Kalispell City Council and Mayoral Candidates Q & A

By Beacon Staff

The Kalispell city council and mayoral candidates were asked the following five questions:

1. What makes you a strong candidate?
2. What are the most pressing issues facing Kalispell and why are they important?
3. How can the city government facilitate Kalispell’s economic recovery?
4. How can the city grow its meager cash reserve?
5. Was adopting transportation impact fees the right decision and does the fee structure need to be altered or improved somehow?


Name: Pamela Kennedy
Office Sought: Mayor (incumbent)
Age: 58
Occupation:Mayor City of Kalispell and Managing Partner, Great Bear Builders, Inc.
Hometown: Minnetonka, Minn.
Years in the valley: 31 years in Kalispell

1. My experience, breadth of perspective, and leadership qualities make me a strong candidate to continue as mayor of Kalispell. I understand the need for fairness and balance as we weigh the needs of all the various parts of our community. We need to spur our economy without taxing people out of their homes. It will take some creative financing tools and a cooperative effort to do this. I have the knowledge, the relationships, and the drive to do the job.

2. The budget remains the No. 1 issue for the council. Determining how we can continue to offer quality services and provide for a safe community without increasing the financial burden to the tax payers is challenging, but I am committed to working on this priority. We need a common vision. We need to work together. Getting all interested parties to the table early in the deliberative process will ensure that we have an informed and involved public when plans and regulations are being developed. That will lead to less acrimonious contention when the final decision is made.

3. The city of Kalispell must work cooperatively, and proactively, with the business community to facilitate our economic recovery. We need to grow our economy by generating and attracting new investment that pays sustainable wages. We also need to work with existing businesses and discover creative ways to keep those businesses prospering and growing. We have the necessary expertise and resources here, and there are creative and innovative approaches to economic development in use elsewhere that can be used here. By working cooperatively to select the best and most appropriate among them, we can adapt them to our specific circumstances. If that means new legislation on the state level, we must start the lobbying effort now.

4. Growing our cash reserves will take the combined efforts of cutting expenditures and developing increased income. We are already running a lean machine, but where departments, procedures, or personnel can be re-organized to be made more efficient, they must be. More positively, however, we can increase revenue by helping to speed up our economic recovery. We must be even more business friendly and efficient, and we must actively seek ways to make new ventures work.

5. It was right to adopt impact fees and it is also right to revisit them. Our local economy is no longer booming. Rather than putting all the anticipated costs of growth on the front end of projects, we must look for creative ways to spread them out so that the costs are incurred as the growth related expenses actually occur. This will help get projects started earlier in the economic recovery cycle and so speed up the generation of both jobs and tax revenues. Impact fees are accused of stalling our economic recovery. A community discussion must happen. I will take the lead.

Name: Tammi Fisher
Office Sought: Mayor
Age: 33
Occupation: Attorney
Hometown: Great Falls, Mont.
Years in the valley: 5

1. A deep desire for public service. This community has generously provided me with a quality education through our university system and has given me more opportunities to succeed than I could have ever dreamed. It’s my turn to pay it forward. My education, background, experience, and knowledge of how city government should work can only help me to better serve the community I love.

2. First, the budget. The budget fails the litmus test for transparency, and transparency in government is crucial to any democratic society. I would call for an immediate external audit to determine where the taxpayers’ money has gone and end over-expenditures. Second, unemployment. There are over 4,400 people in this valley who are unemployed, and as a city, we must work to increase employment opportunities for our residents. Without increased employment opportunities, residents will leave, and we will lose their knowledge, skill set, and tax base. Thus, it is important that the city work hard to attract new business and encourage growth in current businesses in Kalispell. Third, the provision of basic services to city residents. It is far more important to the taxpayer that their street is plowed than it is to have a $200,000 bronze statue “beautification” project. Common sense and responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds must return to city government.

3. Offer incentives to new businesses wishing to locate within the city limits, make certain impact fees are fair and reasonable across the board, and support current businesses with tax incentives or credits that maximize growth potential.

4. An appropriate place to begin would be to determine exactly how we went from $1.5 million in reserves in 2007 to approximately $300,000 at present. I believe there is much to be learned by “following the money” and making sure we account for every penny of taxpayer dollars. The city also needs to learn how to tighten its belt (as the taxpayers have), making certain the essentials of health and safety are being adequately provided before indulgences are ever considered.

5. The adoption of impact fees wasn’t necessarily a bad decision. However, the data used to adopt them was flawed at best. The fee structure should be altered in such a way that is fair and reasonable to both developer and taxpayer, and is based upon sound data.

Name: Jim Atkinson
Office Sought: Ward 3 Councilman (incumbent)
Age: 60
Occupation: Director of Flathead County Agency on Aging
Hometown: Helena
Years in the valley: 35

1. I have had 21 years of experience as a city councilman. I have the institutional memory and have lived through the decision-making process to reach a suitable goal.

2. The stabilization of the budget is very important. We must get back to healthy reserves without crippling services in the meantime.

3. Leveraging our revolving loan fund resources with other economic developers in the community like Montana West, we can help present businesses grow with gap financing. Tax increment funds in the Tax Increment Districts are another powerful way to help development or redevelopment of companies.

4. One way is to do some of the work in-house for some of the grants we have received. This allows personnel costs to be charged out to the grants rather than spending sparse general fund money.

5. To lessen the burden of the cost of growth on the city’s present taxpayers, it is a good decision. The council struggled with implementation of the transportation impact fees and made concessions to lessen the expense to new businesses. The impact fee decision is mandated to be revisited in two years. By then there will be more specific data available to assess how it is working and the committee will make recommendations to the council for further consideration and possible alterations.

Name: Marc Rold
Office Sought: Ward 3 Councilman
Age: 51
Occupation: Business Owner
Hometown: Born in Denver, Colo., but my home is here
Years in the valley: 19 years, same neighborhood and same home

1. I have been involved in running a number of successful businesses and other enterprises for nearly 30 years. I understand keeping operations efficient and cost-effective while still accomplishing the mission. I understand how hard we must work to produce the dollars with which the government is entrusted. I am a critical thinker and know how and when to ask the important questions. I also have relationships with a broad cross section of the community who I can call upon for perspective and advice.

2. Our city must get its finances under control. After several years of strong property tax revenue to have a 1 percent reserve fund is inexcusable. We must be good stewards of public funds in good times and bad. The citizens need to see genuine leadership exercised in the decisions facing us. Without strong leadership the people become divided and tend to devolve into segregated interest groups with no one looking out for the general good of all citizens. Leadership can only take place when principled decisions, rather than politically expedient decisions, are implemented. Once principled decision-making is established, the tendency for paralyzing polarization is mitigated.

3. City government will facilitate economic vitality by welcoming businesses rather than erecting artificial and unnecessary barriers to business investment and growth. A consistent, predictable regulatory environment, stable tax policy and cooperative attitude will go a long way toward encouraging the investment and growth of our existing businesses while drawing new enterprises as well. Profitable businesses produce jobs and tax revenue ensuring the city’s continued wellbeing.

4. We must perform our mission more cost effectively; focus on our core purposes of public safety, efficient public services and orderly governance; and encourage tax-generating enterprises to locate within the city limits.

5. Transportation Impact Fees are a useful tool for cities to mitigate the impacts of a project when they are offset by the benefits of the same project. The fees adopted recently fail to achieve that important balance and must be rescinded. A number of projects that would be generating property tax revenue and employment were deterred from development due to the additional burden of these fees added to the many improvements already required to offset projected impacts to our transportation system. We must first address the many shortcomings of our present transportation infrastructure before expecting someone else to fix the system using impact fees.

Name: Hank Olson
Office Sought: Ward 2 Councilman (incumbent)
Age: 71
Occupation: Retired
Hometown: Kalispell, Mont.
Years in the valley: 65

1. A former mayor of Whitefish, I have attended over 400 city council meetings, listen to all sides and get the facts before making a decision. I am not just a “Yes Man.” With 40 years of experience as a businessman in Yakima, Wash., Whitefish and Kalispell, I am dedicated to the future needs and concerns of Kalispell citizens, and I know who I work for.

2. The economy: It’s hurting EVERYONE.

3. No new taxes. Help developers get off the ground by delaying impact fees and any stimulus the city can provide.

4. The reserve will grow as we go, but not too fast to make taxpayers have to shoulder it all at once.

5. My support for impact fees is very simple, until the Legislature passes a local option tax. We need to have this question answered. We have to decide if the taxpayer or the developer should pay these costs to pave part of the road, which the new business creates. Until something is done in Helena, our hands are tied. The committee that created the impact fees for transportation started in 2006 and the time it took to complete the task was years. Who knew the world would fall apart in 2008? Let’s readdress the fees and grandfather them for more time before implementing these fees, but let’s not lose them. Remember, if one million tourists use our services, the cost is shared by everyone, or it doesn’t get fixed. This just put some responsibility on the builder, who creates the traffic.

Name: Jeff Zauner
Office Sought: Ward 2 Councilman
Age: 47
Occupation: Self Employed Light Construction/Irrigation
Hometown: Kalispell, Mont.
Years in the valley: 40

1. I believe I have a fundamental desire to find solutions to the issues that are facing the city of Kalispell.. I take ownership in providing financial responsibility and accountability to the taxpayers of Kalispell.

2. One of the most important issues facing the city today is the budget and decreased cash reserve. We are all experiencing challenging times at home and in our businesses. Because of our weak economy, we all need to re-evaluate how and what we spend our money on. I feel that our city government has the same responsibility to control its spending and build reserves for the future.

3. By becoming extremely watchful of how we spend our taxpayer dollars. It is only prudent that we offer incentives to businesses and promote Kalispell to new prospective businesses as a great community to do business in. This equates to more job opportunities and more tax revenues.

4. By being more vigilant on how the funds are being spent. Each department and staff member has to be on board with responsible spending and cost saving without sacrificing essential services. By doing more with less and becoming fiscally responsible we will begin to add to the cash reserve.

5. It should always be the obligation of new development to assist in paying for transportation impact fees; however it needs to be fair. I do believe we need to re-evaluate the fee structure to help stimulate more growth. By promoting new businesses and to help existing businesses relocate and/or expand will only draw more visitors to Kalispell. What the city passed was not realistic and therefore we saw minimal to no growth opportunity. This is a subject that must be revisited.

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