Rifle City Council candidate Q&As | PostIndependent.com

Rifle City Council candidate Q&As

Eight people are vying for five seats on Rifle City Council during this year’s election.

November’s election pits incumbents Joe Carpenter, Clint Hostettler and Sean Strode against first-time council hopefuls Bud Demicell, Tamara Degler, Alicia Gresley, Chris Bornholdt and Derek Davis.

Current Mayor Barbara Clifton and Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Hamilton are termed out.

For Rifle City Council, The four candidates receiving the highest number of votes will each be elected to a four-year term. The one candidate receiving the fifth-highest number of votes will be elected to a two-year term. Once council is sworn in, council members will vote for mayor and mayor pro tem.

All seats are at-large and represent the entire city — not districts.

Ballots were mailed out Oct. 11. Nov. 2 is Election Day.

1. Like many communities across predominantly mountain areas of Colorado, affordable housing is an issue in Rifle. If you were elected to City Council, what would you advocate for and do to help address this long-standing issue?

Rifle City Council candidate Chris Bornholdt.

Bornholdt: With the price of lumber and labor increasing, building affordable housing is challenging. Land prices are also increasing at a rapid rate in the Rifle area. Teaming up with an organization like Habitat for Humanity could be an option to help with the costs. A possible expansion of King Crown Mobile Home Park may be the cheapest housing option for families.

Rifle City Council candidate Sean Strode.

Strode: As a City Councilor, I have already had the opportunity to advocate for housing projects that have come before council. In permitting processes, I have lobbied for more affordable duplex-style housing over expensive single family homes and have supported efforts by Habitat for Humanity. In the past few years we have discussed existing discount fee initiatives for workforce specific housing and assessed the impact fees for new construction. We lowered the fees to make building in Rifle more attractive. There are three areas that I focus on for continued housing development. One is to optimize smart growth in our town that utilizes existing infrastructure by creating infill. Second is to focus on all of Rifle’s residents. This ranges from single family homes to multifamily apartments to senior citizen homes. It’s important to make sure that no one is priced out of our area. The final piece is to explore options along Airport Road where people can possibly live close to work and have easy access on/off the interstate.

Rifle City Council candidate Clint Hostettler.

Hostettler: I would continue to do what we have been doing, which is support every entity that wants to build or fund affordable housing. One of the ways we can support this is by reducing building permit fees from the city, similar to what we did a few months ago with Habitat for Humanity. I in no way think the city should get into the affordable housing business but should continue to do everything we can to support and facilitate these projects that our community needs so people can afford to live here.

Rifle City Council candidate Derek Davis.

Davis: I would like to see the city give a discount of building and tap fees to teachers and city workers. They would need to live in the city for five years or would be required to pay back the discount. There are also some programs for workforce housing. I would be in favor of seeing if these could be beneficial for our citizens.

Rifle City Council candidate Tamara Degler.

Degler: This is an incredibly important issue to address as a community. I would advocate for hearings that bring together the City Council, financial experts, real estate developers, local real estate agents and citizens. Launching an ongoing discussion in a task force format would be helpful. It is my past experience that such meetings can generate valuable ideas. It would also be beneficial for the City Council and our city leaders to network with other communities facing this issue to learn best practices on how to address the issue. We should also be evaluating the fees the city charges for new construction. The city needs to provide creative and innovative solutions to the problem.

Rifle City Council candidate Alicia Gresley.

Gresley: Speaking about communication and community engagement is something you will hear and see often in my responses and campaign, as it is key to seeing us move the needle on all these type of issues. We need to collaborate with our neighboring cities and towns on their approaches as well as seek input from businesses or developers who may see some benefit in building new affordable communities on available land. There is a responsible and productive way to do this. Looking at the City 21-22 strategic plan, I see assessing the city property inventory/areas and their potential for selling or maybe development as a step in the right direction. We also need to listen to those who have objections to proposed ideas and work through a compromise; asking why and for community ideas/input.

Rifle City Council candidate Bud Demicell.

Demicell: I do not believe it is the role of City Council to get involved in the housing market. However, I do recognize housing costs as an issue that many of our residents face. I am in favor of asking relevant sectors (Realtors, contractors, land developers and community members) to come together and brainstorm ideas to combat this issue. City Council can add some relief by cutting permit fees, looking at red tape that might be hindering new builds, and ensuring that government is not in the way.

Rifle City Council candidate Joe Carpenter.

Carpenter: City Council put a program in place last year involving reduced fees for contractors. We extended it for several months this summer, we also have been approached by Habitat for Humanity to approve a project south of the river. Unfortunately, property and material costs have skyrocketed this year. We are continuing to explore avenues for affordable housing. However, I don’t think the city should get into the contracting process. That’s best left up to professionals in the housing industry.

2. What is the best way to improve downtown commerce and attract more foot traffic?

Bornholdt: Ongoing public events can help drive positive awareness of the city’s downtown area. Bringing people from the entire county downtown on a regular basis, once a week or even just once a month. Online marketing will make citizens aware of the unique amenities that exist in the central part of the Rifle community.

Strode: The city is at the tail end of a large effort to make the city more pedestrian friendly. While the construction downtown serves many purposes, improved walkability and modernizing are part of the master plan. The construction replaces and upgrades nearly all of the inferior infrastructure, but it also creates better sidewalks, helps slow traffic down in that corridor and creates more outdoor spaces for people to enjoy our historic downtown. With time, as funding becomes available, the idea of connecting a walkable downtown is where the city would like to move towards. Many economists predict a more local emphasis on small businesses post-pandemic, and with a refreshed downtown, that could be the case for Rifle.

Hostettler: I think that our downtown beautification was a great step in this direction and our businesses will see a large benefit from these improvements. I think it is important to maintain an open line of communication between the city and businesses to make sure we as a city are doing everything possible for these folks to succeed. I have and will always support small business in our community; not just in the downtown area but throughout the city limits. I would like to see more organized downtown activities to show off all the work that has been done and to let people see all the great businesses we have downtown.

Davis: The city has done a good job with updating and improving the downtown area. I would be in favor of continued physical improvements to the areas entering downtown. Putting up signs on Interstate 70 and throughout social media about what Rifle has to offer would help. I think the city could host events like 5Ks and bike races starting or ending in the downtown area. The city could also have street parties with live music on Friday and Saturday nights. We could also invite our local schools to come and perform plays or concerts. Most of this could be done through volunteers and not cost the taxpayers more money. I also think it is important not to forget the areas outside of downtown. There are a lot of businesses on Airport Road. For example, we need to make sure these areas stay updated and look nice as well. We want all of Rifle to be a magnet to I-70 traffic.

Degler: As the owner of Crescent Moon Spiritual Goods in downtown Rifle, it was and still is painful going through the Rifle Revitalization Project. Businesses downtown look forward to the construction ending and welcoming visitors with the new improvements. I am especially excited for the foot traffic that the updates will generate. However, the updates alone won’t attract visitors — we need to have more events and festivals downtown. Events that have been canceled by COVID-19 have been greatly missed by the community. Western Adventure Weekend is already a success, and the addition of the new Grand Hogback bike trail should help it become a major attraction. A festival celebrating our Hispanic community would also be a welcome addition. While I believe the items above would increase downtown traffic, Rifle is more than its downtown area. We need to amplify business throughout Rifle and strive to attract more customers to all areas.

Gresley: Improve the foot/bike paths alongside the creek and Railroad to encourage residents to use their feet to come to downtown. We would often ride bikes in to have dinner or push the stroller to events at the fairgrounds but not without our concerns over lack of lighting, trash/needles and limited access to certain streets. Understand if there is a desire for periodic events on Third Street, shut down to traffic and allow for outside dining or food trucks and bar service in the street. Heat lamps for the cooler evenings. We need to promote events via modern channels where people can engage. Again, working with our neighboring towns to encourage additional participation. Miner’s Claim has a golf cart shuttling diners around Silt if they don’t want to drive. Family friendly events at the splash pad, the space is underutilized. I’ve lots of ideas but you only allow so many words.

Demicell: The biggest hindrance to downtown activity is parking, for customers and employees alike. Between Third Street employees, Ute Theater traffic, post office and bank customers, there is rarely parking for retail shoppers. Unless and until the parking issue is resolved, it will be difficult to attract foot traffic. People do not utilize the parking structure on First and Railroad because it’s too far to walk to downtown. I would explore revamping the existing parking lot, on Fourth Street across from Ute Theater, into a parking structure. Yes, we can have street parties or festivals, but that does not create ongoing patronage. And the parking issue still exists.

Carpenter: I think that’s been partly addressed by the project undertaken this year. As far as attracting new businesses we have to make it easy to do business. I have 48 years of experience in retail, banking and financial services in Rifle. In my experience, a giant step has been taken with the projects this summer involving upgrading infrastructure and improving the appearance of downtown. New business is vital to downtown. I’ve thought that perhaps we could make an effort to recruit entrepreneurs to the downtown corridor.

3. What major improvements can Rifle make when it comes to infrastructure, commerce and recreation?

Bornholdt: The remodel of City Hall is a much-needed upgrade for city staff. The Recreation Department has many projects that need to be completed to enhance what the City Parks already offers to its citizens.

Strode: It’s my opinion that infrastructure is one of the primary roles of city government, and there is continual progress in this area. I don’t believe there is one major improvement to make; more importantly, the best thing we can do is have a good strategic plan. Fortunately, we already have many of these plans in place (streets, water, facilities, etc.); now it’s a matter of being smart with our money to remain financially stable, while executing improvement plans within our allocated budget. For commerce, we need to focus on local stores that offer more niche products and services. Stores that compete with Walmart or Amazon — unfortunately, they have less chance of longevity. It’s important that we bolster our relationships and support with small business owners to improve commerce in Rifle. We’re in a very interesting time because Rifle is no longer a small town, but we’re not a big town, either. As we continue to grow, small- and medium-size retailers will begin to set up in our town. Then the biggest problem isn’t how to get commerce, it’s how to preserve the quality and integrity of our city.

Hostettler: The city has been working diligently to find the places that need the most work and get them fixed and or updated. We are really working on improving our water and sewer, our streets and our broadband. All these things are and will continue to be a priority.

Our recreation in Rifle is second to none — we have great parks and programs. We also have great people in this department that are always trying to creatively improve and add to what we already have. The city has a lot of awesome things on tap in our strategic plan in the coming years. Building a new park up in North Pasture/Promontory neighborhood, along with big plans for our river area. Commerce fits hand in hand with infrastructure and recreation. If you have great infrastructure, it draws businesses and gives them a great chance to be successful. The more recreational options you have, the more time they will spend outside enjoying our town and visiting from other places, and this will drive commerce.

Davis: For recreation, I think we can do better at making use of the Colorado River. With the city spending $400,000 on the island and another $80,000 to remove the debris, I would like to make sure the city capitalizes on this investment as soon as possible. The city is putting out a survey asking what would be the best use of the island. After the citizens have weighed in, we should come up with a plan that meets the findings. Hopefully this will benefit citizens, as well as draw in visitors. As far as infrastructure and commerce, we need a long-term plan. Our city charter should be updated to have a five-year strategic plan instead of the one year plan it has now. Changes to infrastructure, commerce and recreation, for that matter, will take time and planning. To be wise stewards of the people’s tax dollars we need a plan. Otherwise the city will always be shooting from the hip. We will miss valuable opportunities and insights without planning ahead.

Degler: As a resident, I have noticed that safe travel on our roads is an ongoing issue, especially during the winter. We need to continually assess our response to weather events and improve safe travel when possible. In discussions I’ve had with residents and tourists alike, common concerns are a lack of wireless internet accessibility, healthy eating options and outdoor recreation equipment access. Since internet access is an ongoing issue, the city needs to keep pace with the advancements in technology. We need to attract new businesses, especially healthier restaurants and outdoor equipment rentals. Our beautiful parks, paths and natural attractions such as Rifle Arch, Rifle Mountain Park and Rifle Falls should be marketed more to increase tourism, a major economic driver in the area. I would seek to balance encouragement for new businesses with an eye on keeping our small-town vibe.

Gresley: Access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband internet and options to ensure competition. 50% of revenues come from sales tax; in 2021, a lot of it has come from online purchases. How many people now work from home or kids who are now completing online school? As we look to the future and how our world has changed and is evolving, this is an imperative infrastructure improvement we cannot neglect to improve. I am excited for the potential of Paradise Island from a recreation standpoint, some sort of river park or recreation area would be beneficial for citizens and attract visitors who would spend time (and $$) in our city. Keep focusing on the great work various groups are doing to create world-class mountain biking and hiking trails as well as promoting Rifle Mountain Park more. Whiteriver Avenue and some of our side streets need some love, too.

Demicell: Everywhere I go, I hear that our broadband service is in dire need of improvement. Most everything we do these days is reliant on our connectivity and coverage area. Rifle also has several roads that are graded as “poor,” thereby needing replaced — not repaired. Commerce can be improved by upgrading broadband (GPS) and having adequate parking. I think the County Fairgrounds is underutilized. We could host regional and state competitions, concerts and other events, which would increase commerce and provide additional recreational activities for our community. Additionally, I’d like to look at a long-term plan to build a recreation center utilizing land adjacent to the pool that is already owned by the city.

Carpenter: We did that this summer with our improvement projects. Infrastructure is something we need to stay on top of; for example , the utilities replaced this summer were up to seven decades old and in very poor condition. We have a great new pool, we have a very impressive series of bike trails that are open and being improved all of the time. We are also on track to finish the Veterans Memorial Park north of town.

4. What are the major social issues facing Rifle and what do you think can be done to help?

Bornholdt: The Rifle community is a diverse society, and the discussions of inclusion as whole community is important for the city to grow. Increasingly, cities have sought to broaden opportunity and human rights, and in response have faced opposition and pre-emptive policies from their state governments. Council should view opportunity and inclusiveness as critical benchmarks of a successful community and may find that they are putting up a fight for these values.

Strode: There are very few social issues that are uniquely specific to Rifle. Many social issues can be identified nationally. There are countless psychologists and social scientists trying to figure out what can be done for national issues. However, Rifle has a secret weapon: community. I can disagree with my neighbor on a social topic here and there, but yet I’ll still happily lend that person a tool or wave when they drive by. For the most part, respectful differences in opinion aren’t a bad thing in a community; it’s when the community stops supporting each other that gets worrisome. And I don’t think Rifle is at that point. The social issue I believe is unique to Rifle, is growth. As a councilor, I regularly contemplate how we can grow as a city but yet maintain our uniqueness and community. Honoring our history is part of what makes Rifle Rifle. I feel that in the next 10 years it will be a social issue that challenges our roots.

Hostettler: We need to continue what has already been started on making our city as inclusive as possible to all who want to live here. There is always more work to be done. We need to support any and all programs that help our youth, our elderly, the mentally unstable, those who suffer from addiction and any other person or people that need it. I do not think that it is the job of council person to save the world, but it is our job to make the people of our city feel safe and healthy. This is my mission.

Davis: I am concerned with unity as a community. I would like to see the city reach out to the citizens with service projects to better our city. Such as cleaning up trash along the river or cleaning up graffiti under the bridges. When we serve together, we become more unified. The pay scale for jobs here is also too low. People have to drive so far to work they miss valuable time with their families. With the changes to the world, including internet business, we should be discussing how citizens of Rifle can benefit. Amazon brings in the third highest tax revenue for our city. If we could train our local businesses to do affiliate marketing for Amazon and Walmart, Rifle businesses could be selling their products across our nation. If people can provide better for their families, it will strengthen our city. Many of the social issues, including drugs and crime, facing the city of Rifle can be overcome with stronger families. The family is the central unit of society. We need to do all we can to strengthen our families.

Degler: We should focus on community safety and mental health. Rifle is below the national average for violent crimes, but recent data shows us close to the national average for property crime. The City Council needs to encourage our neighborhood watch groups and to ensure we have a strong law enforcement approach to this issue. I am certain our new city manager, Tommy Klein, will continue to leverage his law enforcement background, guide us towards ways we can minimize these crimes and make the community feel more safe. As for mental health, this last year has left many people feeling isolated. We need to encourage community events that draw us together. Even small, neighborhood events should be encouraged. I’d like to see more peaceful community projects for people to center themselves. Perhaps a community garden or labyrinth could be something to consider.

Gresley: There is a lot of divisiveness in our community as is around the world during these times. If I am elected, I want to work hard to ensure our sense of community and working together is front and center. We all have a different story and opinion on all matters, and if we take the time to listen to each other, we may find that we’re actually not that different, we have similar values, and want to just have the opportunity to live as we choose. In my opinion, that comes down to ensuring sustainable livability for our citizens. What I mean by that is ensuring every household can have a safe roof over their heads, take care of whomever they need to within their own circle, access to child care/schooling and health resources and some left over for doing what you love. Awareness around and commitment to providing resources to address mental and emotional health.

Demicell: It does not fall under the purview of any government entity to address social issues. Under the U.S. Constitution, elected officials are obligated to secure the rights of individuals — not groups.

Carpenter: Lack of affordable housing, and the number of Rifle citizens living below the poverty level. There appears to be many jobs available; however, meaningful, good-paying jobs are hard to come by in this end of the valley. Once again, we could seriously look into recruiting businesses to relocate to the Rifle area.

5. Has Rifle handled the COVID-19 pandemic well? What can the city do moving forward?

Bornholdt: Overall, the city did really well implementing practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and working with Public Health. The best action for the city is to continue to follow what Garfield County Public Health provides, as they are getting their direction from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Strode: I feel confident that Rifle has handled the pandemic as well as it could. As a municipality, we thought it was best to strictly follow county, state and federal guidelines set forth by public health agencies. As a council, we tried to provide as much assistance as possible by channeling Cares Act funding to local businesses, quickly. We provided hundreds of thousands of dollars from state and federal funds to local businesses and Rifle-based nonprofits in grants and forgivable loans. This didn’t fix the problem, but we believe it helped. We also used funds to help citizens who got behind on water bills, allowing them to apply through a nonprofit organization to receive funds to pay their bills. Council even spent more money on cleaning and sanitizing parks so that families and kids could be outside playing safely. Since we don’t know what next week brings, it’s nearly impossible to anticipate what is the best action for the city moving forward. The best action is to support our businesses and citizens as needed and as things change.

Hostettler: I think we have done everything a city should do in this situation, which is to take care of our businesses, citizens and our employees. We have done all this without the federal government making things political. I am very proud of how our city government and our citizens have fought through this pandemic and continue to do so.

Davis: I appreciate the “Smile and Wave” program the city came up with. I think it is important to physically distance, not social distance. Overall I have felt very blessed to live in Rifle through this pandemic. Moving forward we need to keep businesses open.

Degler: The pandemic caused significant impacts to our community in terms of physical/mental health, financial strain and was very isolating for families and individuals alike. I’ve had many conversations with friends, neighbors and customers about the impacts on their lives. The city has made an effort to support our businesses by providing outdoor spaces for dining downtown, grant monies to offset our losses and did not institute a mask mandate, all of which I support. Now that the threat that the virus poses is waning, I would like to see an increased emphasis on community gatherings that bring us back together to foster support and re-engagement.

Gresley: From my position and from looking at the data of death, hospitalizations and cases, yes, Rifle fared reasonably well during the pandemic, although even one life lost is too many. I appreciate the access to testing and vaccine clinics the city and county has made available and from being in and around the community most are respectful of others, their space and what they need to do to stay healthy. In saying that, we need to focus on making sure we are addressing the mental, emotional, physical and financial toll this past 18 months has had on us all and provide resources and guidance to help people come out of this in a positive way. It is imperative we learn from our experiences, assess the failures and the wins and make a plan for managing future crises. How we adapt and evolve is how we will measure how well we have done.

Demicell: Yes, I believe Rifle City Council handled the pandemic well. As your city councilman, I would defend your rights and do what I could to ensure that the council did absolutely nothing related to the pandemic going forward. It is not the place of government to interfere in your private lives or your businesses. It would also be my obligation to protect your rights from overreaching state government or unelected, unaccountable bureaucratic agencies (CDPHE, CDC, WHO). Less government. More freedom. Personal responsibility.

Carpenter: According to our sales tax revenue figures, we have handled COVID-19 well. Even with the downtown infrastructure projects, we saw an increase in revenue. Sales tax revenue is about the only source of income for the city, and we have fared well through these difficult times.

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