City Council candidates discuss local economy | SteamboatToday.com

City Council candidates discuss local economy

Government hopefuls offer a variety of ideas to help stimulate area businesses

Mike Lawrence

Becky Townsend checks out the selection of books at Epilogue Book Co. in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon. As downtown businesses struggle through shoulder season and construction, City Council candidates are offering a variety of ideas to stimulate the local economy.

— As local businesses struggle through shoulder season and downtown construction, Steamboat Springs City Council candidates are offering an array of ideas to boost the city’s economy.

Candidates mentioned more marketing dollars, improving local quality of life through affordable housing and open space programs, reviving the demolished Ski Time Square and talking with local business owners about their needs. Candidates offered differing opinions on the expiring industrial enterprise zone program, which exempts licensed West Steamboat businesses from paying city sales and use taxes on the purchase or sale of parts, equipment, machinery and tools.

Incumbent City Councilman Walter Magill, running unopposed for the District 3 seat, noted that any discussion of local economic stimulus comes at a time of extremely limited city spending. City sales tax revenues are expected to drop 18 percent this year and an additional 10 percent in 2010, forcing cuts to nearly every city department.

“It’s difficult for the city because of our budget, because we can’t put a lot of money out there and we can’t put out a lot of tax breaks, because then we’re hurting ourselves,” Magill said.

Ideas abound nonetheless.

District 2

District 2 candidate Kenny Reisman focused his business ideas largely on bringing more visitors from the Denver area to the Yampa Valley. Engaging the cycling community could increase Steamboat’s draw as a mountain biking destination, he said. Reisman cited the possibility of a Lance Armstrong Foundation LIVESTRONG event in Steamboat next year as an example of driving the economy through promoting recreation.

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And there is a vital need for temporary retail options or attractions in Ski Time Square, Reisman said, where small businesses “are hanging on by a thread.” If development there is hypothetically five years away, he said, then “let’s find a way to put something up there within those next five years.”

Reisman’s opponent in the District 2 race, longtime local builder Ken Solomon, also cited cycling attractions and an expansion of marketing techniques. But Solomon primarily focused his business ideas on the construction industry, which he said often faces an excessively long permitting process for new projects.

“Basically, you put one set of plans in and it has to go through a round robin of numerous approvals : and sometimes it sits on a desk for several days,” Solomon said. “It’s not the best process, and that can be expedited.”

Solomon said he would welcome conversations with the Routt County Regional Building Department about expediting small remodels for homeowners and getting jobs under way.

Reisman said the industrial enterprise zone could be a model for a similar, broader tax program.

“You don’t just look at it from West Steamboat : you look at it across the board,” he said.

Solomon expressed more direct support for the enterprise zone.

“I think that was a successful program for 20 years, and I think we can use that model again,” he said.

District 1

District 1 candidate and former City Council President Kevin Bennett said he would work to return public bus service to Ski Time Square to help businesses hurt by the demolition; work to lower water rates, including commercial rates, in Old Town; work to support business by building assets that draw visitors, including parks, trails and open space; and “do everything possible” to not pay $1.3 million in city funds for the New Victory Highway. Plans for the road use funding from the city, Routt County and private developers to connect West Steamboat with the planned Overlook Park project and the Steamboat 700 annexation.

“Take that money and put it into marketing,” Bennett said Thursday, adding that he also would “pull a small amount of reserves, if necessary, to increase marketing.”

Bennett told the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association last week that he supports re-establishing the industrial enterprise zone, set to expire at the end of this year.

He shares that support with his opponent, City Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who cast the lone vote Oct. 20 in support of the enterprise zone. Hermacinski is vacating the at-large seat.

Hermacinski said if elected to the District 1 seat, at the first meeting of a new council she will seek council consensus to ask businesses whether regulations exist that impede business, and if so, how to address those regulations, provided there is no effect on public safety.

Hermacinski has said she would preserve funding for summer marketing, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, special events and regional airports to sustain and build local tourism.

At-large

Landscaper Kyle Pietras, running for the at-large City Council seat against Jim Engelken, said he would “try to get developers to focus on middle-class people and affordability,” because “if there are places to live, businesses will be a lot more open to opening a business here.” Pietras said the Steamboat 700 annexation could be a great success for local business because of the new opportunities it presents.

Letting the industrial enterprise zone expire is not necessarily a mistake, he said, “if there’s a possible citywide program that’s in the works.”

“I think that’s a big opportunity for us, not just as far as tax relief goes, but inviting businesses here,” Pietras said.

Engelken, on a break earlier this week from his job as dairy manager at Safeway, gave a simple answer to what his approach to business would be on City Council.

“You try to avoid situations like Ski Time Square that have hurt local business,” he said. Engelken added that he “would support open space projects to keep the community attractive to everyone,” support summer marketing and promote affordable housing programs.

“First and foremost, you do not allow the development community to dictate what you do,” he said.

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com