Chronicles of a Montana County Road Warrior in SW Montana (Guest Blog, Part 2)

by: David Morton, Customer Solutions Coordinator and Guest Blogger for the BMS County Traveling Road Show Series

These are the chronicles of one David Morton, road warrior on a mission to solve client problems for Black Mountain’s Governmental Accounting Software.  What you are about to read is real.

Beaverhead County, MT

January 17, 2013 – SW Montana County Tour (Part II), Beaverhead County, Virginia City, Anaconda, and Granite County

At 14 degrees with a south wind, it was quite warm compared to previous mornings in SW Montana. I found my way to the Beaverhead County buildings to meet with Cathy Hucke, Treasurer. She is doing well and Black Mountain software is working for her. Their office is an old bank and during receipting season they do a brisk business at the drive-up window. From there I found my way to the courthouse and the finance office. I interrupted Betty Tinsley and Chris Kraft from a birthday celebration. I think they each still managed to get some cake. Betty is a big fan of BMS and really likes the way the Accounting, Payroll and other systems do the job. Chris had no tech issues, so it was time to go.

I continued on to a place with a lively history, Virginia City, a city grown out of gullies and gold fever, vigilantes and hangin’s. Gold fever lives on in a spare few, but is mostly gone and replaced by tourists and the local government of Madison County—another county named for the river that runs through it.

History says Meriwether Lewis named the river for an obscure secretary of state in Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet. Word is both he and the president wanted to hit it with some dry flies, but other pressing matters intervened and neither ever made it. Ok…that isn’t actually true, but kind of fun to think about…Tubby Jefferson and short Madison repairing line as they drift the river; Tom’s voice smothered by the river saying, “…Jim, pass me the beer jug. You know one day folks’ll be drinking this ice cold, right out of a can!” and ol’ obscure James says as he sets his hook, “Sure, Tom, sure.  But will they have fishin’ like this?”

Enough alternate history. I met with both Vicki Tilstra, and her Finance Clerk, Cathy Gustin. Vicki realized after a couple of minutes that I was the guy who came down and trained her to use Payroll in 1994. That will be 20 years ago next June. Holy cow! We laughed about that and she emphasized that Black Mountain’s software and support has been great. She said any trouble she has is always taken care of right away.

Next I stopped at the Clerk and Recorders office and met with the entire crew: Clerk & Recorder Peggy Kaatz-Stemler, Recording Clerk Kathleen Mumme, and Lisa Frye and Lana Kober-Atkins. Peggy and Kathleen both emphasized that BMS’s Document Indexing is working well for them and they have few problems. We discussed a few issues that we are going to work on. All in all we had a great visit and it was good to see everyone. I finally quit talking and headed over to see the treasurer, Shelly Burke.

In the Treasurer’s office I met Shelly, her deputy Kathy Stone, and I believe, Allison Elser. Shelly has been using BMS for 20 years and is very knowledgeable about our system. It is working well for them. They have a couple of issues but our support staff has jumped right on those things and is working to resolve them. It was good to meet with Shelly and her staff. But once again, before I know it, it’s time to go.

From there, I backtracked a bit, the road finally taking me North, to find my way over the old Butte Pass. By then it was dark again, but made it over the top and passed through the city with a copper pit heart and on to the place that smelted the ore it produced:  Anaconda. It is one of only two consolidated city-county governments in the state.

I rested at the Trade Winds Motel (very comfortable bed, slept like a baby) which is not far from the symbol of the city’s past, the giant 585 foot brick smoke stack that beckons a look when passing on the interstate several miles away. It is a state park now. When the copper pit died, so did Anaconda—for a while. Though tough, they are finding new ways to use what was left. The evidence: a world-class 18-hole golf course reclaimed from the spoiled land and smattered with sand traps filled with the black smelter slag. It’s very unusual and worth a day of golf (or more). In another reclaimed area, a 200-megawatt natural gas-fired electric generating facility brings in taxes and adds to the economy. So industrious!

I woke up, satisfied that my shoes had been staying tied each day, hit the home of “Billions sold” for a breakfast sandwich, and made my way to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. I was to meet with Treasurer, Eric Hoiland; Clerk and Recorder, Joey Blodnick; and CEO Connie Ternes Daniels. This trip I didn’t get to visit with their individual staff members but we talked a lot about Tax Increment Financing Districts and Joey’s desire to make the best use of the software. We talked about additional training and visited about BMS Cash Receipting and Permitting systems that could help with cash handling and permitting processes. We were done early enough that Joey and Eric were able to join me for a bite of lunch at Donivan’s – a longtime downtown fixture that serves up good food and atmosphere.

After dropping Eric and Joey off, I drove west on MT Highway 1, also known as the Anaconda-Pintler Scenic route, past Georgetown Lake, which is also a legacy of the area’s mining. I continued past Discovery Ski Basin’s south slopes, past the dam that forms the lake and down the winding road to the Flint Valley. Then north a bit, where Phillipsburg nestles on the slopes slightly above the valley and Granite County’s domed courthouse. There are ranches here like everywhere in Montana—and ghost towns. The mining was no less feverish here in the late 1800’s than from where I had just come from. And like many mining frenzies, died as quickly as it started—to be replaced 100 years later by the north slopes of the Discovery Ski Area south of town.

My visit with Vicki Harding, Granite County treasurer, went well and I was pleased again to find that our software is doing its job and our support staff is helpful when needed. She reminded me that she asked me about something when we met during the Treasurer’s Convention last fall, but she couldn’t remember what it was, and not to my surprise, neither could I. Hooray for the written word, though. It works extraordinarily well (when used) to keep track of these things. I consulted our Customer Support System and learned that her question related to Cloud computing. She was hoping this would provide her customers with access to tax information over the web. As it turns out, we have this right now! BMS cloud computing is coming down the pike, but fortunately she won’t have to wait for taxpayer web access to their records. And it’s convenient for everyone because there is an option for making a tax payment, too!

This would be a great gift to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Granite County’s old typewriter.

Over in the Clerk and Recorder’s office, Blanche McClure was busy. Her payroll clerk Sarah was out for the day. I walked in about an hour and half early. We both said, “Hi, good to see you!” then she added, “You know it’s not 3:00 yet?” Er…well… it turned out to not be a problem. I first met Blanche at the Montana Clerk and Recorders’ Convention held in Red Lodge years ago. She was new to the job at the time, and a lot of her friends were encouraging her to solve some of her computing problems by buying Black Mountain software. It has been 10 years and things have been working well. We had a great visit and it was nice to get reacquainted. While I was there, a fellow brought in an old electric typewriter that he had fixed. They still use it. Then Blanche pointed to an old black mechanical typewriter, and said, “We still use that, too!” I professed my disbelief. Granite County will be 100 years old this summer and there is talk of celebration.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn the old black typewriter is just as old. If so, they should celebrate that, too!

I said goodbye to Blanche and stepped outside into the warm winter sun. I jumped into my new Subaru and drove along Flint Creek to where it joins the Clark Fork at Drummond. I steered West onto the interstate. The car doesn’t know its way back home, but before I’m done I think it will.

Note: It’s never to early to start planning your summer vacation activities. I found out on this trip that 2013 is the 150th Anniversary of striking gold at Alder Gulch outside of Virginia City MT. Virginia City is planning a summer filled with fun events celebrating the anniversary! http://www.virginiacity.com/#event:328

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