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Graduation Rates Hit New Highs in Montana

by Tim Hart

Graduation rates for high schools in MT rose to their highest level since 2000, with Gallatin County’s five High Schools included. For the state of Montana, graduation rates rose to 85.4 percent. Four years ago, the total was at 80.7 percent.

Of Gallatin County’s five public high schools, West Yellowstone came in 1st at 92.3 percent. Manhattan High came in at 90 percent, Bozeman High with 88.1 percent, Belgrade High with 86.8 percent, and Three Forks High with 84.2 percent. Of Montana’s 14 AA high schools, Bozeman ranked third, behind Missoula Sentinal and Helena Capital.

Montana’s drop out rate also improved over a four-year period, from 5% to 3.7 percent.

Bozeman High School’s graduation rate (88.1 percent) jumped by more than 4% from 4 years ago. School officials gave credit to teachers, students and parents for the improvement, but also noted their hard efforts with their new programs and availability of online courses.

The school’s drop out rate fell from 3.3% to 2.9 percent. Economically disadvantaged students who make up around 20% of Bozeman High’s student body saw their graduation rate rise from 66.7 percent 4 years ago, to 75.8% currently. School leaders recognized those numbers can still improve, but hope that their new pilot, public preschool program can help shorten the gap.

High schools in Gallatin County continue to improve their high standards. Their hard work and commitment to excellence have led to many homebuyers specifically seeking out these schools for their children.

 

Source: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/education/graduation-rates-hit-new-highs-for-montana-and-bozeman/article_e0844740-9c3b-11e4-8de7-2fe72eb9b268.html

Legislators brought forth House Bill 168 for approval this week with the hopes of finding a compromise between a recent judicial ruling and the subdivision developers caught in between a major policy shift.

This October, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled that developers would have to acquire water rights for wells drawing from the same aquifer (read more about his ruling here). Before his ruling, subdivisions were allowed to drill an unlimited number of small, private wells without needing a water permit. The ruling closed a loophole that allowed these subdivisions to pull more water than some farms and ranches with senior water rights without paying anything additional. However, developers who had already applied for a subdivision permit or who had even drilled a few wells were left unsure if they would now have to abide by this new policy.

With passage of the new house bill, those who had already applied before the ruling would be treated under the same requirements they had been subject to beforehand. Developers who apply as of now will be subject to the new ruling.

The bill is unique in the fact that is has been approved by both real estate and agricultural groups—groups usually at odds when it comes to Montana water rights. No opponents spoke against the bill, although 4 other bills addressing the same issue are currently being drafted.

 

Source: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/bill-would-grandfather-wells-for-developing-subdivisions/article_7695aa7e-9c52-11e4-8474-db970fb2ff57.html

Potential Expansions Coming for Sacajawea Middle School

by Tim Hart

 

Sacajawea Middle School may see some expansions in 2016, thanks to a rising enrollment in Bozeman Public Schools. The middle school has 40 classrooms that can hold up to 750 students. If eventually approved, the middle school will join Petra Academy (private) on the list of upcoming school expansions in Bozeman, showing the continued growth of the area.

As of now, enrollment has not hit 750 students, but many of the other rooms are currently used for other purposes than a traditional classroom. Physical Education classes have taken a few of these open classrooms with aerobic equipment, weights and other resources. After looking at demand and enrollment in Bozeman Elementary schools, many officials believe the school will not be able to keep up within the next few years.

School officials have looked into hiring an architect to evaluate the feasibility of a middle school expansion. After the evaluation, the school would need to design and approve construction bonds for a fall vote in 2016 to local Bozeman residents.

The expansion project is still in very preliminary stages and ultimately may not go through. As Bozeman has grown, so have the schools. Staying ahead of the curve on space issues in Bozeman will help maintain the high quality and reputation these schools have earned.

 

Source: http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/bozeman-middle-school-looks-to-expand-facilities/30669960

Mortgage Rates Hit 20 Month Low

by Tim Hart

Freddie Mac announced the average rate for a 30-year conventional loan fell to 3.73% this week. The average rate fell from last week’s number of 3.87% and from 3.89% in later December, thanks to another strong week for the domestic economy, especially in comparison to continued financial struggles in Europe and Asia.

The average rate for a 15 year fixed loan also fell this week to 3.05 percent--down from 3.15 percent. 15 year mortgages are most popular with those looking to refinance and the low rates should be noted by anyone paying a 30 year fixed rate mortgage. Many homeowners have a great opportunity to save on their mortgage.

Both mortgage rates fell due to a strong outlook on the domestic economy. Unemployment benefit requests declined this week and wages continue to see improvement. As the Holidays seemed to prove, consumer confidence has also greatly increased in the US.

As investment in Europe and Asia has struggled, many investors are turning towards purchasing government bonds and securities. Yields on securities issued by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have fallen recently, perhaps due to their current demand. These securities encompass around 60% of all US mortgages. Bond investors have accepted lower yields on these securities, allowing mortgage bankers to charge lower interest rates to their customers.

Banks have also been trying to attract milennial first time home buyers to the market, who, as of yet, have not been buying up homes like previous generations.

Again, great news for home buyers, home owners and refinancers. Interest rates really add up over the life of a loan, so this kind of adjustment can really benefit buyers years down the line. Coupled with lower mortgage insurance rates, many home buyers who were not eligible even a month ago, may now be approved for a loan.

 

Source: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-re-freddie-mac-mortgage-rates-20150108-story.html

State Park Attendance Up Again

by Tim Hart

Montana State Parks had more than 2.2 million visitors in 2014. Visitor totals grew by 3 percent, more than 40,000 more than in 2013. Not only that, but Montana State Parks broke the record for most visitors in their history for the second straight year.

In general, most visitors to the state parks were Montana residents—80% in fact. However, in the Southwest region of Montana (that’s us!) nearly 345,000 visitors were nonresidents. Those numbers are inclusive of the greater Yellowstone area, but not the National Park proper, which sees even higher visitation numbers. After some quick math, that meant 15.6% of the total 20% of nonresidents visiting Montana were actually visiting the Southwest Montana area. Over the past decade, state park numbers have increased by nearly 33 percent.

The percentage of nonresident visitors to Southwest Montana really stood out to me. Southwest Montana, Yellowstone, and the greater Gallatin Valley continue to see increased exposure on the national consciousness, for both its summer and winter outdoor opportunities. As more tourists continue to visit, more of these people may find themselves falling in love with the area, a feeling us Montana residents know too well.  The Gallatin Valley continues growing in part because in part, it sells itself so well to its visitors.

 

Source: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/state/record-numbers-visited-state-parks-in/article_1a9fa933-7ab7-53ce-8bb9-44bc14e89657.html

Total Home Values Up in the US

by Tim Hart

The total value of all homes in the United States grew for a third straight year according to zillow.com. The total value of all homes in 2014 reached 27.5 trillion dollars, up 1.8 trillion from 2013.

In 2013, home values had grown up to 25.7 trillion, up 1.9 trillion from 2012. From 2012 to 2013, home values rose by 7.9 percent. From 2013 to 2014, home values rose by 6.7 percent.

Between 2007 and 2011, home values had lost nearly 6.3 trillion. The attached graph indicates the new growth in comparison with the recession (updated through 2013). With 2014’s continued growth, the graph reveals a positive trend.

The value of homes is increasing, whether it’s through a rising inventory of new homes or prices themselves are going up (though probably both). So long as growth can remain consistent overall, the housing market should continue stabilizing and improving.

 

Sources: http://www.zillow.com/blog/us-homes-total-worth-27-5-trillion-166623/

http://www.zillow.com/blog/value-us-homes-to-top-25-trillion-141142/

FHA Lowering Mortgage Insurance Rates

by Tim Hart

The Federal Housing Administration announced that it will lower the cost of its mortgage insurance for potential borrowers. The White House released a statement that they will lower the mortgage insurance rates from 1.35% of the loan’s value, down to 0.85 percent. Mortgage insurance is designed to keep lenders safe whenever a borrower defaults on their loan.

The change to the mortgage insurance rates could save a first-time homebuyer $900 a year on their payments. For a lot of buyers sitting on the fence, this may be the starting gun for which they were waiting. The White House believes that more than 250,000 additional, potential home buyers will now be able to purchase a home and stay within their means. Homeowners who already have an FHA loan will have the opportunity to refinance and also see similar savings.

The FHA had raised mortgage insurance after the 2008 recession. However, rising home values, a larger, wealthier workforce, and declining foreclosure numbers gave them the confidence to let off slightly on the reins of the housing market.

How many buyers will be enticed into buying is yet to be seen, but anyone looking for or has an FHA loan should discuss the changes with their lender and see what potential savings could be had.

 

Source: http://money.cnn.com/2015/01/07/real_estate/fha-mortgage-insurance/index.html

Gallatin County, State Swap Land for Landfill

by Tim Hart

The Montana Land Board gave the preliminary go ahead for land swap between the state and county for the Logan Landfill. The agreement should benefit both parties and avoid bureaucratic money exchanges in the future.

Currently, the Logan Landfill is owned by the state. The county actually has to lease the land and at a pretty good sum. Each year, the county pays more than $26,000 in yearly rent for the 48-acre landfill. The waste district also pays $47,000 a year to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality for its permit. Under the agreement with the state, the rent on the landfill was also designed to increase by 3% each year.  Although the Logan Landfill does not operate on tax dollars but a $27 per ton tipping fee, it still came time to get ownership into county hands.

Of course, the state will not just give land away for free, even to one of its counties. The county has paid $900,000 for a piece of land located just west of the landfill, which they have put up in a direct swap with the state. The state would gain a large revenue from the farming leases already in place on the land.

The deal could prove very beneficial to both parties. The county would not have to pay the state rent anymore, while the state would not lose the counted on funds from the landfill. Under county ownership, one would expect the landfill to have more autonomy to make necessary decisions.

 

 

Source: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/county/logan-landfill-land-swap-on-track/article_8cf10efa-a1d2-5a6a-91d2-f6ba83b82eea.html?utm_medium=desktop&utm_source=block_937344&utm_campaign=blox

Manhattan Jurisdictional Area Now Taxable

by Tim Hart

The Gallatin County Commission will try to fix a nearly 36-year old loophole that allowed a 3.5 km sized district surrounding Manhattan to not pay taxes on their planning services. The district, created in 1978, was indoctrinated as a jurisdictional area. Within the jurisdictional area, as oppose to a tax district, property owners were never taxed for the planning services they received. Residents of the county and city did pay for those services.

When the problem was discovered in 1994, Manhattan and the Gallatin County entered into discussions to fix the problem. Now, with the County Commission’s approval, the County will be able to authorize mill levies to tax property owners in the district. Last year, the county paid about $3,500 for planning in the Manhattan city and surrounding area.

As of yet, no decision has been made on how much the property taxes within the district would increase. However, Manhattan has seen positive signs for new growth in the area, making planning services all the more important. Lots of new lots have been offered in the Centennial Village subdivision and an unnamed developer has been working on starting a new subdivision near Manhattan, but the details have not been made public.

Gallatin County, in general, continues to grow. Planning committees will become all the more important to keep the growth healthy, consistent and under control. Having the proper funding will keep the best people in those positions, helping keep real estate and new home construction in Gallatin County growing in a healthy manner.

 

Source: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/county/county-commission-set-to-fix--year-old-manhattan-planning/article_5415b898-8fbb-11e4-b622-03584dfd7f71.html

Bozeman Becoming a Ski Hub for Nation, World

by Tim Hart

Bozeman, Montana has fast become a winter sports haven for the nation and even the world. Within the last two months, Bozeman has seen major steps forward in both its Alpine and Nordic ski reputation.

Bozeman was honored by National Geographic as one of the top 25 best ski towns in the world. That’s right, not the nation, but the world.

Bozeman shared the honor with towns such as Whistler, Canada; Chamonix France; Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy; Aspen, Colorado; and Zermatt, Switzerland.

According to National Geographic, Bozeman stood out as the adventure capital of the Northern Rockies. The magazine enjoyed the working town feel of Bozeman, as oppose to other ski resort towns.

But Bozeman still offers the best of both worlds, with its two very different ski areas. Bridger Bowl, the non-profit, local ski area with its intense vertical and the famous Ridge offers a more day-to-day feel. Big Sky, on the other hand, offers the family vacation route, wining and dining its patrons every step of the way.

National Geographic also pointed to Bozeman’s surrounding mountains. Places like Hyalite also offer great winter activities like skiing, snow-shoeing, hiking and ice climbing.

In other news, Bozeman’s Nordic reputation may fast improve, thanks to the hard work of passionate locals. This past month, a non-profit organization called the Bridger Biathlon Club has reached two agreements to buy both the Crosscut Ranch and Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center. The organization plans on building a world-class Nordic Ski venue designed to attract everyone from locals to Olympic athletes.

The Bridger Biathlon Club bought Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center with the intention of continuing and expanding its Nordic operations. The organization has also signed a 3-year lease and purchase agreement for the nearby Crosscut Ranch with Jackson Financial Group. Jackson Financial Group had purchased the 259-acre ranch in a March auction. Over the past 25 years, the Crosscut Ranch could have had many different futures. At one point, the ranch had been on the track towards becoming a 2,500-unit subdivision.

Now, with both areas combined, the new cross country ski area will become one of the better cross country areas around, with more than 500 acres of total land. The Bridger Biathlon Club hopes to raise 10 million dollars by Nov. 15th 2017 to finalize the purchase and improve the surrounding infrastructure.

The biathlon club has already installed the newest, highest quality biathlon range at Bohart to make the area into a state-of-the-art training facility for high performing athletes. Biathlon combines cross-country skiing with target shooting and the sport has seen a rise in popularity due to its recent exposure in Olympic broadcasts. The range at Bohart has 12 Olympic targets and two Paralympic targets. 

After all the upgrades are completed, the cross-country ski area is on track to become a world class training facility, making the rocky west a much more viable option for Olympic winter sport training.

Now, with talks of a new, premier ice climbing/event center potentially being built at the Fairgrounds, coupled with the town’s recent indoctrination into the Ice Climbing World Cup circuit, Bozeman seems fast on its way to becoming the snow and ice sport capital of the Northwest.

The Bridger Canyon will now have Bridger Bowl and the new cross-country ski area literally a ski run away from each other (though probably an alpine one!). Coupled with Bozeman’s access to Big Sky and West Yellowstone, its hard not to see why Bozeman’s winter sport reputation has grown. Such a reputation can do a lot to attract visitors, athletes, students and families. Those looking to move to Bozeman may now be persuaded to make the plunge, now finding the area surrounded by such activity and buzz around winter sports.

 

Source: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/outdoors/bohart-ranch-crosscut-ranch-sold/article_8e1bcc88-7320-11e4-8940-7b60e3defb3d.html

http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/trips/best-ski-towns-photos/#/bozeman-montana-ski_47301_600x450.jpg

https://bozemanicetower.wordpress.com/

http://www.theuiaa.org/events-111-Bozeman-UIAA-Ice-Climbing-World-Cup-Montana-United-States-2014.html

 

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 320