City Commission Candidate Q&A: Paige Turoski
Name: Paige Turoski
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom
Q: Why are you running for City Commission?
A: I am running for the city commission because I want to be a voice for the people of Great Falls. Like many others I feel a disconnect between myself and my government. If elected, I would work hard for every resident in our city. I deeply value the opinion of every individual and would take each one into consideration before making a decision. Government accountability and transparency are key features to a government that we the people can truly trust.
Q: If elected, what are your top three priorities and goals for the city (that fall within the jurisdiction of the city)?
A: There are a few big issues facing Great Falls which I think go hand-in-hand; a local government disconnected from its residents, stale economic and population growth, and crime. People want to feel represented by their elected officials, I know I do. This representation is what leads to trust. Then people can trust that decisions are being made with their best interests in mind, rather than the interests of the government. Without trust, growth is unwanted. Economic growth is the best way to keep the costs of public services off the individual taxpayer. New businesses are new sources of revenue for the city. Residents want to trust that the city is bringing in new businesses who will help to preserve the values and sense of community that Montanans love. Likewise, an increasing population will help bring in new businesses. However, a lack of employment can lead to an increase in crime, which is already an issue in our city that residents do not feel is being properly addressed. Crime is a deterrent to both economic and population growth, keeping the costs of our public services on the individual. A trustworthy government is key to community prosperity.
Q: How would you work to better engage the public and promote a better informed electorate?
A: This is a topic near to my heart. Many people vote without knowing who or what they are actually voting for. To start, I would end the virtual commission meetings and bring them back to in-person format so that everyone, regardless of technological understanding, can participate and attend. I would also make use of the radio, newspaper and online news outlets to inform residents of what is happening in their city. I would also ensure any information was being shared early enough to make it to as many people as possible. Above all, I will always encourage everyone to look into things for themselves.
Q: What do you believe are the core services the city should provide?
A: The core services the city should provide are police, fire department, water/sewer, streets/maintenance, and parks. I will add a library too because I think they are still very important to the community. I am hesitant to say schools because I do not think politicians should be in charge of education.
(Editor’s note: Schools do not fall under the authority of the city and are a separate government entity.)
Q: If elected, what would you do to improve public safety? Please provide two to three specific examples.
A: The number one way to improve public safety is to support our public safety services. Providing adequate funding so these entities can operate to the full extent of their abilities is the best way to lend support. This funding should be carefully sourced. Taxpayers should not have to cover the costs of these services. Continued economic development is the best way to sustainably support these ever-increasing costs. Beyond this, following the recommendations in the proposal by the crime task force is a great way to lend support. Continued economic development is also another way to bring in new sources of revenue for the city to help with the costs of these needs.
Q: Given the limited resources available, which of these would you identify as your top priority: funding mental health and addiction treatment programs, hiring more police officers and/or more firefighters, or improving community relations with the existing police force?
A: Maybe I’m not familiar enough with the community relations with the existing police force but I don’t think it’s that bad. A majority of residents are asking for a larger police presence to help deter crimes such as vandalism and theft. Of these three choices, none of them are my top priority. My top priority when it comes to public safety is ensuring these individuals are confident in their ability to help the community they serve. Our fire department does not feel comfortable in their ability to service our city. At a work session this summer, when asked if the city should start planning for fire station five, Fire Chief Jeremy Jones informed the commission that station five should have been up and running already, saying our city is two stations behind. Our fire department is unable to reach existing buildings in the city within their preferred response time. Every new construction on the east end of town moves farther and farther outside of that window. If we want to feel secure in our safety services, then they need to feel supported by us.
Q: What do you think the role of the city commission should be in economic development? What are your thoughts on whether a more active role would create conflicts of interest when it comes to annexation, zoning or tax incentives votes that would require commission approval?
A: The city commission should encourage economic development as a way to fund public services without the increasing taxes on residents. There is only a conflict of interest if a commissioner chooses to vote on something they have a personal stake in. They can recuse themselves and let the rest of the commission vote.
Q: How would you weigh annexation and economic development projects with city services and resources?
A: I would weigh them against each other to see if the benefit outweighs the cost. Is the cost of extending the services more than what the proposed business would generate in revenue for the city? If so, then it is probably not worth it. However, if the revenue generated replenishes the cost of expanding the services then it is worth looking into.
Q: Do you think the city should impose impact fees on new developments to help fund the cost of specific needs such as a new fire station, or general public safety needs?
A: No, I do not think the city should impose impact fees on new developments. I have heard from many business owners that dealing with all the red tape here in Great Falls is discouraging. The city should not be adding more hurdles for potential business owners to jump over. Plus, an added cost will be a deterrent to new businesses. The CARES funding could get a new fire station in the works, I will be interested to see how the city spends them.
Q: If elected, how will you stay up to date on city issues, to include city departments and advisory boards? How will you work to determine what issues are most relevant to the public?
A: To determine what issues are important to the public I would reach out to the public. No one understands their needs better than they do. I would not only read about what’s going on, but ask. I am no expert but I do know how to pick up a phone if I have a misunderstanding.
Q: The city employs staff who are highly trained in their areas of expertise, how would you treat their recommendations?
A: I would treat the recommendations of city staff with high regard. It does not matter if someone is elected or hired to their position, they are all working for the residents of Great Falls. If someone has a suggestion that could help with a problem, it would not be fair to the public to ignore that recommendation.
Q: What is your view on privatization of services currently provided by the city?
A: I am in support of the privatization of services currently provided by the city. Services currently provided by the city are all at the expense of taxpayers. If a company wants to compete with the city, they will offer rates that are comparable to those already around town. If people don’t want to switch to privately funded services, then they will continue to pay the city for these services. I am in support of anything that lessens the amount that residents are taxed.
Q: How would you approach the budget process annually?
A: I would approach the budget knowing it needs to be balanced. That helps determine a lot of what you can and cannot do. I would like to see as much of the budget come from sources other than tax dollars, such as continued economic development. Finally, it is important to me that the will of the majority be represented in local government, in every way. This includes the budget. Ensuring all voices are heard and all opinions considered should always be the goal of government.