Steamboat Springs Although discussions about the Oak Creek Police Department have divided the town's residents and government in recent months, candidates for the April 1 municipal election focused Tuesday on balancing the town's budget and completing infrastructure projects.
Oak Creek residents packed the South Routt Community Center to hear from the two mayoral and 10 trustee candidates in attendance. Mark Fischer moderated the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
When asked to name the biggest problem facing Oak Creek, all but one of the candidates cited the budget and the limitations it places on infrastructure projects.
Escalating costs and expanding demand for services have complicated the town's budget, and Oak Creek has resorted to using its electric fund as a "piggy bank" to fill the gap, incumbent Trustee John Crawford said.
In October, the Town Board transferred $250,000 from its electric fund to the general fund in order to balance its budget in the wake of a $228,091 deficit.
Crawford and incumbent trustees Chuck Wisecup and Steve "Spike" Beven are being challenged by Larry "L.A." Anderson, David Ege, Bernard Gagne, Wendy Gustafson, Cal Martindale, Josh Voorhis and Richard Wisecup.
Trustee Dave Fisher and Mayor Pro-Tem Angie Krall are not up for reelection, and Trustee Tom Bleuer is not seeking another term.
Significant improvements to water and sewer services in Oak Creek loom on the horizon, and other expected future infrastructure projects include utility service expansions, additional sidewalks and more paved streets.
"We have to be able to maintain and improve the infrastructure in this town, but we must do it with a balanced budget, and pay as we go," Gustafson said.
Many candidates spoke favorably of carefully planned growth and annexations, because of their ability to contribute to the town's coffers. Incumbent Mayor J. Elliott advocated growth, because a larger population is needed to bring bigger businesses to Oak Creek and increase the tax base, he said.
"The only way to increase the budget is property tax increases or sales tax increases," Elliott said.
The Town Board voted to censure Elliott last week, after he directed the town attorney to draft an ordinance dissolving the Oak Creek Police Department. Since the Town Board has been addressing police issues, Elliott's fellow board members have accused him of having a conflict of interest and of ignoring proper procedures.
Elliott is being challenged by former mayor Gerry Greenwood and Bill Paxton. Paxton, who was out of town on business, did not attend Tuesday's forum.