The race for the Flathead County Fee’s District three seat is rolling alongside, with a longtime Republican candidate and a average Democrat newcomer squaring off for certainly one of the strongest seats in native authorities.
GOP candidate Randy Brodehl and Democrat Tom Clark have spent the summer time campaigning throughout the greater than sq. miles of Flathead County, with their sights set on the Nov. 6 basic election. Absentee ballots head out in the mail Oct. 12.
As the valley barrels towards the election, the candidates for fee are wanting to the county’s future, with eyes on progress, taxes, the 911 middle, capital enchancment tasks, and extra.
Seat of Energy
Flathead County has three county commissioners, whose job is actually to steer the county’s authorities. The commissioners, paid $71,185 yearly, symbolize three chunks of the county; the District three seat up for grabs this yr encompasses the county’s southern and western sections.
The fee has management of the county’s purse strings. It makes the selections about how to tax residents and the place these tax dollars are spent or saved, and which tasks deserve the county’s time and a spotlight. The fee additionally has the ultimate say on the county’s zoning, improvement tasks underneath the purview of the planning division, and numerous different laws. This implies the fee is each the government and legislative branches of the county authorities.
With solely two commissioners wanted for a majority determination, a single Flathead County commissioner has appreciable energy over the current and way forward for county residents. And whereas they characterize a sure space of the county, the entire county falls underneath their authority.
A Acquainted Face
Commissioner Gary Krueger presently holds the District three seat, however Brodehl outpaced him in the June main election and earned the GOP nomination for the race.
Brodehl is not any stranger to politics in Flathead County. A profession firefighter since 1970 who served as Kalispell’s hearth chief 10 years in the past, Brodehl was elected 2011 as a Home District 9’s consultant at the Montana Legislature. He continues to serve in that position, and can till his time period ends at the finish of the yr. He and his spouse Joyce additionally personal a cabinetry enterprise, R&J Enterprises.
“I’ve been in public service all my life,” Brodehl stated. “I started in the fire service on my 16th birthday.”
He’s been in the Legislature for eight years, and stated that whereas he’s loved the problem, he needed to get again to native politics.
“The opportunity came up to come back to local government, and I just have a real tug on my heart to come back to serve the people locally,” Brodehl stated.
Whereas in the Legislature, Brodehl was on the Appropriations committee, and as hearth chief constructed and managed budgets. This expertise has helped as Brodehl dives into the county’s funds, he stated.
If he’s elected, Brodehl stated his first order of enterprise can be determining a short-term answer for funding for the Flathead 911 Emergency Communications Middle whereas constructing long-term plans. Over the summer time, there have been outages in emergency providers due to severed strains in Missoula, and Brodehl stated it confirmed the county the place it wants redundancies.
“That’s probably the thing that I would like to jump into first. It may not be the biggest thing out there, but when you dial 911 you have to be able to have someone pick up the phone,” Brodehl stated.
The difficulty has develop into considerably of a quagmire. After the 911 middle was accredited and funded by the public, the county and its municipalities chipped in to begin it off. Nevertheless, with no totally different funding construction in place, a taxpayer in a metropolis contributes to the metropolis’s portion of funding by way of taxes, whereas additionally contributing to the county’s share by way of taxes as properly. In the meantime, outdoors of the cities, residents in cities like Bigfork, Evergreen, and Lakeside solely pay the county’s portion.
Makes an attempt at further taxpayer funding on the poll have failed.
“We’ve gone to the voters twice and the voters said ‘nuh-uh,’” Brodehl stated. “They want us to have a 911 center that functions on a very austere budget but that we get it right. I’ve had a really good feeling we could make some tweaks to how we do business there and make it work for two years while we get a chance to figure this out.”
When it comes to progress, Brodehl stated it’s the fee’s job to lead the approach.
“Our county has a semi-rural feel to it, high family values and we want to know our neighbors and know what’s going on in our community. As we grow, it’s very easy for us to lose that, especially if the commissioners don’t take the lead role of holding onto those values as we grow,” he stated. “And who pays for growth? Really it can’t be borne by the people who have already paid their fair share.”
Brodehl stated he needs to work with the planning division and the county’s administration to work out options.
“There are options out there, none of them are great,” he stated. “It’s real easy for a government entity to start charging impact fees, it’s a little harder to direct that right at the growth.”
Capital enchancment tasks are additionally a serious a part of the county’s price range, with the fee deciding which tasks to pursue and save for. Certainly one of the largest in recent times has been placing away cash for a brand new county jail, however Brodehl stated which may not be as a lot of a urgent want because it was perceived earlier than. The answer, he stated, begins in the Legislature and altering how the state sentences individuals.
“The Legislature has a lot more to do, but people who don’t need to be in jail, we want to keep them in their job and in their family, we want to keep them in their home and as a taxpayer,” he stated.
In any other case, Brodehl stated his aim is to be accessible to residents.
“I have done my best to be in good communication with folks in our valley; my business card has my cell phone on it so people can call me directly and I want to continue to be that (available),” he stated.
A Plumber’s Perspective
Democrat political newcomer Tom Clark lives in West Valley, on a farm a pair miles from Commissioner Krueger; their respective fathers have been good pals, Clark stated with a chuckle.
As a fourth-generation Montanan, Clark’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the West Valley in 1890. Clark graduated from Flathead Excessive Faculty in 1979 and spent a pair years at Flathead Valley Group School and some quarters at Montana State College learning wildlife administration.
With no job in that business on the horizon, nevertheless, Clark went to work for his father’s plumbing enterprise. He has owned Kalispell Plumbing and Heating for 22 years and says now he is aware of it was his calling.
Politics weren’t on his radar till he was approached by a gaggle of native residents asking him to be the Democrat nominee. Clark, who considers himself center of the line in politics, thought it will be a great alternative to get a brand new voice on the fee.
“I’m the moderate in the race,” he stated.
Clark stated he determined to run as a Democrat as a result of he believes authorities has a perform in the every day lives of Flathead County residents, and it must be run effectively and properly.
“I’m a strong supporter of government. Sure, it screws up every now and then, but it keeps things working,” Clark stated. “I’ve never had a government job, I’ve always worked in the private sector and have owned my own business for 22 years.”
Whereas that is his first run at public workplace, Clark served on the West Valley Faculty Board for six years and the Kalispell Public Faculties Board of Trustees for eight years. He additionally served on the West Valley Land Use Advisory Committee, which takes native land-use points and developments into consideration and passes on a suggestion to the county board that may determine on the difficulty.
Clark stated he discovered the work to be a few of the most rewarding he’s completed, and particularly loved spearheading the effort to construct a motorcycle path from West Valley Faculty, getting college students off the freeway. Clark additionally helped the faculty develop its first bus route, a vitamin program, and be sure that there are full-time counselors at the faculty.
“I’ve found my public service to be very rewarding,” he stated. “I have a history of finding solutions to difficult problems.”
When it comes to progress, Clark stated he’s heard from people that sustaining open and inexperienced area on the valley flooring is a vital objective to maintain the valley’s character. Clark stated the cities’ “urban sprawl” is chewing up this open floor, and one among the best methods to keep openness is to help household farms.
“It’s mutually beneficial to keep these farms in business,” he stated. “Farm families need support to stay solvent. We need to work together to find ways to keep our farmers afloat.”
It comes down to native management, identical to in the faculty districts, he stated. In the county, this implies the neighborhood plans areas develop with guidelines and laws about what makes use of are allowed are extra helpful than they’re being handled, Clark stated.
“It’s citizen driven,” he stated of the plans. “Everybody in the neighborhood can come together and have a say and work together. It can prevent conflict, and the county needs to give neighborhood plans more credence. Why shouldn’t you have local control of the neighborhood you live in?”
The 911 middle poses a funding drawback, Clark stated, and his short-term answer can be wanting right into a 50-cent tax per cellphone per thirty days. The state already levies an analogous tax at $1 a month to pay for emergency providers, he stated.
The taxpayers have spoken on the situation, he stated, and the county wants to work with the Legislature to discover alternate methods of producing income aside from via property taxes, particularly focused at the tens of millions of vacationers flooding the valley each summer time. One answer could possibly be a tax on rental automobiles of all types, he stated, which might goal vacationers and part-time residents.
“I am opposed to a sales tax,” Clark stated.
Maybe the largest problem dealing with the Flathead County Fee is accessibility, Clark stated.
“You look at the sheer number of lawsuits that the county has against them, and you see they’re not even following their own rules,” Clark stated.
For instance, Clark pointed to a March order from a District Courtroom decide that decided the county’s denial of the Egan Slough zoning enlargement petition was an abuse of discretion and remanded the challenge again to the commissioners.
He needs to convey extra transparency to these selections and discussions; proper now, Clark stated there’s not sufficient entry for on a regular basis individuals. He additionally needs to deliver accountability to the board, mentioning present Commissioner Phil Mitchell’s run in with the regulation for illegally killing timber on county property final yr.
The lawsuits towards the county present the fee hasn’t been operating correctly, Clark stated, and if the commissioners don’t like the guidelines or legal guidelines they work with, they need to change them, not ignore them. Clark stated he needs to hear from residents alongside the entire political spectrum – nobody’s opinion issues greater than anybody else’s.
“It’s an open door, not a closed mind,” Clark stated. “To dig in and have a rigid mindset that you’re right and they’re wrong doesn’t work.”
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