Lincoln County Commissioner Josh Letcher, representing District 3, was sworn in Dec. 19, but while he has spent months becoming familiar with county government, the county’s newest commissioner still feels he has a lot to learn.
“The first year, a lot of elected people want to go after it gung-ho, but I’ve been around government enough to know that nothing happens fast,” Letcher said during a Dec. 28 phone interview.
Letcher said that he plans to spend his first year learning as much as he can about what is going on in county government and the projects that are ongoing.
Letcher mentioned federal programs he would like to develop greater understanding of, such as the Good Neighbor Authority, a federal program administered through the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
According to the U.S. Forest Service website, the program is a state-federal partnership to increase management activities and restoration outcomes on federal lands.
Letcher said he sees the potential for local economic benefit, and is interested in programs that could help to bring back timber jobs to the area.
As someone who has been active in forest management meetings and a regular attendee of public meetings throughout his life, Letcher has made it a priority to attend County Commission meetings since winning the Republican primary in June, he said.
He has learned a lot from those meetings, including the budget meetings over the summer, he said.
While he is familiar with his fellow commissioners — Mark Peck and Jerry Bennett — as well as many of the county employees who work at the North Lincoln County Annex in Eureka, Letcher anticipates having to learn a few faces in county government during his first months in office.
“I look forward to meeting all of them,” he said.
Letcher said he intends to continue his regular attendance of public meetings of local organizations and governing bodies.
Between being an active participant in the community and maintaining an open door — and open phone — policy, Letcher said he wants to keep the line of communication open with his constituents.
The biggest economic challenge that Letcher sees for northern Lincoln County is in maintaining a balance between tourism and industry.
Letcher stressed that he is not against tourism as a portion of the economic picture, but believes that there needs to be more than just recreation to have a thriving local economy.
“I don’t think we were inundated by tourism or recreation jobs to begin with,” he said. “We were just lacking the industrial jobs. And I think we’re on a path towards bringing them back, which will be a good balance.”
Resource-based industries such as timber and mining not only brought good jobs but provided county revenue, he said. With the decline of those industries, county government is more reliant on property taxes.
Coupled with mostly minimum wage jobs from the tourism industry, residents can start to feel the squeeze, he said.
“Your property taxes are high and your income is low. It just makes it tough,” he said.
In addition to bringing back traditional industries to the area, Letcher said he sees room for tech industry jobs as well.
“I’ve got a lot of friends in the technology industry, and there’s a lot of work-from-home jobs out there,” he said.
Those types of jobs have the additional benefit of being low-impact, he said. Aside from needing broadband access, technology-based jobs have the potential to ask very little of other resources or add much wear to other infrastructure.
Letcher said that he will have to build his familiarity with what is needed to develop broadband infrastructure for the county as a whole, but that he has been pleased with the service available in the Eureka area.
Primarily, Letcher expressed a desire to understand as much as he can and apply that in serving the people of Lincoln County.
“I just look forward to working with the current county government, and look forward to serving the people,” he said.