Rifle City Council candidates talk stimulating economy, transportation and affordable housing
Candidates vying for one of five seats up for election on Rifle City Council focused on several topics, from affordable housing and stimulating the economy to working collaboratively with neighboring communities and community projects, during a Tuesday forum hosted by the Western Garfield County Chamber of Commerce.
The forum, held at Rifle City Hall Tuesday evening, was moderated by Ron Milhorn of KMTS Radio.
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. Carpenter did not make Tuesday’s forum due to his involvement in a recent traffic incident.
Current Mayor Barbara Clifton and Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Hamilton are termed out.
While issues differed in subject, one major theme throughout the forum spoke to whether Rifle should lean more on itself to solve its problems.
Hostettler, appointed in 2018 and 2020, said he wants to see more local businesses and projects rather than having Rifle residents commute long distances for work. His response also spoke to city funding the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, a public bus service that serves communities throughout Garfield and Pitkin counties.
“Let’s bring in businesses to our community that give our community members good jobs where they can make as much money here as they can do driving to Aspen and Vail,” Hostettler added, “which is hard, especially in the construction business, of which is probably 70% or 80% of the traffic you see going to Aspen and Vail every day.”
Davis said if Rifle did localize more jobs, it wouldn’t change the fact that communities upvalley still need people to work.
“I definitely don’t see it as a city where there’s a lot we can do other than try to keep RFTA open. I know during COVID, we voted to not have them stop here. I think that was a mistake.
“We should keep those things open at all costs,” Davis added.
In response to how to best stimulate Rifle’s economy, Degler acknowledged offering more affordable housing through decreasing development impact fees charged by the city.
“We’re on the higher end of the valley of those fees,” she said. “And I think I would’ve liked to see those drop down a little bit.
Demicell agreed, saying, “Sometimes, local government needs to step out of the way a little bit.”
“Listen to the citizens of this community; have open dialogues with them. Growing doesn’t mean you have to lose your values,” Demicell said. “You attract businesses to this community, thus creating jobs in this community, thus increasing more opportunities in this community. That’s going to help drive prices.”
Hostettler countered, saying the city has in the past removed red tape to provide affordable housing by cutting or waiving development impact fees.
“Over the last few years when somebody comes in with a project — Habitat (for Humanity) or the Rifle Housing Authority — and says, ‘Hey, we’re going to put in some very affordable housing,’ we say, ‘Hey, we’re going to cut your building permit fees by 50%, or we’re going to waive them completely,’” Hostettler said.
Strode said instead of trying to attract businesses and tourism, the city needs to focus more on enhancing businesses that are already in town.
“I think I’m more of a ‘grow your own’ these days,” he said. “I want to figure out how to make our businesses more successful and then focus on them instead of trying to bring someone else in. I want to focus on the people that are here.
“While it’s a debatable topic, our construction downtown I feel is a good economic driver,” he added.
Bornholdt agreed with focusing on existing Rifle businesses rather than attracting outside entities. But one way to achieve this goal is to pursue internet marketing, he said.
“I think internet marketing with what we already have in town and kind of showing what we have is going to help that, once people figure out what it is,” Bornholdt said. “I think it would be good to have that to be able to get that out.”
Meanwhile, Gresley’s vision of stimulating the economy geared more toward creating a more conducive environment in downtown Rifle.
“I always say whenever we go to Grand Junction, I go to Red Robin, because the environment there, you can watch the game or you have an outdoor area where the kids can play a little bit. How do we create that sort of environment where families can come and relax, have a nice meal and socialize with the neighbors or friends that have come to town?” she said. “I think that that environment would help bring more dollars from outside.”
The candidates also tackled two hot button topics that have come before Rifle City Council many times: Paradise Island and whether the city should build a recreation center.
In response to Paradise Island — a small island in the Colorado River near Lions Park purchased by the city for $400,000 with the intention of turning it into a whitewater recreation park — most candidates agreed that the land should be developed since it has already been purchased, despite the purchase taking place at the wrong time, the candidates added.
Meanwhile, most candidates agreed that having a new recreation center would be nice, but some expressed concerns over the facility potentially draining the budget or not having enough employees for basic, day-to-day operations.
“Is that something I think the public would want? Absolutely,” Gresley said. “Costs for something like that are exponential; they’re already increased, especially with the delays in supply chains”
“Are other people going to want to pay for it with increased taxes? Probably not,” she added.
Davis and Demicell had additional ideas, saying the city could build perhaps onto existing amenities like the municipal pool if they want to offer more recreation.
“We could dumb it down a bit, and maybe just get a couple basketball courts or something like that,” Davis said. “Winter is six to nine months here; it’s too cold to be out in the pool. So I think that if we could have something, I think it would benefit the citizens of Rifle. As far as finding people, I don’t understand why the city wouldn’t maybe contract that out.”
City election ballots are slated to be mailed out Oct. 11.
Here’s what the candidates said when asked their opinion on whether the city should have the power to implement COVID-19 mask or vaccination mandates.
Hostettler: “Just a person, as a citizen of Rifle and a business owner here, I think it should be up to the individual business.”
Strode: “I respect people’s choices, if that’s what they want to do. That’s fantastic. But as a City Council, I don’t think it’s in our best interest; our best interest is to rely on our resources.
Bornholdt: “Let’s use the school district for example; it seems like they’ve been under fire a lot lately. But a lot of that is they’re mandated by maybe a federal grant. … If they don’t follow that mask mandate, now they’re losing out on (federal money).”
Davis: “Emphatically, no. I would never require a mask mandate as a city councilor.”
Degler: “Freedom. Isn’t that what our country was founded on? And if we don’t have freedom, what do we have?”
Gresley: “I don’t think it’s the city’s — or ours if we are on the City Council — position to make a mandate within the city limits. I think that’s up to individual businesses, school boards, based on the information that they have and what they need to do to protect the community.”
Demecill: “First and foremost, it’s unconstitutional. I never thought I would ever see anything like this in my lifetime, where businesses are being forced to vaccinate their employees or pay heavy fines?”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or email@example.com.
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