Frank Sweeney is the only incumbent seeking re-election to City Council, and says he’s running because he has “more to give.”
“My overall concept is that I want to make sure Whitefish stays livable for the residents of Whitefish and for those that want to come and live in Whitefish,” he said. “I want people who want to join what Whitefish is — we’re not going to become some place else.”
In 2009, Sweeney was appointed to fill an empty seat on Council and was later elected to Council in 2011, serving ever since.
He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and has a law degree from the University of Houston. He worked as a lawyer for Pepsi Co. for more than 15 years before coming to Whitefish in 1998.
Sweeney says the city is facing some issues that his experience on Council will be of assistance in dealing with — reauthorization of the resort tax and how funds from that should be directed in the future, the potential creation of a new tax increment finance district, and what the city does with funds that will go into the city’s general fund when the current TIF district sunsets next year.
He notes that handling of funds from the resort tax and TIF can be a way to assist the city in paying for infrastructure needs and it should be a priority for some of the funds to go to the construction of the city’s new wastewater treatment plant.
“It will be incumbent upon the city to think through these issues,” he said. “We could just give it all back to the tax payers, but then we won’t be in a position to pay for the capital improvement projects that we need to fund without raising taxes. Some of those funds need to go to infrastructure projects on a long-term basis.”
Creating affordable housing in Whitefish still needs work, says Sweeney, but Whitefish is leading the way with its inclusionary zoning program that requires all new residential development to include 20% deed-restricted affordable housing
“We’re to some degree taking a leap of faith and we just have to stay with it to find out if it’s working and if it needs to be changed,” he said. “One of the issues remaining is the fear that for some neighborhoods the affordable housing will unreasonably increase density in those traditional neighborhoods. That’s going to remain an area we need to pay attention to, and we may need to add some fixes.”
Sweeney says if the city finds that the program isn’t working it will need to keep changing the program so that it creates affordable housing.
Sweeney says the growth that’s been happening in Whitefish is tough on the 7,000 residents here who are supporting infrastructure that has to support 20,000 to 30,000 visitors in the summer. He says he’s positive about the city’s work to create a sustainable tourism management plan as a way to deal with future growth.
“Growth is killing us right now,” Sweeney said. “We don’t want to stop the growth, but we also need to figure out how we maintain sustainable tourism.”
Sweeney says the city is behind in dealing with the growth, and much of the growth that has occurred doesn’t serve the citizens of Whitefish, but rather the visitors who come here.
“We’re in one of those frenetic growth cycles and before that we had the recession,” he said. “This cycle feels like it’s on steroids. We were not badly prepared, but having all the development come all at one time has really stressed the city.”
He says the Highway 93 corridor plan the city is creating and a review of the city’s extension of services plan are both necessary for planning.
Sweeney says Whitefish has an open public process.
“Of all the cities I’ve seen Whitefish is the most inclusive and inviting of public participation,” he said. “Whitefish residents are vocal and that’s one of the reasons I want to be involved.”
Sweeney said says the city could improve its process by expanding the distance for neighbors of development changes who receive notice of a potential change. It’s currently set at 150 feet for those who get notice.
“It’s really important that we do a better job of noticing residents who are going to be effected,” he said.
Sweeney says he’s not aware of any matter that the city has had as a public process where it hasn’t allowed for public participation.
“We like public input and we appreciate it,” he said. “It’s always educational and it changes minds.”
Water and sewer rates
Sweeney says users should support the city’s water and wastewater systems through fees, but he’d also like to see other funds go to help with infrastructure costs so those projects aren’t solely supported through fees.
“Some of these huge infrastructure projects have been dictated by the state and federal government,” he said.
Putting funds that remain in the city TIF district when it sunsets next year toward construction of the new wastewater treatment plant, Sweeney says, is a top priority and should assist with utility costs.
He says that should minimize some of the future increases in water and sewer rates that are projected to cover costs.
Sweeney notes that the cost of living for residents is a pressing issue because if the city really is about creating affordable housing, water and sewer rates are a piece of that.
Whitefish is conducting a mail-ballot election for the city election. Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 16 and must be returned to the Flathead County Election Department office by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 5, signed by the name of the voter on the envelope.
Five candidates are seeking three open City Council positions.