Though it was not scheduled for this election year, the Flathead County Commission District 1 seat is on the ballot after former Commissioner Jim Dupont’s sudden passing in March. There are seven Republicans vying for a spot on the November general election ballot to serve out the final two years on Dupont’s term.
The Flathead County Commission District 1 candidates were asked the following four questions:
1. What is the most pressing issue facing the county, and how would you address it?
2. As a commissioner, what steps would you take to combat high unemployment in Flathead County?
3. What is the best way to resolve the dispute over the Whitefish planning “doughnut”?
4. Do you think Flathead County’s budget has been managed properly, and, if not, how would you change it?
FLATHEAD COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES
Name: Cal Scott
Occupation: Interim County Commissioner, Founder/Director ETHIC, Adjunct Faculty FVCC
Years in the valley: Seasonally for 40 years –Past 12 years full time.
1. Regrettably, there is simply no one “most pressing issue”. If we were to overlay with one phrase, it is “economy vs. fiscal responsibility.” Regardless, there need be immediate attention to proactively move forth on the following challenges:
• Effective land use planning inevitable growth respecting individual property rights.
• Prioritizing the essential public health and safety needs of our citizens.
• Streamline economic and business development without governing barriers.
• Emphases on maintaining current needs while managing ever-increasing costs.
• Promote new growth in Flathead jobs to build future family and economic stability.
• Focus on solid business practices to efficiently manage vs. increasing our tax burden.
2. Focus on less government, planning for growing businesses and creating clean and diverse industries. Fostering attitudes that encourage learning, working and striving together for the common good of our Flathead. We cannot burden our already burdened citizens with increased taxes. I dedicate myself to intelligently and knowledgably work not as a blue collar or white collar however, as “ring around the collar” guy who toils and sweats with the hard farm work ethic by which I was raised.
3. The matter regrettably remains in the courts, leaving our Flathead citizens, the “doughnut” property owners, Flathead County and City of Whitefish in an unsettled state where no one can realistically plan, develop, sell, transfer or make full use property. Not only is this harmful to our economy, by halting progress and relative jobs, it clouds our ability to focus on the critical issues facing all parties. The appropriate outcome can only come from a quick resolution in the courts and to proceed by the all affected people’s vote.
4. Upon reading through the 2010, 2011 and 2012 county budgets, it is evident that the past county commissioners, eight elected departmental officials, 49 separate county departments and the many committees and boards have done a responsible job, given extraordinary economic challenges. The county will, with my encouragement, continue to provide responsible leadership, guidance and consistent oversight of countywide services, departmental responsibilities, employee job descriptions, sound financial management, measurable expectations and accountability. Change is inevitable, however Flathead County will evolve with increasing demands. We will continue to assure our Flathead will remain prepared and economically well balanced to act for today and anticipate tomorrow’s needs.
Name: Ben Stormes
Years in the valley: 8
1. I feel the most important issue in Flathead County is not really one that just the commissioners can fix. The residents of Flathead County and the surrounding areas need to know that the privatization of the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls is not a dead issue. Helena has already started the process of sending several legislative auditors to audit the facilities to see where and how to cut the funding of the Columbia Falls facility. If those senators succeed, the Montana Veterans Home will be moved into the hands of a private corporation. Helena is determined to do this at all costs. I really do not think all the senators from Helena realize that, at last count in early 2011, there were over 10,800 veterans in Flathead County alone. There are over 100,000 veterans statewide. There are more veterans per capita living in Montana than any other state in the United States. Each one of these veterans is a Montana voter.
Last year, members of the VFW and several hundred Flathead Valley residents were able to thwart off the legislators from taking away the funding for the Montana Veterans Home. The Montana legislators will again put the Montana Veterans Home budget on their agenda during the 2013 legislative session and will again attempt to cut funding. The VFW is opposed to this proposal, and still need our help on this matter. I ask all residents of the Flathead County and surrounding areas to write to their local legislators, and the candidates running for the Senate and the House to vote NO for cutting the funding and putting the Montana Veterans Home facility in Columbia Falls into the hands of a private corporation.
2. I would promote the Flathead Valley as a business friendly environment by streamlining business permitting and regulations.
3. The issue is presently in the courts, and until that comes to a conclusion I feel it is a moot point. Having said that, I feel the people who live in the donut area are being regulated without representation. To me, this is the same as taxation without representation, a principle that our country was founded on. I believe strongly in personal property rights as long as they don’t infringe on other’s personal rights. I would continue to strongly advocate for doughnut residents. As commissioner, if the regulation of the doughnut falls under the county, I will make sure my constituents are represented properly.
4. I don’t a have any particular issue with the budget at this point, but as commissioner I would always be looking to streamline, cut and improve the services offered to the people without raising taxes. I feel I would be an educated pair of “fresh eyes” to look at the budgets as well as oversee them to be sure they are being followed by the different departments. Not by micromanaging, but by checking the books on a regular basis.
Name: Michael Shepard
Occupation: Retired from MDM Supply
Years in the valley: Here since 1979 when transferred by ARCO/Anaconda Aluminum
1. Aside from finishing the 911 consolidation: Having adequate resources to meet the service demanded by the public. This issue will affect every aspect of county operations annually with the preparation of the budget. Examples are county road conditions, deputy response time, green box sites, sanitary inspections, prosecution and litigation services. Every service is limited to available resources. These services compete with each other to get the necessary resources. To address this, the commission needs to establish a public process of setting priorities, based on need (not want). On top of ensuring that the resources are going to the most needed services, the public needs to be educated on what services can/should be available. For instance, folks moving into extreme rural areas should not be demanding immediate snow plowing, short of emergencies, as a normal expected level of service, and a working priority needs to be done on gravel road paving countywide.
2. Encourage ALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, i.e., help by streamlining the permitting process, for example, and utilize all tools given to all elected officials: Economic development grants and utilize tax incentives as outlined by the legislative process. Band with Lincoln and Sanders counties to push the legislative process to make it impossible for the enviros’ groups to stop timber sales. I am tired of animals before people. These logs have value, and how many mills closed because they could not get logs off our national forests? Remember, we used to cut sustained yields of 150,000,000 board feet every year, creating thousands of jobs, and $23,000,000 coming back to the county and school districts to use EVERY YEAR, now gone. The PILT is a joke, as it is a pittance to what we could get. Our forests are approaching a catastrophic level of fire potential, and the loss of life will be great, with the right conditions.
3. Whitefish and its doughnut; amazing how Columbia Falls has had the same agreement, and no problems. The two lawsuits need to be settled, the citizens need to be reminded that it was a privilege to get the two miles of control. Just do not screw it up; agendas came into play, and thus one settlement was worth $460,000 or so, which was a simple land use question gone astray within the city itself. But it set the stage for where we are today, awaiting the two suits to be settled. County planning can take it back until it settles down, and at such time, maybe, only maybe, can Whitefish be looked at doing it, but many assurances would have to be done in a contract to protect the county residents.
4. For most part the budget process is OK, but I would still like to see the use of department planning meetings with each assigned, respective commissioner to lay ground rules when it comes to expending my tax dollars. As I remember, I get double-dinged for living in the city, as my choice, but I also pay county taxes, too.
Name: Kirk Gentry
Occupation: Business owner: Gentry River Ranch – Cabins on the River
Years in the valley: 19
1. I think the most pressing issue right now is jobs. The valley has done a good job in marketing the Flathead as a great place to vacation and live, but we haven’t done so well in marketing it as a great place to run a business. We need to be attracting more companies that want to come here and run their business and hire our capable work force.
2. Attract more companies that want the amenities and resources we have to offer. We are a bargain right now for companies to come in here and buy up or rent some of our commercial real estate. Interest rates are low and prices are very reasonable. We have great local talent and a good community college to get our work force educated. If the right businesses knew they could have it this good, they would already be here. We just need to make it a little easier for them to get started.
3. Well, that is in the court’s hands right now. Depending on the outcome, I believe it makes more sense for the county to represent the people and businesses in that area. They need to have representation by those who will regulate them accordingly.
4. I have met with several of the department heads and I think we have good leaders in the right place. Many of them have already made significant cuts and are striving to make it happen with what they have. Sometimes the regulations can be frustrating to deal with, but as long as the county employees are willing to help those that are trying to make it happen responsibly, I think we will be in good shape. We need to make sure the taxpayer is getting good value for their investment.
Name: M. Glenn Kolodejchuk
Occupation: Maintenance at Glacier Park International Airport and Owner/Operator of Dirtworks Unlimited Inc.
Years in the valley: 45
1. I believe the 911 Center needs to operate at its full potential. This is a very important safety tool that affects every citizen in the county and the cities. The taxpayers’ money has been spent and this system must work for our public safety. It’s running and like anything new, the system needs fine-tuning. People need to work with the board members and not play politics with a 911 call because some of the departments might do things differently. We need to develop a standard protocol communication system that will work for everyone. I’ve been told it could be a stand out to other counties and states. I know Jim Dupont spent extra hours working on this system and so would I.
2. As a commissioner I believe my job will be to follow the MCA which in short means to “supervise the official conduct of county officers, districts, and other subdivisions of the county charged with assessing, collecting, safekeeping, managing, or disbursing public revenue.” I cannot bring Boeing to the valley so, I don’t believe in making any promises on fixing the unemployment and I don’t know how any of the other candidates can either. I want to ensure that the taxpayer’s money is spent efficiently, work on infrastructure, roads, safety, keeping taxes low and streamline regulations to make the Flathead inviting to bring new business here.
3. All landowners should not be regulated without representation. The city and the county need to sit back and take a hard look at what tax money has been spent on this litigation already. I believe they have more in common than different. Find that starting place, clear the slate and work from there to bring both parties together and come to a solution. I believe the citizens have elected us to reach an agreement without another lawsuit or black eye.
4. Until I’m elected into office and spend the time to review, I don’t see any standout issue of a mismanaged budget. So far the county looks solid. I believe all budgets big or small need to be reevaluated every single year with a fine-toothed comb. By thinking outside the box and asking the hard questions to justify the spending and holding people accountable, I think we can continue to keep the budget in check.
Name: Doug Adams
Occupation: President, Design Turf Technologies, Inc.
Years in the valley: 12
1. There are numerous issues, and more come up all the time. From the 911 Center to the doughnut, to road maintenance, to being perceived as business friendly, everyone has a different opinion as to which is most pressing. The good thing is we don’t have to finish working on one before we can address the next issue. How will I address these and other issues? Head on, and diligently. Some issues require finesse (the doughnut, for instance), and some can be dealt with straight forward (holding the line on taxes). Feel free to look on my website, www.adamsforcommissioner.com, for more details.
2. Government needs to be reasonable and efficient with business applications and regulations. This would send a sign to businesses that Flathead County is a good place to own a business. There is such a thing as responsible regulation, and then there’s over-the-top bureaucracy, which serves no one but the government employees who are getting a paycheck for enforcing the regulations. Needless to say, taxes should be kept as low as possible, for the sake of businesses and their employees.
3. The best way is to provide the doughnut residents with true representation, without trying to force Whitefish to abandon the extra-territorial jurisdiction that was afforded by the 1971 state legislature. This would require (dare I say it?) cooperation and compromise between the city and county. Is this possible? I truly believe it is, and I believe that I can facilitate it. I think the harder accomplishment will be getting the private citizens to drop their lawsuit, but I think it’s possible.
4. I have no great complaints, but I’ll constantly be looking for ways to be more efficient and frugal. From looking at privatization of services (by way of getting bids from private companies and comparing them to in-house estimates) to looking at the proposed wellness program for employees, there are many opportunities to make sure the county is being fiscally responsible.
Name: Rod Bernhardson
Occupation: Business Owner
Years in the valley: 13
1. Lack of year-round employment – specifically manufacturing.
2. Incentives for local businesses to expand by lowering property tax (i.e., lower property tax and business equipment tax by $250 per full time employee). Incentives for resident property owners to reduce property tax by using legitimate local businesses (i.e. reduce property tax by 3% of 1099 filings for building improvements and maintenance). Incentives for resident property owners who buy distressed property from a bank to wave the first year of property tax. This should help move inventory through and boost construction employment.
3. Whitefish should be able to sell the benefits of being a Whitefish resident. The residents of the “doughnut” must be able to vote their own destiny.
4. We are in what will probably be the largest recession ever. Every person and business has cut to the bone, including ours. We have sacrificed our retirement to keep our employees employed, yet it doesn’t appear the county has made any sacrifices at all. As taxpayers, we see beautiful light poles, bypasses to nowhere, schools and government buildings that are architectural marvels, not to mention government worker wages, benefits and pensions that make 80% of our population jealous. County employees and teachers need to show compassion to their neighbors and fellow citizens when negotiating compensation. We need to work together to cut actual spending and fix what needs fixing and not add to more unfunded liabilities. After all, it is not “we the government” – it is “we the people.”
Please get involved and vote June 5!
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