Strong set to lead council

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Councilman Paul Strong, in line for the council presidency, sits in the center of the revolving power axis created by the results of Tuesday's municipal elections.

Three incumbents on the council -- Kathy Connell, Nancy Kramer and Loui Antonucci -- have consistently voted in favor of chamber of commerce funding, have not campaigned for a lodging tax, at one time agreed to take growth control mechanisms out of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and were in favor of a 2002 Triple Crown contract.

Three other council members -- the newly elected Ken Brenner and Susan Dellinger and the city's at-large representative Steve Ivancie -- have spoken out against some or all of these decisions.

At the center sits Strong, who current City Council President Connell recommended as her successor when she announced in September she was stepping down from the presidency.

"Having differing opinions on council is not a bad thing," Strong said. "We want to represent all the different interests of citizens, and there are differing opinions out there, as the election shows. What we want to avoid is deviousness."

For two years, City Councilman Steve Ivancie has stood alone, or nearly alone, on his votes relating to Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association funding, Triple Crown and the city's consolidation with Mount Werner Water.

On Tuesday, Ivancie will have company.

"Obviously, this council has a different make up, a different perspective. I think that is healthy," Ivancie said.

There is little question that the Tuesday election shifted the balance of power to a three-to-three match-up. To call one group pro-growth and pro-business and the other anti-growth and anti-chamber, is far too simple, Brenner said.

But the previous council's budget priorities -- giving $100,000 to the chamber for summer marketing and choosing to go for a property tax over a lodging tax -- have been weighted in the business community's favor, Brenner said.

"What we talked about in my campaign is that we particularly had a (imbalance) of influence from the resort and lodging industry and definitely a need for a stronger voice that represents the full-time residents," Brenner said.

Brenner, Dellinger and Ivancie also have said that funding basic services should come before funding the chamber and its marketing programs to bring more tourists to the city. If the city needs more funding for marketing, airlines or transit services, Brenner said, a lodging tax should be put in place.

Growth also is likely to be a divisive issue for the new council.

Throughout their campaign, Brenner, Dellinger and Ivancie said they supported keeping the growth-control mechanisms in the community plan. It was Brenner who suggested forming a growth commission that would recommend a growth strategy. The council later approved the idea.

The outcomes of the District 1 and 2 races, along with the defeat of the fire and ambulance tax, were an indication the majority of the community wanted a change, Ivancie said.

"The message is that the voters are looking to change and do not agree with the direction the current council is going," Ivancie said. "Hopefully at the council retreat (in December) we will be able to analyze this election and truly listen to what the voters are saying."

Dellinger, a 10-year city employee who left the job in 2002, was up against Romberg, a retired schoolteacher who sat on the Steamboat Springs School Board for 10 years and the city Planning Commission for four years before taking the District 1 seat in 1999.

But during his campaign, Romberg supported what turned out to be the very unpopular fire and ambulance tax. He also sparked the controversial when enough is enough discussion about curbing commercial growth.

During his term, Romberg supported chamber funding and the 2001 and 2002 failed property tax proposals. He helped negotiate the water consolidation agreement with Mount Werner Water, which voters turned down in the 2002 election.

Brenner, who served four previous years on council and was on the Routt County Planning Commission, was up against Kathi Meyer, another seasoned politician who chairs the city Planning Commission.

Meyer was a supporter of chamber funding for promoting tourism, believed the city had a strong stake in Triple Crown and opposed growth caps.

Both Brenner and Meyer lost their council bids in 2001. In the District 2 race, Brenner lost to Antonucci by 170 votes; Meyer lost the at-large seat to Ivancie by 41 votes.

While the differences between Brenner's and Dellinger's platforms were clear, the community's direction on where it should go was not as defined.

Dellinger won by the slimmest margin in recent Routt County history, beating the incumbent Romberg by only three votes.

Brenner beat Meyer with 182 votes. After the final election results were released Tuesday night, Brenner said he saw no clear mandate.

"This was a close election and for that reason, I feel obliged to work with all the constituency," Brenner said that night.

With neither Brenner nor Dellinger winning by an overwhelming majority, Strong said he thinks the community could be as divided as the council.

"We had extremely close elections the last few years to show a very divided community," Strong said. "I didn't see it as a message or mandate, except to say, don't come back with a property tax for fire and ambulance."

The most challenging issue facing this council, Strong thinks, will be discussions on the city's tax policy and how to create a more stable funding source. The council, along with the Routt County commissioners, also faces the long, possibly difficult processes of approving and then implementing the community area plan.


-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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