Chronicles of a Montana County Road Warrior in North 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.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013 – Marias Pass

It’s still winter.

Land of the wind turbines

Dave jumped in and started my engine. He steered me out of the garage and up the drive, resetting my trip odometer to zero.  I know that’s the symbol for “long trip ahead.” Someday I hope one of these long trips takes me to Alaska, or maybe to Argentina, where I could shine my headlights out into Lapataia Bay.

After this trip, it feels like we have driven all over Montana.  I think I am going to want to go again.  He steered me north over Marias Pass and into a snow storm.   My all-wheel drive and studded tires kept us on the road. Though I am not worried about me, I do wonder about him.  I think of things like: Is he sleepy?  Can he see anything? And, I hope he doesn’t spill another latte.  But I trust him…most of the time. Of course if he starts napping I will just drive into the ditch. That will wake him up!

Well Sooby was right. We were heading out for a longer trip. After this one we will have driven to see ALL of Black Mountain’s County customers in Montana, plus a few others.

The visits this time start in Glacier County, then east to Toole County, a short trip south to Pondera County, back north and east to Liberty, on to Blaine, back west-southwest to Chouteau County (and the birthplace of Montana, Fort Benton, which is on the Mighty Missouri).

It was 11 degrees when I arrived in Cut Bank Sunday night. The worst of the snow and wind were behind me between East Glacier and Browning. That isn’t unusual.  The next morning I would be meeting with Glenda Hall, Glacier County Treasurer and Kate Salois the treasurer.  I would be inside where it was warm and Sooby would just stay out where it was cold.  He told me quit worrying. His seats are heated!

Monday, March 18, 2013 – Land of the Wind Turbines

Glacier County

Glenda and I spent a bunch of time talking about using our fixed assets system to help her with non-capitalized inventory. It’s a nice program to keep track of valuable county property even if it isn’t capitalized.  We discussed how to implement remote receipting in the satellite office in Browning. Technically this is no problem. She and Kate just needed to talk about procedures. I also visited with Loretta Torgerson, Land Clerk.  She was there when we installed Document Indexing in 1998.

While I had been visiting with Loretta about Document Indexing, Glenda hopped over and visited with Kate about the remote receipting. Kate let me know that was something that they had been discussing for a while and now it looked like it would move forward.

After the very cold morning, the wind had freshened out of the southwest and temperatures had warmed into the high 30’s, which almost felt balmy. I stopped on the way to Toole County and snapped a couple photos of the wind farm erected south of Highway 2. This was my first viewing and I was surprised to find that it didn’t clutter the vista as much as I imagined.

Many look at these turbines and see green energy. Toole and Glacier County happily look at them and see substantial property tax revenue!  I heard that another wind farm is being built north of this one and will also straddle the common border,  generating even more (much welcomed) property tax revenue.

The wind blew me all the way to Shelby, and it was in the 40’s by the time I arrived at Toole County Courthouse.  Despite stopping to snap photos, I was a bit ahead of schedule.

A stop at the city offices seemed in order.  I missed Teri but was able to chat for a bit and left one of our nifty little LED flashlights for each of the gals in the office.

At the county, I met with the treasurer, Boyd Jackson.  We sat down and discussed issues that had been troubling them. We talked about system speed and how that might be a source of problems.  The city is paying for TID software from us that will be used to set up and manage the tax increment district that is in place.  As treasurer, I believe Boyd will be involved with its utilization.

Toole County

At the Clerk and Recorders office I met up with Jewel Moritz the payroll clerk. I hadn’t seen her, probably, since we installed software in 1995. It was good to visit. I also visited with Commissioner Underdal and Treva Nelson. Along with Jewel, we consulted about slow system response. I assured them it was not a software problem and we needed to get together with their IT contractor. Jewel had him on the phone in short order. He and I talked about the best way for him and BMS engineers to communicate.  Since then, he has worked with one of our Senior Engineers and the speed issues sound like they are close to resolved. Turns out one big thing were system resources. The server needed more RAM.  Sounds like the bigger hammer analogy…

With communications between our engineers and their IT seemingly back on track, it was time to skedaddle.  There was no long drive tonight. Shelby would be my home for the evening.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 – Pondera County and Liberty County

Pondera County

The Pondera County seat in Conrad is only about 30 minutes south of Shelby. I made it in good time where I met with Jeanne Moon the Treasurer.  Jeanne got me a cup of coffee; she could see I needed it.  She also gave me some ideas on how we might streamline a couple of things and I looked into a problem with the system seeing her archived tax lien documents.

Clerk and Recorder Farkell is fairly new, but she has a seasoned staff and they are just cruising along. I was able to show her and her staff some things they hadn’t been using in Document Indexing: the township, range section grid for quick section entries and the advance search printing functions that allow a single record, a basic or full detail list to be printed. They were excited to see the features and especially the ability to print results of an advanced search.

To get to Liberty County it was back north to Shelby where a right hand turn took me the next 43 miles east. Highway 2 shoots through town much like the train tracks.  There are a lot of very small towns along the high line; the highway that connects Western Montana with North Dakota and then from there, to infinity and beyond.  A story I heard, that is worth believing, is that many of the high line towns were named by the railroad using a spinning globe.  The globe would be spun and a finger pressed on it until it stopped. The closest town to the finger was to be the name of the new rail stop on the high line.  Maybe someone up along those 500 miles of road could let me know.

Bear Paw Mountains

Once in Liberty County, I had a good visit with Gayle Dahlen and Rhonda Pimley, Treasurer and C&R, respectively.  Rhonda’s staff was doing so well I couldn’t even badger a suggestion from them.  And sheeze…what is the thing about Todd Vandenberg from Polson!?!  Denise, Gayle’s deputy treasurer, is a Polson girl.  Before matrimony she was known as Denise Sturm.  And who is her cousin? Yep that’s right…Todd!  If you have persevered in reading this far through my ramblings, two weeks earlier I had met another of Todd’s cousins, Sandy Nelson. She is a Wibaux County commissioner.

At about five-ish, I headed for Chinook; a town next to the Milk River. My mother grew up there, so I had been there before.  I have stayed at the Chinook Motor Inn many times over the years.  Even though my mom’s family is from here, I think most of my stays were related to conducting BMS business.  That means most of the time I haven’t had to pay for the motel room.  But sometimes, when I otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance, I drank whiskey and played Cribbage with my Uncle Jack in that same little motel.

Dinner was interesting at the Motor Inn.  It was entertaining because after I had finally gotten and eaten my meal, I realized I could be my own bartender. There really hadn’t been one before, and now I was alone in the tavern.  I was tempted run behind the bar ask myself what I’d have, start me a tab, and leave myself a tip.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 – Lunch in

Wendy Oehmcke was ready for me when I got to the Blaine County Treasurer’s office.  The Treasurer and Clerk and Recorder’s offices are all part of a large, open area divided by counters. It is business-conducive.  I had met Wendy years before but hadn’t been involved with installing the Tax and Assessor software. Sometimes I work really hard trying to make sure there are no problems.  After asking about six times she and her crew came up with a couple features they’d like.  I wrote it up and took those ideas home with me. I am glad that generally, I have to work at it to find problems.

After meeting her staff, we opted for lunching in. We had a good visit, chowing down while the land men, searchers of oil and gas rights, studied years and years of leases not far from our table.

After we finished, I turned my attention to Sandi Boardman’s office, where we talked about some ideas for reporting in the Document Indexing System. She wanted to run years of reports to send off and have converted to Micro-fiche.  We came up with a way to package each month’s reports together so she didn’t have to run them separately. Once she is caught up to the present, she will be able to easily generate the reports each month in a few minutes sending them off as PDFs.

The afternoon wound down and I finally found myself in Sooby heading back to Havre where I would turn south and make my way to Fort Benton for the night. My digs were in the Grand Hotel right on the banks of the Missouri.

Thursday, March 21, 2013 – Lewis and Clark, and Sacajawea, too.

Missouri River Breakfast

I’d heard a couple of rumors that the dining at the Grand Hotel was plenty fancy.  While not really in my budget, I wasn’t going to be cowed by the prospect of a large tab.  This proves that while I can be determined, there is a chance I may not be very smart at the same time.  I look at it as risk and reward, and the price of learning.  What I learned is this: that one of the best meals I have had anywhere in Montana, was had right there.  I also learned that two beers, a salad, and my main course of tile fish topped with broccoli rob laid out on a very tasty puree of ‘whatever it was vegetables’ cost me $52 with the tip.  At least I had enough to pay the bill. Breakfast the next morning, as I sat looking out at the Missouri, was no less tasty.

At the walk leading up to the Chouteau County Courthouse steps, a sign describing, with wit, the story of the courthouse, meets anyone who comes for a visit.  Among other things, it explains that Chouteau County was one of the original 9 Montana Counties.

I headed in for my meeting with Sherry Rowland.  Sherry is the treasurer and we talked about her satisfaction with the software and service; which is very high.  She fixed me up with some coffee and we had a good productive visit. After leaving Sherry’s office I visited with Cheryl who is the Deputy Clerk and Recorder.  She also acts as the finance officer, I believe, and is responsible for much of the accounting activities occurring there.  Cheryl walked me through a couple of scenarios where she wanted a bit more automation.

The Grand Hotel

Everybody had their own things to do so I stepped out for lunch, wandered down by the river, and became a tourist taking pictures of the Lewis and Clark Memorial–a bronze statue of Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea that stands surveying the river.  It is termed heroic because of its size. It was Fort Benton’s contribution to the nation’s bi-centennial in 1976.

After that I stopped quickly over at the City Hall to say hi to Patti and Mimi. This was another place I had spent time working with BMS customers just getting started with accounting and payrolls software.  In this case that time was 1994.  Mimi was skiing, so Patti and I laughed about how long ago it was since I had been there last.  I was able to leave them with a couple of great big Black Mountain mugs, which will keep the coffee warm. I hope they can lift them.

Back at the courthouse, Lana had returned and she let me know that they are having no problems. Emboldened by my discovery at Pondera County (that there were a couple things they didn’t know about), I showed both the TRS grid and advanced report printing to Lana and her recording clerk, Dawn.  It is good to be emboldened.

After that it was time for Sooby to shoot me south to visit with a possible new customer and then from there on west to Great Falls to spend the night.

The next morning Sooby Roo heated my seat and let me rest while he got me back to Polson.

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