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FJBC recoups partial missing funds

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ST. IGNATIUS – Flathead Joint Board of Control Chairman Ray Swenson announced a change in the voting procedures for the next irrigation election in May 2018.

Chairman Swenson held up a few papers during the Dec. 12 meeting with the instructions for voting. He said the board is tasked with sending out letters to irrigators, which will be done by the end of the year. 

The letters are set to contain instructions and a signature form to authorize one person to vote for each parcel of irrigated land. All people voting in the election are required to turn in a form. 

“Everyone needs to have the form signed and notarized,” Swenson said of the people receiving the letter.

The new requirement came as a result of a House Bill 388, introduced by Rep. Greg Hertz that revises voter qualifications and designation in irrigation district elections. 

The FJBC is taking on the task of mailing out forms designating one person to vote, but it wasn’t clear if everyone needed to fill out a notarized signature form. It was thought that land with only one owner might be exempt from the rule, but Swenson clarified that everyone needs to fill out the form this year so the Lake County Election Office has a signature form to verify mail-in ballots.

“It’s the board’s duty to certify those voters,” Swenson said.

Concerning the issue of missing money, the board recently received a check for $100,000, minus a $1,000 deductible, from their insurance company. The board hired an independent auditor to go through the board’s books earlier this year, and it was determined that $221,000 was removed from the account with unauthorized credit card use during a period of three years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation took over the case and hasn’t released any information on the issue.

The board continues to work with an insurance company to try and recoup the remaining loss. Swenson said he hasn’t heard any details on that portion of the claim.

Hydrologist Kurt Hafferman said he has finished “a bulk of the work” to review the board’s water rights claims with the state, and he found a 10,000-acre disagreement. 

The board has 138,000 irrigated acre claims for the project. He said the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation notes that the FJBC has 128,000 claims. Hafferman said he couldn’t guarantee the DNRC will accept 138,000 claims, but he doesn’t think the number will go below 128,000. He said he would try to get the full amount. A member of the public said many farmers would irrigate more land if the return on the price of farming were better. Hafferman said the next phase of the project involves working with an attorney to find out how to proceed with the claims in court. 

The next board meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 9. Swenson said he hopes to look at a revised FJBC budget at the meeting.

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