By Jessica McGlothlin Explorebigsky.com Contributor
SHERIDAN – This November, residents of Madison County District 1 will cast their votes in the race for their representing county commissioner. Incumbent Dave Schulz is running against challenger Ken Yecny.
Madison County, covering nearly 2.3 million acres, includes the towns of Ennis, Virginia City, Sheridan and Twin Bridges, as well as much of Big Sky. Although the county at large does not elect them, the three commissioners make decisions affecting the entire county.
With approximately 2,700 voters, District 1 makes up a third of the county’s population and covers Sheridan, Alder, the upper Ruby Valley, Virginia City, and extends into the western slope of the Madison Valley, south of Highway 287. While most county commissioners in Montana are elected for six years, Madison County limits its terms to four years.
The Madison County Commission meets once a week, for 5 – 7 hours at a time. The commissioners must work well as a team while also working independently in their home district.
Q & A with the candidates
BSW: What are the key issues facing Madison County right now?
Dave Schulz: Senior services are key in my mind. Madison County’s average age is rising faster than other counties in the area. We need to make sure we are taking care of area nursing homes and senior facilities. By working with senior groups – four in county at the moment – we can ensure our seniors have healthy meals and those who are housebound are checked in on.
Ken Yecny: Simply put, the budget. The county budget has risen 58 percent over the past four years. In 2008-2009, the budget was $20,146, 907. For the years of 2011-2012, the budget is $31, 886, 001. The economy can’t support an increase like this.
BSW: How do the Madison and Gallatin County Commissions work together?
Schulz: Both commissions meet annually to discuss issues. Regular discussions also take place with resort partners in Big Sky. In Big Sky, public safety is a large issue for us. Our $230,000 commitment this year supports two deputies to help increase public safety. The Madison County Commission has also partnered with Big Sky Transit, though Gallatin County has not, to help increase access. Snow removal and invasive species removal are issues worked by both commissions in the Big Sky area.
Yecny: It is important for commissions all around the state to work together on a lot of different fronts. One aspect I’m looking forward to potentially working on with Gallatin County is the threat wolves pose to cattle. Management of dead and dying timber is also high on the list.
BSW: What are your views on property rights?
Schulz: Property rights are an outstanding priority in my mind and heart. Residents do need to understand that what they do with their property affects others, however.
Yecny: If it is your own property, it is your personal private property and you should be able to do any damn thing on it.
BSW: What are your views on the school board and school issues?
Schulz: Countywide, we need to focus on maintaining the school budget as well as school funding. The changing age demographic of the population means schools are showing little or no growth. While the Ophir school district in Big Sky does show growth, the rest of the county’s schools are losing students. We need to adequately fund quality education despite the declining student population.
Yecny: I would like more oversight in the school districts. [Last year] the Ennis school district was found to have improperly used taxes levied for public transport and adult education to aid in funding the new elementary school.
BSW: Why should the readers of the Big Sky Weekly care about this race?
Schulz: Madison County is not easy. We have many different demographics – age, political views, geographical – and many different styles of life. The county comprises diversity, variability and different mindsets. As commissioners, we have to be considerate of each. Using the facts we need to decide what is best and make decisions based on information.
Yecny: Three commissioners run the whole county. It’s important that all Montana counties work together.