Oak Creek forum focuses on money | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek forum focuses on money

Town Board candidates also address law enforcement, town infrastructure needs

Mike Lawrence

— One way or another, money was the top issue at an Oak Creek candidates' forum Thur­sday night.

How to bring more of it to town, how to keep it circulating in town and how needed infrastructure upgrades will demand a whole lot more of it in the future — all were discussed by the five candidates for Oak Creek Town Board and mayoral candidate Nikki Knoebel.

The forum hosted by the Routt County League of Wo­­­men Voters, candidates' only public discussion before the April 6 election, was sparsely attended. Fewer than 10 residents came to Oak Creek Town Hall for the event, where Town Clerk Karen Halterman's dog, Rosemary, consistently wove her way through the seats for affection.

There was plenty of passion for Oak Creek among the candidates, who cited a love for the South Routt County town. Incumbents Bernard Gagne and Dawn Smith, appointed to the board in recent months, join Lawrence Jaconetta, Linda Price and Johrene Meyers-Story in the race for four Town Board seats. Knoebel, also appointed as a trustee in the past year, is running unopposed for mayor. Mayor J Elliott and Trustee Josh Voorhis are not running for re-election.

Several questions from the audience related to reviving Oak Creek's business community and attracting more visitors.

"We need to really focus more on our economic development," Meyers-Story said, suggesting creation of a visitors' center, more involvement in cultural heritage tourism and more advertising of Oak Creek and regional attractions such as the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

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Gagne said growing plans for a community garden in the town could be the first steps toward a farmers market. He also suggested a coupon program to encourage residents to shop locally, an organized downtown business district and a revival of South Routt's community development program, which he said is "floundering."

Price said revitalizing the car wash and Sinclair gas station downtown are crucial to stopping drivers who pass through Oak Creek on their way from the Interstate 70 corridor to Steamboat Springs.

Gagne expressed concern that county efforts to repair Routt County Road 14, from Colorado Highway 131 to Stagecoach, could create "an Oak Creek cut-off" for drivers who could bypass Oak Creek entirely. Smith suggested a sign at the turn-off just south of town advertising food and gas ahead, and more advertising at Stagecoach State Park of town amenities.

Jaconetta suggested trying to bring more road-biking events to South Routt in the summer and building on local traditions such as the annual Taste of South Routt event.

"Anything to drive sales tax dollars and revenues to this town," he said.

Those dollars soon could be needed for town infrastructure upgrades, including a possible pipe replacement for the town's water treatment plant. All candidates expressed a willingness to address the issue if elected.

"I would just have to sit on the board and see what the facts are," Price said.

"I just want to make sure that (upgrades) are affordable for all of us," Meyers-Story said.

Responding to a question about how to best provide local law enforcement — "forever an issue in Oak Creek," moderator Mark Fischer commented — all candidates said they are happy with the town's direction under new Oak Creek Police Officer Lance Dunaway, who took on the job in December.

"I think we've got the perfect situation right now," Knoebel said.

The three candidates with the most votes will be appointed to four-year terms. The candidate with the fourth-highest tally will be appointed to a two-year term. The mayor's term also is two years.

Smith, citing the low attendance Thursday night, said she hopes town residents take an active role in the April 6 election and become more involved in Oak Creek overall.

"When they get more involved and invested, hopefully we'll get the town to bloom again," Smith said.

Pilot & Today reporter Zach Fridell contributed to this article.

To vote

Oak Creek Town Hall will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 6 for the Town Board election. Town residents can vote in person or by mail. Town Clerk Karen Halterman said she would mail a ballot to town residents who signed up on their voter registration to permanently receive a mail ballot. April 2 is the last day to request an absentee, or mail, ballot. Halterman said Thursday that ballots have not yet been printed but will be mailed to voters before April 2. Call Oak Creek Town Hall at 970-736-8231 for more information.

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