Chronicles of a Montana County Road Warrior in Central Montana (Guest Blog)

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.

January 29 – February 1, 2013: Golden Valley, Stillwater, Carbon, Rosebud, (maybe Custer), Judith Basin.

THE PLAN:

Tues 1/29: 2pm, Golden Valley meeting with Treasurer Craig and C&R Mary Lu. Staying at Columbus Super 8.

Wed 1/30: 9am, Stillwater County meeting Treasurer Beverly McMurry and 11am, Joe Morse.

Wed 1/30: 2pm, Carbon County meeting Administrative Assistant Angela Newell and 3pm, Treasurer Jane Swanson-Webb. Staying at Billings Holiday Inn Express.

Thur 1/31: 9am, Rosebud County meeting with Treasurer Pam Shelton and 10:30am, Geri’s staff (she is in Helena). She mentioned Electronic Time cards and thought her payroll person might like to see it.

Thur 1/31: 2pm, possibly a quick stop at Custer County, but not scheduled yet. If I get ok, I’d like to stop at Judith Basin.  I will stay in Lewistown.

Fri 2/1: 10am, Judith Basin – I have not scheduled this yet, but left message and I have to say that the gal who took the message was very friendly when I introduced myself as being from Black Mountain Software (or maybe it was my really great, manly phone voice). Well whatever…

HOW THE TRIP REALLY WENT:

The Road to White Sulphur Springs

January 29, 2013: To the Golden Valley and Beyond!

Bah, heavy snow in Arlee at zero dark thirty! I had been on my way for nearly 40 Montana minutes, but then busted out of it at the bottom of Evaro Hill near Missoula. I zipped over McDonald pass, waved heartily at those ardent folk legislating away at the capitol, made the east turn at Townsend, then serpentine through the mountains, past White Sulphur Springs, popped out to the windy Harlowton, grabbed a bite to eat, and with a burp arrived at the border of Golden Valley County. I photographed proof as I passed by the sign and turned neatly into the county courthouse parking lot. And that is the 30 second version of a 6 hour drive. YEE HAW!

It looked safe, so I went in. I met Robin and Mary Lu. Craig was there too! Robin bounces back and forth between the Treasurer’s office (Craig’s Domain) and the Clerk and Recorder’s office (Mary Lu’s). She is covering a lot of ground helping with both tax and recording duties. We chitchatted for a few and then I got down to work. “Is there anything I can do?” I asked, and, “Oh, yesss!” said Mary Lu. “We’ve been saving something for you.”

This worried me, but I took my coat off and listened. When she arrived Monday morning, the work station used for recording documents had a messed up shortcut. I put a new shortcut on the desktop and it was good as new. Mary Lu had another question. “Is there a way to look up the report IDs somewhere?” We took a peek in the online help system, searching reports. Sweet success, we found just what she was looking for! Two for two ain’t a bad record.

While we visited, I asked them if the building next to the courthouse was new. Yup, it was, circa 2008. It turns out the old building burned down. The sad irony: it was the fire station.

Rapelje

I took a local road from Ryegate, through Rapelje to Columbus. The neat map Robin drew up led me easily over 53 beautiful miles. It was off-the-beaten-Montana-path, and only some of it was paved. There was evidence in some sections if it was rainy, things might get a bit sticky. No worries of that however, and I arrived in Columbus. The car had about 200 pounds of dirty snow-ice and 50 pounds of dust hanging from it. I decided giving it a rinse seemed like a good idea.

The temp was about 18 degrees. You can see where this is going, right? I tracked down the car wash and replaced the snowy, dusty mud with a perfectly lush layer of clear, shiny ice. The car sparkled so much, there was no need for wax. The floor of the car wash was sloped and slippery, but I managed not to fall. I chipped my way back into the car and was ready for the next day when I would visit Stillwater County.

01/30/13: I started where I stayed, in Stillwater County.

My first meeting was with Bev McCurry and her crew at the Treasurer’s office. I met Norma, Shawna, and Rebecca. As I sat down, I placed my gloves and spare mouse pads on top of an air conditioner that was obviously waiting for warmer days. We visited about the positive outcome of billing a missed levy, but also visited about a couple of minor problems we need to look into. All in all the crew is pretty satisfied with BMS. Just before I left, this year’s MCTA (Montana County Treasurer Association) conference came up. I commented my golf game was a little rusty. Bev told me that all I needed to do was be able to open a beer and drive a golf cart. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.

I toodle-oo’d heading upstairs out of the lower halls of Stillwater County’s courthouse to the Finance/Human Resource office staffed by Joe Morse and Theresa Comfort. Joe and Theresa were both working at the county when BMS installed the accounting, payroll, and tax software. Things are going fine there and they reported no big problems.

I asked about the square brick building located west of Joe’s office. He told me it was the old Norton house and that it had served as a Sheriff’s office. He said he wasn’t sure what would become of it. It is in the National Registry of Historic Buildings, but it is in ill repair. Evidently moving it isn’t feasible as it might just come apart. It is an interesting building to look at, but it isn’t safe to go inside.

Carbon County

I said my goodbyes checked to see if the commissioners were in, but all were out to lunch except Dennis. He told me they all got together to help get the levy bill out. I also said hello to Clerk and Recorder Pauline Mishler. As I headed out and down the courthouse steps I met Maureen Davey, also a commissioner, and we had a quick visit and she assured me they were sticking with Black Mountain Software. Once at the car, I realized I had no gloves. Not remembering where I’d left them, I made the mistake of working my path backwards through my visits, only to end up back in the Treasurer’s office. So first place last, and I was back out the door heading for Red Lodge the home of Carbon County.

From Columbus, Google maps give you a couple of routes to consider when traveling to Red Lodge. Of course I chose the curvier one. It led me south towards the mountains, through Absarokee, up and down hills, and around corners; the ski runs in the distance marking my approximate destination. It had snowed in Red Lodge. But my assumption that the snowplowed piles were the culmination of a couple of months of winter was corrected when visiting with the Treasurer Jane Swanson Webb. When I asked her, she said they had gotten most of it in just the last few days. That happens.

Black Mountain’s tax and receipting software do a great job for Jane and she says she always gets the support she needs. Jane has been the Treasurer for 30 years! That is dedication. It also tells you that the county’s citizens have no doubt that she is the right person for the job.

Before visiting Jane’s office I had a good visit with Angela Newell, the new Carbon County Administrative Assistant. Only I think the actual hat she wears might have sounded more like this: “Finance officer, Webmaster, Clerk, Human Resource Officer, and Keeper of the Commissioners.” She was trained by her predecessor, Linda Mann. She said everything is going quite well and that while she is still learning the byways of the county’s operations, but Black Mountain makes it pretty easy to take care many of her responsibilities. First impressions: pretty sharp I think. I made sure she was aware of the new online help system as she said she had been using a PDF version that she had downloaded quite some time ago. I emphasized that the online version is always up-to-date. I reminded Angela and Jane that I would be coming around now and then as I left. Neither one discouraged me, so I take that as a positive.

I only had to get to Billings that evening; about a one hour drive. My plan was to get up and hit the road by seven the next morning and be in Forsyth, Rosebud County’s seat, by nine. It was a good plan. But doubts came as I traveled north towards Laurel. At first, what appeared to be just miles of gray sky was instead a bit of a snow storm. The forecast was for snow all night. And it did.

01/31/13 – S’no way to go.

The first 30 miles of my trip east consisted of two words: TRUCK BLIZZARD. There were miles and miles of slow moving cars and trucks stirring up so much snow that you could barely see the vehicles in front of you. I eventually followed a highway patrol’s flashing lights around a string of trucks. Luckily I was still on the interstate when I finally I broke out into the open. Interestingly, the law enforcement officer was stopped next to a snowplow visiting about…(I am just guessing here)…snow. As I headed east, I watched the car’s outside temperature reading slip lower and lower. The last 20 miles it stuck on a single degree. Amazingly I arrived at Rosebud County at 8:54 am. I headed inside to meet with Treasurer Pam Shelton.

Pam had a couple of good suggestions; one being that we hold a training session covering the form letter/merge options in our Tax system.A highly customized letter can be produced automatically, merging selected data from the system into the body of the letter. This will speed things up when you have a bunch of delinquent notices going out.

I also met Nancy, her deputy treasurer. They were shorthanded, so I took turns with taxpayers for Pam’s attention. We did well and had a very productive conversation. Pam had real work to do so I skedaddled across the foyer to the Clerk and Recorder’s office.

The boss, Geri Custer, was off to Helena. I knew that, but I got to visit with Sally Wanner, her deputy clerk. She handles accounting and payroll duties among other things I am sure. Sally was my grandmother’s name! Sally told me she was named after Sally in the Dick and Jane beginning reader series. My wife Jane is named after a character in that series, too! I liked those books. Once again I heard the story that was music to my ears: “We like Black Mountain and the support. It works great for us.” She had a question: is there a way to only include the reportable 1099 amounts paid to a vendor? The answer is yes! I forwarded the question to our support staff and they got back to her with the How To.

Well, my work here was done. All I had to do was head west to get back home, where my odometer let me know I had traveled 1,178 miles. And they were good ones too.

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