Smith brings continuity to new role as City Manager

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Dana Smith is the new City Manager for the City of Whitefish. She previously served as Whitefish’s Assistant City Manager and Finance Director. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Dana Smith found her way into city government by examining the accounting side of operations.

Prior to joining the city of Whitefish, she worked as an auditor in the private sector, focusing on auditing for local governments including for Whitefish before heading up the city’s finance department. Last week Smith took over as City Manager.

“There really is a lot of projects that run through the finance director in every department,” she said from her office at City Hall. “That’s a huge benefit in now serving as City Manager. I have the unique ability to have seen everything that’s already going on and keep leading our team of great employees who work very hard and with integrity.”

Prior to being appointed to the city’s top executive position, Smith served as Assistant City Manager and Finance Director.

“I’m excited about this opportunity and it’s an honor to serve Whitefish,” she said of her new position. “Whitefish is a very special place.”

Though she didn’t originally intend this path, Smith says she plans to continue working in public service for the duration of her career.

“Through auditing governments, I found what I was passionate about,” she said. “Even if I’m working more than 40 hours per week, I’m happy to be here because I have a purpose.”

Prior to joining the city, she worked as an auditor for both Denning, Downey & Associates and Stahlberg & Sutherland P.C. Smith is a certified public accountant and her focus was on completing audits of local governments including cities, counties and school districts in the state.

“I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of auditing to make sure it was done right and looking at how to solve problems,” she said. “I saw my position as an auditor as the chance to do something good for the communities I was working with. I worked with a lot of different size cities looking in-depth at their finances and through that I had to learn the laws before I began working with the city.”

Smith graduated from Polson High School and attended the University of Montana, earning her bachelors in business administration accounting and her masters of accountancy.

During her days off, Smith enjoys paddle boarding on the Whitefish River and snowshoeing with her family.

Smith assisted the city while it was seeking a Finance Director before she was hired to the position full-time in July 2014. In August 2018, she was promoted to the dual role of Assistant City Manager and Finance Director. Since September she has been serving in the role of interim City Manager.

During her tenure, Smith says she’s proud to have worked on the financing logistics for the city pertaining to the Haskill Basin conservation easement, which protects about 3,000 acres of forestland north of town including the city’s drinking water source. The city contributed $7.7 million from the resort tax for its portion of the easement.

“We spent a lot of hours working on that and it has a large impact on the community,” she said. “When I look up at the mountain, I know that it is going to be there in perpetuity.”

Moving forward, an area of focus Smith says she plans to work on is the renewal of the city’s 3% resort tax which is set to end in January 2025. Council has expressed a desire to seek voter approval for an extension of the tax collected on lodging, retail, bars and restaurants.

The tax provides a property tax rebate to property owners, Smith says is a positive, but it has also already provided other benefits to the city.

“The tax has provided over $10 million in property tax relief, over $20 million in street improvement projects and about $1.5 million in park improvements,” she said. “So without resort tax those projects would have to be funded through other sources. So having that renewal happen is very important to us.”

In the more immediate, Smith says her priority will be to continue to lead the way for the city on creating affordable workforce housing, in addition to continued efforts to plan for the future.

“We need to manage and plan for how to address and deal with the impacts from growth and tourism,” she said. “Both of those come with challenges and we need to make sure that when growth occurs we keep the same character and feel of Whitefish.”

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