.  From an economic perspective, a slightly higher ratio might be appropriate.

Base Teacher Salary – $32,000 – median.  (For 2022-23, the base salary is $33,920.

Average Teacher Salary – $36,909 –  31st of 41- a figure that is in the bottom quartile because none of our teachers have longevity – remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we only had 4 “ANB”.

School Clerk – low in survey $15, high $45.64 per hour, Trego $20 per hour.  Trego is about in the middle.

Bus Driver – low in survey $12.85, high $27.58 per hour.  Trego is $18 per hour.  Since the entire transportation program merits examination, this probably deserves a glance too – but is close enough to the median that it seems unlikely to be driving the transportation budget up.

Curious? Want more information? Barring confidentiality issues, school information is typically very public, as it is publicly funded. Contact the school clerk if you have any questions, or just want to learn more.