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Kalispell council candidates agree on most issues

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | October 22, 2021 12:00 AM

During an election forum held virtually on Wednesday, candidates for the Kalispell City Council demonstrated something rare in the modern political environment: agreement.

Five of the seven people running to represent the city of Kalispell repeatedly echoed each other’s sentiments during the question-and-answer session as they explored issues related to growth, transportation and city services.

The commonalities among many of the answers given by the candidates suggested that the next batch of city representatives are most distinct in their background and experience, rather than their ideologies.

The candidates seemed most divided in their opinions of whether the city should continue to follow the path it’s on with regard to hot-button topics, or whether the council should introduce new approaches to some of those issues.

Housing, for instance, proved to be one of the most divisive matters for the potential council members.

Current council member Chad Graham and former council member Rod Kuntz both voiced their support for the ways the city previously has sought to address housing concerns.

“We’re doing the right thing in Kalispell to get affordable housing going,” said Graham, who is running for reelection in Ward 2. He cited lowered impact fees and efforts to keep taxes down as examples of successful measures the city has taken toward that end.

His Ward 2 opponent, Gabe Dillon, suggested taking a new tack to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city. Dillon proposed establishing a housing trust to make sure affordable units are available in Kalispell.

Jessica Dahlmann, a candidate for Ward 3, agreed with Dillon on the need to get more innovative to ensure housing affordability. She brought up the idea of performing a needs assessment to get a clearer picture of housing availability in Kalispell.

Meanwhile, her Ward 3 challenger, Rod Kuntz said, “The plan is to carry on with what the city’s doing.”

That was the general plan for most of the candidates when it came to carrying out the Move 2040 Transportation Plan, the Parkline Trail and the city’s growth.

All of the candidates expressed their own brands of support for the efforts the city has already put into place pertaining to transportation, the new trail through downtown and developing within the city limits.

“I think the city does a great job right now,” said Angela Kennedy, who’s running for Ward 4.

In fact, the only other topic that drew particular disagreement was a question about increasing emergency and city services. Dillon advocated for increasing those services to maintain the city’s trails year-round.

His opponent, Graham, said that although he generally supports trails, he worries about year-round trail maintenance contributing to increased taxes.

Otherwise, the candidates agreed they are pleased with the proposals in the Move 2040 plan, they would like to see mixed-use development along the Parkline Trail, and they hope for increased density infill growth as the city’s population surges. In addition, they were all lukewarm about the idea of the Montana Department of Transportation putting in roundabouts as traffic calming devices, but they recognized the state agency has the final say in installing the often controversial intersection devices.

Candidates Sandy Carlson and Jed Fisher didn’t participate in the forum, which was hosted by the Daily Inter Lake.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.