District 2 candidates look to learn from mistakes

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— Ken Brenner and Paul "Loui" Antonucci remember a time when more than just their debates were heated. Antonucci and Brenner, opponents in the race for District 2, were roommates 27 years ago when Antonucci first came to Steamboat and worked at the Storm Meadows Condominiums.

Antonucci, an animated storyteller, tells of an afternoon when he and Brenner were working maintenance and had to haul away a mattress that had caught on fire. After strapping the still-smoldering bed onto the top of their truck, the two workers drove to the dump. Halfway there, the mattress caught on fire, shooting flames into the air as other drivers pointed and waved to the two oblivious young men. With the mattress still on fire, they drove the rest of the way to the dump in a blaze of glory.

This year, only one of the District 2 candidates will ride off in a blaze of glory.

Brenner has already been on the City Council for four years and is arguably the most active member of the council, sitting on four local boards and the executive board of a statewide group of municipal leaders.

His opponent has been on the council before, serving from 1989-1993.

Antonucci lost his re-election bid in 1993, because, he said, he was labeled pro-growth. Antonucci thinks that characterization was grossly unfair.

Brenner, however, does not.

He says Antonucci was part of a council willing to expand the community at any cost and with the glaring example of the construction of the $2.8 million airport terminal unwilling to ask the public what it thought.

Antonucci fires the same criticism back at Brenner, who sat on a council that passed funding for Centennial Hall and the Howelsen Ice Arena without voter approval. The city went $6.75 million into debt this year to fund the ice rink, Centennial Hall and a fire truck without asking for voter approval, though it did hold public meetings on the issues. The council also passed development impact fees without going to a vote of the people, a move now being challenged in court by a group of petitioners.

Brenner, though, voted to go to a property-tax ballot question on the ice rink and, eventually, on Centennial Hall. He has been the loudest voice on the council in favor of going to the voters on big capital projects. Brenner said he would also consider going to the voters for an excise tax instead of using the impact fees.

The two candidates both think they understand fiscal responsibility and can learn from mistakes as they forge ahead.

Antonucci points to the failure of consolidation talks between the city and Mount Werner Water and Sanitation as an indication of how the city could have saved taxpayer money up to $1 million in five years, he claims but let in-fighting get in the way of progress.

He promises to start talks again if he is elected.

Antonucci also proposes offering the residents of Steamboat Springs a local card that would exempt them from paying taxes on food and utilities.

He thinks the city should try to strengthen partnerships among many community organizations instead of taking a hard stand and refusing to yield at the expense of local residents.

"The city's attitude in a lot of cases makes it seem like they've forgotten that the city really works for the people," Antonucci said.

In response to the city's claim that it is struggling now after the Sept. 11 attacks, Antonucci says the city should have been better prepared beforehand.

"Be fiscally responsible so that when there is a crisis, you don't have to panic," he said.

Brenner is skeptical of Antonucci's intentions. He says he thinks Antonucci is still pro-growth and could push the community beyond its infrastructure limits.

"Without a council that will honor the wishes of the public, we may not have growth control but instead major expansion," he said.

Though some developers may not like it, Brenner said he thinks the community deserves to be represented by people who will not simply sign off on development permits.

"Many could see this council as being not friendly to the development industry and they would be thrilled to see it go," he said.

As the chairman of the committee guiding the rewrite of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, Brenner thinks he is poised to help the residents of the city and surrounding area determine their future. Because he has spent countless hours discussing growth and housing issues, he says he can "hit the ground running."

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