Our View: Jump right in, City Council
November 8, 2009
A new Steamboat Springs City Council will be sworn in Tuesday night at Centennial Hall, and once the mostly ceremonial first meeting is complete, council members quickly will be immersed in a number of important and timely city issues.
Only two new members join the seven-member council, and one of them — Jim Engelken — immediately will become the council member with the most experience, having served from 1995 to 2001. Kenny Reisman is a political newcomer, and the two other seats up for election this fall were won by incumbents — Cari Hermacinski defeated Kevin Bennett, and Walter Magill ran unopposed to retain his seat.
But where this council might feel the biggest impact from the election is with whom it lost, not gained. Veteran councilmen Loui Antonucci and Steve Ivancie brought professionalism, intelligence and institutional knowledge to the city and council. They deserve recognition and thanks from the community they so dutifully served, and we hope the new council inherits some of their best attributes.
Regardless of who is elected City Council president Tuesday, we urge him or her to continue outgoing president Antonucci's knack for running efficient, manageable meetings. Three meetings a month is a number worth sticking to.
We also expect this new council's first priority to be, well, settling on its priorities. Past councils typically have held one- or two-day retreats to set an agenda for the ensuing two years, and this council would be wise to follow suit. Indeed, one of the discussion items on Tuesday's council agenda involves a retreat and new council orientation.
That retreat will be an important opportunity for the new council to decide which issues it will focus on during the next two years. There is no shortage of options.
At the top of that list is continuing to manage the city through a difficult economic period. The city is forecasting a 10 percent decrease in 2010 sales tax revenue, and that's in addition to the 18 percent decrease expected throughout this year. The new council's first and most important task will be final adoption of the 2010 city budget. Draft versions of that budget propose a continuation of the employee furloughs and hiring freezes. Other cost-saving measures could include revised snowplow schedules, reductions in firefighter training and increases in Howelsen Hill Ski Area lift ticket prices. The city plans to cut back significantly on capital projects in 2010, and city officials are wary that additional cuts could become necessary depending on actual revenues.
Given the budget cuts and struggling economy, will this council find ways to propel Steamboat forward despite the dire circumstances? Some council members already have discussed analyzing city policies as they relate to business to ensure that we are not impeding economic growth.
Managing growth will continue to be a major council issue in the coming years. Regardless of the outcome of a petition drive to put the annexation of Steamboat 700 to a citywide vote, the council must decide how best to manage the redevelopment of Ski Time Square, including The Atira Group's request for 10-year vesting of its development plans and what to do with the empty parcel until such redevelopment starts. The annexation process of 360 Village also looms large on the horizon.
Issues of affordable and attainable housing will manifest themselves in the forms of a revised Community Housing Ordinance and the city's relationship with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. Is this council the one that will finally give the Housing Authority the power and money to leverage affordable housing funds into affordable housing projects?
These are, of course, just a few of the many issues facing our city and its residents. There is much work to be done, and we hope this new group of seven approaches its difficult job with enthusiasm, professionalism and an ever-present goal of working with the best interests of the city at heart.