Glenwood Springs City Council Q&A
Glenwood Springs City Council candidates, both contested and uncontested, answered a series of questions from the Post Independent in a question and answer format. At-large incumbent Shelley Kaup is being challenged by Ricky Rodriguez. Ward 5 representative Jonathan Godes and Ward 2 representative Ingrid Wussow are up for reelection but face no challengers on the ballot in the April 6 city election. Rodriguez did not respond to requests for comments.
Glenwood Springs City Councilors aren’t required to disclose any conflicts of interest until they arise on a case-by-case basis. Would you support having councilors file conflict of interest forms at the beginning of their term (and updating as necessary)?
Kaup: I would not oppose disclosing the type of work and affiliations that each Councilor has at the beginning of a term. If someone has a job, interest, or project that may cause conflicts, that is typically disclosed when they join council. But we live in a small community where “everyone knows everyone,” and it is hard to know, months or years in advance, what may come before council or when a conflict may occur.
That is why we disclose conflicts on a case-by-case basis before each meeting, or when the conflict becomes evident. We do not always know what projects, decisions or issues will come to council until a couple of weeks before the meeting. Only then can each council member know if they have a conflict of interest. Please refer to Article 020.040 of the Municipal Code for more information.
Godes: We verbally attest to any conflicts of interest prior to every city council meeting currently, so doing a blanket “what if” declaration seems unnecessary to me. In addition, we are subject to the “conflicts of interest” policy in the employee handbook. Furthermore, we have been working on a Council “Code of Conduct” that we sign that also spells out what a conflict of interest is and how and when a recusal is appropriate.
There are so many scenarios that cannot be anticipated that potentially COULD be a conflict, that there is no pre-emptive form that would capture everything that might come before a councilor.
Wussow: I support the idea of requiring candidates to prepare a Conflict of Interest Form at the beginning of a candidacy. Requiring candidates to share their conflicts of interest helps illustrate their alliances and identify their loyalties long before the community votes. As history has demonstrated, hidden agendas can be more influential on a politician’s vote than a vote supporting what’s in the community’s best interest.
What work would you do to balance the city budget without burdening taxpayers?
Kaup: I study the budget closely every year. Council works with the citizen Financial Advisory Board, staff, city manager and finance director to set priorities and reach a balanced budget. The city works across many separate funds, each with distinct purposes and revenue sources to serve the community. City Council has set goals to have healthy cash reserves to help cover emergency needs and drops in revenue. For the 2021 Budget, the General Fund, which funds most of the city’s general and administrative services, had a contingency cash reserve of about 20 percent.
Godes: The current city budget is not out of balance currently as we are not able operate at a budget deficit as our federal government does annually. We have reserves to weather bad years like 2020 which we replenish in the good years by budgeting for a slight revenue surplus.
When there are concerns about the lack of funds for a project, program or department, we prioritize our expenditures (if it is minor), raise fees to match expenses (if it is an enterprise fund) or we take larger issues directly to the voters.
Wussow: As we navigate the post-Covid landscape, this is a perfect time to rethink the way we’ve always done things, take advantage of Covid Relief funding opportunities and explore more fiscally-creative solutions to manage our budget. Having said that, I do believe that the Financial Advisory Board, as well as the City’s Finance Department, is filled with knowledgeable, capable community members who have our city’s best interest in mind. I believe considering the disruption of this last year, it may be time to do some regrouping and evaluating rather than critiquing. When the ship is in tumultuous waters, it’s not always the best time to extend criticism to the captain. However, once the fiscally-rough waters of last year settle, I believe we will be able to better reflect on how we can improve as we move forward.
What other ways will you plan to increase revenue?
Kaup: I am a fiscal conservative. I am always looking for ways to save tax dollars and make sure they are spent effectively. But as the city grows and the needs of our community expand, there is a need for more revenue. The city is diligent in its pursuit of grant funding to stretch our tax dollars. Between 2018 – 2020 the city won grants in excess of $15 million to fund projects such as the 27th St. bridge, Cedar Crest infrastructure, the new in-town recycling center and South Midland reconstruction. I am interested in working with businesses, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and other city leaders to find ways to raise revenue with the least impact to our residents.
Godes: 95% of our revenue is sales tax and user fees. We can either develop additional retail centers like the 8th St. Crossing and the West Glenwood Mall, or we can raise taxes and fees. Finding the correct mix of these approaches is the tough part. Many people are against any kind of growth which would provide for economically “growing the pie.” Many people are against tax increases. If we are deciding against any future growth and no additional taxes we will certainly see a long, slow, and consistent decline in services and projects as expenses are growing faster than our existing tax base will allow.
Wussow: One place to explore revenue generators is to look at other mountain towns and see if they’ve identified opportunities that we can apply within our community. Are there new recreational trends? New outdoor sports on the horizon that we can create a venue for? Can we grow the mountain-biking trail system and in turn the industry here in the valley? Let’s find revenue streams that the city can benefit from but so too the people who live here as well as those who come to visit our area. Another potential revenue generator would shock the 19-year-old version of myself, who would work overtime to pay her parking tickets. Ah, yes, parking meters. A tried-and-true method for ensuring a steady revenue especially in a downtown that’s lean on parking.
What projects would you delay if necessary due to budget constraints and for how long would they be pushed into the future?
Kaup: As we review the budget and consider project funding, we always
have to balance the “needs” with the “wants.” For me, spending priorities should be essential infrastructure, such as water, wastewater, streets, bridges, electrical and solid waste, and community services such as safety, emergency services, broadband, parks, the community center, and health. Other services and projects are also important to the community but are given lower priority.
Godes: Any life and safety project (like South Bridge) that we delay by making it more expensive is a gamble that we cannot afford, and is literally playing with fire. That project has to be the top priority for elected leaders at both the City and the County.
Our water, sewer and electric infrastructure have significant challenges and is a basic and fundamental service that cannot be delayed. We will need to raise rates dramatically to address those issues, but those cannot wait either. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be, and the greater the chance a catastrophic failure happens.
Any project that doesn’t have a clear return on investment (like the West Glenwood Mall or Eighth8th Street. Crossing) should not take priority over basic infrastructure, health, life and safety services and projects.
Wussow: In 2020, out of necessity and applied foresight, we postponed many projects due to anticipated COVID-related revenue declines. My inclination is not to plan more delays of projects, rather I prefer to have an enumerated yet malleable schedule that prioritizes needs and includes more “shovel ready” projects. This benefits the city by allowing us to regularly update and prioritize needs, as well as to be prepared to take advantage of federal and state funding that’s recently become available for infrastructure projects. Through our hardworking city staff, we have many of our identified projects already in a “shovel-ready” state, this type of status is a requisite for us to apply for grants/funding from opportunities such as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the Federal Covid Relief Bill and Main Street Program. Let’s be creative, resourceful, and diligent and get these much-needed projects funded and completed.
What would you do to provide more opportunities to live in GS to those who work full time in GS?
Kaup: Affordable housing is an area I am extremely committed to. I worked to get
our Housing Commission active again, after it was suspended during after the 2009
recession. The city uses a multi-faceted approach to provide more diverse and attainable housing for our workforce. We allow accessory dwelling units, provide incentives for developers to rent units below market rates, support low-income tax credit projects, and we are working on inclusionary housing requirements for larger developments. Many types of housing are needed for our workforce and retirees. City Council works to support a diverse range of housing for the community.
Godes: There needs to be a robust affordable housing program in GWS like there are in many other mountain communities. Pitkin County has over 3,000 affordable (subsidized rent and deed restricted housing) units, but they have a large dedicated tax and have been working on this for 40 years. You can either put up a whole lot more units in town to increase the supply in order to lower the demand (and cost), or you can raise taxes. Again though, people don’t like growth and they don’t like taxes.
I don’t believe that you can just build your way out of it and make homes affordable for the working class residents. The free market solution only works when you have unlimited ability to expand geographically and a population that accepts growth. If we want Glenwood to stay a “real” town, we are going to need a regional approach and a dedicated funding mechanism. Otherwise we are destined to be a community of 2nd home owners, retirees and the wealthy at the expense of what makes our community real.
Wussow: In 4+ years on the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission, I saw many projects brought to the city that I believe primarily benefited the developer. The scope of the projects is too dense for the sites; the developers are more concerned with maximizing profits than blending with the vernacular of the neighborhood. I’d prefer to see more diverse housing that benefits the community and affords increased homeownership to all economic sectors. With the anticipated growth expected in Garfield County, we should shift from catering to developers and instead allow developers to cater to our community and provide more attainable housing. Developers listening to what we need, be it more open space or land for a new fire station. The ultimate goal is Glenwood’s workforce able to live in Glenwood’s neighborhoods. I realize not everyone who works in Glenwood will be able to live in our town, however we can do better to meet this goal.
How do you feel about GS residents who don’t want to see change in their community or way of life?
Kaup: I feel everyone is entitled to their opinion about the future of their community and way of life. Change is an inevitable part of life. I believe the best thing we can do for people who are uncomfortable with change is to provide ample opportunity for community input. My goal is to make sure changes and growth are smart, and in the best interests of our community and quality of life. We do this by using tools such as the Comprehensive Plan, which emphasizes community involvement. Our Comp Plan is due for an update, and I look forward to hearing from people in those community conversations.
Godes: I value all residents of GWS and feel that their perspective is a valuable contribution to the fabric of our community.
Change is inevitable, progress is not. Burying your head in the sand and refusing to accept any change is, in of itself, a decision. It is a decision to slowly and surely have more gridlock and traffic on 82. It is a decision to have home and rent prices continue to appreciate to where no regular people can afford to live here. It is a decision to not be bold, visionary and imaginative at the expense of “how it was when I moved here.” It is a decision to not recognize the new normal of climate change and the annual threats it brings to our community. We cannot allow “decisions by attrition” to be the decisions that guide our community forward.
Wussow: When I hear feedback from residents saying they don’t want to see change, I see that as a beautiful reminder that we live in a really sweet place in the world and our residents feel fortunate to live here. If we don’t stay a little protective of our community, it’s easy to see that what makes Glenwood special could inadvertently cause growth that changes our small town and dilutes the community we love. I believe that while a free market does optimistically and eventually balance itself out, using that logic may also result in a population-dense, overdeveloped town. We need to be mindful about what we allow to be built, managing zoning and density, especially by out-of-town investors, who recognize the economic strength and long-term viability of OUR town.
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Following background checks for 2021 Glenwood Springs council candidates, just one found with misdemeanor conviction
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct information about voting.