Kristin Riter for Coucil

Issues

If elected to the City Council, I’m committed to working with you, the residents of Whitefish, first and foremost to address our most pressing issues. Below are some of my key areas of focus for the future of Whitefish -- you can also read my position paper by clicking here.

HOUSING

 I will focus on balancing our housing options for ALL residents with an ongoing emphasis on a good quality of life for everyone.  We have an immediate housing need for locals and working families.  To that end, you can count on me to look at the facts and seek timely and actionable remedies - we don’t need a bus ride, a new committee or paid positions to see what other towns are doing - the answers are here in our community already:

Prioritize housing for Full Time Residents. New housing initiatives must focus on Whitefish natives and those who live and work here by creating housing that’s affordable for locals…not just retirees and vacationers, but those who grew up in Whitefish, those who work at our local shops and restaurants, and those who struggle to make ends meet. While we cannot halt growth entirely, we must BETTER MANAGE it! I will focus on creating a greater balance for future residential and commercial construction permits to provide more assistance for the housing we need for our own citizens.  It’s time for the City to deliver on this - it is the number one complaint I’ve heard in our community. 

Simplify the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations and approval process.  Make it less complicated to remodel, build and rent affordable housing on private property; let market forces play a part in solving a key issue facing our community - at no expense to the City and no loss of undeveloped open spaces.  ADU’s are low hanging fruit with a small footprint, and the fastest path to delivering a supply of independent-living housing to our aging seniors, our workforce and small families.  The impact of this fix, if managed well, should be an uptick in swift additions of these affordable studio, 1- or 2-bedroom rentals and our ability to send a message to the workforce that we want you to live here and will work to provide more inventory of quality, independent rental homes for you as quickly as possible!

Focus on In-Fill Development or Renovation of our existing housing stock; build-out our existing underutilized properties within the City limits instead of encouraging sprawl. That said, as we look to infill opportunities, we need to ensure our infrastructure can manage any current or future growth in our community to avoid issues such as traffic gridlock on already-busy roads.  As the City has a significant number of new hotel projects proposed, the community needs a City Council that will be upfront in ensuring that our residential housing needs must not take a back seat to the expansion of our city’s ever-growing tourism and hospitality industries.

A growing number of Whitefish residents are frustrated with the City’s management of growth and housing for workforce families and individuals.  I have bold solutions and am action oriented.  I am running because many in our community DO NOT FEEL HEARD.

SUPPORT BUSINESS

City Hall is not fully supporting our businesses that work so hard each day to make Whitefish the special place that people throughout the Country desire to visit.  Our businesses generate $4.2 Million (approximately 10% of the City’s Total Revenue) collected from the 3% Resort Tax to take care of our streets, parks and to reduce our annual property tax rates.  We need to:

Clean our sidewalks and streets. Downtown Whitefish should be swept, curbs painted, weeds removed, signs repaired, potholes filled.  Sidewalks should be power washed on a routine basis.  Whitefish is now requiring our businesses to be responsible for financing the cleaning the sidewalks in front of their stores - yet the Resort Tax was approved to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, gutters, curbs and storm drains.   I will ensure our businesses feel our gratitude for their contributions to our city and feel confident that the Resort Taxes they collect from the guests and pay to the city are being properly reinvested.  Keeping our town clean and pristine is in everyone’s best interest.

Collect and recycle garbage generated by high volume visitation throughout the impacted downtown retail and commercial core.  Under the optional TPI tax some of our businesses collect, we ask our paying visitors to recycle, yet we haven’t gotten serious in implementing this service.  I will be fact-oriented given recycling is not an easy economical business.  Whitefish has had several attempts, but it’s time to get serious about the costs and benefits and let Whitefish be on solid ground with our recycling program.

Encourage the creation of Workforce Housing.   Non-resident growth and guests increase our needs and demand for a seasonal workforce.  Our imbalance of housing growth favoring 2nd homes and single-family development combined with a real estate frenzy has left many employees without housing as rental homes are being sold and little available new multi-family rental apartments being constructed.  We need to get aggressive at creating more affordably-priced rentals so that our workers desire and are capable of living here.  The jobs are here, the affordable residences are not..

SERVICES AND INFRASTRUCTURE

We need to continue to manage the delivery of City services in the face of continued growth.  The pandemic has generated unprecedented growth in Flathead County.  Regardless of how fast Whitefish grows, we will have mounting pressure on our ability to secure and provide water, garbage and recycling, roadway improvements and utility services to our community.  One can easily question the reasoning of expensive City projects in the past, while the primary purpose of the City Council should be to serve its citizen’s needs.  The primary needs are for police, fire, roads and other services:

Stop Deferring Maintenance of Streets and Roads.  Many of our streets and curbs need painting and striping, thematic trees need to be replaced, weeds in the roadway storm drains and sidewalk parkways should be removed, signs (“De  t Park”) should be repaired or replaced in real time.

Traffic in Our Small Town. Increases in traffic due to economic growth, visitors and construction can be a good thing as our community continues to prosper, but for most residents (and deer) it has become overbearing.  We can do better at getting out in front of the issue now and ensure future planning projects provide a fair share of frontage street and landscaping improvements, adequate parking and traffic enhancements that will keep our downtown and residential areas safe and flowing.  I will focus on representing our citizens voice on congestion and parking with every project considered.  I will focus on our street surfaces and signage promoting safety for pedestrians, bikers and our four-legged residents.

New Development Contributing its Fair Share. Whitefish will continue to grow because of the attraction to its wonderful beauty and lifestyle.  Growth of second homes has significantly outpaced permanent, resident-occupied units.  New growth should pay impact fees that enable us to stay ahead of our capital improvement needs for streets, water, wastewater, police and fire services.  Whitefish’s impact fees are far below other comparable growing communities.  Moreover, fees for services need to be sufficient to hire qualified and well-paid personnel to property maintain those facilities.        

THE ENVIRONMENT

Whitefish is stocked full of precious resources that we need to protect so we can continue to enjoy them, BUT WE MUST DO BETTER!  Important issues our residents are complaining about that I will address are trash recycling, fire prevention, sewage impacts and our precious water.

Trash Recycling.  We are well behind the curve of providing trash recycling services to our residents and for downtown businesses.  Many visitors are perplexed when they cannot find simple recycling bins for a City that regards itself as forward-thinking with respect to the environment.  This is the most elementary of priorities.  I will be forthright in sharing the facts about starting a recycling program that will speak plainly about the economical realities of our recycling program then we as a community will have a frank decision to make to commit to this service.

That Smell. Sewage and wastewater treatment has been an ongoing issue, and many residents have been very patient as they have been faced with smells not befitting of our beautiful haven.  I will be diligent in addressing the transition to a modernized treatment facility.  I will ensure that the costs are appropriate and that all future development pays its fair share to maintain and access the capacity provided from the new plant.  Residents are also concerned about lake inputs being cleaned up - I will support these cleanups, honoring property owners’ good intentions to help maintain our waters. 

Prevent Fires.   Wildfires were common for me as I grew up, and prevention takes a smart environmental approach.  We need to ensure that state and local resource agencies are “gardening” and maintaining our forest; and our immediate behaviors near and in the wild prevent the catastrophic fires we see around us.  I will work with local agencies to ensure we are focused on prevention, creating fuel buffers, and educating the public on prevention and preparedness.

Lake and River Protection.   I have noticed the presence of gas and odors on the lake as more boats and homes enjoy our pristine lake; we need to focus on managing those impacts.  We all want to enjoy our waters, but keeping them pristine will take continued effort and cooperation on the part of those who recreate on the lake.