HELENA (AP) - Gov. Judy Martz on Thursday declared an emergency in Petroleum County, which has struggled to dig itself out of deep, drifting snow left by blizzards.
The order will provide $9,000 in state aid to help the county pay for snow removal, and state officials warned that the worst may be yet to come for other eastern Montana towns and counties blanketed with more snow than they have seen for decades.
Jim Anderson, disaster recovery manager for the state Disaster and Emergency Services Division, said the need for state assistance in the region may reach $185,000 once counties have added up their costs beyond what an emergency property tax will raise.
He said 14 eastern Montana counties have had to cope with the heavy snowfall.
Anderson and Martz said the area also faces the prospect of severe flooding when the snowdrifts melt.
"We have a very high potential," Anderson said. "They have an enormous amount of snow up there with an enormous amount of water in it."
In issuing her emergency declaration, Martz noted that Petroleum County had to hire private citizens to help plow, rescue stranded motorists and take fuel, water and food to snowbound residents.
"People have been stranded in their cars, their homes or, worse, away from their homes," she said. "I am pleased to say that local government is doing all they can to continue service to the people of Montana. But as soon as a road is plowed, the wind comes up and it is blown closed once again."
To be eligible for state aid, a local government must first assess a 2-mill property tax levy to pay bills related to an emergency. With an emergency declaration by the governor, state money is available to cover costs beyond that.
In sparsely populated Petroleum County, the property tax raised just $2,900.
Anderson said many cities and counties in the area have not yet determined their snowstorm expenses, the first step toward levying the special tax. But Garfield County and the towns of Nashua and Culbertson have joined Petroleum County in adding the tax, and more local governments are expected to follow, he said.
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