[Editor’s note: This week the Inter Lake will profile each of the candidates in the contested Republican primary election for Flathead County commissioner.]
Flathead County Commissioner Gary Krueger said taxpayers can expect another six years of fiscal conservatism if he’s re-elected.
Krueger is one of four Republican contenders for the District 3 commission seat. He faces Ronalee Skees, Randy Brodehl and Gerald “Jay” Scott in the June 5 primary. The winner goes against lone Democrat Tom Clark in the Nov. 6 general election.
“We have to stay frugal with our funds,” Krueger told a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce audience recently, reminding them, “I’ve not raised your taxes.”
Krueger said he believes the county has a more business-friendly climate now and continues to protect personal property rights. Those were two key issues in the 2012 election.
A lot of county building expansion has happened on Krueger’s watch, and he’s proud that all of the projects were accomplished without bond issues.
The 1903 historic jail building was converted to space for the County Attorney’s Office. At the same time the South Campus Building was constructed to house the Kalispell Senior Center, along with the Election, Planning and Zoning and Environmental Health departments. Both building projects — totaling $11 million — were paid for with the county’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes appropriations from the federal government that compensate local governments for nontaxable federal lands.
“The [South Campus] facility has performed better than I thought,” Krueger said.
Krueger said he was opposed to using a community development block grant for the South Campus Building, but supported block-grant funding instead to improve area senior centers and handicap access.
The county has invested about $2.5 million over the past couple of years in fairgrounds improvements, both in new infrastructure and building upgrades that were planned for in the county’s capital improvement budget.
“The Fair Board and current manager had the goal of being self-sufficient and they have come close to doing that,” Krueger said, adding that the Fair Board is committed to operating the fairgrounds as an economic driver, not an economic liability.
Krueger said some of his best work as a commissioner has been “in the financial realm.”
Regarding the future county jail expansion, Krueger said he was one of two commissioners who supported a savings plan for future jail needs.
“That’s the first thing government has to do — know you have the ability to afford it,” he said. “Sometimes wants are pie-in-the-sky. We have to be responsible to the taxpayers.”
Krueger added that he believes there was a missed opportunity in not being able to purchase the former Wal-Mart building for a jail expansion a couple of years ago.
He favored the temporary jail expansion on the second floor of the Justice Center, paid for with federal payment-in-lieu money.
“That buys us a fair amount of time to see how
the state levels out,” he said.
Krueger believes the long-term funding and maintenance of the consolidated 911 dispatch center should be brought into the county to manage.
“In doing that we can bring it into the CIP [capital improvement plan] and it can be managed by the county.”
But he added that “cities shouldn’t be out of the process. They’d be an advisory board.”
The legal wrangling involving the planned water-bottling plant near Creston has drawn comment from Krueger’s challengers, but he declined to comment because the county is still embroiled in a lawsuit.
In 2016, Egan Slough area residents petitioned to expand the area’s agricultural zoning district to include the controversial bottling plant’s location. The Flathead County commissioners rejected their proposal, drawing a lawsuit from the Egan Slough Community, a citizens’ group.
In March, District Judge Robert Allison ordered the commissioners to reconsider a petition to add more than 500 acres to the 1,150-acre Egan Slough Zoning District, a move that could derail the controversial bottling plant.
A ballot initiative in the June primary will ask voters whether they want the Egan Slough Zoning District expanded.
“The judge’s order is to re-review the public comment for [the proposed expanded] Egan Slough Zoning District,” Krueger said. “It’s my wish to do exactly that. I think we should work at it as soon as possible. I’m not for delaying or bumping it along. I think we should have a public hearing. Our job is to hear the public.”
Krueger defended the commission’s 2-1 initial decision in 2014 to send a letter of support for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact process to the state. In 2015 his fellow commissioners sent a letter to lawmakers opposing the water compact, but Krueger objected and continued to support the compact. He said he discussed the issue with the state Attorney General as a negotiated settlement was being worked out.
“The Montana Legislature worked out a compromise,” he said. “As we see with many things we do, it’s best to try to find negotiated settlements.”
Krueger also weighed in on county growth, saying “you build the stuff you need and figure out how to pay for it prudently.”
He supported the state gas tax that brings money into the county Road Department’s coffers, and he favors the continued allocation of $500,000 annually to county roads from the federal payment-in-lieu appropriation.
Krueger doesn’t believe countywide building permits or further zoning unzoned areas of the county are needed at this time, though he said he’s “comfortable with either,” providing it’s generated by citizen support.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze
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