Area officials are disappointed that a bill, which would address what they feel is a current unfair practice, was tabled by state senators last week.

Senate Bill 272 sponsored by Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, sought to revise zone pay and per diem related to prevailing wage. Zone pay is an amount added to the base wage used in calculating the prevailing rate of wages. The wage is determined by the road miles one way from the nearest dispatch city to the center of the job site.

“The closest dispatch city for eastern Montana now is Billings. According to the rules made by the Department of Labor, when you get further than 100 miles from the dispatch city you pay more for zone pay and per deem pay for each person that works on the job,” Hinebauch said. “This costs eastern Montana between 2 percent and 8 percent more per contract than most public projects in the state.”

“It’s unfair and it penalizes us,” Richland County Commissioner Duane Mitchell said.

He was told that Carter County paid an additional $250,000 on a building project because of the policy.

“You have to pay travel time from Billings, even though they are here,” Mitchell said. “It’s costing us a lot of money.”

The bill sought to add eastern Montana cities including Sidney, Miles City, Glasgow and Lewistown as dispatch cities.

Mitchell explained the proposal wasn’t only to benefit counties but other eastern Montana organizations with building projects.

“I had bipartisan support the night before the vote when I went to bed,” Hinebauch said. “The next morning, one member of the ‘Conservative Solution Caucus’ within the Republican party changed his vote so it failed in committee on a 5-5 vote. Apparently, part of the solution is not to include taxpayers in the process.”

Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorder noted that the Montana Association of Counties supported the bill. Gorder said opposition came from unions and contractors.

The bill was tabled in committee on Friday.

Commissioners are considering writing a letter to the Montana Department of Labor to explain their support for the bill.

“It might be something that we need to go after the next session with some language changes,” Gorder said.

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