Norton trumpets lengthy public service record

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Rebecca Norton

Q. What are the most challenging economic growth issues facing Whitefish, and what solutions do you propose for handling growth?

A. Growth has been planned for and expected for over 15 years in Whitefish. The county used to do our planning, then requested that we take it over to allow us to have urban planners about a decade ago. We developed a growth policy, hired internal planners, and funded the Whitefish Visitors and Convention Center to help market and promote our town. This has helped mitigate the decline of our industrial jobs—lumber, etc. but it can also lead to a loss of historical identity. I would like to see historical preservation programs for homes and trees, open space bonding to keep more areas open to the public, pocket parks, community gardens and preservation of our waterways and trails to help mitigate the effect of our popularity. 

Q. Is the city of Whitefish doing enough to address affordable/workforce housing?

A. Affordable housing has also been a goal for some time—over 16 years ago we made incentives available to builders—but no one agreed to build these units for 14 years, and unfortunately we did not have periodic reviews in place to change course in time.

During the recession folks with money bought up many of our older, smaller homes to improve and flip when the market recovered—leaving us with less rental inventory. And because of the demand to visit Whitefish vs. live in Whitefish, short-term and overnight rentals are often more lucrative than providing workforce housing to our workers. We are on track, and will be reviewing the plan to see if it is working. My favorite ideas so far are the boarding house that the owners of Markus Foods created out of our independent school. I think we’ll do more with the citizens through incentives in the future.

Q. Preserving the quality of Whitefish Lake and the small-town character of Whitefish are important issues for the resort town. What further steps can the city take to ensure these values are preserved?

A. Our lake is not only an aesthetic and recreational asset, but one-third of the year it serves as the source of our drinking water. Septic leachate from properties surrounding the lake is correctable with legislative action and incentive programs—we need to make this a reality, not just a long-standing concern.

We are one of the few states in the nation that mandate a clean and healthful environment in our Constitution. My home was built in 1905. I walk over the Whitefish River on a footbridge daily to walk to work or downtown. I see firsthand the necessity of maintaining the charm of our heritage while combining development with stewardship in key parts of our town. I am in favor of policies that identify and preserve our historical legacy in homes, trees, waterways and open space and if elected will work toward those goals.

Q. What qualities make you the best candidate for a council position?

A. I have been showing up for our public process for over two decades—not only volunteering to be on decision-making committees, and leading them, but also giving public comment in areas like our water quality law, the “doughnut” debate, our budgets, and many other issues. In my work as a hand therapist I have heard the life stories of many, many residents of our city, and feel that I hold dear our values, our way of doing business, and the legacy of kindness we extend to each other and our visitors.

Being a small-business owner, I understand the financial strains we go through in our growth, but also cherish our access to nature and our history ever day. I will be a well-rounded, thoughtful addition to our City Council if elected, and hopefully a calming influence as well. 

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