Tester to local fire officials: What’s working and what’s not?

Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, July 26, 2018

Photo courtesy of Sen. Tester’s Office
From the left: Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger, Assistant Chief Nick Jacobs and Sen. Jon Tester discuss grants and other safety matters last Saturday at the Columbus Fire Hall. Also in attendance was Columbus Mayor Gary Woltermann and deputy county Disaster and Emergency Service Coordinator Bill Pronovost.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester was quick and straight to the point of his visit last Saturday at the Columbus Fire Hall.

“What’s working and what’s not?” Tester asked Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger and Assistant Chief Nick Jacobs in a meeting attended by just a handful of people.

Grant funding from the user’s viewpoint was Tester’s specific concern.

Cowger spoke about the “hugely important” SAFER grants that had allowed the department to start down the road toward its current 5-fulltime staffers. Tester, who was clearly knowledgeable on the topic, took notes as Cowger talked about the complexities of the grant application and grant system. The two also discussed equipment purchases and the processes involved in that element of fire/EMS service.

Tester also asked if the county was seeing any law enforcement issues with the 1-90 corridor. Columbus Mayor Gary Woltermann and former Columbus Police Chief Bill Pronovost (who is now a deputy Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator for the county) fielded as many of those questions as they could. No current law enforcement officials from either the city or county were in attendance.

Drugs are of particular concern to Tester, and he mentioned work being done at the border to tighten things up.

“Let’s be honest, most of them are coming across the border,” said Tester.

Tester and Woltermann also took time to praise the Sibayne-Stillwater Mine as a top-notch operation that is growing, partly due to its work with catalytic converters at the smelter facility.

When asked if there was anything else on anyone’s mind, Woltermann took the opportunity to share his ongoing effort to have a 4-way stop established at the intersection of Pike Avenue and Ninth Street.

“How much pull do you have with the Transportation Department?” asked Woltermann, drawing laughter from those who knew the history.

“What are you trying to get them to do?” Tester asked, with a smile.

After bringing the senator up to speed on the steps taken and the repeated efforts made, Tester said he would make a few phone calls and see what he could find out.


Acknowledging that the majority of drugs in the United States are entering across the border, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is working on the Assisting Narcotics and Trafficking Officers in Interdiction (ANTI) Drugs Act, which would reauthorize three essential grant programs that law enforcement officers depend on to fight drug and other crime.

These three grants are High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), Operation Stonegarden Grants (OPSG) and Community Oriented Policing Service Grants (COPS).

HIDTA grants fund regional drug task forces that are comprised of local, state and federal agencies geared to specifically combat drugs in “hard-hit communities,” according to an informational sheet from Tester’s office. There are five regional drug task forces in Montana located in Yellowstone, Missoula, Lewis and Clark, Flathead and Cascade counties. Each receives nearly $1 million per year.

The ANTI Drugs Act would authorize up to $300 million each year through 2023 nationwide.

OPSG grants provide funding to enrich interagency cooperation in defending the nation’s borders. There are 14 communities in the state that get these funds.

Tester’s bill would increase funding to $110 million each year nationwide.

COPS grants go to local agencies in an effort to reduce crime and improve safety through community policing. Last year, five agencies in Montana used COPS grant money to hire new officers and “combat everything from drug trafficking to drunk driving,” according to Tester’s informational sheet.

The ANTI Drugs act would bump up COPS grant funding to $400 million a year for the next five years nationwide.

Tester also recently helped secure funding for 2018 for the hiring of 328 new Customs and Border Protection officers and $225 million to install new technology along the borders designed to detect drugs, according to an informational sheet from his office.