Community, Wildlife

On the Road and Around the Pond

Oh the Road & Around the Pond

This is an exciting time of year as we await the appearance of babies. We have does with rounded bellies. We have yet to see a fawn.  The fall burning of tree stumps around the yard resulted in holes and burrows that were not always filled before winter set in.  An opportunistic skunk moved into a burrow created by the removal of a tree root. Looking out the kitchen window we spotted 4 baby skunks. The babies are really cute but not particularly welcome.

He goslings are starting to color.  The ducks paused to finally get their portraits. We have spotted only a handful of tadpoles. Those tadpoles are steadily growing. The turtles are on the move and on the road. We noticed a neighbor stopping to carefully remove a turtle on the road to the safety of a grassed area.

A pair of whopping cranes are occasionally stopping to hunt in the field. The coyote is hunting in the field and along the road. The feral cats are making regular treks along the road. -Patches

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Community

Error in Eureka Elementary School Board Election resulted in many extra ballots being mailed

An error in the Eureka Elementary School Board Election resulted in many extra ballots being mailed. Registered voters in Trego, Fortine and Stryker recently received ballots for the Eureka Elementary School Board Election.

While Trego, Fortine, and Stryker are part of the LCHS high school district, none of the three communities are part of the elementary district (Trego and Fortine both have their own elementary school districts- Stryker is part of Trego’s School District). Consequently, residents are not eligible to vote in Eureka Elementary district elections. With a large number of people ineligible to vote receiving ballots (some of which may already have been sent in), it seems likely that this year’s election is going to be a bit complicated.

We don’t know yet how the district is going to handle this (if they’ve started opening the ballots they’ve gotten back, it’s going to be difficult to sort the valid votes from the invalid).

How did we hear about this? We (Mike) asked:

Greetings – I have received the official ballot for the school trustee election of May 4, 2021.  I would appreciate your assurance (your email is listed on the enclosure) that I am permitted to vote on the candidates for school district 13.

As a Trego resident, the elementary district in which I vote (and serve as a board member) is 53.  I recognize that Marcie Butts represents my area in the LCHS district, and that her election is by acclamation.

I may not understand (the explanation I recall is at least 50 years old) but before casting my ballot, I would like to know that I am doing so correctly.  I know that we don’t vote on Eureka elementary levies, so I would appreciate clarification – I can figure out justification both ways, but I suspect only one is correct.”

Mike McCurry (email to Onna Escobar, Eureka Public Schools)

What we’ve learned: This error originated with the county election department, which provided address labels to the Eureka School District. The error was not caused by the Eureka School District. (Eureka Public Schools and County Commissioner Josh Letcher were very helpful in providing information about the situation)

What probably happened is that ballots were issued to the registered voters in the high school district, instead of just the Eureka elementary district.

At any rate, we ought to learn more as the school decides where to go from here. In the meantime, we suspect that residents outside of the district can make life easier for the folks who have to handle this by not mailing in their (invalid) ballots.

Part of the mail-in ballot we received (for an election we cannot vote in, because we live in the Trego Elementary District)
Community

TFS Volunteer Fire Department Held Annual Meeting

This past Wednesday night (24 March 2021), the TFS Volunteer Fire Department had its much-delayed annual meeting at the Trego Civic Center. The evening included a discussion of the expenses of the fire department, the activity of the department, appointment of new board members, a bylaw change, and a mention of a proposed fee increase that will be taken to the commissioners. The meeting ended with a reminder to everyone to take bread home with them.

A much delayed meeting:

The annual meeting requires at least 20 members to attend. Conventionally, the annual meeting is held in November, however there were not enough people in attendance to hold November’s meeting. Members of the department expressed their disappointment at poor attendance. Twenty-one members attended Wednesday’s meeting, making a full quorum.

Liz Williams discusses the qualifications to be a voting member of the TFS VFD corporation.

Expenses:

  • Purchased Fire Station Software Program for Record Keeping (c. $1,300 initial cost, and $200 in yearly upkeep).
  • Upgraded the electricity to the Trego Station (the lights flickered and occasionally went out when the wind blew).
  • Purchased 4 new SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) packs without bottles. Each SCBA pack cost about $4000, a considerable savings without new $1000 bottles. This brings the department to a total of 12 full packs and 4 spare bottles.
  • Acquired a 2008 F-550 type 6 fire engine on lifetime loan from the DNRC

Department Activity:

The department attended a greater number of calls, since the ambulance was attending fewer (due to fear of exposing the ambulance crew to Covid). From November of 2019 to November of 2020 the department had a total of 36 calls. Seven were aid calls, one of which was actually a cat in a tree.

The department set up WEX cards for tax-exempt fuel purchasing, ran first-aid and CPR classes, and taught emergency drills. They also passed pump testing on all three engines with no issues – to some acclaim from their testers.

Raffle:

The department’s raffle was postponed due to Covid. The firearm being raffled is a Henry 45-70. The business and firefighter to sell the most tickets will each receive a Henry 47 HMR. The department will be selling tickets at Rendezvous Days.

New Board Members:

Of the current board, three positions were up for election. Those held by: Wayne Nowacki (representing the area at large), Josh Helgert (representing Trego) and John Menke (representing Fortine): John Menke and Josh Helgert were reappointed and Dan Schenkram of Trego replaced Wayne Nowacki.

All three alternate board members positions were up for election (terms are yearly). Jacob Chrestensen of Stryker, Matthew Kelley, Justin Menke, were nominated to the at-large, Trego, and Fortine positions, respectively.

By-law Change:

Section 2. Qualifications of Members. Any person shall be qualified to be a member of the corporation if A. he or she is (1) over 18 years old, (2) is assessed a fee by Lincoln County for fire protection within the TFS Fire Service Area, and (3) is not a member of any other fire department.

TFS Volunteer Fire Department By-laws, as amended.

The amendment, which was approved, removed part 3 of the membership qualifications, so that residents of TFS Fire District that are part of Eureka’s fire department can still be voting members of TFS Volunteer Fire Department.

Proposed Fee Increase:

With the departmental budget rather tight, fee proposals are being discussed. At this stage, it’s discussion only. Later, they’ll go to the commissioners, and folks will have a chance to vote.

Currently, the department collects about $45,000 annually. The proposal is to double the fire protection fees. The current fee is 50$ for homeowners (it was raised from $25 to $50 in 2010), businesses pay more. Another suggestion was that the fee be based on taxable value, so that folks with larger houses and outbuildings would pay more for fire protection.

Get Involved:

The public is welcome to attend training nights, as well as the TFS VFD’s monthly board meetings.

Trainings happen on Monday nights at 7 PM at the Fortine Fire Hall, between the Fortine Mercantile and the greenboxes on Highway 93.

Meetings are held the Second Tuesday of each Month, at 7 PM, also at the Fortine Fire Hall.

Community

BackPack program begins at Trego School

What is a BackPack program? In essence, students are sent home with a “backpack” of food for the weekend. The premise is that while students receive meals at school (indeed, meals are free to all students at Trego School), they may need some supplementation on weekends and holidays. Thus, a BackPack program. Students are given a pack of food for the weekend to take home each Friday.

BackPack programs are typically supported by Food Banks and other sponsors. In Lincoln County, Libby and Troy schools both have BackPack Programs on the state map.

The program is starting out big, with a large bag of food going home with each student. North Valley Foodbank has provided Trego School with the initial bag, and with the “BackPacks” for several weeks.

Bags of food went home with students Friday
The typical Friday “BackPack” to take home is sized to feed a single child over the weekend
Thank you to North Valley Foodbank for helping to look after our kids.
Community

Trego School-More About the Building

Since the state was kind enough to go through every K12 school in the state (back in 2008) and evaluate the condition of the buildings, there’s a fair bit of information to play with.

The general facts- as taken from the Facilities Condition Inventory.

BuildingYear Constructed (according to the state’s report)Deficiency RatioRenewal Cost (estimate as of 2008)
Trego School (the school building proper, including the portable classrooms on the East end)196730.1%$594,743
Teacherage19675.1%$7,152
Bus Equipment Shed19601.8%$104
Fuel Storage Unit19601.8%$104
While it might seem a bit odd that the last two are exactly the same- since the complaint (paint peeling) was identical, the identical deficiency ratios and renewal costs make some sense.

Evidently, then, the problem was (and given the comparatively low costs of the other repairs, surely still is) the school itself, with a deficiency ratio of 30.1%. With the report estimating the total cost of repairs of the school building at $594,743, the school board will have to prioritize the necessary repairs (surely some of them have been addressed since 2008).

Many of the complaints in the report were reasonably straight forward; Windows should be double paned rather than single and window frames should have thermal breaks. Simple, though the renewal cost is quite spendy ($86,107 in total for windows). Another big ticket item is the two “portable” classrooms on the east side of the school. The report observed “Floor sagging or showing other similar such failure”, and estimated $88,058 to renew.

While the school board did pass a permissive levy which will amount to around $25,500, that’s not going to be sufficient for some of the costlier repairs the school is going to need. With the budget tight (enrollment has gone up, but the funding received from the state is based on a three year average), the school board is going to have to prioritize spending very carefully.

Community

Damage to the Civic Center

This newest hole isn’t the only damage to the entry- that post alongside the ramp is pretty twisted as well. It’s a common place to back vehicles up to when events are happening, and that puts the entrance at risk of damage.

Trego’s Civic Center is due some expensive repairs- with insurance premiums already high, filing a claim with the civic center’s insurance may cost more in the long run. Since the damage appears to be associated with backing up towards the hall (odd, since there were no events held at the hall near the time the damage occurred), the Civic Center is considering how to keep this type of damage from happening again.

The hole appears deceptively small!
May be an image of text that says 'TREGOCIVIC TREGO CENTER TICKETS $5.00 EACH OR 5 FOR $20.00 SAVAGE AXIS 6.5 CREEDMOOR WITH WEAVER SCOPE OR FLANNEL RAGGED EDGE AMERICAN FLAG QUILT OTHER PRIZES AVAILABLE BY DRAWING DATE OF MID MAY 2021 DONATIONS BENEFIT UPGRADES OF THE TREGO CIVIC CENTER TICKETS AVAILABLE FROM ANY BOARD MEMBER AND SEVERAL LOCAL BUSINESS'S'

How can we help? Buy Raffle Tickets. The Civic Center is still selling raffle tickets for the upcoming drawing. Win an American Flag Quilt or a Firearm (see picture).

Rent the Civic Center. The Civic Center is allowed to open for events once again. On a related note, Bingo should be resuming soon -keep checking the Civic Center’s Board.

If anyone has any extra sonotubes for pouring concrete, the Civic Center can use them!

Community

Trego School Enrollment Soars

Enrollment at Trego School continues to rise, in defiance of the historical trend. For the last few decades, school enrollment has been fairly steadily dropping. How low did enrollment actually get? The lowest official ANB (Average Number Belonging -i.e. the official state count of students) that I can find is seven, in the spring of the 2018-2019 school year. Enrollment actually continued to decline after that date, but didn’t make the official state count which is used to determine the district’s funding.

The most recent data, using the spring and fall ANB count provided by the state looks like this:

Time PeriodNumber of Students
Fall 201326
Spring 201428
Fall 201425
Spring 201527
Fall 201522
Spring 201622
Fall 201620
Spring 201720
Fall 201715
Spring 201813
Fall 201810
Spring 20197
Fall 201910
Spring 202014
Official ANB for Trego School, data from Montana Office of Public Instruction
In graph form the trend is somewhat clearer.

This data for this school year (2020-2021) isn’t available from the state yet, so the best way to find out about enrollment is to call the school and ask. Back in November, we reported the exciting news that enrollment was up to 23 students and we shared the following graph which incorporated that data.

Trego School enrollment as of November 2020

This January, enrollment reached 26.

Now, enrollment is up from January’s 26, to a total of 31 students. A 35% increase from November of 2020. This fall, Trego school optimistically began with three teachers. Now, with 31 students the average class size is slightly over 10. The school has been working to improve its enrollment, and has seen an amazing turn around. Even if we use the lowest official ANB number (which is decidedly higher than the lowest number the school reached), the school has more than quadrupled enrollment in the past two years.

Trego School enrollment, by year, as of late February, 2021. We’re going to have to consider changing our trend-line….

Well done, Trego School. Where will you go from here?

Community, Demography

When the official data isn’t good data

As I was retiring, the American Community Survey(ACS) was replacing the long-form Census questionnaire.  There is merit to the argument that a survey can provide data that is as good as a form that one out of six people fill out – both are, after all, actually surveys.  Still, as a rural sociologist whose primary duties were rural demography, I wasn’t comfortable with the American Community Survey results – the sampling size was too small.

Now, I can access data that compiles five years worth of estimates – so here is some data on Rexford, Eureka, Fortine and Trego, by zip code, in two separate five-year conglomerates:

2012-2016Rexford
59930
Eureka
59917
Fortine
59918
Trego
59934
Total Population5664,425584562
5 to 9212823452
10 to 14353052249
Median (Average) Age58.043.650.749.2
Per capita income$22,377$18,799$21,203$25,999
2015-2019Rexford
59930
Eureka
59917
Fortine
59918
Trego
59934
Total Population6584,769747476
5 to 953212
10 to 14502163520
Median (Average) Age56.046.847.260.4
Per capita income$13,438$22,867$28,753$26,671

The American Community Survey is a well-conducted survey.  The data is correct, in both cases, within the limits of the survey.  The small samples, however, can create some large swings and make the data less useful.  I have been looking forward to reviewing the Trego data since I was selected to return the ACS survey.  Trego’s median age went up 11 years.  The population dropped by 15%.  The youth population plunged.  Meanwhile Fortine incomes increased by 36%, as Rexford plunged into the depths of poverty.  All the survey data is correct – but sampling bias, due to the small number of participants, has given us data we can’t use.

I still prefer the old, time-consuming long form results over the ACS.

Community

Lengthy Line for North Valley Food Bank’s Pre-Christmas Food Distribution

The North Valley Food Bank, located in Whitefish, serves Trego via a mobile pantry. The distributions are “drive through” style and occur at the Trego Civic Center; There are no eligibility requirements, and no need to provide supporting documentation.

Line outside the Trego Civic Center for the North Valley Food Bank Distribution on the last Friday before Christmas 12/18

The Mobile Food Pantry typically serves Trego on the first and third Fridays of the Month . The next distribution, however, will be on a Thursday (December 31st), as the Food Bank is closed for New Year’s. If you miss the distribution window, the Mobile Food Pantry visits Olney after Trego, and it should be possible to meet it at the Olney Store after it leaves Trego. The Food Bank itself is open from 12-6PM in Whitefish on Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you need to find the Food Distribution before the 31st, the Food Bank is distributing food on Tuesday (12/22) and Wednesday (12/23) from their Whitefish site.

The Pre-Christmas Food Distribution included a turkey, fresh yams, crescent rolls, and stuffing, in addition to the usual groceries. The distribution began at 10:30, and, at 10:30, the line to the Trego Civic Center stretched towards the Post Office. Once distribution began, the line quickly shrunk.

Community

Trego Civic Center Fundraiser

It’s been a rather uneventful season for Trego’s Civic Center. That is to say, with corona virus and associated restrictions, the events that provide the community hall with the ability to pay its monthly bills just haven’t been happening.

In more normal years, the community hall has hosted Christmas bazaars, weddings, funerals, plays, pie contests, Halloween parties and Thanksgiving meals, even dances. This year, with gatherings restricted, the hall has been mostly empty. In more recent months, it’s been the site for the North Valley Food Bank distributions.

Lack of activity means that the Civic Center is pressed for funds.
The answer? A fundraiser! All you can eat brisket and more for $15 a plate.
The Sawmill Bar is hosting the fundraiser this Saturday (October 3rd) from 1-6 PM.

Trego Civic Center Fundraiser Flier

The silent auction is expected to include: Schnapps (homemade), themed baskets: a wine basket, a Scentsy (Scentsy products include wickless candles, oils and diffusers) and Avon basket, among others.

Gun Raffle: A continuing fundraiser (ticket sales at events are difficult when there are no events), the drawing for the firearm is expected to take place at a Civic Center event this spring.

If you’re busy Saturday, the bake sale will be going Friday through Sunday and there should be future opportunities to purchase raffle tickets.

People wishing to donate to the Civic Center can also do so by mailing checks to their PO Box (# 393) , or by dropping them off at the Sawmill Bar. For further information, to get involved, or to donate to the silent auction, contact the Trego Civic Center at their facebook page.