Oak Creek holding 1st contested mayoral race in a decade | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek holding 1st contested mayoral race in a decade

Incumbent Nikki Knoebel, left, defeated Bill Auer in the mail-in election for Oak Creek mayor that ends Tuesday.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In Oak Creek's first contested mayoral race in a decade, residents have a choice between an eight-year veteran of the job who is proud of her record and a resident who doesn’t think the town board should continue exploring a land acquisition that would preserve a trail system.

Incumbent Nikki Knobel is facing Bill Auer in the mail-in election that runs until Tuesday evening.

Auer, a semi-retired resident who had a long and storied career in the U.S. Army before settling in Oak Creek more than 20 years ago, said he decided to run because he disagreed with the town's recent decision to explore a large land acquisition.

The town has been talking about finding a way to obtain a 200-acre parcel of land owned by Russ Garrity that would preserve a 4.5-mile trail system several Oak Creek residents have been using on Garrity’s property, which is adjacent to the town’s borders.

Garrity has for years been letting the public use his trails, but he recently put the land up for sale with an asking price of $1.25 million.

Auer refers to the potential land acquisition as a "$1.25 million boondoggle" and an unnecessary attempt to try and create "Oak Creek National Park."

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"I don't think we're in a good enough financial position to go out on that limb," Auer said Thursday. "We've already got Decker Park. We've got pocket parks. And we've got a community garden."

Auer said he'd like to see the town end the talks about the potential land acquisition and instead focus on improving the town's infrastructure, including water lines that he said are between 80 to 100 years old.

"My philosophy on (improving) the infrastructure is number one," he said. "We need to forget about the park."

Auer's views on the land acquisition differ from the mayor's, who thinks it would be a great addition for the town.

But Knoebel said she thinks Auer is misrepresenting the town's involvement in the land deal during the campaign.

The mayor said Wednesday the town does not have the funding or manpower to purchase the property for the asking price of $1.25 million.

Knoebel said the town has instead been working with the South Routt Recreation Association to help facilitate a potential purchase of the property.

She said one role the town might play is to help secure grants for the land purchase.

"No one is approving the town to spend $1.25 million on this," Knoebel said. "We can't put any of our town's financial interest in it, but we do think it would be a great amenity to our town and to our outdoor lives and activities. I would love to see it happen."

Auer is the first candidate to challenge Knoebel in an election since Knoebel became mayor eight years ago.

He said he wants the board to post notices of its meetings at more locations around town and put out the agendas earlier.

He added he thinks the current board rubber stamps too many things and should ask more questions at meetings.

Knoebel said the town has accomplished a lot since she became mayor.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is the summer and after-school programs we created," Knoebel said. "We've got a lot of young families moving to town, and I'm glad we've been able to offer those services."

Knoebel also praised the town's current police force and its ability to execute a major repaving and infrastructure replacement project on Main Street under budget and ahead of schedule.

"We've come so far in the past eight years, and I'm hoping to get elected to the next two years to finish the things we've started," she said.

Voters have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to return their ballots to Oak Creek Town Hall.

The mayor's seat is the only contested race this year in Oak Creek.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.