The Montana Highway Patrol is eying a portion of the former Montana Development Center campus for part of its operation — a move that could bring more than 20 employees to Boulder and assist with the reuse of the facility that has sat vacant since 2018.
If all the pieces fall into place, the Highway Patrol could make the move as soon as this summer.
“The current lease for the Montana Highway Patrol headquarters ends in June. The site in Boulder is being evaluated as a possible replacement. There are 10 troopers and 11 civilian employees who work from the current location,” said Kyler Nerison, spokesperson with the MHP, of the existing site in Helena.
At the same time, a legislative joint subcommittee for health and human services voted to reduce the general fund budget by half for another entity on the property — the Intensive Behavior Center. The decision was seen as a way to incentivize the center into moving its residents to a community setting.
The move by the Highway Patrol is welcome news, as the reuse of the property has been an ongoing concern for Jefferson County, the City of Boulder and the Jefferson Local Development Corporation.
“The Montana Highway Patrol is a wonderful, well-respected organization. Their move to the north campus would be a win-win — great for Boulder and great for the Montana Highway Patrol. Personally, I believe we should encourage the Department of Justice and the Montana legislature to approve this change and then do everything we can to warmly welcome the MHP as part of our community,” said Drew Dawson, Boulder City Council President and Chairman of the Boulder Transition Advisory Committee — a group formed in response to the closing of MDC and the loss of its 250 jobs.
Jefferson County Commission Chairman Bob Mullen emphasized that the deal is still in the works — and was also a surprise to the county.
If the Highway Patrol were to come down here, the Commission would be pretty excited about it, he said, adding that the county had looked at getting another state agency to move there.
The Highway Patrol would be good neighbors and would fit in with the other plans for the campus, said Mullen, referring to the Commission’s work with the Veterans Administration to put a veterans pain management clinic at MDC.
“I think it will be a good thing for Boulder. They should be a good organization to have in town,” he said.
Mullen said the campus master plan, which the Jefferson Local Development Corporation kicked off in January, is still in the works. The team working on the plan have been informed of the Highway Patrol’s intention and they are factoring that into their plans, he said.
The master plan also includes the south campus of the former MDC, which is owned variously by the state, the county, JLDC and Youth Dynamics.
Tom Harrington, project coordinator for JLDC said this was welcome news, as it will bring a stable job base and perhaps the businesses in Boulder will see a boost as a result.
The side benefit is that the level of public safety will improve in the county.
“The road between Helena and Boulder will be the safest road in the state,” he joked, adding that the master plan team will now likely focus its efforts on the south campus.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services owns the north campus of the former MDC, having acquired the property last year when the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation relinquished the land trust status of the 48-acre property.
To get the ball rolling, the joint subcommittee voted Feb. 19 to eliminate DPHHS’s maintenance budget for the property as a way to prompt the agency to relinquish its ownership.
“By the time 2023 rolls around they shouldn’t need maintenance funds to take care of that campus. We want them to divest themselves of this property,” said Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The complete removal of the maintenance funding is targeted for the second fiscal year of the 2023 biennium budget. The budget amount cited as part of this move was $2.3 million.
Glimm said this action was not a done deal, but represents the first step in the process. Glimm said a bill will follow that will make the transfer from the DPHHS to the Department of Justice.
If this deal does not work out, the proposed budget bill has a provision that would allow the property to be maintained for a year, but the DPHHS would have to find another solution, said Glimm.
Intensive Behavior Center
The joint subcommittee also voted to reduce the funding for the Intensive Behavior Center by half — or roughly $2 million a year — in the proposed 2023 biennial budget.
The Intensive Behavior Center is also located in the north campus area.
Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, who voted against the reduction, questioned the move, given the lack of details, such as the impact on employees.
Glimm said this was considered a savings and a way to get the individuals at the center back into the community, as that is considered a better way to care for them. Glimm said there was a willingness in the community to take some of these folks, and is seen as a way to motivate the department to do that.
The Intensive Behavior Center operates a 12-bed facility at the campus, which provides short-term treatment for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It is allocated 72 full time positions.
“We are in the first step of a multi-step process of legislative budget development. The legislative body did take action to remove funding, but gave no direction to move the facility,” said DPHHS spokesman Jon Ebelt in an email.