Election Guide 2013: Scott Ford
October 16, 2013
Occupation: owner of Pinnacle Economic Research Group, business manager of Valley Voice
Prior political experience: none
Years in Steamboat: 21 years
Family: wife, Sherrie; two sons and one daughter, who all graduated from Steamboat Springs High School and went on to college; two grandsons, ages 3 years and 9 months
Civic involvement: Economic Development Organization membership and participation; Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council; Routt County Economic Development Cooperative; Yampa Valley Economic Development Council; South Routt Economic Development Council; Hayden Economic Development Council; Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership; Leadership Steamboat, co-facilitator; Navigator Award winner for Steamboat Springs Businessperson of the Year
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Q. List your top three priorities as a Steamboat Springs City Council member and talk about how you would go about accomplishing them.
A. During the term of a City Council member, priorities will shift as new concerns emerge. My perspective on some of the current priorities are detailed in my responses in this Election Guide. Rather than itemizing priorities here, I will give insight to how I will approach my role as a member of City Council. City Council members have two important overarching tasks that are inseparable from each other:
1.) Balance available resources (money, personnel and assets) with the demand placed on those resources. This is done through the budget process.
2.) Via policies, provide direction to staff regarding fulfillment of the task of balancing resources and demands. Both of these critical tasks are done best when City Council does not lose sight that the city's top priority is providing essential services and maintaining what it already owns.
Q. This budget season, the city wants to bring some employees back to a 40-hour workweek and give market raises to some workers for the first time in years. After years of budget cuts and furloughs, what do you think of the city's current level of service and the state of employee pay? What changes should be made, if any?
A. Personnel costs are the city's largest expenditure. In the proposed 2014 general fund budget, personnel costs are projected at $15.8 million. This represents over 55 percent of the proposed budget. Although city employees have not received a traditional increase in wages since 2008, they have received annual performance bonuses (2010-2013) that represent on average approximately 2 percent of their wages/salary. One of the most important tasks of council is to address employee compensation through the budget process. Since it's the largest operational expenditure the city will make annually, great care needs to be exercised in making any change to employee compensation. Simply providing an across-the-board increase in compensation has significant long-term implications because of the compounding effect of those increases. A pay schedule going forward that represents a 36-hour workweek for a majority of employees would be a step in the right direction.
Q. For more than a year, the city has pursued a new public safety campus in a variety of locations. Staff is expected to come back with the latest round of potential sites for council to consider in December. What do you think of the process the city has taken so far? How would you direct staff to continue with this process?
A. A question that has been repeatedly asked by Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski and the rest of the public is, "Why all of a sudden has the construction of a new public safety building with a projected price tag of $9 million become a top priority?" This question cannot be ignored. From my perspective, the proposed sale of the existing public safety building last fall created a sense of urgency where none existed before. Now that the sale has been canceled, the urgency no longer exists. I appreciate the space constraints of the existing public safety building. I am confident Chief Joel Rae will continue to manage the department so there is no deterioration in service. This means there is time to allow for a complete evaluation of the needs of both police and fire departments. There is general agreement that the evaluation process thus far has been less than perfect.
Q. The city's recently approved rules for the sale and use of recreational marijuana are likely to be revisited in the coming years as Amendment 64 is implemented statewide. What do you think of the city's approved rules that zone pot shops out of the downtown commercial district and place restrictions on using the word marijuana in signs for businesses? Should marijuana shops be regulated like liquor stores?
A. The citizens’ initiative that placed Amendment 64 on last year's ballot was titled Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012. Statewide, 55 percent of voters supported the amendment. In Steamboat Springs, that number was 69 percent. I appreciate the concerns that some have expressed regarding retail marijuana stores. I believe these concerns can and should be addressed using the "conditional use" process. The city of Steamboat Springs has used the "conditional use" process when approving the location of liquor stores in the past. This process gives adjacent residents and business owners the opportunity to formally express their concerns. The same process should apply to retail marijuana stores, as well. With the conditional use process, each application can be looked at on a case-by-case basis, which provides the greatest flexibility. The discussion and decision to disguise the signage of retail marijuana stores made no sense.
Q. How will you vote on the current council's recommended spending of the lodging tax? Explain why.
A. How I vote personally regarding the use of the accommodation tax is largely irrelevant to decisions faced by members of City Council. If the vote is "yes," City Council members will abide by the decision of the voters. If, however, the vote is "no," City Council members will be faced with a set of challenges regarding the use of these funds as they continue to accumulate. Speculation at this point in the process is not productive. I am very comfortable to await the outcome of the vote.
Q. The city has in recent years implemented a new microgrant program. It also provides funding to the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. What should the city's role be in promoting economic development?
A. Great caution needs to be exercised when city resources extend beyond providing essential services and maintaining existing city assets. When resources (taxpayers' monies) are at stake, we must understand clearly what the desired outcome is and how it is going to be measured. I realize that not everything that can be measured is meaningful and not everything meaningful can be measured. This is where judgment is necessary. Without this judgment, it is possible to spend money on problems/issues hoping for improvement and never be sure it made the desired difference. The 2014 budget has $100,000 earmarked for economic development activities. We shouldn't mistake activity for achievement. Currently, the desired outcome of city-sponsored economic development efforts can best be described as fuzzy. The city's role in economic development should primarily focus on zoning as well as infrastructure improvements, such as broadband and transportation that benefit all business sectors.
Q. In recent years, the city has taken a conservative approach to budgeting and has built up a substantial reserve by doing so. As sales tax revenue here continues to show modest gains in the wake of the recession, what are your budget priorities? How should the city use reserves?
A. The city's primary task is to provide essential services and adequately maintain existing city assets. The 2014 budgeted sales tax collections will represent two-thirds of the city's general fund total revenue. Because of the nature of sales tax, there can be significant fluctuations. As a result, a very conservative and prudent approach must be taken toward reserves to assure the delivery of essential services. The projected unrestricted reserve balance in the 2014 budget is $12 million. The plan is to transfer $10 million of this into the capital fund. Reserves are not a discretionary slush fund to be used to pay for "nice-to-have" capital projects. The city has in excess of $15 million of deferred maintenance that, if addressed sooner rather than later over the next five years, will result in significant cost savings to the taxpayers. This is a responsible use of reserves.
Open-ended statement: I recognize that one of the most valuable assets we possess is being a great place to live. The city's role in support of this valuable asset is first and foremost to provide essential services in a first-rate manner within well-defined financial constraints. This is the city's most important job. I decided to run for City Council because as sales tax revenues begin to increase, it is going to be more important than ever to have a reasoned voice of fiscal responsibility on City Council. It is easy to be careful with money when you don't have any — it is much more challenging to remember to be very vigilant with the taxpayers' money as it increases. I have the judgment and insight necessary to know when the city begins to stray from its most important job. Staying focused on essential services and taking care of what the city already owns will be the guiding philosophy/approach I will bring to City Council.