Six Candidates Compete for Kalispell Council Seats

Growth, housing development and infrastructure are among top issues; election to be held Tuesday, Nov. 2

By Maggie Dresser
Kalispell City Council Chambers on March 16, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell City Council will have at least one new face in 2022 with three out of its four wards seeing contested races this election season with growth, development and infrastructure at the forefront of the city’s issues.

As officials continue to manage the city’s growing pains, fine-tune the 2040 transportation plan and finish the Parkline Trail, leaders are working to create a healthy and diverse economy while increasing the housing inventory.

In Kalispell, three seats currently held by Chad Graham in Ward 2, Kyle Waterman in Ward 3 and Tim Kluesner in Ward 4 are open. Only Graham is seeking reelection.

Sandy Carlson is seeking reelection and is running unopposed in Ward 1.

Running for Ward 2, incumbent Chad Graham has spent his entire life in Kalispell where he works in the construction industry.

After two terms on the council, five years as council president and 12 years on the city planning board, Graham, 42, hopes to continue the work he helped start years ago, including the Parkline Trail and adding housing.

To increase housing, Graham would like to see fewer restrictions for developers in order to keep costs down.

“In any kind of business, the cost gets passed to the end user,” Graham said. “You want to cut down on those barriers to build affordable housing, otherwise you’ll lose housing projects.”

Graham would also like to see the city continue to prioritize the budget for public works, which handles water, sewer, streets and essential city operations. Law enforcement follows close behind, he said.

Also running for a seat in Ward 2, newcomer Gabe Dillon moved to Kalispell in 2015 where he lives with his wife and two young children, working for Foys to Blacktail Trails.

Dillon, 43, would like to see “responsible development” in Kalispell and, while he supports new housing, he disagrees with the council’s previous decision to lower impact fees for developers while raising water and sewer rates for property owners.

“Kalispell has turned into a great place for business and I love seeing the town thrive but I don’t agree with passing down heightened water and sewer rates for new development,” Dillon said. “I think development should pay for itself.”

Dillon also wants to help strategize ways make Kalispell more bicycle and pedestrian friendly and create more trail connectivity within the city, which could include installing better trail signage and adding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant features for disabled members of the public.

Seeking reelection for Ward 3 after he was unseated by current councilor Ryan Hunter in 2019, Rod Kuntz previously served on council for five-and-a-half years and believes experience is especially important in the current economic climate.

“I understand how things work on the city and state level,” Kuntz said. “I really can go to work on day one.”

With issues like housing, homeless populations and a workforce shortage, Kuntz says there’s only so much council can do with the city’s limited budget. But he points to the council’s work to cut impact fees and rezoning to accommodate new housing development in the city.

“We laid the groundwork,” Kuntz said. “The City of Kalispell was already ahead of that housing bubble when COVID hit and I think we will continue on the path that was charted. I think our zoning uses are sound and I think our zoning is sound.”

Also running for a seat in Ward 3, newcomer Jessica Dahlman has lived in Kalispell since 2018 and has worked as a nurse at Logan Health since 2013.

To address growth, Dahlman believes the city should be strategic about its development by mitigating urban sprawl.

“There’s always addressing (housing) through higher density,” Dahlman said. “I know that’s a touchy subject and with so much history and value, people don’t want change in their neighborhoods but we also have to consider all of this great open space and farmland.”

As businesses struggle with the workforce shortage, Dahlman believes adding more childcare options would allow some parents to return to work, which could include a collaboration between the city and outside partners to build a community center to provide childcare, she said.

In Ward 4, two newcomers will face off to replace Tim Kluesner, who did not seek reelection.

After working in the Flathead County Parks and Recreation department for more than 30 years, Jed Fisher wants to ensure the City of Kalispell makes the best use of its tax dollars.

“I’m concerned about taxes,” Fisher said. “I hope to bring the best bang for tax dollars to the City of Kalispell.”

To encourage housing development, Fisher believes financial barriers, like city fees, should be minimal for developers to ensure those costs aren’t passed down to the buyers.

“I will always hold the line on spending while making sure there are essential services,” Fisher said. “That’s the big thing people are paying for. I support trails and many programs but I would reach out for donations and outside funding sources.”

Also running for Ward 4, Angela Kennedy, 59, hopes to bring in developers who are interested in building low-income housing while mitigating urban sprawl.

“It’s a privilege to develop here,” Kennedy said. “There are so many gorgeous views and open farmland … Those things need to be considered. It’s not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, it’s for people to enjoy. If there’s a gorgeous view plane, let’s keep it open. My role in council will be to say ‘Let’s step back.’”

Kennedy would also like to see continued work on the local parks, trails and multiuse trails like the Great Northern Historical Trail and the new Parkline Trail.

To register to vote, visit www.flathead.mt.gov/election. Municipal elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 2.