BOZEMAN – An MSU Extension MontGuide provides information about the benefits of opening a Montana medical care savings account before Dec. 31.
The guide, “Montana Medical Care Savings Accounts,” offers advice on who might benefit.
Have you had any medical expenses during 2014 that are not covered by a health insurance policy or a flexible spending account (FSA)? If so, you can open a Montana Medical Care Savings Account (MSA) by Dec. 31 to cover those expenses. Up to $3,000 of your deposit in the account, per taxpayer, is deductible from your 2014 Montana adjusted gross income, thus reducing your taxes.
“This tax advantage does not apply to your federal income taxes and should not be confused with the Federal Health Savings Accounts (HSAs),” cautions Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist.
People should contact their financial institution, such as a bank, savings bank or credit union, to establish an MSA. A Montanan with taxable income over $17,100 could save about $207 in state income taxes by depositing the maximum $3,000 in a Montana MSA.
“It doesn’t matter if you have already paid your 2014 medical bills either by check, credit or debit card,” Goetting said. “You can add up those expenses and make a deposit by Dec. 31 of this year and reimburse yourself for those eligible medical expenses from your Montana MSA as late as Jan. 15, 2015.”
The key word is paid. You can reimburse yourself for paid eligible medical expenses as late as Jan. 15, 2015. But if you haven’t yet paid those bills because your health insurance company hasn’t sorted out what it will pay and what you still owe, you still can reimburse yourself for those 2014 expenses after Jan.15.
The amount you can use to reduce your Montana income is the total deposited, not the amount used for medical expenses during the tax year. For example, if you deposited $3,000 in an MSA but only used $100 for eligible medical expenses during 2014, you still get to reduce your income for Montana income tax purposes by $3,000. The remaining $2,900 is available for paying medical expenses in future years.
A husband and wife who each establish an individual MSA can receive a $6,000 deduction if they file a joint Montana income tax return. They will save about $414 on their state income taxes. Joint accounts for an MSA are not allowed. Only individual accounts are eligible for the Montana MSA deduction, thus husbands and wives must open separate MSA accounts.
MSA amounts held in the name of a husband or wife can be used to pay the medical bills of either spouse or their dependent children, Goetting said.
“If a husband had $6,000 in medical expenses during 2014, $3,000 from his own MSA and $3,000 from his wife’s MSA could be used for his bills,” said Goetting.
Eligible expenses include medical and dental insurance premiums, long-term care insurance, dental care (including orthodontists), eyeglasses or contacts, or prescription drugs that are paid during the year. Not covered are medical-related bills that have been already covered by a supplemental, primary or self-insured plan. Basically, Montana accepts as eligible expenses any that are listed in the IRS 502 Publication, “Medical and Dental Expenses,” which is on the Web at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf.
An MSU Extension MontGuide will help you decide if you would benefit from a Montana medical care savings account. The publication (MontGuide 199817 HR) is free if picked up from your local MSU County Extension office. Or, download it free from the web at http://msuextension.org/publications/FamilyFinancialManagement/MT199817HR.pdf.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:32
HELENA – Ninety-seven percent for oil and gas, 3 percent for everything else.
An analysis from The Wilderness Society shows that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has made almost all its land within Montana available for oil and gas development. Nada Culver, director of the society’s BLM Action Center, said the stats prove that the oil and gas industry has an unfair advantage.
“If you want to manage for conservation, for recreation, for wildlife, all of those things are really difficult when we’re faced with such an unbalanced situation in current management,” she said.
BLM resource management plans in western states were examined for the report, which found that the agency has strict standards for deciding which lands should be managed for recreation or the environment, but the same standards are not applied to oil and gas leasing decisions.
Culver said the BLM should address imbalances, identify areas for conservation and recreation, and incorporate Master Leasing Plans – which the agency is beginning to do.
“We want to support a direction that the agency is going and can go to really embrace the way the public feels,” she said, “that they’re their lands, that we all have an opportunity to value them and use them.”
She cited another detail from the report: Of the 36 million acres of BLM land under oil and gas leases throughout the West, only about 12.5 million are in production. The report, “Open for Business,” is online at wilderness.org.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:36
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “I Want To Be Recycled” is the theme of Keep America Beautiful’s 2014 America Recycles Day, which takes place annually on and around Nov. 15 throughout the country.
America Recycles Day, in its 17th year, educates people about the importance of recycling to our economy and environmental well-being and helps to motivate occasional recyclers to become everyday recyclers.
America Recycles Day celebrates the benefits of recycling and provides an educational platform that motivates people to take action to recycle more and recycle smarter, influencing recycling behaviors at work, at home and on the go.
“When material is recycled, you’re ‘giving your garbage another life’ as it becomes something new and valuable,” said Jennifer Jehn, president and chief executive officer of Keep America Beautiful.
“For example, a plastic bottle can be recycled into new containers, T-shirts and fleece jackets, park benches, plastic lumber, and more. America Recycles Day can inspire people to reduce, reuse and recycle – and realize that recyclable materials have the potential to become something bigger.”
“The United States has embraced recycling since the first America Recycles Day in 1997 and as a result, today, the vast majority of the population has curbside recycling programs. It is time to re-invigorate recycling by promoting more and better sustainable materials management to secure a healthier environment today and for future generations to come,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “There is much more to do and communities, businesses, and individuals each have a role to play in making recycling work for everyone. By increasing recycling, and reducing contamination in the recycling stream, we can provide the valuable resources essential to a growing manufacturing sector.”
Here are five actions people can take on and around America Recycles Day:
• Take the “I Recycle” pledge and tell us what you pledge to recycle more. Five people who take the pledge will win a park bench made from recycled content.
• Take a recycling “selfie” and post it to your social networks – you just might win a prize! All you have to do is take a photo of yourself recycling and post it with the words “#RecyclingSelfie” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.
• Visit IWantToBeRecycled.org to find your nearest recycling center, and learn the facts about what materials can be recycled and what they can become in their new lives.
• How can you get involved? Find events near you or host an event of your own.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:35
BOZEMAN – Farmers and ranchers gathered in Bozeman last month to learn about how climate change is affecting their livelihood, and what they can do to prepare for risks and manage them.
Montana State University environmental sciences professor Fabian Menalled said one example that everyone has encountered is cheatgrass.
His informal surveys show that almost all ag producers agree it’s become more of a problem, and he explained why.
“Cheatgrass grows in an environment with more CO2 and higher temperature,” he said, “and the challenges and opportunity is, we have to manage it.”
Pesticides can be an effective tool against cheatgrass, but Menalled said their effectiveness declines in certain climate conditions.
Cheatgrass isn’t the only challenge. Menalled said less rainfall, different timing for spring runoff and warmer temperatures earlier in the season all can affect production.
“Get engaged and understand what the costs of climate change are,” he said, “and eventually design an adaptive management program.”
Severe storms and extreme heat were also discussed at the forum.
Event coordinators included the Center for Rural Affairs, the Northern Plains Resource Council and Renewable Northwest.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:33
Toad, not Mr. Toad, just plain Toad, lives in all his grumpy, gigantic, glory, at Sandstone Gallery. He’s one of artist Leo Olson’s wrought iron creations. With help from his humans, he hops around the gallery whenever displays are updated, currently crouching on the floor near Cararra marble carvings by William Crain.
That juxtaposition points up one of Sandstone Gallery’s great strengths: the diversity of its artists.
Since the gallery’s opening as an artist’s co-op for the ArtWalk on Oct. 6, 2000, painters, wood carvers, etchers, photographers, stone carvers, jewelers, potters, glass workers and woodworkers have all shown their creations. Styles range from very traditional, to western, to impressionism, to abstract; from colorful flights of fancy to black and white.
The Sandstone Gallery’s location at 2913 Second Ave. N. was chosen originally for the amount of space in relationship to the rent as well as for its next-door neighbor, the Artspace Café, now out of business. In a short time, it became obvious that the new gallery was a bit off the beaten track, but the members refused to be discouraged. They got busy doing what every creative person loathes: marketing and promotion.
These days, press releases go consistently to the local papers and magazines as well as the broadcast media, along with paid ads and a telephone yellow pages listing.
The co-op format at Sandstone provides the artists with a place to display and sell their work at a reasonable cost. Retail galleries take a 50 percent to 60 percent commission. Sandstone members pay themselves back just 15 percent to defray rent and marketing costs. The nonprofit mode allows artists of varying levels of skill and experience to sell their work. Retail galleries not only often cater to a certain type of art, they also require a certain price point. Sandstone artists price their own works.
To keep things lively, both featured members and guest artists change every two to three months, and co-op members are required to rotate at least a third of their work for every ArtWalk.
A list of those who’ve been either a co-op member or guest artist reads like a who’s who of artists in Montana: Ben Steele, Leo Olson, Lyndon Pomeroy, Michiko Carlson, Phil Bell, Cliff Potts, Jean Albus and many, many more.
Creative persons love what they do, however tortured and driven the process may be.
“A quiet country scene is the subject of most of my paintings and oil is my medium of choice,” says Sue Hammersmark, a 15-year member. “There’s something about the way you apply paint to the canvas ... .”
Julie Pederson Atkins, a former co-op member, works with pencil on paper. “It’s a matter of caressing the paper,” she told Magic City Magazine in 2010. “I baby it. Paper isn’t just a surface to me. Right from the beginning I want it to be transformed.”
Lana Bittner gave up her day job to concentrate on art. She now works in watercolor with ink alcohol.
“The theme of my work is contemporary art for the modern world,” she says. She left her job at a local bank in 2001 and joined Sandstone gallery in 2004. “This is my passion, and it’s definitely more fun than banking.” A current featured artist, she sold three pieces at the October ArtWalk.
Andres Anderson, who has specialized in airplanes for m much of his career, quotes from Robert Henri: “When we look at anything, we see beyond the objects we draw. We should draw with this spiritual sight. The value of a work of art depends from the flight the observer takes from it.”
One word describes Sandstone Gallery: Comfortable. Or maybe two words: comfortable and fun.
For every ArtWalk, Sandstone offers heavy hors d’oeuvres and beverages, a potluck of goodies that lures in many browsers. The artists are also there to discuss their techniques and inspiration with patrons as well. Visitors range in age from preschool to octogenarian, and all questions receive a kind and respectful answer. It’s an ongoing, nonthreatening soiree.
Musicians lend another dimension to the evening. Just as dusk settled in during this October’s ArtWalk, the Dixieland combo, the Second Avenue Stompers, with photographer John Havener on the tuba, entertained on the sidewalk. Patrons flowed around the musicians into the gallery, circulated, picked artists’ brains and purchased everything from a greeting card to a painting.
But, alas, poor Toad remains homeless. Could that be why he looks so glum? Why not come in and give him a pat on his rusty head at: Sandstone Gallery, 2913 Second Ave. N. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, telephone 256-5837.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 10:16
Recently Billings was treated to a debate between the two men running for the lone Montana U.S. House of Representatives seat. Ryan Zinke (R) and John Lewis (D) spent the evening making sure a 30-second commercial could not be the focus of anything they might say. Too late, ad men from D.C. had the ads in the can before the debate was even announced. Accuracy and clarity are not their hallmarks.
To make matters worse the people asking the questions did not know enough to ask good follow up questions. For example, both candidates support the building of the XL pipeline to obtain American energy independence.
A great follow-up question would have been, “Sirs, North American oil from Canada and the Bakken will be delivered to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, owned by the Royal Saudi and Royal Dutch families. They will turn the crude oil into diesel fuel to be delivered to South and Central American countries. How does that reduce our dependence on the world energy market?”
But alas, the response from both, “I will put America first,” went unchallenged.
All six candidates for the two federal open seats were invited to address a germane question each week. On week one, four of the candidates determined not to answer because A) The question was too difficult B) It was their bowling night C) It is none of your business what or if they think D) Their handlers will not let them answer questions embarrassing to their donors E) All of the above.
All answers that were received are printed here with minor edits for clarity.
Canada has implemented cost containment of prescription drugs while guaranteeing reasonable profits to the pharmaceuticals through a process much like what our Public Service Commission does for energy costs. Canadian citizens have safe pharmaceuticals and enjoy triple digit savings compared to what American citizens have to pay. It would appear that implementing the Canadian system would save taxpayers massive amounts in the Medicaid and Medicare systems as well as personal/family health care costs. Would you favor implementing a cost containment system for prescription drugs in the United States or would you not favor such a system. Please explain.
Amanda Curtis (D): “As Senator, I will fight directing the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers to reduce the costs seniors pay for prescriptions. Pharmaceutical corporations should not be making billions off of our seniors. That’s why I support the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act.”
Mike Fellows (L): “We will continue to have high cost drugs in the United States, because we are in a sense subsidizing the rest of the world. Having a Public Service-type Commission determining how much drug will cost won’t work.
“With the FDA process, getting a new drug on the market can take anywhere from 10 to 12 years, at a cost of over 800 million dollars. Drug patients only last for 18 years, before we see those generic drugs on the market produced by the competition. Streamlining the process will help. We could also legalize obtaining drugs across the border in Canada.”
American citizens and institutions seem to be under constant cyber attack. The attacks of last Christmas season on Target stores claimed billions of dollars and volumes of personal information sold on the black market. It was reported that the attacks came from criminal organizations in the Ukraine and Russia.
The recent attacks against JP Morgan are also thought to come from Russian criminals and, according to Reuters and the New York Daily News, in collaboration with the Russian government (in retaliation for U.S. sanctions imposed for Russian involvement in the Ukrainian civil war).
If proof is found implicating foreign government involvement in cyber attacks on U.S. citizens and financial institutions, or proof is found implicating foreign criminal elements but extradition is not forth coming, what should the response of the U.S. government be?
Roger Roots (L): “Call me skeptical of claims that the federal government needs more power to protect Americans from ‘cyber attacks.’ The CIA and the defense establishment have been pushing this line for years. Newt Gingrich and Richard Clark (among many others) have even falsely claimed that the power grid can be shut down or that nuclear plants can be hacked by cyber terrorists. Of course such systems are off-line and not connected to the internet. It is propaganda aimed at controlling and censoring the internet.”
Steve Daines (R): Montanans have seen firsthand how many federal websites, such as the Obamacare website Healthcare.gov, often make it too easy for hackers to obtain Personal Identifiable Information. That’s why I’ve fought to secure increased accountability on all federal websites and introduced legislation to address the serious security risks that exist specifically with Healthcare.gov.
“As a member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and as someone with more than a decade of high-tech experience, I know the risks of foreign cyber-attacks firsthand. Cyber breaches pose serious threats, and those responsible must be held accountable. I’m committed to finding solutions that protect Montanans’ civil liberties and privacy.”
Mike Fellows (L): “Companies need better security to stop these attacks on our information. U.S. sanctions on Russia don’t work and diplomatic solutions aren’t working either. Better investment in the educational development of computer security systems will help to stop these attacks. If our U.S. foreign policies are being used to foster these attacks, then we should be looking at policy as well.”
Ryan Zinke (R): “We live in an era of modern warfare, the likes of which has never been seen before. There are few aspects of our lives that are untouched by technology. We depend on the internet to conduct businesses, power our electrical grid, and even maintain our economy. Should our energy grid or other technological infrastructure components be attacked, it poses a major threat to the security of the United States.
“Should evidence of cyber attacks be uncovered, the response of the U.S. government should be to take a firm approach with the perpetrators of cyber attacks, while also focusing on developing cyber counterattack measures and aggressively pursuing offensive techniques to address cyber security threats. However, while pursuing these methods, there needs to be oversight and accountability that protect and promote information security for individuals.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:54
A cattle drive and parade kick off the Northern International Livestock Exposition at 2 p.m. Saturday. The cattle drive, which goes from downtown to MetraPark, encompasses 75 head of cattle, a trail boss, outriders, chuckwagon and bunk wagon followed by a motor-less parade.
NILE itself begins on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Among the highlights:
Lou Taubert Cattle Drive
A part of the NILE’s mission is to respect our western traditions and heritage. The idea of a western parade and cattle drive was born from the desire to share with our modern culture our agricultural roots. The event will encompass a cattle drive assembled by the Yellowstone County Museum, which will also serve as the grand marshal.
The proposed route will go west down First Avenue North and back on Second Avenue North, then continue out to MetraPark.
Elite ranch rodeos from across the region sanction with the NILE. All rodeos are guaranteed a spot for one team to compete in the NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals (with the exception of the Wyoming State Fair Ranch Rodeo Finals that will fill two teams slots).
Again this year, the NILE has sanctioned with the WRCA, which will allow the first place team to compete in the Ranch Rodeo World Finals in Amarillo, Texas.
This year’s NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Rimrock Auto Arena.
Cat-Griz Shoot Out
Date: Oct 16
Time: 07:30 p.m.
Location: Rimrock Auto Arena
The biggest sports rivalry in the state of Montana will take on the toughest bulls and broncs at this year’s NILE ProRodeo Cat/Griz Rodeo Shoot Out. In a unique competitive style, the rodeo teams from each school will draft Pro-Rodeo Contestants to compete for their school earning points throughout the night.
Up for grabs will be prize money offered by the NILE garnered from $1 of every paid ticket. After the dust settles the winning school will receives 60 percent of the prize money while the other school will receive 40 percent.
The money will be awarded to each college in the form of Scholarships to be given to collegiate rodeo athletes.
Date: Oct 14-18
Time: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
These vendors showcase authentic western art or jewelry, saddles, tack, and western wear as well as livestock equipment, feed and supplements, and cattle genetic based companies.
Don’t forget that it’s the only place to get NILE merchandise. It all unfolds at MetraPark in Billings.
In 2013, The NILE Stock Show and Rodeo saw:
• Over 1,000 head of livestock on the grounds.
• Total five-day attendance: 40,000 people.
• Visitors were from 38 states, and 85 percent were from Montana.
• Visitors came from several Canadian Provinces and other countries.
Date: Oct 17-18
Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Location: Ford Super Duty Arena (Montana Pavilion)
The 2014 Horse Extravaganza is a two-day horse showcase Spectators will have the opportunity to view a wide range of equine demonstrations, Stallion Row and peruse the equine based trade show booths and exhibits.
• NILE Raffle Filly
• Stallion Row- a breed showcase of horses
•The Newest in Equine Equipment and Tack
• Horse-shoeing Demonstrations
If it’s related to horses, the Horse Haven trade show should have it.
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 October 2014 10:57
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here are hunting outlook reports for antelope, elk and deer in this section of Montana. The reports are from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Things are looking up for Montana antelope with populations continuing to recover from previous years’ winter mortality and reduced recruitment in central and Eastern Montana.
This year, there are even a few more special licenses available reflecting that reduced but improving status.
Successful antelope license applicants may recognize increased fawn production in many areas as populations respond to generally favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014.
Montana’s antelope archery season will close Oct. 10 and the general rifle season for antelope will run Oct. 11-Nov. 9.
For more information on antelope hunting in Montana, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov, click “Hunting” then click Hunting Guide.
Antelope numbers throughout south central Montana are stable to increasing from the past couple of years. Fawn production increased dramatically in the spring of 2014 and should result in hunters seeing more antelope than last year. In areas impacted by bluetongue in 2008, population numbers remain below average, but are increasing.
With elk populations continuing to be strong across most of Montana these are good times for elk hunters.
In some areas of Western Montana, where populations have declined, wildlife biologists have recently observed increased recruitment of calves.
In many hunting districts, however, because access to private lands can be difficult, which can affect hunting success given landownership patterns and distribution of elk.
Montana’s general, five-week long, elk hunting season opens Oct. 25.
Even if you didn’t draw a special permit this year, remember Montana offers numerous opportunities to hunt for elk with just a general hunting license.
Elk numbers along the Beartooth Face and in the Crazy Mountains, Big Snowy Mountains, Bull Mountains and southeastern Belt Mountains are at all-time highs, though most are restricted to private land where access is difficult. Harvest will likely be slightly higher than last year.
Mule deer numbers have experienced recent declines in many areas of Montana but should be improving with favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014.
Recent seasonal insect-related disease outbreaks have reduced white-tailed deer populations in parts of eastern, central and west-central Montana. Other areas have stable populations with favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014 enhancing recruitment levels across the state.
Bottom line, deer hunters in Montana will find improving populations but a mix of hunting opportunities when the general season opens Oct. 25.
Mule deer numbers throughout south central Montana are stable or up slightly from last year, though they remain 30 to 40 percent below the long-term average. Harvest likely will be similar to last year.
White-tailed deer numbers are quite low at lower elevations and north of the Yellowstone River, at least partially because of last summer’s outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, commonly known as EHD. Numbers closer to the mountains, where the bugs that spread the disease are not present, remain reasonably strong.
Whitetail buck harvest opportunities likely will be similar to last year, while antlerless harvest will decline due to significant reductions in B-tag numbers.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:51
The 1,200 volunteers who teach Hunter Education remind all hunters there are four basic rules of gun safety.
1. Always point the muzzle of your gun in a safe direction.
2. Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.
3. Always be sure of your target and beyond.
4. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
Hunting is a safe activity. It is up to each hunter to make responsible decisions to keep it that way.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:50
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee recommends the use of bear spray and urges hunters to learn other bear-aware safety measures.
• Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
• Hunt with a partner, leave detailed plans with someone and check-in periodically.
• Pay attention to fresh bear sign. Look for bear tracks, scat, and concentrations of natural foods.
• Use caution when hunting areas that have evidence of bear activity or areas with scavenging birds such as magpies, ravens, or crows.
Most grizzly bears will leave an area if they sense human presence. Hunters who observe a grizzly bear or suspect a bear is nearby should leave the area. If you do encounter a grizzly, stay calm, don’t run, and assess the situation by trying to determine if the bear is actually aware of you. Is it, for instance, threatening or fleeing? Always keep the bear in sight as you back away, and leave the area.
When to use bear spray
• Bear spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a bear.
How to use bear spray
• Each person should carry a can of bear spray.
• If a bear is moving toward you from a distance of 30-60 feet direct the spray downward toward the front of the bear with a slight side to side motion so that the bear spray billows up and creates a wide cloud that acts as a barrier between you and the bear.
• If the bear is within 30 feet spray continuously at the front of the bear until it breaks off its charge.
• Spray additional bursts if the bear continues toward you. Sometimes just the noise of the spray and the appearance of the spray cloud is enough to deter a bear from continuing its charge.
• Spray additional bursts if the bear makes additional charges.
• A full canister of bear spray is essential for bear encounters.
• The expiration date on the spray should be checked annually.
Selecting a bear spray
Purchase products that are clearly labeled “for deterring attacks by bears,” and that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
No deterrent is 100 percent effective, but compared to all others, including firearms, bear spray has demonstrated success in a variety of situations in fending off threatening and attacking bears and preventing injury to the person and animal involved.
For more on living with bears and being bear aware, see the FWP home page at fwp.mt.gov; then click Be Bear Aware.
For information, go to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:49