Vote for the Future

By Beacon Staff

Montana is lucky that cities like Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell do not suddenly close local parks or defund the health department in ideological fights over another law.

State fiscal analysts project that Gov. Steve Bullock is faced with another two-year budget surplus, this time over $500 million. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer maintained an average budget surplus of nearly $400 million during his eight years in office.

Whitefish has an annual budget that projects nearly a $1 million surplus. And Kalispell increased budget reserves to over 17 percent of revenues.

The U.S. Congress has resorted to passing months-long micro budgets. This month, the House could not even pass a unified budget lasting until Christmas. That’s embarrassing.

The congressmen at the center of this defunding shutdown mess cannot possibly be excited at the prospect of running for reelection a year from now. These ideologues will never convince shaken voters of their ability to work together to solve problems.

What looked like low progressive enthusiasm and turnout for midterm elections may well turn just the opposite.

Two years ago, Whitefish voters turned out more votes than ever before after historically low turnouts at the prior year midterm elections.

More than 2,300 Whitefish ballots were returned and John Anderson, Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney clearly received most of the votes cast. These councilors received 20 percent more votes than the closest conservative candidate.

Hugely popular Mayor John Muhlfeld garnered nearly two-thirds of the vote.

By all account the new councilors and mayor are doing a good job. Whitefish helped the high school with infrastructure, kept local taxes flat, and haven’t shut down any city parks or defunded the county health clinics because of unrelated disputes.

Ballots for Whitefish city elections will soon arrive in voters’ mailboxes. Life Noell, who ran two years ago and captured 22 percent of the votes cast, is again on the ballot.

Returning to service is former mayor and past city councilor Andy Feury. If elected Feury brings with him decades of institutional know-how on running a small city. Feury was one of the initial visionaries that ushered a better direction for the state lands surrounding Whitefish.

And judging by the success of the state land’s trails and conservation endeavor, Feury rightly pushed the alternative approach. Feury worked on many of Whitefish’s past budgets and kept mill levies historically low. Feury has a long history of sound decisions.

Pam Barberis is a newcomer to Whitefish politics. Barberis worked at Montana Coffee Traders for many years and her husband brews the beer at the Great Northern Brewing Company. It was refreshing to see Barberis working the apples at the annual Brant family cider press in Whitefish last weekend.

Businesswoman Jen Frandsen is active with community organizations like the Downtown Whitefish Farmer’s Market and the Youth Image Project. Frandsen is owner of Old Town Creative based in the Railway District of Whitefish.

Barberis and Frandsen are both active community members. From Whitefish’s slate of two female and two male candidates for council, voters must choose three.

It’s apparent by viewing the mess in Washington, electing trustworthy people to lead our cities and work together to solve differences matters to the sense of community.

Citizens select whom they want to serve as custodians of local interest in government. Those choices are key to an open democracy. Who do locals want tending to their city budget over the next four years? What kind of priority do voters want to be given to schools, parks and trails, community events, clean water and the local economy?

Early ballots arrive this week in Whitefish mailboxes. It will take all of five minutes for voters to choose city leaders for the next four years. That’s time well invested.

Mike (Uncommon Ground) Jopek and Dave (Closing Range) Skinner often fall on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to political and outdoor issues. Their columns alternate each week in the Flathead Beacon.

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