Candidates, issues emerge as Rifle election approaches
Candidates for city council
(names appear in alphabetical order)
Brent Buss, owner of Thrifty Thrill Thrift Store
Joe Elliott, construction manager at Colorado Mountain College
Aaron Flesch, owner of Aaron’s Heating and Cooling
Ed Green, currently retired, former Garfield County manager
Theresa Hamilton, director of districtwide services for Garfield Re-2 School District
Annick Pruett, administrative director of community relations at Grand River Health
Dana Wood, director of LiveWell Garfield County
RIFLE — Voters will have seven choices for city council in the September municipal election, and will likely have to answer a ballot question that, if passed, would allow the city to incur debt in order to fix deteriorating roads throughout Rifle.
Signatures for all seven candidates’ nominating petitions were recently validated, and with opportunity to withdraw from the race expiring last Tuesday, all seven names will appear on the ballot.
The top four vote getters will fill four at-large seats, three of which are four-year terms and the fourth, which will go to the candidate in the top four with the least votes, is a two-year term.
Joe Elliott, who was appointed to council in September 2014, is the only incumbent running in the election. The rest of the initial candidates have varying experience and different backgrounds.
City Clerk Lisa Hamilton will draw lots Monday to determine the placement of names on the ballot.
On Wednesday, council will consider the second reading of the ballot question, which council unanimously passed on first reading July 1.
Rather than establish a new tax or increase the rate of an existing tax, the city would borrow up to $5 million by issuing sales and use tax bonds for road improvements, with an $8.023 million cap on the total cost of repaying the sum with interest.
In a memo to council, City Manager Matt Sturgeon cited an approximate cost of $2.9 million to address streets with immediate repair needs. With budget forecasts predicting $973,000 in revenue from the existing ½-cent sales tax in 2015, the city does not have enough money to perform those immediate repairs, which do not include maintenance work to extend the life of other existing streets.
“We need to start moving forward on some of these streets. The winters keep beating them up and the further they go into deterioration the more costly the fixes become,” Sturgeon told council earlier this month.
If approved, some of the money would go toward equipment that would allow the city perform smaller repairs and maintenance work in a more immediate and timely manner, creating what City Engineer Rick Barth referred to as an “elastic maintenance program.” That work could extend the life of some roads up to another 10 years, preventing the need for a massive and costly rebuild in the near future.
With currently low interest rates, now would be the time to borrow, attorney Jim Neu told council.
“Interest rates are as low as they’re ever going to be, so it’s not free money but it’s almost free money,” he said. “If this passes you’re going to enjoy all the benefits of these street improvements without really having to pay anything more for them.”
A map highlighting maintenance needs in the city shows 3.51 miles of road in need of urgent repair and another 3.73 miles listed as important. Another 6.57 miles of road is categorized as noticeable. Sections of road in all three categories appear across the city and are not limited to one specific region, based on the map.
Several councilors spoke in favor of the proposed maintenance approach before voting to approve the ballot question. Noting that infrastructure such as streets in becoming increasingly important in property valuations, Councilor Dirk Myers said that now is the time to get ahead of the issue.
“I think it’s needed,” he said at the meeting. “Instead of putting band aids on like we have year after year, get it done. And I don’t think anyone wants to see their value of their property go down because they live on a street that isn’t maintained correctly.”
Citing the water plant as an example of the pricey cost of deferred maintenance, Councilor Joe Elliott said that now is the time to “get the ball rolling.”
While agreeing with the need for an organized maintenance program, Mayor Randy Winkler said he wished the ballot language clearly stated that there would be no increase in sales tax if approved.
The ballot language was written in accordance with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which mandates a question of incurring debt be put before the voters, said Neu, adding that part of the reason for the language is to present an objective question. The rest will be left up to campaigns, he said.
Ballots will be mailed Aug. 17-24, and must be returned by 7 p.m. Sept. 8.
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