Two political newcomers are facing off in the Lincoln County Commission race this fall. During the June primary, Russell Bache and Mark Peck both came out ahead of incumbent Tony Berget, who will step down from his position as chairman of the commission on Jan. 1 after six years.
Bache or Peck will join newly appointed commissioner Gregory Larson and Mike Cole, who was elected just two years ago and will be the board’s veteran member. The commission shakeup comes as Lincoln County continues to face a gamut of issues, ranging from a still struggling economy to a decade-long Superfund cleanup that locals say has tarnished the area’s reputation.
Bache, 63, was raised in Libby and retired from the Navy in 1998. After leaving the military, he became a golf course manager and moved around the West, eventually returning to Lincoln County in 2008.
Peck, 55, was also raised in Lincoln County and spent 20 years with the Air Force, before leaving in 2000. From 2006 to 2010 he was Flathead County’s Emergency Services Director. Since then he has served as a unit manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in Libby.
Both men say one of the biggest issues facing Lincoln County today is its stagnant economy, although it did see some improvements this year, according to jobs numbers released by the state last week. Last month, the county’s unemployment rate was at 9.9 percent, three points lower than it was in August 2013. Despite the growth, it still is home to one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, along with Sanders, Glacier and Big Horn counties.
Bache said if elected he would bring a task force together to discuss ways to bring jobs to Lincoln County. He also said he would do anything in his power to bring business to Libby, especially to the Kootenai Business Park.
“It doesn’t matter to me what type of business sets up shop, we just need jobs,” Bache said. “We can’t just depend on forestry and mining like we used to.”
Peck echoed Bache’s comments about working to develop the business park, but he also said his experience at the DNRC means he can work with state and federal agencies to help develop logging and mining projects, including the Montanore Mine, which has been mired in delays over the last decade.
Another issue facing the commission is budget cuts. Recently, the commission announced it would aim to reduce the budget by at least $900,000, the cuts made even deeper after it was revealed earlier this year that the county had overtaxed property owners to the sum of $2 million over three years. The county has initiated a plan to pay back everyone and both Peck and Bache said they would support the established timetable, while ensuring the mistakes of the past don’t repeat themselves.
“I’m going to be a budget hawk,” Peck said. “I’m going to have my eyes on that budget all year long.”
With Berget and Downey’s departures from the board, the Lincoln County Commission will have some fresh faces come next year. However, Peck and Bache believe that it’s positive to have fresh perspectives on Lincoln County’s issues.
“I think it’ll be a good thing because this county needs some new ideas,” Bache said. “It’ll be a breath of fresh air.”
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