Election Guide: Steamboat Springs City Council District 1 candidate Richard Levy
October 13, 2011
Occupation: Massage therapist, self-employed
Prior political experience: Steamboat Springs Planning Commission (2007 to present); Urban Renewal Authority Advisory Committee (2005 to 2007); Steamboat Springs Affordable Housing Working Group (2005) and City Council candidate (1997)
Hometown: Trenton, N.J.
Years in Steamboat: 18
Family: I live with Sarah, my lovely girlfriend of five years
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Civic involvement: Trappers Lake Sierra Club Executive Committee (1998 to present), Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley Executive Committee (2000 to present)
(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. No. The city's sales tax collections reflect economic conditions in our community. A property tax, while somewhat more stable, will recover more slowly than a sales tax. We are still seeing property tax valuations falling while our sales tax numbers are already showing some uptick. When the economy improves, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights restrictions on how property tax revenues can increase will keep collections depressed and out of step with the recovery and increased demand for services. I believe that tying some services like fire protection to a property tax would allow for a more predictable funding formula.
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. I do not think that reserves should be used for basic operating expenses. Reserve funds would be appropriate for community infrastructure improvements, especially when matching grant monies are available.
The city has directed staff to further reduce the budget by 5 percent. Given the uncertainty of our economy, this seems like a fair decision. Staff will identify certain service cuts. Their recommendations will carry a lot of weight. During the recent boom, city government has expanded exponentially. Staff recommendations may show us where efficiencies can be improved without pain. All departments and non-essential community support should be scrutinized.
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. City government's role is to increase our quality of life, not marketing. Our community's assets should be able to favorably impress someone looking to relocate their family or business here. The city's investment in what makes our community great will increase our attractiveness in a sustainable manner. I'd like to see the city invest its "marketing dollars" in events like the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series, Seminars at Steamboat, and the Farmers Market. I think we could restore the practice of a vendor fee that recognizes the cost of collecting the city’s sales tax and dedicate that for summer marketing.
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. Well spent! Unlike a billboard on Interstate 25, these capital improvements will be available for locals and tourists for a long time. I think bike-related improvements attract tourists and new business, as well as help us attain sustainability and improve our quality of life. I believe that reserve funds could be used especially when matching dollars are available. I would continue Yampa River Core Trail extensions and look to create connections with spur trails and popular destinations.
Q. Do you support a ban of medical marijuana businesses in Steamboat? Why or why not?
A. No. I feel safer having properly located dispensaries that are licensed, stringently regulated and generating tax dollars on all sales. Prohibiting dispensaries will not make medical marijuana illegal nor make its use go away. It will still allow caregivers to be placed in every neighborhood. Current regulations require security measures on dispensaries that would not be placed on home caregivers.
Routt County and Steamboat Springs voters overwhelmingly chose to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. What has changed? I believe that medical marijuana does not have to create a negative image for our community.
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 don't agree with this proposal; it creates more questions than answers. Fly Steamboat has had a number of years with increasing costs and decreasing tax revenues. Why were we not notified earlier that this program's 24-year history was being threatened? Why did the city ignore the Tax Policy Advisory Board's recommendation to have all tax measures introduced early enough to allow for full analysis? What are the alternatives? I've listened to the airline tax committee's presentation and I'm not convinced that this is a sustainable solution.
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 Emerald Mountain purchase. It will benefit locals and visitors for years to come.
I disagree with City Council's approval of the Steamboat 700 annexation. I expect the applicants to meet all requirements in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. They fell short on ensuring revenue neutrality, affordable housing and adhering to the planned number of units. As a Planning Commissioner, I did vote "no" on Steamboat 700's proposal, but I am not against growth. I have voted to approve more than 90 percent of applications.
Q. List your top three priorities as a council member and how you propose to accomplish them.
A. 1. Ensure thoughtful growth: When we adhere to our development codes and community plan priorities we are more likely to meet the community's expectations.
2. Continue bike-friendly initiatives: Expand the core trail. Complete trail connections. Look for grant funding. Projects like these increase our quality of life that is attractive to locals and visitors.
3. Be prepared: Too often council members appear overwhelmed. Staff and applicant's presentations can be complex. As a Planning Commission member, I feel that I am thorough, open-minded and prepared to ask the tough questions.
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. Tourism will continue to be our foundation. But increasing our tourism economy is economic growth, not economic development. Economic development will come from economic diversity. Diversity is more likely to come from entrepreneurs and location-neutral businesses who will be attracted by the community and quality of life we have created. Our focus should be on the amenities we have control over: the Bike Town initiative, improving cell phone and internet connectivity, our recreation economy, our historic downtown and a friendly, welcoming community.
I arrived in Steamboat Springs in 1993 to volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. Since then I have continued to serve our community. I started my community volunteering with the Sierra Club and the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley. Recognition of my activities led to appointments by City Council to the Affordable Housing Working Group, Urban Renewal Authority Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission. My involvement with these groups has taught me how to work with the system and how the system is being worked.
In an election it's important to make distinctions. I would like to highlight decisions that both candidates voted on. I voted to respect our community plans while my opponent voted to approve the Steamboat 700 annexation. The proposal did not meet all of the community's goals (more details in question 6). New height allowances of 105 feet in the base area: I felt this height was not supported by the community. Walgreens: Our community allows "big box" development, but with conditions. Walgreens refused to address two conditions that could easily have been changed.
If this is not enough information to for you to support me, feel free to contact me at ElectRichardLevy@hotmail.com or 970-871-8799.