HELENA – Fans of Montana’s national parks are watching carefully as Congress puts President Obama’s budget under the microscope this month. The president is proposing an increase of $55 million in the National Park Service budget for 2015, including $10 million as a “Centennial Initiative” to get the parks ready for the agency’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2016.
According to John Garder, budget and appropriations director for the National Parks Conservation Association, it’s a promising start after years of budget-trimming have taken a toll on park maintenance and staffing.
“It’s a modest increase over last year,” he said. “It doesn’t get parks back to where they were just a few years ago, before damaging cuts, to ensure that people can have a really inspiring and a safe experience out in our parks.”
Garder said additional park funding is much needed, for a system that has put off about $12 billion worth of maintenance in recent years. From historic resources to water and sewer systems, visitor centers, roads and trails, he said, many things are in disrepair.
“The main cause for the growth of the deferred-maintenance backlog is the decline in Congress’ investment in the construction account, which creates so many jobs,” Garder said. “In today’s dollars, the construction account for the National Park Service has been cut nearly in half, just in the last four years.”
According to the Interior Department, Glacier National Park attracts more than 2 million visitors a year, and puts more than $170 million into communities near the park.
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:26
Fish, Wildlife and Parks
State wildlife officials canceled a planned discussion that was to take place in Lewistown last week on a bison conservation and management plan for Montana.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks had invited a diverse group of interests and a number of state and community leaders to continue to participate in a facilitated public discussion in Lewistown on April 15-16. That gathering, which would have been the second since September, was canceled.
“We worked to gather a large group of fundamentally different interests and constituencies, but there remained serious questions about intent and representation that are difficult to resolve,” said Jeff Hagener, director of FWP in Helena. “The gathering was designed to review issues and possible alternatives for bison conservation and management, but at this point it would be counterproductive to proceed with the discussion.”
The discussion group included conservation and agricultural representatives.
, state and federal agencies, county commissioners, and state legislators and members of the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission.
Hagener thanked the citizens who agreed to participate in the planned conversation and said FWP will attempt to reconsider existing and emerging concerns on Montana’s bison management alternatives.
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:25
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Billings Field Office is planning several prescribed burning operations on BLM-managed land in Yellowstone County during the upcoming spring months.
The prescribed burns will reduce hazardous fuel levels under controlled and prescriptive conditions. This proactive approach during cool, wet spring conditions will help reduce the threat of wildfire spreading from public lands onto private property, a news release said.
Burning will occur at Pompeys Pillar National Monument, located 25 miles east of Billings, and at the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area, about two miles southeast of Laurel. Burning is also scheduled for the Mill Creek area located approximately 17 miles north of Pompeys Pillar.
During prescribed burn activity, visitors need to use caution accessing these areas for their safety, as well as the safety of the firefighters conducting operations. Some smoke maybe visible in the areas. All prescribed burns depend on weather and fuels conditions that will be monitored closely by firefighters.
For more information about prescribed burning or to get advice about maintaining defensible space in wildland-urban areas, call the Billings Interagency Dispatch Center at (406) 896-2900.
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:23
It’s difficult to overcome stereotypes of senior living communities. Despite the fact that the level of available care and amenities, and the choice and type of facilities, have evolved significantly over the past several decades, people still tend to think of senior housing as the “old folks’ homes” of the past: antiseptic, white-walled, linoleum-lined institutions with cold nurses, hot temperatures, and nasty food. It’s no wonder then that the majority of people continue to buy into three myths about senior living institutions that are not only flat-out wrong but can actually be detrimental to the well-being of their aging loved ones. The three myths of senior living communities are:
1. All senior housing options are the same. The reality is that today’s senior living industry is similar to the hotel industry with a range of choices for every lifestyle, need and budget. You can find low-end chains that offer only the very basic in care and amenities, similar to a Motel 6. There are family-run operations, set up in residential homes, not unlike bed-and-breakfasts. And then there are high-end luxury options, comparable to a Four Seasons hotel. Too often, family members and seniors avoid even considering senior living options out of fear of the unknown and a misunderstanding of what present-day senior communities are all about. They are, unfortunately, relying on outdated childhood memories of when a grandparent or a great-aunt went off to a nursing home and never came back.
This does not have to be the case. At the higher end, senior living communities can provide lifestyle activity coordinators instead of program directors, and employ chefs instead of dieticians. They can offer on-site spas and appropriately equipped gyms, massage therapy services, manicures and pedicures, movie theaters, outdoor gardens, and gourmet dinners with wine on the menu. One new site even has a “man cave,” complete with pool tables and beer taps.
2. Entering a senior living community actually hastens the end of someone’s life. Assuming that a senior is better off “aging at home” can result in unnecessary suffering and even tragedy. Many seniors who could benefit from just a little added care are often found living alone, far away from family, largely isolated and devoid of much human interaction, and typically at high risk of physical falls, malnourishment, and depression. These seniors are perfect candidates for an assisted living community because, once they are living in a place where they have access to medical care, personal assistance, medication management, good nutrition, opportunities for mental and physical activity, and a chance to make friends and socialize, they truly thrive. In fact, several new studies show that not only does a move to an assisted living community not hasten a resident’s demise but, in fact, it can actually ensure a greater quantity — and a better quality — of life.
At many senior living communities there are residents who have renewed their childhood hobbies, or taken up new ones like writing, painting or billiards. There are residents who always have a dinner or coffee companion. They can enjoy on-site book groups and religious services. They can play checkers or Wii. Residents often enjoy unexpected romances and, in some cases, marriages. Family members, freed from the worry and guilt of seeing their loved ones in less-than-ideal circumstances, tend to visit more often, strengthening long-worn family ties through new opportunities for quality time and stress-free activities.
3. Only the very wealthy, and the very poor, can afford to live in a senior living community. The fact is that retirement and assisted living communities have been consciously created by senior housing developers to be very affordable for middle-class consumers. The monthly cost of assisted living varies, but the average for a more upscale residence is between $4,200 and $6,200 a month. At first glance, that sounds like a lot of money, and many a family member immediately thinks, “There is no way my mother can afford that.”
But the cost of assisted living needs to be carefully compared with the total cost of living at home. Ongoing expenses of seniors staying in their houses might include rent or mortgage payments; property taxes and homeowners insurance; utilities, such as electricity, heating oil or propane, water, trash pickup, cable, phone and Internet service; home maintenance costs, including lawn care, snow removal, tree care; routine and major repairs to the home (and appliances and other needed home equipment like an air conditioner or furnace); car maintenance; and food and cleaning supplies.
Additionally, as a parent or sibling ages, there are likely to be new costs including outside help with laundry, housekeeping, home upkeep and meal preparation; real-time monitoring devices and medical equipment; home health care; and transportation for medical appointments and other necessities. Those expenses, when taken in their entirety, are likely to be almost as much as or equal to the flat-fee monthly cost of an assisted living community. And most people are surprised when they realize that not only can their parents afford to live at one of these communities, but they actually have leftover funds.
Some seniors, of course, won’t have quite enough monthly income to pay the total or to pay for incidentals and will have to begin to tap their financial assets, whether that means selling their home, pulling funds out of an IRA or 401K or beginning to pay down their life savings. In other cases, children or siblings will help pay for the difference. And there are other options as well. Couples can share a unit, making for a discounted overall rate. Many communities offer smaller studio apartments and two residents can share a two-bedroom suite, which helps cut the monthly cost.
What most aging seniors need is some oversight by professionals who understand their unique needs. They need to be treated with kindness and dignity, like any other person whether they’re still sharp or are prone to forgetfulness, and whether they remain physically strong or are in need of a walker. Seniors will find all of that in abundance at today’s retirement and assisted living communities. For new residents, living away from the life they’ve always known is an adjustment, but—more often than not—they quickly realize that it’s a change for the better. And their family members and other loved ones soon realize that the three myths about senior living communities are just that.
Dwayne J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, currently with 28 senior living communities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of “My Mother, My Son.” Visit him online at www.mymothermyson.com.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:20
As you retire, there are variables you can’t control; investment performance and fate are certainly toward the top of the list. Your approach to withdrawing and preserving your retirement savings, however, may give you more control over your financial life.
Drawing retirement income without draining your savings is a challenge, and the response to it varies per individual. Today’s retirees will likely need to be more flexible and look at different withdrawal methods and tax and lifestyle factors.
Should you go by the 4% rule? For decades, retirees were cautioned to withdraw no more than 4% of their retirement balances annually (adjusted north for inflation as the years went by). This “rule” still has merit (although sometimes the percentage must be increased out of necessity). T. Rowe Price has estimated that someone retiring with a typical 60 percent/40 percent stock/bond ratio in their portfolio has just a 13 percent chance of depleting retirement assets across 30 years if he or she abides by the 4 percent rule. A 7 percent initial withdrawal rate invites an 81 percent chance of outliving your retirement assets in 30 years (individual.troweprice.com/staticFiles/Retail/Shared/PDFs/retPlanGuide.pdf).
That sounds like a pretty good argument for the 4 percent rule in itself. However, while the 4 percent rule regulates your withdrawals, it doesn’t regulate portfolio performance. If the markets don’t do well, your portfolio may earn less than 4 percent, and if your investments repeatedly can’t make back the equivalent of what you withdraw, you will risk depleting your nest egg over time.
Or perhaps the portfolio percentage method? Some retirees elect to withdraw X percent of their portfolio in a year, adjusting the percentage based on how well or poorly their investments perform. As this can produce greatly varying annual income even with responsive adjustments, some retirees take a second step and set upper and lower limits on the dollar amount they withdraw annually. This approach is more flexible than the 4 percent rule, and in theory you will never outlive your money.
Or maybe the spending floor approach? That’s another approach that has its fans. You estimate the amount of money you will need to spend in a year and then arrange your portfolio to generate it. This implies a laddered income strategy, with the portfolio heavily weighted towards bonds and away from stocks. This is a more conservative approach than the two methods above: with a low equity allocation in your portfolio, only a minority of those assets are exposed to stock market volatility, and yet they can still capture some upside with a foot in the market.
Attention has to be paid to tax efficiency. Many people have amassed sizable retirement savings, yet give little thought as to the order of their withdrawals. Generally speaking, there is wisdom in taking money out of taxable accounts first, then tax-deferred accounts and lastly tax-exempt accounts. This withdrawal order gives the assets in the tax-deferred and tax-exempt accounts some additional time to grow. A smartly conceived withdrawal sequence may help your retirement savings to last several years longer than they would in its absence(online.wsj.com, March 7, 2011).
Keeping healthy might help you save more in two ways. Increasingly, people want to work until age 70, or longer. Many assume they can, but their assumption may be flawed. The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 50 percent of current retirees had left the workforce earlier than they planned, with personal or spousal health concerns a major factor (www.dailyfinance.com, Sept. 3, 2012).
When you eat right, exercise consistently and see a doctor regularly, you may be bolstering your earning potential as well as your constitution. Health problems can hurt your income stream and reduce your chances to get a job, and medical treatments can eat up time that you could use in other ways. Good health can mean fewer ER visits, fewer treatments and fewer hospital stays, all saving you money that might otherwise come out of your retirement fund.
Fidelity figures that a couple retiring now at age 65 will spend $240,000 (in 2012 dollars) on retirement health expenses across their remaining years. That $240,000 doesn’t even include dental, over-the-counter drug and long term care costs (and as a reminder, many eye, ear and dental care costs are not even covered under Medicare or by Medigap policies). Every year you work may mean another year of health insurance coverage as well as income (www.marketwatch.com, Dec. 6, 2012).
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:15
Q: This question came from Dave in Bozeman:
My 72-year-old mother was almost a victim to a foreign inheritance scam. She could hardly believe her luck when an attorney in London emailed her, claiming to be relieved to have finally located her, because he was administering the will of someone who was distantly related to her and very wealthy. He said the deceased had left her a vast amount of money. After exchanging a few emails, he eventually called her at 4 in the morning asking her if she was “ready to receive the money?” He instructed her to go to Western Union and wire him $350 for the transfer fee. Fortunately she balked because she just didn’t have the money. When she told me about the incident, I had to convince her that this was a scam and she was lucky she didn’t lose any money. After she finally believed me, she was ashamed of herself. How can people protect themselves these days from unscrupulous scam artists?
A: Your mother shouldn’t be ashamed, because she is hardly alone. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population falls for one kind of scam or another each year, according to FTC research. Studies show that the average fraud victim is between 55 and 65 years old.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that foreign-based inheritance and lottery fraud alone bilks Americans out of literally billions of dollars a year. Moreover, the FTC estimates that more than 90 percent of lottery scams go unreported because the victims are too ashamed to file a complaint.
Elderly people are often the target of scams because they tend to be more vulnerable. Con artists know that they are generally on fixed incomes and the offer of money makes for pretty good “bait” to lure them into a scam.
To spot and avoid scams of all types, including fraudulent lotteries, “business opportunities” and Ponzi schemes, here are 10 tips from Doug Shadel, a leading expert and author on fraudulent schemes and Senior State Director of AARP Washington:
1. If anybody ever asks you to pay a fee to collect a “prize” you have won, they are trying to scam you.
2. If anybody ever invites you to play a foreign-based lottery – or tells you that you have won such a lottery – they are trying to scam you. How do we know this? Because foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.
3. Fraudsters will try to get you whipped into an emotional state of excitement. It doesn’t matter if the emotion is thrill, grief, guilt or anger – getting you into the emotional state is the goal. When you are in that state, you literally cannot access the rational part of your brain.
4. Do not engage in personal conversation with people attempting to sell you an investment opportunity or “process your winnings.” They will collect personal details they can use to push you into the emotional state they need you in.
5. With investment opportunities, make sure the person trying to sell you the investment product is properly licensed and registered. In the State of Montana, you can call the Commissioner of Insurance and Securities at 1-800-332-6148 to make sure the agent is properly licensed and the product is properly registered. Also, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers a Broker Check Database at BrokerCheck.FINRA.org.
Finally, beware of investments sold by friends or members of an affinity group to which you belong.
6. Before investing, investigate and fully understand what the company does to earn the return it is promising. If you don’t know how the company makes its money, it may be a Ponzi scheme.
7. All that glitters is not gold. Never buy coins (or other investment opportunities) from a telemarketer, and never put an excessive amount of your investments in one type of vehicle – like gold.
8. Even if you meet these salespeople in person and find yourself impressed with their offices and marketing materials, it could still be a scam. If you’re bilking people out of millions of dollars, you can afford to put a pretty glossy façade on it all.
9. Learn more about how scam artists work their black magic. Read “Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Clever Cons,” a book by AARP’s Washington State director, Doug Shadel.
10. Log onto the AARP Consumer Protection Resource Center for the latest scams and schemes at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/
The old adage still applies today: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:13
(StatePoint) Do your relatives know the facts about your personal medical history? What about your family history and their risk for disease?
A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe it’s important to know their family medical history, yet only a third actually gather specifics, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This has public health officials concerned, as a number of diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and depression, have been known to run in families.
Family medical histories can be collected at family reunions and holidays. Explain that you’re creating a record the whole family can use to receive better health care. Remember to speak less and listen more.
â€¢ Provide multiple choices. Some people may be more willing to share health information in face-to-face conversations, others by phone or e-mail. Let them choose.
â€¢ Speak less, listen more. Keep your questions short and neutral. Medical diseases are not moral failings, but feeling judged is likely to get your relatives to clam up. So listen without comment.
â€¢ Respect privacy. Just because this information is to be shared, thereâ€™s no need to make Uncle Jimâ€™s prostate problems the focus of discussion at the next family barbeque.
You can keep your family medical history current by using free Web services such as the governmentâ€™s Family Health Portrait Tool, available at http://familyhistory.hhs.gov. After information is collected about grandparents, parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles and cousins, it organizes it into a diagram for health care professionals to better individualize diagnosis, treatment and prevention plans.
To find out more about how your family history can affect your risk for diseases such as prostate cancer, visit www.pcf.org.
Then take the opportunity to collect a family history the next time your family is together. It might just save a life.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:11
Rimrock Promotions will hold the 31st anniversary Spring Home Improvement Show this weekend at the Expo Center and Montana Pavilion at MetraPark.
The show is free to the public and will open Friday, March 7, at noon and run through Sunday, March 9, at 5 p.m.
More than 650 exhibits were exposed to more than 30,000 people who attended the 2013 Show, making it the largest attended home show in a five-state area.
More than $30,000 has been allocated in advertising and promoting the show, along with innovative grand prizes.
When the show first started 30 years ago in the corridors of Rimrock Mall, it was typical for exhibitors to come only hours before the show to set up their displays. As the show has grown over the years and the complexity of the displays has increased, some exhibits start setting up as early as 10 days prior to the event.
The show was located at Rimrock Mall for its first two years and consisted of 92 exhibits. In the third year, the show moved to the Holiday Inn Trade Center. The Trade center was a brand new building and gave the show the ability to grow to 175 exhibits.
After five years the show expanded to two buildings – The Trade Center and the Ramada Inn Convention Center, allowing for 250 exhibits. After seven more years at these two buildings, the Expo Center at MetraPark was built. The show moved over to the newly built Expo Center which gave the show the opportunity to expand to 450 exhibits.
Over the past four years the Spring Home Improvement Show has expanded to encompass both the Expo Center and Montana Pavilion at MetraPark and is bursting at the seams with over 650 exhibit spaces.
The Spring Home Improvement Show is considered the largest trade show of any kind in a five-state area and the fall show is the largest fall trade show in the state.
In an era of national economic recovery, the major expansion of the show, and the large waiting list of businesses trying to get in the show, truly indicates the economy in and around Billings is thriving.
Rimrock Promotions has been a family owned and operated business since its inception 30 years ago and continues to be today, three generations later. The show is currently developed and managed by Mark Hedin, Rhonda Hedin, Beau Hedin and Devon Hedin.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:48
(StatePoint) What’s growing on your windows? If you have wood windows, or even dirty window sills, the answer could be mold.
“When materials in the home, such as wood window frames or wood window sills, come in contact with moisture for an extended period of time, mold can grow,” says John Stark, marketing manager for Simonton Windows. “The key is the presence of an organic food source.”
And mold growth can be hazardous to your health, causing respiratory problems and allergic reactions. So how do you reduce your home’s risk for mold?
• You may see your windows “sweat” during the winter or summer months because of varying humidity levels inside the home. Without proper ventilation, moisture can accumulate on windows and walls from daily household activities such as hot showers, boiling water and opening dishwashers after a cleaning cycle. Use ventilation fans and dehumidifiers to minimize condensation and help reduce humidity in the home.
• If your windows have major air leaks, don’t close properly or are failing to act as a solid barrier to the environment, then it’s time to replace them. Opt for vinyl window frames, such as those from Simonton Windows, which won’t provide an organic food source for mold. More information can be found at www.Simonton.com.
• Keep window frame surfaces clean. Even if tiny particles of organic debris are found on or around the surfaces of a vinyl window in a moisture-rich area, you could potentially find mold growth. What makes up this debris? It can be anything from fragments of pollen to animal dander to insect pieces to normal household dust.
• Reduce the chance of condensation in your home. Use ceiling fans, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom to increase ventilation. Leave interior room and closet doors open. Consider reducing the number of house plants.
• If your blinds or window coverings are closed all the time, condensation can get “trapped” in between the window treatments and the windows, creating a damp environment that may encourage mold growth. Routinely open window coverings to increase ventilation near windows. Additionally, ensure air vent deflectors are placed on floor vents to reroute air into the room rather than straight up against a window.
While installing vinyl windows in the home is a smart start, homeowners also have to do their part – keep the home well ventilated and clean during all seasons to reduce mold.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:46
(StatePoint) Your backyard is a space where you enjoy quality time with your family all year long. But accidents can happen anywhere - even in the oasis of your backyard. For parents, taking extra safety precautions out back should be just as important as childproofing done indoors.
To prep and maintain your yard for outdoor safe play and relaxation, here are several important steps:
• Lawn: Remove tree stumps and level concrete footings to avoid tripping. Lawn debris such as rocks could become projectiles when cutting the grass. So be sure to clear the yard. Additionally, children should never be nearby while you’re using motorized equipment. Store potentially dangerous tools, equipment and chemicals completely out of the reach of children, such as in a locked shed or garage.
• Fencing: A yard without a fence is like a house without walls. Fences help protect children from danger, keeping toddlers out of swimming pools, hot tubs, ponds, or away from traffic or strangers. Fences can also improve pet safety, keeping your pets in your yard and other animals out, and can reduce your liability by preventing injuries to uninvited guests on your property.
With that in mind, be sure your fences and gates are functional and free of rust that can render them useless or dangerous.
“Rusty metal gate hardware that no longer functions properly or becomes a threat to children is a top homeowner concern, according to our research,” says Jim Paterson, senior vice president of D&D Technologies, which manufactures gate latches and hinges made of ultra-strong engineering polymers.
Eliminate this worry by installing high-quality fencing impervious to seasonal weather, ground settling and other factors that can cause gates to become misaligned over time. Opt for gate hardware that can be easily adjusted to function properly over the long-term. For example, some models of TruClose self-closing tension adjustable hinges are vertically and horizontally adjustable.
Additionally, be sure to install pool barrier access gates with adjustable self-closing hinges like TruClose and self-latching gates where the latches are out of the reach of children, such as the Magnalatch Safety Gate Latch. Both products carry lifetime warranties and are adjustable both vertically and horizontally for easy adjustments.
Homeowners can peruse a bevy of rust-free gate hardware and child safety latches online at www.ddtechglobal.com or in person under the Stanley Hardware brand available through most Lowe’s stores.
• Sun Protection: When the sun is bearing down, skin can be susceptible to burns and permanent damage year-round. And children’s skin can be even more sensitive to harmful UV rays. Your yard should have plenty of shady areas to seek respite. Plant trees and watch them grow. Install a canopy. Adorn patio furniture with an umbrella.
Your backyard can be one of the most exciting places for your children to play through the entire year. A little prevention along the way will keep it safe and fun.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:45