Columbia Falls City Council race: John Piper

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Incumbent John Piper is seeking a second term on city council, though he’s been active in the community for decades. Piper, 58, was born and raised in Columbia Falls. He was a volunteer fireman for 24 years and was chief for 3-1/2 years before he retired. He also volunteered for many years as a youth baseball and football coach.

“It’s a learning curve that first four years,” he said about serving on council. “I’ve learned a lot. I like it. It’s a lot of information to soak up.”

One of the bigger issues facing council soon will be selecting a new fire chief, as current fire Chief Rick Hagen is set to retire early next year, Piper noted.

Piper said eventually the city will have to have a paid department, with at least five staff — enough to cover all the shifts. Right now, Hagen is the only paid member of the department, but state law will eventually require paid staff as the city grows.

As far as a resort tax, Piper thinks it’s a tool the city should look at.

“I don’t like the name, nobody does, but it’s a viable tool for us to fund a lot of things,” he said.

Things like a fire department, infrastructure and the like. He said he looks forward to seeing what the panel that’s examining the issue recommends to city council.

A resort tax, or whatever it ends up being called, would have to be approved by city voters.

Piper sits on the council’s public safety committee. he notes there’s been positive changes in the city in the past few years.

“I think our courts are running as smoothly as they can,” he said. He also adding a ninth police officer to the force was a positive step as was a change in leadership at the chief position.

“Clint Peters was a step in the right direction,” he said.

On the growth front, he noted it’s been fast-paced and he doesn’t have answers on how to create affordable workforce housing.

“People have to invest in the town,” he said.

The Highline Apartments have been a good addition, he noted, and the council added a provision so they couldn’t be vacation rentals.

On the bigger picture of growth, Piper said he “wants to keep the small town feel just like everyone else.”

He’d also like to see the city attract more light industry.

Today, Piper is a supervisor at the Montana Veterans Home. Prior to that he worked at Plum Creek for 30 years. Piper and his wife, Tina, have a son, Michael and a daughter Kate, and three grandchildren.

He notes he’s an accessible candidate and urges anyone who wants to give him a call the old fashioned way — via a land line.

“I’m still in the book,” he said.

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