Kalispell stages cities and towns conference

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Municipal employees from all over Montana arrive this week in Kalispell, which is hosting the 81st annual conference of the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

The three-day event runs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. 

It promises to bring about 320 people from 65 to 70 different Montana cities and towns, said Alec Hansen, the league’s longtime executive director.

“We always have a good turnout in Kalispell. I think people like to visit. And if the weather is good and they can take a trip up through Glacier, that doesn’t hurt, either,” Hansen said.

Kalispell last hosted the League of Cities and Towns annual conference in 2004, when it was based at the Outlaw Inn. 

This year’s event booked nearly all of the rooms at Hilton Garden Inn, with some people spilling out into other local hotels, Kalispell City Clerk Theresa White said.

“I started planning this over a year ago,” White said of the event, which is designed to be part work, part play.

Karena Bemis, director of sales at Hilton Garden Inn, said she has been working all month to find rooms for people, both at the Hilton and other hotels around town. 

It was a busy September for the Hilton Garden Inn, which last week hosted a major bridge tournament with more than 400 players, and it’s shaping up to be the hotel’s busiest-ever October, Bemis said. 

This year’s League of Cities and Towns conference includes a golf scramble at Buffalo Hill Golf Club, a run at Kidsports, a Hawaiian luau with a tropical barbecue and music by the Copper Mountain Band and various lunches and tours put together with help from business sponsors.

Sponsors went above and beyond this year, White said. “Let’s put it this way: We raised enough so the city will not have to spend any of its own money.”

A variety of work sessions will focus on municipal matters such as tightening wastewater treatment standards, procurement procedures, tax increment financing, labor and employment issues, health-care benefits, downtown preservation, capital financing options for cities and defending excessive use of force and Taser use claims.

The conference also will feature a number of speakers.

The featured speaker is Chas Cartwright, the superintendent of Glacier National Park. 

Candidates for governor Republican Rick Hill and Democrat Steve Bullock also will make appearances on Thursday and Friday to discuss their campaigns and platforms. 

Other sessions focus on the key issues for cities and towns as the 2013 legislative session quickly approaches. Those include public employee pension reform, property valuations and taxes, and managing the impacts of oil boom developments in Eastern Montana.

“We want our people to have a good understanding of the issues getting ready for the Legislature,” Hansen said. “When people understand what’s happening, what’s likely to happen and what the options are, that helps everything.”

Kalispell will use the three-day conference to try and get some people to come back to the Flathead. 

Attendees will be given coupons to local businesses and on Friday have a chance to a win a “Get Back to the Flathead” package that includes a raft trip, a Red Bus Crown of the Continent Tour, a scenic plane ride and a two-night stay at the Hilton Garden Inn.

“We’re just hoping they’ll decide to come back and visit,” White said.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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