Council may backtrack on airport vote

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The future of Kalispell City Airport is going on the ballot for voters to decide this November. Or maybe not.

At a work session Monday, Kalispell City Council members wrestled with ballot language for the airport referendum narrowly approved back in May.

At the same time, council members Jim Atkinson, Randy Kenyon and Jeff Zauner pushed for a vote next week to rescind that referendum.

Two resolutions will appear on the July 2 council agenda, City Attorney Charlie Harball said: One to rescind the airport referendum and one to approve the proposed ballot language.

Atkinson asked for the resolution to rescind the referendum at Monday’s work session. He had strong words both in favor of the airport and to Mayor Tammi Fisher about how the referendum resolution was passed.

“Tammi, you’re a good lawyer. You do a real good job of making your case. What you need is someone with a rebuttal. That’s what you always get in court, but you didn’t get the last time we talked” about the airport, Atkinson said.

Back in May, Fisher called on Bob Hafferman, who made a motion for the airport referendum, after her own motion to maintain the airport in its present configuration with tax increment finance district funds failed 5-4.

The referendum motion passed 5-4. It was supported by Fisher, Hafferman, Tim Kluesner, Phil Guiffrida III and a hesitant Wayne Saverud.

At that meeting, Fisher recognized Hafferman instead of Atkinson, who wanted to make a motion to proceed with a proposed airport expansion and upgrade to B-II design standards.

“I would like to see the resolution Tammi and her group circumvented several weeks ago to come before the council again,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson argued that the council should decide the future of the airport.

“I think that’s what the voting public votes us in for, to make these decisions, make wise decisions and go forward,” he said.

Any council member will be able to make a motion to take up the resolution to rescind the referendum and it will require a simple majority to pass. If that resolution goes without a motion or a second or is voted down, the council would move on to the resolution to approve proposed ballot language.

As the swing vote, it’s not clear if Saverud wants to change his mind. “I want to look at what was accomplished at the work session in a little more rested atmosphere,” he said Tuesday of the proposed ballot language, which still could be amended.

Atkinson said he doesn’t know what Saverud will do. “I hate to put him on the spot, but he’s on the spot,” Atkinson said.

COUNCIL members struggled with ballot language for two-plus hours Monday. They went back and forth on wording, what pre-engineering cost estimates to include and the best way to boil a complex airport issue down into the required 100-word preface and two, 25-word ballot options.

Option A would direct Kalispell to expand and upgrade the airport to a B-II facility “funded by local dollars and [Federal Aviation Administration] funds.” The preface describes that option as a $15.1 million project with the city eligible for up to $13.5 million in federal funds to pay for expansion and safety upgrades and a local taxpayer cost estimated at $2.6 million.

The fact that those numbers don’t add up will be explored by city officials.

Option B would direct the city to “leave the airport as-is,” supported by local taxpayer dollars at an estimated cost of $2 million. The preface notes that under that option Kalispell is contractually obligated at least until 2025 to ensure the airport remains in “substantially the same condition as was present in 2005,” because of leases the city entered and otherwise would have to buy out.

The ballot language makes no mention of many other factors in the decision.

Those include the $2.9 million Kalispell stands to be reimbursed for past expenditures if it moves forward with the B-II upgrade, the $150,000 a year for maintenance funding it would become eligible for, or state funds that could pay for 5 percent of the project cost, reducing the city’s share.

It also makes no mention of the 17 landowners who must agree to sell property for the B-II project to proceed, or the Airport/Athletic Complex Tax Increment Finance District dollars needed to pay for Option B and only available through 2020, when the district sunsets.

Harball said council members tried to give the public as much information as they could in the limited space afforded by the ballot.

“I think they just elected to leave some of that out and for public education down the road,” Harball said. “That’s the job of the proponents on each side, to get the word out to do their PR on each one of those options.”  

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

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