Senator confers with Kalispell officials

Daily Inter Lake

by Tom Lotshaw

After a meeting with the Montana Legislature on Monday, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester visited with Kalispell officials at the Museum at Central School on Wednesday.

“I’m here to listen,” said the Democrat from Big Sandy, who was elected to a second term last November.

He told city officials he wanted to hear of their “challenges, concerns, plans.”

One of the first subjects raised in the broad hourlong conversation was the Kalispell U.S. 93 bypass. After two unsuccessful federal grant requests, Kalispell officials asked if they can expect to see funding to complete the northern half of the bypass.

Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz told Tester that land acquisition and engineering for the northern half of the bypass are done, and the project has been broken down into four $8 million phases.

“They’re good-size projects, easy to do within a year,” Jentz said. “We’d love to do a phase a year and we were on track to do that for a while.”

Tester encouraged Kalispell to keep applying for money and said he would keep looking for funding options for the project. “When I first got elected six years ago, I was brought in by then-Mayor Kennedy to talk about this bypass. We were able to get it going over the last six years and we are going to continue to support it,” he said.

Kalispell officials shared some recent success stories achieved through federal programs.

Those included Flathead County Economic Development Authority’s use of a federal grant to buy a former gravel pit to develop the new Flathead County Rail Park; a grant-funded planning process that led to the Kalispell Core Area Revitalization Plan; the launch of a new community land trust funded by the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program; and a new law enforcement training center at Northwest Shooter.

But with Congress seemingly stuck in partisan gridlock on major budget issues and up against the debt ceiling once again, Kalispell officials also asked Tester what they should expect to see in the future.

“There’s a lot of [federal] money that comes in here, and in the future you guys have got a big battle ahead for yourselves on these types of issues that are all across the country,” City Council member Tim Kluesner said.

Tester said he supports a “big bipartisan plan” to reduce the government’s deficit spending by $4 trillion to $5 trillion over the next decade.

“That’s a lot of money, but the budget is huge. We can find it,” he said. “I think absolutely the budgets are going to get tighter, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

When it comes to reducing the nation’s deficit, nothing should be held as sacred and the aim should be shared sacrifice, Tester said.

“Let’s look at those tax credits and see if they’re working, see if they’re creating jobs, see if they’re building communities. If they’re not, let’s eliminate or reduce them at a bare minimum and move on to the next issue. And do the same thing with appropriations,” Tester said.

To that end, Tester said he hopes to see Kalispell and Montana’s other communities stay in close contact with his office about what federal programs are working and not working – “Because we don’t need to shoot ourselves in the foot in this process.”