Helena voters will select one out of two candidates to be Helena's mayor during the election on November 7th.
KXLH interviewed the mayoral candidates about their priorities if elected.
Ballots will be mailed out on October 18th and must be returned by November 7th.
Wilmot Collins has lived in the Helena area for 23 years. In that time, he said he’s seen issues in the community that haven’t received enough attention from the city government. Now, he wants to bring attention to those issues as Helena’s mayor.
“The city government should be the voice, the city government should be the ears, and the city government should be the moral leader of the city,” Collins said. “They should listen to the people, they should deliberate, and they should execute.”
Collins said one of his top priorities is increasing funding for public safety in Helena. He said the police and fire departments don’t have enough staffing to keep up with the increased call loads they’re seeing as the city grows.
“What would you do if you called 911 for a firefighter or police, and the response was ‘We’ll get to you when we can’? How would you feel? How would you react?” he asked. “We need to fully fund the safety of this community.”
Collins, a child protection specialist with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, also wants to focus on addressing homelessness in Helena, especially among veterans and among teenagers.
“They’re in our community; they’re part of this community,” he said. “Let’s work on ways to see how best we can solve those problems. Those are issues that we just put on the back burner. We can’t do that anymore.”
He said bringing more businesses into Helena will make it possible to address these other issues. He wants to work closely with the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce on ways to attract more economic development to the community.
Collins is running against incumbent Helena Mayor Jim Smith. He is part of a self-described “progressive slate” of city candidates, along with city commission candidate Heather O’Loughlin and incumbent Commissioner Andres Haladay.
Collins said, if he’s elected, he plans to be a decisive leader for Helena.
“Nobody goes to school to learn how to run for public office,” he said. “Most times, you see something, you get passionate about it, and you get out there and get it done. And I know I can get it done.”
Jim Smith has been Helena’s mayor since 2002. Now, he’s asking voters for a chance to continue serving for another four years.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot together in the last 16 years, but there’s lots left to be done and I want to be part of the doing of it,” he said.
Smith said Helena’s biggest challenge is meeting the needs of a growing community while maintaining the qualities that make the city unique.
He said over the next four years, city leaders will have to address aging infrastructure especially in the water and wastewater systems.
“All the pipes and connections that are underground, that we never see, are very old,” Smith said. “A lot of them need replacement, and we need to be about that business.”
If reelected, Smith said he wants to improve Helena’s Capital Transit bus service and encourage more people to join the curbside recycling program. He also wants to improve communication and coordination among city departments.
“You shouldn’t have to go to three or four city departments in order to get a permit to do something on the Walking Mall,” said Smith. “You shouldn’t have to go to multiple city departments to remodel your home or to put up a new garage or a new roof on your house.”
Smith said some of the biggest changes he’s overseen as mayor have been in Helena’s parks and recreation system. He points to the development of Centennial Park, the addition of new facilities at other parks, and improvements to local trails.
“Our city parks and our surrounding open lands are in very good shape today and that’s something I’m really proud of,” he said.
Smith is facing a challenge from Wilmot Collins in the mayoral race. He said he hopes voters will take his history in Helena into consideration when making their decision.
“I’ve been around a long time. I guess I’m not exactly a fresh face,” he said. “I do think experience matters and I’ve got a lot of experience with the city of Helena and its city government.”