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More in Election Guide 2011
Occupation: Executive director of Yampatika
Prior political experience: Resource Advisory Committee, Routt-Medicine Bow National Forests (2010 to 2011); Pima County Open Space Acquisition Review Committee (2001 to 2004)
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
Years in Steamboat: 5
Family: Husband, Chuck Willard; and pets Madison, a shelter dog, and Tango Joe, a Canadian Warmblood Sport Horse
Civic involvement: Board member, Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education (2011 to present); Steering Committee member, Northwest Colorado Rural Philanthropy Days (2009 to present); Resource Advisory Committee, Routt-Medicine Bow National Forests (2010 to present); keynote speaker, Girls to Women Conference (2010); council member, First Impressions of Routt County (2008 to 2010); Advisory Board, Colorado Northwestern Community College’s Natural Resource Program (2009 to 2010); horse leader, Humble Ranch Equine Therapy Program (2007).
(please limit answers to 100 words each)
Q. The city has had to make drastic budget cuts recently. Does this speak to a need for changes to the city's tax structure? If so, what changes? If not, why is the current tax structure appropriate?
A. Our sales-tax-based economy is inherently volatile, lagging when people aren’t buying. My desire is to see stable revenue streams. The citizen-driven Tax Policy Advisory Board recently recommended against a property tax. I would support their recommendation in the short term. We may or may not need more taxes, but we do need more taxpayers. Keeping local businesses strong and viable, keeping people employed and spending, attracting location-neutral businesses, and keeping tourists coming back are short-term strategies to support our sales tax economy.
Q. Given that difficult budget decisions loom for the third straight year, should the city consider using reserves, which the city has built up to about 40 percent of general fund expenditures, instead of just cutting services? If so, which budget line items should be given priority? If not, which line items should be the first to go?
A. We need more revenue, fewer amenities and services, or both. As a council member, I will consider all options in the budgeting process, including reserves. Line items that support our community’s vision, as defined in Vision 2030 and the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan, should be of higher priority than those that do not. The current council has urged broader community participation in the budgeting process, which is necessary and appropriate given the fact that we either need to raise more money or spend less. I am not willing to recommend specific budget cuts without a more detailed study of the budget.
Q. To what degree should the city fund the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's summer marketing efforts? What is the appropriate role for city government in tourism promotion?
A. Summer marketing has been crucial for our tourist-driven economy. The question is which partners should step up and how much should the city contribute? If council funds marketing, we ought to spend those dollars locally and support our own economy. I will work to understand the return on investment for marketing dollars spent. Our robust demand for the amenities and services that city government provides is dependent on our sales-tax-based economy. Sales tax is largely provided by tourists. Therefore, we must take appropriate action to ensure our competitive edge as a tourist destination.
Q. The city spent more than $2.2 million on bike-related efforts in 2011, including the more than $763,000 purchase of the Orton property and nearly $817,000 for the West Lincoln Avenue bridge and trail. Was that money well spent? Why or why not? Would you fund future bike-related efforts? To what extent?
A. As noted on my website, www.vote4sonja.com, Bike Town USA is a good example of citizens’ effort to diversify our tourism activities. It has strong promise to bring additional revenue to our community. By the time I am serving on council, we will have better data to measure the financial impact of the investments we have made in biking and other tourism- related activities. And we will analyze return on investment. I support efforts to diversify tourism. Orton and West Lincoln were not solely acquisitions related to biking. The Orton acquisition also provided open space, largely due to GOCo funding.
Q. Do you support a ban of medical marijuana businesses in Steamboat? Why or why not?
A. The community will decide whether a ban on medical marijuana businesses is appropriate in November; I will support that decision. As people consider the ban, they should realize that it sets a dangerous precedent to allow a business to operate, regulate it, and then shut it down. Small-business owners know that start-up costs take time to recover. If the community rejects the ban, I will work with the dispensaries, parents, doctors and law enforcement to correct the flaws and abuses inherent in the current system. And I will ask the newspaper to join us in ensuring that marijuana is not paraded in front of our youths and community via articles and photographs.
Q. Do you support a 0.25 percent sales tax, for a period of five years, to supplement the winter air service program at Yampa Valley Regional Airport? Why or why not?
A. In the near-term, I do not see another option available to keep tourism-based industries on a competitive level with other resorts. I applaud Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. for trying to avert a crisis in the industry and I like the fact that the tax will expire in five years. Over that time, I would ask members of the lodging community, ski area, and service industries most affected by tourism to work with City Council to find a more sustainable long-range approach to keeping our world-class destination resort front and center in the eyes of the tourists we wish to attract.
Q. Identify a decision the current council has made that you agree with, and one that you disagree with. What would you have done instead?
A. I agree with the decision to study economic development and create an economic development policy. I disagree with council’s decision to override the Planning Commission and city staff’s recommendations on Walgreens. When we have citizen committees and paid professional staff studying the issues and making recommendations to council, we ought to support them, unless there is some gross oversight on their part. That was not the case with Walgreens. Had I been on council and lost the vote, I would have worked my hardest to see that Walgreens was built by local construction companies. Buy, build and be local.
Q. List your top three priorities as a council member and how you propose to accomplish them.
A. I will work toward economic stability, encouraging efforts that expand tourism year-round and striving to ensure that all who benefit from government amenities are paying into them.
I will work with the community to define a shared vision for growth and development that provides certainty to developers and protects our natural and cultural assets.
I will work with city staff, council and the community to broaden our revenue streams in such a way that our existing natural and cultural assets can be maintained and improved as we have envisioned.
Q. What should be the city's role in economic development? What steps, if any, would you recommend the city take to help improve the local economy?
A. The current council has defined its role in economic development via its recently adopted economic development policy. Its highest priorities are promoting business retention, encouraging business diversity and careers, preserving and protecting city assets including water rights and the promotion of water conservation, maintaining public/private partnerships to deliver cost-effective services, acknowledging and supporting tourism as an economic driver and encouraging green incentives. I would like to see greater emphasis on strategies for supporting existing businesses in the economic development policy. The city should work with local businesses to help them be competitive in the areas of contract services we need.
As your representative on City Council, I will work to maintain and enhance the natural and cultural assets that make Steamboat Springs a desirable place to live and to visit. I will respect community planning processes and use documents like the Yampa River Core Trail Master Plan, Vision 2030, our city’s economic development policy, Green Building Code and Community Area Plan to guide my work.
Throughout my career, I have tackled the emotionally and politically charged issues of development and environment, working with communities to create a balanced agenda for growth. I will work to provide certainty to developers and the community, growing in a way that enhances our economy and preserves community character.
I am painfully aware of the need for dedicated funding to support our city’s existing amenities. And I believe that we must address the reality that financial resources are diminishing for quasi-government agencies. As I reach out to community groups, I am impressed by the passion and dedication of citizens who have come together for a common cause, such as Bike Town USA or saving the Chief Plaza theater. I will work within the appropriate parameters of government to support these citizen-driven initiatives.