College to get help for grant

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The Kalispell City Council on Monday agreed to apply for a $350,000 grant that would help Flathead Valley Community College expand its heavy equipment operator licensing program.

If it is awarded, money from the Community Development Block Grant Economic Development Program would help the college buy machinery to offer students more hands-on training.

Targeted equipment purchases include a new grader, bulldozer, scraper, loader and two excavators.

Plum Creek, Knife River, Swank Enterprises and LHC wrote letters supporting the application. They said it is a challenge to find qualified heavy equipment operators, especially with much of the local construction workforce departed to other areas such as the Bakken oil fields.

Company officials also said they anticipate a critical need for more heavy equipment operators as the Northwest Montana economy rebounds and infrastructure investment continues.

Council members voted 7-0 to authorize city staffers and the college to apply for the grant. Kari Gabriel and Phil Guiffrida III were not present.

Council member Bob Hafferman said that while he often opposes such grants, he strongly supports this one because it is hard for companies to offer apprenticeships and the college’s program gives people an opportunity to learn a trade.

“That’s why I’m heartily in favor of this,” he said.

HAFFERMAN could not support a separate $450,000 Community Development Block Grant application for Flathead County, which possibly would use the money to help build a new Agency on Aging facility.

Council members voted 6-1 to approve a resolution of intent to apply for the grant. The resolution sets an April 1 hearing when the council will vote on letting the county apply for the public facilities grant.

Montana cities and counties can apply for funding through several different Community Development Block Grant programs each year.

With funding awarded last fall for Intermountain Providence Home in Somers, Flathead County cannot apply for another public facilities grant until that money is spent. So the county is asking Kalispell, which finds itself with no public facilities project on the horizon, to let it use the city’s open slot.

Hafferman noted that details about the proposed Agency on Aging project are scarce and that county commissioners have not even stated their own intentions on the record.

“We have no location, no cost estimate, no [analysis of] maintenance and operation versus existing costs,” Hafferman said. “I can’t vote for this because it’s pie in the sky except they want $450,000 for a new Agency on Aging building. They’re not sure of anything other than that.”

Council member Jim Atkinson, a former Agency on Aging director, said county officials have lots of ways to pay for a building and time to flesh out their proposal before the public hearing.

“By the time they write the grant, they better have a firm location and costs or they will not be judged well and not receive the grant,” Atkinson said. “I would have to say all in due time. And this is the process for putting it together.”

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

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