Carbondale mayoral candidates discuss affordable housing, development issues
At a candidate forum Thursday evening, Carbondale’s three mayoral candidates fielded community questions hitting on development, affordable housing and use of the town’s reserves.
Focusing on maintaining diversity with developments is important to Carbondale, said Trustee Katrina Byars.
Carbondale is lucky to have sales tax revenue from City Market, it’s the single most significant revenue source, but the town needs a more diverse tax base that also draws from small businesses, she said. The type of development that makes the town strong maintains diversity economically and culturally.
“Any development should be inclusive of all economic strata,” and should encourage lower income housing in addition to Carbondale’s high-end housing, said Byars.
But the new proposed City Market is not the answer to all of town’s economic woes, candidate Ed Cortez said. The direction of development is something the town still needs to reach consensus on.
Both Dan Richardson and Cortez wanted to prioritize infill — the process of developing vacant space in already developed areas — in future development.
That approach is already a priority in Carbondale’s comprehensive plan and newly finalized unified development code, said Richardson.
“Our job is to make sure that new growth fits [that vision],” he said.
The board also is pursuing an affordable housing needs assessment, Richardson pointed out. The board needs to prioritize existing businesses, even if those don’t create direct revenue for the town government, he added.
Byars said she wants to pull from capital fund reserves, combine that with employee housing money, and leverage those funds with money that Garfield County commissioners have talked about releasing for an affordable housing program.
She pointed to neighboring Eagle County’s successful affordable housing program.
“We’ve been debating [affordable housing] since I was on P&Z,” which is going on about 15 years now, said Cortez. “We have no affordable housing.”
Cortez criticized talk of focusing affordable housing efforts on “critical employees.”
“A critical employee to me is the person who stacks produce at City Market, the bus driver, everyone is a critical person.” And there shouldn’t be discrimination of who gets into affordable housing and who doesn’t, he said.
Carbondale is sitting on reserves at about 75 percent to 100 percent of it annual operating costs. And Richardson said he is hesitant to draw down the town’s reserves as it’s overly dependent on a single revenue source. Other municipalities with more diverse economies can get away with less in reserves, but spending that down could be incredibly dangerous for Carbondale, he said, though he did talk about dedicating money to affordable housing.
If there’s a sound investment, so it’s not a reduction in overall assets, we could do that, said Richardson. “But for the most part I say keep them where they’re at right now.”
Cortez has been firmly against tapping into the town’s reserves, which he refers to as the emergency fund. Much like in the great recession, Cortez warned that the current revenue boom isn’t going to last. That money needs to be held for true emergencies, like adding lighting to improve public safety, he said.
During recent budget discussions the board has talked about a transfer of $500,000 to the capital fund, from which money for affordable housing could be drawn, said Byars. Likewise, she said, the town needs to invest in repairs to water infrastructure and sidewalks.
A recent town audit reported reserves at 101 percent of annual operating costs. Byars wants to keep at least 75 percent in reserves, but said she wants to see the rest put into housing and infrastructure, rather than invested in mutual funds.