Whitefish Council Incumbents Davis and Feury Retain Seats

Preliminary results show newcomer Caltabiano holding a razor-thin edge over Riter; voters overwhelmingly approved extending the city’s 3% resort tax to 2045

By Tristan Scott
Election campaign yard signs in a neighborhood in Whitefish on Oct. 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Incumbent candidates Ben Davis and Andy Feury handily retained their seats on the Whitefish City Council while newcomer Giuseppe “G-Man” Caltabiano clung to a razor-thin lead and voters overwhelmingly approved extending the city’s 3% resort tax to 2045, according to preliminary results tallied Tuesday night by Flathead County election administrators.

The mail-ballot-only municipal election in Whitefish saw a crowded field of eight candidates vying for three seats on the six-member council, with Feury and Davis squaring off against six challengers and sitting councilor Ryan Hennen declining to file for another term, leaving his seat wide open.

The incumbents found a clear path to victory, however, as Davis collected 1,644 votes and Feury drew 1,585. The preliminary returns late Tuesday showed Caltabiano with a narrow edge over the other top vote-getters, with 970 ballots cast in his favor compared to 950 for Kristen Riter and 858 for Phil Boland.

The nail-biter contest between Caltabiano and Riter was so close that the candidates traded leads late in the evening as election officials in Kalispell tallied additional hand-delivered ballots from Whitefish. The candidates ran on similar platforms and endorsed one another in their respective bids for the open council seat.

The vote totals for other candidates included Vincent Dell’Omo with 348; Terry K. Petersen with 259; and Judy Hessellund with 244. Mark E. Owens appeared on the ballot and earned 96 votes despite withdrawing as a candidate.

Voters in Whitefish were also asked to determine whether to extend the city’s 3% resort tax, which they overwhelmingly approved with 2,204 votes in favor and 263 against. As Whitefish neared the expiration of its current resort-tax term, first approved 25 years ago, city leaders asked voters for an extension.

The resort tax applies to bar and restaurant sales, lodging and non-essential retail goods, allowing the city to offset the wear-and-tear on local infrastructure without overburdening year-round residents with mills and levies.

According to the city of Whitefish, the resort tax has generated more than $14 million in property tax relief, amounting to roughly $1.3 million a year. It’s also funded $26.6 million in street improvement projects and provided more than $2 million in park improvements, including to the WAG Dog Park and area tennis and pickleball courts.

The late Whitefish Municipal Court Judge William Hileman ran unopposed to retain the seat, though his recent sudden death triggered an appointment process. City officials are currently accepting applications for the position.

Unofficial results as of 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 2. This story will be updated.

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