Council OKs goals list

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City Council Chambers on the second floor of Whitefish City Hall building. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Whitefish City Council Monday approved its goals list for what it hopes to accomplish in the next few years.

Mayor John Muhlfeld said Council recently held a retreat to discuss items to be part of the list intended to keep focus on the top items on the city’s to-do list.

“These are the things that we care about and are going to be working on,” he said. “It’s certainly a heavy lift. As we move forward we will do so with transparency and public input.”

City department heads recently outlined the proposed goals during a City Council work session.

In the spring each year, Council sets its priority projects for short-term and long-term goals. City staff presented a list of 30 different goals spread out through six different departments. Most of the items on the list are estimated to be completed by the end of this year or in 2019.

Administration

City Manager Adam Hammatt outlined the five goals listed under the administration department.

The first item is to update the Council agenda and packet information. He said staff is looking at way to streamline the Council packets that accompany meetings and can often include 300 pages sometimes ballooning to nearly 1,000 pages of documents. Earlier this year the city updated the electronic agendas to include embedded links directly to the items included so folks can get directly to the topic they are interested in.

“We’re looking at improving the way we deliver information,” he said. “We’re looking at ways to make it more navigable when there’s is large planning documents. We want to make it easier for Council and for the public.”

Work is also planned on a finance sustainability plan estimated to be completed in February 2019. The document is expected to set guidelines for how the city would respond during an economic downtown.

“When we have another economic downturn, we want to have a plan in place,” he said. “We don’t want staff to be taken by surprise by the steps we will have planned.”

A plan for creating a resort tax education and reallocation plan is also a goal.

“There is concern about what might happen in the Legislature regarding the resort tax and we want to be ready for that,” Hammatt said.

Goals also include continued efforts to find property for a new cemetery, and on creating a climate action plan standing committee.

Fire Department

There are two goals listed under the Fire Department — create a long-range master plan for the department and provide Council with emergency management training.

Fire Chief Joe Page said work has already begun on creating a master plan including engaging the Whitefish Rural Fire Service Area board.

“We already don’t provide enough service and we also don’t have enough funding to serve more,” he said.

The second item is training Council for how disaster funding works.

“If we don’t do things properly when a disaster happens the state and the federal government can’t come in when we need,” he said.

Councilor Frank Sweeney said he would also like to see a plan to respond in case of an emergency involving the railroad, particularly for oil trains.

“This is the one of the highest priorities,” he said.

Page agreed noting that any response from BNSF or others would be “hours and days away” while the Whitefish Department is “minutes away.”

Parks and Recreation

The Parks and Recreation department lists five goals estimated to be completed this year and in 2019.

First is to finish the last two phases of upgrades to Depot Park. Work must be completed by 2020 when the city’s tax increment finance district is set to expire.

At Riverside Park, the city plans to deal with bank erosion and improve access to the Whitefish River. Wayfinding signs are planned to be installed along the city’s trails. Planned for next year is the construction of a new parking lot near City Beach.

In addition, a goal is to explore possible funding sources for maintenance of parks and public spaces.

Parks and Recreation Director Maria Butts said the department and Park Board is evaluating the parks capital improvement plan and looking at maintenance.

“We have to make some decisions about what we want to maintain and how,” she said “Like do we want to plow every bike path and how frequently we want to mow.”

Planning Department

The Planning Department goals include seven items: Highway 93 South corridor plan, creating zoning for affordable housing, updating the parking plan for downtown, updating zoning ordinances for downtown, creating a master plan for the city’s 88 acres on Monegan Road, analyzing creating new tax increment finance districts and implementing the affordable housing plan.

Planing Director Dave Taylor said the city needs to update its parking plan for the downtown to determine what are the needs for parking and look at ways the city could reduce demand for parking.

Updating the zoning ordinances for downtown are part of the implementation of the city’s downtown master plan, he noted.

Police Department

Only one goal is listed for the Police Department — to analyze the policing needs of Big Mountain if it is annexed into the city limits. The city has an agreement with Big Mountain that doesn’t expire until 2022 when the city can decide whether to annex.

Mayor John Muhlfeld said he would like to see the goal added under every department to plan for the impact that would have on the city.

Public Works

Coming in with the longest list, the Public Works department lists 10 goals.

Many of the items the city has already been working on.

The goal to design and construct a new wastewater treatment plant is estimated to be completed in 2021. Plans also include reducing unaccounted-for water loss in the city water system and improving winter road and alley plowing.

Developing a program to assist property owners with sidewalk maintenance responsibilities is included.

“We’re looking at some kind of cost share to maintain sidewalks for snow and ice, but also for repair and reconstruction,” Public Works Director Craig Workman said.

Reducing the number of illegal sump pump connections in the city is on the list. It is illegal to connect groundwater sump pumps to the city sewer system, and Workman said the city plans to begin inspections of sump pumps in homes.

Other goals include constructing viaduct improvements as outlined in the city’s downtown master plan, analyzing a citywide recycling program, creating a map of open space and looking at relieving downtown congestion through alternative transportation options.

In addition on the Public Works list is investigating a wayside horn for the railroad crossing at Birch Point Drive.

For years neighbors in the Birch Point area have asked for a quiet zone at the railroad crossing complaining about trains blasting their horns when passing through town.

The city has long tried to work with BNSF Railway, the Montana Department of Transportation and neighbors in an attempt to create a railroad quiet zone at the crossing. The cost for a quiet zone has grown substantially with cost estimates coming close to $1 million.

“What has stalled the project is cost,” Workman said. “I think a wayside horn is the solution.”

A wayside horn is a warning device which is mounted facing oncoming traffic at grade crossings and produces an audible warning equivalent to that provided by a train-mounted horn but the sound is highly focused along a roadway approach at the crossing with greatly reduced noise levels to the surrounding area.

Workman said the wayside horn would likely be closer to $200,000, and a more cost effective approach.

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