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Town Council candidates field questions

Crested Butte Town Council candidates squared off at the annual Crested Butte News Candidates Forum held last Thursday, October 18. Commonalties among the candidates became the theme of the night as candidates shared aspirations and opinions on topics ranging from the proposed Lucky Jack mine to recycling.

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 Moderator Denis Hall started the evening by explaining the structure and introducing the candidates. Five residents are running for three open seats on the council. Incumbent Alan Bernholtz is running unopposed for the mayor's seat. Approximately 70 residents attended the forum, which was broadcast live on radio station KBUT.

“I am glad to see such an interest in the Town Council race and the issues facing our community,” Hall said. “Democracy is strongest and very encouraging at the local level.”

 

Each candidate was given three minutes for opening statements. Reed Betz, who grew up on a farm and moved to Crested Butte four years ago, began the night by thanking all those involved and said he was grateful for the opportunity to run.

“You've given me the opportunity to step up as a young person,” Betz said.

Betz received his bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University, has worked for Outward Bound, and is currently an instructor for the Adaptive Sports Center.

“It's time for the younger generation to step upŠ. It's a challenge I am willing to accept,” Betz said.

Betz continued, “I am excited about the opportunity to give back and serve the community.”

Betz said he looks forward to working with the other council members to find solutions. “I am not promising the answers to all our problems; rather we need to find a common goal through collaboration and teamwork,” he said.

Todd Carroll, a long-time resident of the Gunnison area and former Mt. Crested Butte Town Council member, said he “wants to be involved in the decisions” affecting the community. Carroll served on the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council for four years and the Center of the Arts board for the five years. He is also a member of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and a volunteer coach.

“I care about the community and I show it by being involved,” Carroll said. “I have the experience to do this job.”

Carroll also said it is important to support the local business community and he “wants to get more guests here and keep them coming back.” Carroll is in favor of lift-accessed skiing on Snodgrass Mountain and believes the Crested Butte Mountain Resort's expansion proposal “is in the best interest of the community.”

Dan Escalante said he “loves” Crested Butte and wants to focus on “preservation” rather than change. Escalante said he has been attending council meetings and looks forward to being a part of the decision making. “God, I love Crested Butte-it's a crazy puzzle that I wanted to be a part of,” Escalante said.

Crested Butte resident Bob Godwin, who served 11 years on the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council with two years as mayor, said his experience will be most beneficial as a member of the Crested Butte Town Council. Godwin added that if elected, he had the necessary experience to work with other local entities such as Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and Gunnison County on issues such as workforce development, employee housing and transportation.

“I feel that I have the experience and the ability to work on the serious issues facing this town,” Godwin said.

Kimberly Metsch, the fifth candidate for council, said she was finally in a position that would allow her to “commit the time and energy needed for a position such as Town Council member” and felt compelled to run.

Metsch, who has lived on and off in Crested Butte for the last 11 years, said she would be a strong candidate because of her level-headedness and preparation. “You have to be available to the people you represent,” Metsch added.

Metsch also said it is important for council members to evaluate the different sides of an issue before making judgments, which she would strive to do if elected to the council.

Bernholtz, who provided the last opening statement, said he has tried to represent the town with its best interest in mind and tries to “find balance” when dealing with issues facing the Town.

“I have traveled the world and never left-it's a fantastic place to live,” Bernholtz added.

The first question of the night was asked by Crested Butte News editor Aleesha Towns. Towns asked what issue each candidate might champion if elected to the council. Towns used the example of current member Margot Levy, who has worked to increase affordable housing in Crested Butte.

Godwin began the discussion and said he believes employee housing and sales tax revenue are two “very serious” issues facing the community. Godwin explained that the town has generated revenue through the real estate transfer tax but not enough through sales tax.

“We need to do everything we can to increase our sales tax,” Godwin said.

Carroll, who also believes sales tax and the economy of the town are important issues facing the community, said he plans to focus on increasing tourism. Carroll said business was down 33 percent at CBMR and fewer flights land at the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport than neighboring airports.

“It's troubling seeing empty buildingsŠ We need to get people back into town. It trickles down,” Carroll added.

Metsch agreed with Godwin and Carroll about the Town's economy being a “huge” issue for the community and said she would like to look toward new solutions for the challenge and look “beyond just tourism” for more sustainable businesses.

“I want places in town where I can buy a pair of underwear,” Metsch said jokingly. “Businesses need to serve locals in addition to tourists,” Metsch added.

Unlike the candidates before him, Escalante said he doesn't plan to champion a particular cause- yet. “I know existing council members have their big projects, so I want to see where I would be most valuable,” Escalante said.

Similar to Escalante, Betz said he does not plan to attach himself to one singular issue. Rather, he believes all the issues are important and play a role in preserving Crested Butte. Betz did say he would like to see Crested Butte become the first town in Colorado and the United States to be completely energy-independent.

Bernholtz said he plans to focus on the possible annexation facing the town and hopes to bring his experience from the last annexation to the upcoming process.

“I've learned a lot of lessons and I plan to get the best for the town,” Bernholtz said of the annexation. Bernholtz also said “development should pay its own way” and assured the crowd that an impact statement would identify any effects upon the local school, fire and police department and infrastructure such as sewer and water.

The second question of the night was asked by town resident Steve Glazer, who asked if any of the candidates would like to revisit any Town policies or ordinances already on the books.

Escalante started the conversation on Town ordinances and said, “If you're not making mistakes, then you're not trying,” alluding to the fact that some ordinances may need to be changed, turned over or upgraded. Escalante said he would be interested in looking at the BOZAR regulations.

Escalante said he would also like to open discussions about horizontal zoning, which he said he supported. “I don't think it was too heavy-handed,” Escalante said of horizontal zoning.

Metsch, who also would like to review BOZAR policies, said the Town Council needs to set time aside to look at the ordinances.

Betz also cited BOZAR codes and horizontal zoning as ordinances that might need to revisited. Betz said he “had a lot to learn about the policies of BOZAR, especially concerning historical buildings” and regulations addressing accessibility.

Bernholtz, defending BOZAR, said the look of the town is the result of BOZAR policies.

“It's a good-looking town,” Bernholtz added. Bernholtz said that the work of BOZAR is commendable, and noted it's not an easy job.

Godwin, who ventured away from BOZAR, said he would like to revisit policies that affect businesses in Town. “I feel that over the years the town has sort of become a hardened entity, and when someone walks into Town Hall they go on the defense-that's a hard way to conduct business,” Godwin added.

Changing the topic from town policies to the potential Lucky Jack mine, Crested Butte resident Kimberly Barefield asked the candidates their position on the proposed mine.

Most candidates said they could not say they were for or against the mine, as they could become a “liability” for the town. However, Bernholtz, who is already on the council and has already stated his position on the mine, said he will do everything he can to protect the town from “unwanted negative impacts” that may occur as a result of a mine.

“We really need to look at the impacts and preserve what's important to our community like clean air and water,” Bernholtz added.

Town resident Sue Navy also challenged the candidates with a question about the proposed Lucky Jack mine. Navy asked if any of the candidates were contacted to participate in the community survey organized by the developers of the Lucky Jack mine. None of the candidates reported being contacted. Navy also asked the audience how many of them had been contacted for the survey. Only one person, Felicia Hermosillo, raised her hand. Hermosillo adamantly opposes the proposed Lucky Jack mine, she said.

Switching from the subject of the mine to arts funding, town resident Don Haver asked the candidates their opinions on the recent arts funding feasibility study results, and the possible phasing of the project as recommended, and whether or not the current site of the Center of the Arts should be expanded for meeting space.

More concerned about the location of possible expansion, Betz said the Town Council should revisit the discussion of Gothic Field. “It's about the only green space on the north side of town,” Betz said. “We need to ask the question, is Gothic Field the right place for expansion?”

Carroll, who is a proponent of the arts, said phasing would be beneficial if that helped get the project started. He recommended upgrading the former shop building for expansion as a possible solution for more space.

Metsch also said she would support phasing and the Center should “be realistic with what they can do now, with the possibility of doing something bigger later on.” Metsch also said it would be worth looking into the idea of expanding the Center's existing building for meeting space.

Taking a different stance and concerned about the Town budget, Escalante said the council would have to prioritize funding for arts and recreation after immediate funding concerns involving public health. “I like knowing that the water that comes out of my tap is cleanŠ Health comes before other needs,” Escalante said.

Crested Butte resident Keith Bauer asked the candidates if they would be in favor of raising property taxes in light of the “tight” Town budget.

Starting the discussion on property taxes was Escalante, who said he believes that a property tax increase would hurt Crested Butte residents who have chosen to live in Town limits rather than move to cheaper sounding areas. He would not want to raise property taxes “unless absolutely necessary.”

“I want to look at how to make it not so painful for those who have stuck around,” Escalante added.

Carroll said he is also generally against taxing and would try other options first.

Metsch said she “didn't know if raising taxes was the best way to go” either, but conceded it sometimes is an option for the council.

Godwin, who took a slightly different stance, said the council should prepare for cycles when revenues are high and times when they are low.

“I assume most of us live on budgets and when we have more money we spend it, and when we don't we suck it up for awhile,” Godwin said.

Betz said the council should always consider other tax revenues such as sales tax to fund the general fund. “It is important to think critically as a town as to how we spend our money and how we prioritize what we spend money on,” Betz added.

Crested Butte resident Diana Graves asked the candidates where their budget priorities would be and if they supported funding needed for infrastructure.

Bernholtz started the discussion on budget priorities and said preserving what the Town already has was a priority for him. He added it is very difficult to maintain current facilities. Carroll agreed with Bernholtz and said improving the Town's current infrastructure was one of his top priorities. Agreeing with Bernholtz and Carroll, Metsch also said the well-being of the community was most important. “We have to take care of what we have before considering new buildings,” Metsch added.

Betz argued that funding for local schools and affordable housing would be budget priorities for him. “Why are our kids going to school in modulars?” Betz asked the audience.

Godwin, differing from the rest of the candidates, said the Town budget would need to include a line item for dealing with the mine in the future.

“The council is going to have to be educated by the best lawyers and engineers, as they will be hit by the best lawyers and engineers hired by the mine,” Godwin explained. “We need to set money aside for it.”

Escalante agreed with Godwin but said businesses could also help with the costs involved with challenging the proposed mine. “It should be a community effort,” Escalante added.

The last question of the night came from Hermosillo, who asked about the recycling challenge facing Crested Butte and if any of the candidates had creative solutions. The Crested Butte recycling drop-off site is closing at the end of this month.

Metsch said she was in favor of the proposed alternate weeks recycling idea and said recycling is “really expensive” and agreed a creative solution was needed.

Making recycling easier and accessible was “most” important for Escalante, who said he was never able to drop off recyclables at the drop-off site because he worked during the hours it was open.

Clarifying the Town's role in recycling, Bernholtz said recycling depends on the actions of the county. He encouraged the audience to contact their county commissioners on the issue. “(The Town) has been working very diligently on this issue,” Bernholtz said. “If we want to pay for (recycling) then we can have it.”

Betz took a different approach on recycling and said consumers have to be conscious of their consumption and consider reusing products before recycling them.

After the question and answer period, each candidate had two minutes for closing statements. Bernholtz began by thanking the outgoing members of the council and encouraged residents to attend council meetings and ask questions. The other candidates also thanked the current members on the board and encouraged the residents of Crested Butte to vote.

“You can't go wrong how you vote-everyone here cares about the town and cares about the issues. The main thing is to vote,” Godwin said. “In this election the real winner is the town.”

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