Commission Halts Grant Process for AOA Building

By Beacon Staff

A Flathead County Commission hearing that was tense to begin with ended in exasperation and accusations of betrayal after the commission decided not to move forward with a grant to help fund a new Agency on Aging building.

The commission chambers were full of local seniors on April 24, with many speaking in favor of the commission pursuing a new building on the county fairgrounds property.

As part of the hearing, the commission planned on discussing the future of the county’s attempt at procuring a Community Development Block Grant, worth $450,000, in an agreement with the City of Kalispell.

Earlier this year, the commission gave permission to fund an architectural review of several potential building sites, and gave the green light to start the CDBG application process.

Even then, local seniors deemed the commission’s actions too little too late, and hoped to speed up the new building process.

Those critical of the commission’s pace voiced their concerns at the April 24 meeting. Multiple people held signs reading various messages in support of a new AOA building, including “We want AOA at the fairgrounds” and “Listen to Flathead Seniors.”

Former commissioner Dale Lauman, who retired at the beginning of the year and was replaced by Commissioner Gary Krueger, spoke in favor of moving forward with a new building at the fairgrounds site.

“We’ve always had the funds available to do this,” Lauman said, adding, “I would strongly encourage you to move on, do it, build it.”

The architectural review, completed as part of the CDBG process, concluded that the fairgrounds site would be the most appropriate for an AOA building if the county chooses to move forward with it.

“The mounting safety and health code issues can no longer be ignored. It is critical that AOA move forward with a new facility. The assistance provided by a CDBG grant will help propel this project forward,” the report said. “The proposed site North of the Flathead County Fairgrounds represents the best opportunity for AOA to improve operations and improve the quality of service to the Senior community.”

Despite the support for the grant and the pleas to move forward from the public gathered at the meeting, the commission voted 2-1 to not pursue the CDBG grant.

Commissioner Pam Holmquist said she understands that this issue is emotional, but she does not believe the county is ready to move forward with a “viable grant application at this time.”

Holmquist said she would still work to find solutions for the AOA program and its needs, but that it is not a good time to pursue the grant.

“Since the proposal was introduced to the commission last October, there has been a concerted effort to influence how the commission would move forward with AOA,” Holmquist said during the hearing. “This effort has included threats and rumors. I will not allow these distractions to interfere with my decisions as I work through this. As a commissioner I represent seniors, children and everyone in between. I believe the residents of Flathead County deserve no less than for me to base my decisions on what’s good for the county as a whole and not on distractions or emotions.”

Krueger and Holmquist voted to stop the CDBG process, with Commissioner Cal Scott dissenting.

There was some confusion after the vote, because Holmquist, as the chair of the commission, did not call for discussion among the commissioners before calling for a vote.

According to deputy county attorney Tara Fugina, this does not legally negate the vote, because the commission has never formally adopted a set of rules that would require such a call for discussion.

After the vote, Holmquist said the vote did not mean the end for a new AOA building.

Still, many of the seniors present vocalized their displeasure at the vote, some saying they felt betrayed, while others shook their heads in dismay. Several of those carrying the signs briefly picketed outside the building following the vote.

In accordance with the vote, the City of Kalispell, which needed to approve the CDBG application before it could move forward, cancelled its public hearing on the grant.

RELATED: Tensions High for Agency on Aging

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