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County Commissioners Discuss $300 A Month Employee Oil Stipend

The Roosevelt County commissioners discussed how to handle the county employee oil stipend moving forward at their regular public meeting Tuesday, May 8.
The $300 monthly stipend has been a topic of discussion, usually in regards to removing it, each year as budget time creeps forward.

“My understanding is that the resolution’s intention was to supplement income during the oil boom due to housing cost increases,” said Duane Nygaard, commissioners member.
Nygaard asked commissioners member Gordon Oelkers how the oil situation looked near Culbertson.

Oelkers replied saying that oil activity is on the increase in Culbertson in Bainville, but not at the levels it was in 2013 when the stipend was first introduced. Consequently, Oelkers said rent prices are increasing, but have yet to reach the highs of five years ago.

The stipend, which gives each county employee $300 per month, comes from county oil royalties and not taxpayer dollars.

The stipend, if approved for fiscal year 2018-19, is rapidly approaching its fifth year of implementation. Nygaard reiterated that the stipend was meant to be temporary, but is starting to have a sense of permanence to it as it enters its possible fifth year.

Nygaard also said that the term “oil field stipend” doesn’t have a good ring to it, if it were to continue.

Oelkers made it clear that he was not in favor of eliminating the stipend. However, he did say that he was open to adjusting the amount given in the stipend to find a happy medium.
One suggestion Oelkers made was possibly decreasing the per month stipend to $200 instead of $300.

When originally passed, the county was accumulating approximately $1.2 million per year in oil revenue. The stipend was also to be reviewed annually by the commissioners.
Bill Juve, a Roosevelt County citizen, asked why the oil royalties are not used for county-wide discretionary spending. Juve also claimed that this is the only county in Montana or North Dakota that still gives an oil stipend.

Oelkers argued that the remainder of the oil royalties money not given to the 120 employees of Roosevelt County does go towards discretionary spending. He also stated that the oil stipend saves the taxpayers money by supplementing county wages instead of using general fund monies to supplement wages.

Presiding officer Gary Macdonald stated that he feels the stipend needs to be reassessed this year.

Oelkers said that regardless it a nice problem to have when figuring out what to do with the oil royalties money.

The commissioners also briefly discussed the future of county employees health insurance coverage. The county is still using JPT Health Insurance which will see a standard 5.5 percent increase for fiscal year 2018-19 for the same coverage.

What the commissioners do need to decide is deductible versus monthly payments. Options available include $500, $1,000 and $2,000 deductibles. More information will be given after the commissioners decide which route to take.

A vote on both issue is expected at the next business meeting.

Other items of note:

•Minutes for a special administrative session May 2 were approved. At this meeting, the commissioners approved hiring Ken Elliot to oversee the deconstruction of the old Culbertson road shop.

•Commissioners approved the resignations of Richard Kurtz and Kathy Gill from the Wolf Point museum. Nygaard noted that their regular commute from St. Marie became unrealistic.

•Americorps Program applicant Courtney Olson was approved for hire at the Roosevelt County Health Department. Her hiring was part of a grant from the Montana Department of Health.

•Shelli Isle and Ruth Jackson were reappointed to the board of health.

•Jeff Adkins and Scott Doornek of the county road department were approved for their annual raises.

•Alyssa Pautsch was hired for a position in the aging department.

•Approval to purchase a desk for the health department’s home visitation program in the amount of $2,340.80 from Will’s Office World.

•Claims for May 3 in the amount of $75,177.39 were approved.

•Minutes for the month of April were approved.