News & Features

Kalispell Budget Includes Funds for Downtown Rail Trail

City council will vote on $78 million 2020 budget in August

Kalispell’s 2020 budget is expected to include approximately $4 million to finish design work and start construction of the new rail trail through downtown.

The appropriation is part of the city’s $78 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year that was the subject of a public hearing on July 1. The city has to get certified property valuations and mill levy rates from the state, which usually arrive in August, before it can formally adopt the budget. City Manager Doug Russell said that will likely happen during the second city council meeting in August.

In June, the plan for a future rail trail received a major boost when the city finalized a $500,000 railbanking agreement with BNSF Railway, which owns the right-of-way through downtown. The agreement allows the City of Kalispell to acquire the right-of-way and rip up the rail line through town, about 2 miles from Woodland Park to Meridian Road. The agreement also allows for a right-of-way to be used as a rail line again in the future should the need arise.

“It’s ownership with strings attached,” Russell said.

Russell said trail designers are finishing their work in the coming months and will present a final design later this year. The tracks are currently still being used by the Mission Mountain Railroad (which leases them from BNSF) to bring freight to and from CHS Kalispell and Northwest Drywall. Once those two businesses move to the Glacier Rail Park, the city will be able to remove the tracks, possibly sometime in 2020.

The 2020 budget will fund all city services. Two of the biggest allocations within the budget go to first responders. The police department is receiving a 3.36 percent increase over last year to $5.2 million. The fire department is receiving 1.7 percent less from last year with $3.1 million.

Russell said most city services would remain the same, although the city attorney’s office budget is being increased by more than 8 percent so that it can afford to hire a new attorney. The city also plans on building out the third story of city hall, which is currently used for storage, so that it has additional meeting spaces. That addition is expected to cost about $200,000.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.