Sunday, June 26, 2022
66.0°F

Holmquist says she wants to continue serving the county

by HEIDI DESCH
Hagadone News Network | May 25, 2022 12:00 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of four articles previewing the candidates for the Flathead County Commission.

Flathead County Commissioner Pam Holmquist says she wants to continue serving her community as she seeks her third term in county government.

“I want to give back to the community that has been great to me,” she said. “I think I have something to offer and have institutional knowledge of laws, policies and procedures that is important. I have a lot to offer.”

Holmquist, who ran the family’s small business for 40 years, says she enjoys talking with constituents about her decisions over the years.

“I have a vested interest in the community,” she said. “The decisions we make, especially when it comes to planning, people don’t often understand why, so I like it when they call me so I can explain my vote. We may not agree in the end, but at least they understand where I came from in making decisions.”

Three challengers — Jack Fallon, Brian Friess and Jason Parce — are facing Holmquist in the Republican primary election on June 7.

No Democrats filed to run for the District 2 commission seat, which covers the central and southeastern area of the county.

Holmquist has set her political goals on protecting private property rights and taking a fiscally conservative approach to the county’s budget. She brought forward a property owner’s bill of rights meant to protect landowners that was eventually added to the county’s growth policy and says she’ll continue to advocate for those rights. And she’s twice voted against constructing new county buildings because of cost — first the South Campus building and more recently the newly opened North Complex.

Holmquist says she sees spending on the two buildings as taking away funds that should be used to construct a new jail, which for years has seen overcrowding.

“I’ve always supported funding for a jail,” she said. “We have money in the bank to start the process. I think we can have a location by the end of the year. That’s always been a priority for me.”

Commissioners for several years have asked county departments to “hold the line” when it comes to proposing budgets, but Holmquist says that doesn’t mean the departments can’t get what they need.

“We do ask departments to keep expenditures the same, but we allow them to put in sidebar requests for anything that is over and above,” she said. “We need to meet each department’s needs and they can request separate items. It’s a balancing act as we only have so much money.”

She recognizes that there are times when costs are going to increase pointing to the increase in fuel costs as an example of having an impact on the budget.

“Taxpayers expect us to be as fiscally responsible as possible,” he added. “We give the departments what they need to provide services and we still have to balance the budget.”

As the fastest growing county in the state, commissioners will undoubtedly face tough decisions in the coming years in terms of planning and zoning, and determining how to provide necessary services.

Holmquist says there are areas of managing growth that the county has control over, including updating zoning and the county’s growth policy, but beyond that she plans to rely on connections she’s formed in years serving to advocate for the county.

“At the end of the day it’s those relationships and partnerships that matter,” she said. “It’s being able to talk with our representatives in Washington, D.C. and picking up the phone to talk to the governor. Going forward that’s what will really help.”

In terms of affordable housing, Holmquist says the county doesn’t have a lot of say regarding housing because much of the county remains unzoned and the county also doesn’t require building permits. She points to the municipalities as where denser development should occur noting that cities provide the infrastructure including sewer and water service for such housing.

“Density really needs to be the thing that guides housing and because the county is largely unzoned there are issues that we don’t have a lot of say in what happens,” she said. “We need to have more density where there are public services.”

Noting the struggle of all county departments to keep up with managing growth, Holmquist points in particular to the sheriff's office as an area where she says commissioners have supported bringing on additional staffing and will likely be looking at more in the next budget cycle. She pointed to the 4% pay increase approved by the commissioners earlier this year as an effort to retain and recruit employees across the county.

In terms of appointing individuals to serve on county boards, including the ImagineIF library board of trustees, Holmquist says she looks at the list of applicants for boards and calls each one to talk with them. Some have questioned appointments made to the library board more recently, but Holmquist says a diverse set of opinions is necessary for any board.

Touching on library board meetings that have become heated as issues between library staff, board trustees and the public have arisen including challenges to certain books, Holmquist says at the end of the day no books have been removed from the shelves and the process has been important to figure out how to handle book challenges.

“Both sides have done and said things that are inappropriate, and meetings have gotten out of hand,” she said. “The board is looking to make changes and that doesn’t sit well with some, but what we want is a board that is engaged and asking questions.”

Commissioners in the past have said they would be unwilling to own any library building while the ImagineIF Library Foundation is working to donate a building to the county for use as the Bigfork library branch.

Holmquist points to state law that allows for the library board of trustees to accept the donation of the building as being a way for the donation to occur. She says she prioritizes spending money on public safety over providing additional funding to the library.

“The board can take on the building and hold property,” she said. “The county doesn’t have to do it, we just have to bless any additional funding that is required. If they can take on the building without needing any additional funding then great.”

Holmquist, who serves on the county health board, stands by the decisions she made during the Covid pandemic. She says it is a personal choice for people to wear masks and she maintains that it was the right move to allow county businesses to remain open.

“We didn’t need to shut down everything and create more division,” she said. “We make the best decisions at the time with the information we have at that time.”

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.