After 2 years, governor’s mansion in Montana sits vacant still
(Daily Montanan) Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has at least two Treasure State residences of his own, one in Helena and one in Bozeman.
But the one that is provided as housing to him courtesy of the State of Montana has sat vacant since the time Gianforte assumed the executive office, almost two years ago to the day.
The governor’s residence, sometimes referred to as the “governor’s mansion,” located at 2 Carson Street in Helena, was the second home for Montana’s chief executive, replacing the older historic mansion at 304 N. Ewing Street.
The mansion or residence — whichever you call it — was built in 1959, two years before Gianforte was born. Most of the mechanical systems in the house are original to the building and everything from plumbing to the electrical systems are in need of updating, according to multiple reports.
Money to renovate the mansion, more than $2.4 million, has been sitting in a state account, even after two bids were put out, in 2021 and 2022, both coming back at more than $1 million above budget. The conversations about renovation and money date at least back to the 2019 and the 2021 Montana Legislatures.
While some gubernatorial candidates for public office have publicly declared they’ll run, including a Democrat challenger, Ryan Busse, Gianforte has not spoken publicly about whether he’ll run for a second term in November. If another Montanan takes office, that could set up a situation where the state has an executive and no housing.
State Sen. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, sent a letter to the Legislative Audit Division on Tuesday asking the state’s auditors to look into the process, how the money is being spent, and to ensure the Gianforte administration is complying with the law.
Dunwell told the Daily Montanan that she’s been searching for answers, including asking for a trove of public records, but still hasn’t gotten an answer about why other state building and renovation projects seem to be moving forward while the executive mansion is stalled.
She said when she’s questioned state leaders, they’ve given a litany of responses ranging from labor shortages, supply chain issues and that the bids came back so over budget that the project needed additional capital.
Gianforte owns a residence in Helena, but it’s not known if the state is paying for the governor to live there. Officials from the Gianforte administration did not respond Tuesday to questions or an interview.
Dunwell said that if the money lawmakers budgeted and appropriated wasn’t enough, that’s the kind of update that should be given to the lawmakers so they can work with the administration to move the project ahead.
“They’re not doing anything,” Dunwell said. “I have been told it’s on indefinite hold.”
She points to other notable projects, including the Montana Heritage Center, which is also in Helena, which have been funded and are moving ahead.
The governor’s mansion is in Dunwell’s Senate district, and she said when she’s door-knocking, people have been asking what will happen to the place.
Previous reporting on the governor’s mansion show a lot of concerns – asbestos, electrical wiring that hadn’t been updated, heating and cooling as well as significant updating needed for plumbing.
“Is the state paying for the expense of shuttling him (Gianforte) back and forth?” Dunwell said.
Dunwell sent an official request to the Legislative Audit Division urging that it conduct an audit. A spokesperson there said that the division could opt to schedule an audit, but that her letter will likely wait for the Legislative Audit Committee to meet in June to handle the request.
“Was the governor consulted and did he direct that outcome? When the state decided not to proceed with the renovation, did any state representative discuss with or ask the Governor to move into the state-owned executive residence on Carson Street, which is intended to serve as the Governor’s residence – but now sits vacant?” Dunwell said.