Election Guide 2013: Tony A. Connell
October 16, 2013
Tony A. Connell
Occupation: vice president of Connell Resources Inc., an infrastructure construction company with offices in Steamboat Springs and Fort Collins
Prior political experience: none
Hometown: born in Lander, Wyo., raised in Loveland
Years in Steamboat: 21
Family: wife, Karen Francolini Connell; three children, Nolan, ninth grade at Steamboat Springs High School, Quinn, seventh grade at Steamboat Springs Middle School, and Claire, fourth grade at Strawberry Park Elementary School
Civic involvement: Yampa Valley Medical Center board of trustees, serving as vice chairman, quality committee chairman, finance committee chairman and treasurer; Steamboat Springs Planning Commission; Watershed Protection Ordinance Commission; Transportation Committee Member CDOT/Steamboat Springs/Routt County; Colorado Asphalt Producers board of directors; Colorado Contractors Association Political Committee co-chair; Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach and ski instructor; volunteer youth basketball coach
Q. List your top three priorities as a Steamboat Springs City Council member and talk about how you would go about accomplishing them.
A. 1.) Provide disciplined financial evaluation and analysis of risk for capital projects and budget. Use my experience in setting a strategic vision with measurable results so the taxpayers have accountability and know we have performance measures for those expenditures over time. Be sure the mistakes, financial waste and risk associated with the Iron Horse, Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Elk River land purchase are not repeated.
2.) Focus on taxpayer (customer) and guest experience when interacting with the city. Demand measurable process improvements, productivity increases and customer satisfaction scoring. Invest in city staff with training, merit pay and career ladders.
3.) Diversify employment and local economy. Retain and support existing businesses and explore ways of expanding employment. Reduce reliance on lower paying service/tourism jobs. Promote public/private partnerships for employment gains in strategic business areas, such as software, technology, health, vocational training and niche businesses seeking the recreation lifestyle.
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. I would like to have statistics regarding service areas where taxpayers feel like processes are falling behind without Friday hours. Personnel costs are the highest cost category of the general fund and city budget at 40 percent of every dollar spent and 54 percent of the general fund. We need to have a long-term compensation plan with contingencies for revenue declines or part-time increases if we are fortunate to see higher revenue and demand for services. Competitive Wage Surveys are one of many tools, which should be evaluated for salary packages. Turnover rates, vacancies, average number of qualified applicants, job-sharing opportunities and benefit packages would be part of a thorough and disciplined approach. I believe in merit pay for high performing employees with excellent customer satisfaction scores. Personnel compensation packages need to be crafted within a percentage of revenue along with a goal for productivity increases.
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. Police and fire are essential city services. However, the fact the police station was elevated from a lower tier "parked" project to the No. 1 capital project priority within one year begs the question about what changed. Were previous councils asleep at the wheel funding other amenities and wasteful risky ventures like the Iron Horse debacle instead of core services? The fact the decision process has slowed and gained more scrutiny is not a bad result. The loss of credibility by council and the city manager are a result of poor decision-making, not being data driven, not looking for opportunities to partner which create win-wins, not negotiating from a position of power, and not forecasting demographic and technologies changes over the 40-year life of the facility. I believe a long-term strategic evaluation of police and fire needs to be part of a decision for any facility.
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. This would be an area where I would have to become better educated regarding this evolving issue and whether a controversy even exists. At first blush, zoning recreational use and "smoking clubs" off the primary retail pedestrian areas seems reasonable. Having buffers and distances from schools and underage children is also prudent. I would require the same audit procedures and age checks that are being conducted for underage alcohol purchases and would think the licensure rules would be consistent with the penalties and threat of closure that liquor stores and drinking establishments have. The sales pitch for pot included that the underground economics would become transparent and the tax revenue would benefit the city and state. Other than the reality show "Moonshiners," I believe audit controls for alcohol taxation are accurate and demanding (e.g. Tugboat). I would expect and demand the same as marijuana is legalized.
Q. How will you vote on the current council's recommended spending of the lodging tax? Explain why.
A. I will support the committee's and council's decision regarding this funding. This was a result of a lot of volunteer, staff and council time. Both the trails projects and Yampa Street enhancements have great merit and projected sales tax increases. However, as a city councilman, I will be vigilant and require performance criteria and milestones tied to the funds expenditures as they are brought forward. We must manage the risk and increased maintenance costs of the projects or expenditures. We also need to define the performance measurements where the community sees the promised sales tax increases, which were predicted in the selection process. If the community votes "no," we will need to retool and see what makes sense while we build those additional reserve funds.
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. I believe the microgrant program should be tied to increases in employment and wages. I think a microloan program is more effective than grants for "capital" expenditures. The city should continue to partner with the Chamber to promote a healthy economy and employment. The city should help set the vision for a livable community for the next five to 50 years, and economic opportunities are an essential part of that vision. This requires looking at future core service needs while understanding the demographic trends and competitive market environment for future employment opportunities. We cannot be complacent and ignore the role of business and employment. We need to rely on and partner with the business community to be welcoming to businesses, which will meet our vision for the future. The Chamber is a key stakeholder in that journey as are other organizations and individuals who contribute to our community assets.
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 capital budget should be divided into two areas: a new facilities budget and a repair and maintenance budget, which is essential to keeping core buildings, roads, information technology, parks equipment, etc., at a current level of service. These would be depreciable assets, which require investment to avoid larger rebuilding costs or replacements. The priority should be to protect what we have and not move backward in the level of service. I am in no hurry to spend reserves. If the reserves are higher and our possible bond rating is better at the end of my term, I would consider it an accomplishment. However, if the proven need to health, safety and welfare of the community is established, and the most cost effective and productive answer requires spending those reserves while not putting city finances back into a risky position, then I would allow reserves to be spent.
Open-ended statement: Steamboat Springs can be a place where we have all generations thriving in a caring community. I have a background in business similar in size and scope to city government. In addition, from my nonprofit experience, I have an in-depth understanding of Yampa Valley Medical Center — one of the largest employers in the city as well as an integral part of Steamboat's health and desirability. As a result, I can provide long-term strategic thinking that connects vision to budget. With over 20 years of proven community commitment to youth, business, nonprofit organizations and seniors, I share the values that make Steamboat Springs special. I will bring common sense, critical thinking to City Council. "Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple." — Dr. Seuss.