Election Guide: Steamboat Springs City Council at-large candidate John Fielding
October 13, 2011
Occupation: Design build contractor; director of the Harvest of Thanksgiving Marketplace
Prior political experience: Historic Preservation Commission member (2007)
Hometown: Orem, Utah
Years in Steamboat: 12, two at The Lowell Whiteman School (1970-72), 10 at Old Town residence
Family: Wife, Tina (deceased, 2005); daughter Christie, 22; wife, Holly; adopted foster children Joey and Justin Shirley, ages 11 and 9.
Civic involvement: Lowell Whiteman School planning committee, 2005-06; member of Transition Steamboat, 2010-11; petition drive organizer for support of Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus expansion plans (2010), initiator of effort to repeal the prohibition of keeping of goats on small residential properties.
(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. Not necessarily, as the budget cuts are in many areas due to reductions in services no longer in demand. The fact that the city has been able to operate at substantially reduced funding also speaks to overindulgence when much money was available. However, the current tax structure placed a disproportionate burden on lower-income local residents through taxes on groceries and other basic necessities, much of which is used to fund activities that have marginal benefit to those individuals. Changes that relieve this condition are necessary.
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. In effect, the city has a savings account of taxes collected in excess of expenditures. Those funds now are no longer in the savings accounts of the citizens of the city. We speak of "the city" as if our government is it, when it is the businesses, buildings and infrastructure, institutions like schools and churches, and especially the families and individuals that are the city. That money belongs to them and should not continue to be accumulated in the government's savings account. Keep only the minimum in reserves necessary to maintain a good bond rating. Return the rest to the local residents in grocery tax rebates.
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. The city government should allow the marketing efforts to be funded through assessments from the member businesses, create a quasi-governmental authority (such as an urban renewal district) to collect and disburse the funds. The money should not come from general funds. The city government should always be fully supportive of the promotions of healthy commerce, but not the source of the revenue.
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. The expenditure for the Orton purchase was generally well done under the current system of taxation, but would have been better still if the partnerships with organizations such as Howelsen Emerald Mountain Partnership left a greater share of the responsibility for acquisition and maintenance in the hands of those who benefit most directly from the service. In the case of the bridge and trail it is an extension of an important element of transportation infrastructure, which is among the government's core services. The priority it was given may be explained as appropriate in supporting the Bike Town USA Initiative.
Q. Do you support a ban of medical marijuana businesses in Steamboat? Why or why not?
A. I do not support the ballot proposal to ban dispensaries. Legal marijuana is here to stay. If it is not sold in dispensaries, it is grown by the consumers singly or cooperatively. We cannot make it illegal to possess, consume or produce it. If we force it into that more private role we lose any opportunity to regulate it and require it to mitigate the effects it has on the community. I propose that dispensaries be given a significant funding requirement for programs that provide a constructive alternative for the youth who could be attracted to drug use.
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. I do not support the sales tax increase as proposed, but I do support enabling the collection of revenues sufficient to support the air service by other means. A continuation of the existing revenue collection system through lodging taxes and other targeted fees and tariffs is appropriate. I particularly support an increase in the terminal fees at the regional airport, as it makes the air passengers contribute most directly to the service that benefits them.
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 budget as if the taxes we will collect will be less than this year, especially the decision to use an even more conservative basis that the budget manager called for.
I disagree with the decision to use the excess collected over the projections to increase the reserves. I would allocate those extra revenues to reduce the tax burden of the hard-hit local residents through a rebate for taxes paid on groceries, or if that would take too long or has too much opposition, to spend it on pressing critical infrastructure maintenance priorities.
Q. List your top three priorities as a council member and how you propose to accomplish them.
A. • Implement a citizens commission to review the community development code and other city policies with regard to obstacles to reasonable business practices and restrictions of reasonable individual activities.
• Propose a change in revenue-generating policies (for fees and taxes) that shifts the costs for city services required by a particular industry to that industry rather than the general fund.
• Propose another change in tax policy that creates lower tax burdens for local residents, first through a rebate for taxes paid on groceries, then identifying other areas of reductions in the taxes paid by residents.
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. I believe the government should be supportive of every reasonable effort to improve the local economy. The support should best be given by supporting the formation of groups such as Bike Town USA, the chamber, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority Advisory Committee. The steps the government can take to help are for the most part to reduce burdensome regulations and restrictions in areas such as high planning department fees, tap fees that must be paid up front instead of over the life of the improvement, overly restrictive signage regulations and many others.
I am not a member of any political party or particular ideology. I do believe in practicing what one preaches, I just don’t preach much. I prefer to practice.
I believe in Thomas Jefferson's statement that the function of government is to protect the rights of the people. Any government is like a living creature, and will protect its own interests.
My analogy is that government is like a bull. It has certain absolutely essential functions, but if you harness it to your ox cart you’d best lead it by the nose or it will go where it wants and not where you would have gone.
To continue that analogy we have many oxen — civic organizations and special service associations that have much that is valuable they will contribute to the community good. We should enable them to do so in every reasonable way short of just giving them money from the general funds.
We should not use the absolute power of compulsory participation and compliance lightly. It must be confined to protecting our rights from those who would assault or rob to collecting the taxes to provide critical services such as roads, schools, and fire stations.