Candidate Questionnaire: Bob Kelly
Occupation: Mayor of Great Falls
Family: My wife Sheila, children Ben, 25, and Ada Rose, 22
Brief background/experience that’s relevant to City Commission: 25 years of banking and municipal finance underwriting and trading.
Q: What is your view on privatization of services currently being provided?
A: Most core city services like public safety, park and rec administration, roads and community planning are best done in-house. Other services, like waste management, water treatment and utilities, if city-run, need to be efficient and match up with their private counterparts. If those efficiencies are not there, it is a responsibility of effective city government to explore private options.
Q: Do you support the continued operation of the Natatorium or other indoor municipal swimming facility?
Q: Most people don’t like increasing taxes or fees for services. Do you believe the city fees for service should increase as costs increase? If not, what services do you believe the city should subsidize and how should the city pay for those services?
A: City expenses are subject to real world conditions including increases. Fees need to keep pace with the demands of increasing federal and state regulations as well as year in year out costs of depreciating assets and need for replacement and or repair. I am proud to know that the cost to deliver many of our services are at the lowest or low-end of the larger cities in Montana.
Q: Given the limited resources available, which one of these would you identify as your top priority: funding mental health and addiction treatment programs, hiring more police officers, or improving community relations with the existing police force?
A: The funding of mental health and addiction treatment programs falls under the state’s budget. This funding is necessary as it is one of the key ways to dealing with behavior that often results in crime. The number of police on the job is important, but it is their effectiveness with the community they serve that is most critical when dealing with mental health and drug issues. The hiring of more police, in tandem with improved state programs and directed community efforts is how we can tackle this problem. Having said all that, I think our Police Department does a remarkable job serving the City of Great Falls.
Q: If you are elected, how will you ensure that neighborhoods look and feel safe and how will you measure success?
A: The appearance of a neighborhood lies with the neighbors themselves. Tidy yards, removal of litter, and basic upkeep. The safety of a neighborhood must rely on the residents sharing pertinent info with each other and our police. It is the city’s job to direct public resources to those areas that need it and try to strategize with the residents how to improve the situation. Applicable statistics and metrics regarding those steps can be used to determine if improvements are taking place.
Q: What do you think the role of the city commission should be in economic development and do you believe a more active role could create conflicts of interest when it comes to annexation, zoning or tax incentive votes that would require commission approval?
A: I think the City Commission can and should support economic development in any way it can. This does not mean a blanket approval for any and all business and their requirements or impact. It does mean helping bring new or expanding business opportunities to the table to discuss various ways to achieve their objectives while the City Commission can help direct that growth while considering the wants and needs of the community at large. It should never be growth at any cost, but instead be coordinated, consistent cooperation and understanding between all parties involved.
Q: Some have suggested Great Falls needs to grow and attract more people to town and also companies offering higher paying wages. Do you have any concern that rapid growth or an influx of higher paying jobs would lead to increased housing costs and increased cost of living and traffic, like what’s been seen in Bozeman and Missoula? Why or why not, and could those issues be mitigated?
A: Great Falls does need to grow, attract more people to town and improve current wages. I think our community is poised for growth and is enjoying a higher profile throughout the state as an attractive alternative to some of the more popular towns like Bozeman and Missoula. I would love the challenge of managing growth if higher paying jobs started flooding our market. Our infrastructure is sound and able to handle more people and more demands. We can learn lots of lessons from our friends who saw rapid growth.
Q: The city has 57 parks. Some consider the park system as an asset in recruiting businesses, new residents and tourists. Others have suggested selling parks to reduce maintenance costs. Since the funds from park sales must go back into the park and rec department, do you support the sale of any city parks?
A: We have looked at this issue in-depth a few years ago. We found a one or two small areas that were serving little use but each had characteristics that gave them little marketable value. In any case, the needs of our parks are greater than the funds that could be raised by a sale or two. Improving our parks and performing much-needed repairs is something I consider a worthwhile investment for our current population and for the generations to come who will benefit from that investment.
Q: State law allows the city to impose a mill levy sufficient to generate the amount of property taxes annually assessed in the prior year plus one-half of the average rate of inflation for the prior three years. In recent years, city departments have been asked to reduce their budgets, which can mean a reduction in services for citizens. What is your opinion of the utilization of the inflationary factor and for what reasons would you impose or not impose the increased tax?
A: Again, the expense of running an organization the size of the city is not sheltered from market driven cost increases. Our ability to meet those increases is severely limited. The inflationary levy is insufficient on its own. Its application is coupled with increased efficiencies, vacancy savings, collective bargaining agreements and various other expense related areas to continue to provide services to our community.
Q: How do you think the city should balance flexibility in working with business development and ensuring the city’s interests are protected from development that might not have a positive effect in the city?
A: Continued involvement by the City Commission with growth opportunities so consistent application of guidelines and goals is communicated effectively. Growth and development needs to be encouraged, but the quality aspect and beneficial consequences for the community need to have an equal voice in the process.
Q: Neighborhood councils were created by a public vote in 1996 after a public review of the city’s form of government. Two decades ago people felt city government could be inaccessible and the councils were created as a stepping stone. Today, council meetings often have poor attendance. How would you make better use of the Neighborhood Council system?
A: The individual Councils and their Officers are a wonderful example of community involvement. Despite irregular attendance by the actual residents, the councils continue to strive to provide pertinent city information to their members and relay their neighborhood concerns back to the City Commission. I am always glad to see the individual councils present to the commission in the more informal work session environment. We can more effectively tune in to their comments and concerns and often direct action to the attending staff members. By having the infrastructure of the councils in place, at the very least we have a mechanism for better, more direct input.