Kalispell Explores Road Maintenance Funding

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell city officials are exploring new ways to pay for future road maintenance and equipment.

The city has managed to keep streets navigable over the last few years despite an unstable source of funding, but many streets are becoming increasingly worn out, Kalispell City Manager Jane Howington told councilors last week.

“We haven’t really done any advanced planning for replacing those (streets),” Howington said.

Presently street maintenance is paid for by taxes on both commercial business owners and residents. But Howington said the current system appears to weigh heavier on residents who pay a greater share of road maintenance than businesses.

The city is exploring a better way to balance the system and stabilize funds and the answer could be a trip-usage methodology, similar to one being used in Billings. A system based on usage would generate a fee for the amount of customers businesses draw while residents would pay a base fee similar to utility costs.

Howington said small businesses have expressed concern over a trip-generation system and “that’s where we want to focus the study.”

Mayor Tammi Fisher questioned adding any sort of tax without removing one, but said a new system could generate enough funds to solve long-term needs.

“What I would like to see is that we look at removing those (transportation) impact fees and replacing them with this one assessment that is fair across the board,” Fisher said.

After a lengthy discussion, the council agreed to continue studying a master plan for establishing an improved road maintenance fund.

Hoping to offer more middle- and low-income housing opportunities, city councilors accepted a federal grant worth $1.5 million to buy foreclosed property to be resold through a local land trust. The grant money provided by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program could purchase up to eight foreclosed houses for resale, according to city staff.

Collaborating with the city, the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust refurbishes foreclosures to sell with 99-year renewable leases. Purchasers own the house but not the property it’s on. The city purchased 16 foreclosed houses after receiving a previous grant worth $2.6 million in 2009. Only one land trust house has been taken off the market and is nearing a sale.