Candidates highlight differences
Speak to pressing issues facing city during forum
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-05-02
Economic development was a recurring topic among Gunnison City Council candidates at a forum hosted by the Gunnison Country Times last week. Half of the candidates even went so far as saying that it’s the most pressing issue facing the city.
Four council seats are open in this spring’s municipal election, and six candidates have stepped forward to vie for them.
The hopefuls include Anne Steinbeck, Carolyn Riggs, Richard Hagan, Sharon Cave, Stephanie White and Stu Ferguson. The candidates offered their perspectives on issues facing the city this past Thursday at the Western State Colorado University Center.
“I would say probably from my perspective, the most pressing issue is year-round sales tax revenue, year round business. We’ve got to find a way to drive business between January and March,” said Riggs. “We need to figure out a way to extend our tourist seasons, between summer and winter, hitting those shoulder seasons and creating opportunities for businesses to collaborate and creating opportunities for nonprofits to put events on.”
Hagan said that after canvassing the city and discussing issues with voters, “people in this town are really hurting” financially.
“The biggest issue I see is economic development,” he continued. “This town has amazing assets to sell. It has excellent schools, a rec center, the university, Van Tuyl Ranch, Hartman Rocks — there’s all kinds of reasons why this is a great place to live, a great place to raise kids and a great place to grow old. So I think we can sell that.”
Ferguson said he believes that the city needs to broaden its economic base.
“We’ve had a very narrow focus on the economy for a very long time,” he explained. “I believe that diversity is the answer to our future success that you simply cannot rely on one aspect of the economy, like tourism, because it is so vulnerable to the fluctuations of the national economy or the global situation.”
Other answers regarding the most pressing issues included strengthening the city’s relationship with Western, managing and developing annexed properties and water.
During the forum, candidates were asked their views about development of new commercial establishments, which could create additional sales tax revenue for the city but could also competition for long-standing local business.
“You’ll probably find it interesting from my perspective as a business owner, I think competition is really healthy,” said Riggs. “I think it drives business and it’s really good for consumers. I think new commercial opportunities add to the synergy of the community.”
Candidates were asked if they would support retail sales of marijuana in the city, once state rules have been established. The consensus was that, following the 2011 ban by voters on medical marijuana establishments within city limits, the candidates would maintain the status quo.
“As of right now, I don’t think there’s enough in place to approve retail or commercial sales. I don’t think the people of Gunnison want it,” said Cave. “However, when they get the rules in place and what not, if enough of my constituents said yes, I would have to serve my people.”
Ferguson, a former Gunnison police chief, however, offered a different perspective on marijuana regulations.
“I think over time community attitudes change and I think it’s an ongoing process. I’ll go so far as to say I think we should really question simply passing a law to make something illegal as a way to deal with a problem,” he observed. “During prohibition of marijuana the Mexican mafia and drug cartels have reached pinnacles of power that we’ve never seen.”
Another question posed to candidates was whether they might support a leveling of taxes collected for the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority. The current tax rate in the city is .35 percent, compared to .6 percent elsewhere in the county.
“I would support it. I think what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander and that there ought to be a leveling with each tax entity so tax falls on each to the same proportion it does to any individual,” said Steinbeck. “It wouldn’t take much to do that, and I feel it is only fair whenever there is a tax that one entity isn’t favored over any other.”
Riggs said that she would support a tax leveling for RTA collections, and that she supports strengthening the bus system so it caters to tourists as much as working citizens.
Candidates were also asked if they would support a Western student-led initiative to ban single-use plastic bags in the city.
“I’m on Student Council, and it was brought to Student Council, this ban of plastic bags,” White pointed out. “The University Center has adopted that so the bookstore isn’t using any more plastic bags. Aspen has done this and has shown a really good outcome of this and we are a sustainable community and I think this is a good idea.”
Ballots for the May election must be received by the City Clerk no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, May 14. Ballots can be mailed or returned in person to the clerk’s office in City Hall, 201 W. Virginia Ave.
(Laura Anderson can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)