Tuesday, December 07, 2021
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Columbia Falls mayoral race: Don Barnhart

| October 20, 2021 8:00 AM

Editor’s note: Two registered write-in candidates are challenging incumbent Mayor Don Barnhart in this year’s city elections. Councilmen Paula Robinson, Mike Shepard and Jenny Lovering are running unopposed.

By CHRIS PETERSON

Hungry Horse News

Incumbent Mayor Don Barnhart has been a public servant for decades. He’s been mayor for the past 12 years, spent 33 years as a Columbia Falls volunteer fireman and 11 years as chief. Prior to his tenure as mayor, he was on the city council for seven years — being appointed initially to fill in for a member who left the council.

He grew up in Columbia Falls and graduated from high school here in 1971.

He said he supported the resort tax, noting it was refined by a citizens committee and took 18 months to craft the final language so that it centered on tourists and the service industry rather than Columbia Falls citizens.

“We had to do something to raise funding for public safety,” he said. “That was the point of it.”

Without it, the city was considering a public safety mill levy, which, if passed, would have raised property taxes further.

The resort tax, by contrast, will come with a property tax rebate.

“We made it absolutely transparent,” he said, noting the tax passed by a fairly wide margin. “It wasn’t a two-vote deal.”

As far as handling growth, he said the city has done the best that it could have.

“We’re pretty particular,” he said. “Developers have to follow pretty strict rules.”

Still, he is concerned about workforce housing. He noted the city is working to buy a piece of property for workforce housing.

He said he enjoys working with the city council and says it’s diverse considering the city’s overall population. About half of the council grew up here, the other half moved here and there’s a good mix of older and retired people on the council.

He noted that while some people want the city to go back to a mayor form of government, the city manager form works well. He said the city manager works under the direction of the mayor and council and over the years a lot has been accomplished — including a host of street and park improvements and perhaps most importantly, pushing for a Superfund cleanup of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. site.

He also noted that River’s Edge Park now has bathroom facilities, 12th Avenue West has a crossing light at Highway 2, the city has new tennis courts and plans for more improvements at Columbus Park and Nucleus Avenue has seen a surge in development and growth in recent years, with more to come with city support and planning.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he said.

He said he encourages folks to attend city council meetings if they have concerns. Barnhart is 68 and is married to his wife, Barb. They have two grown children and two grandchildren.

Barnhart is the only mayoral candidate who will actually appear on the ballot, which were mailed out late last week.