Council candidates find common ground at chamber forum
Some of the most controversial issues in the past decade, including the topic of the city’s role in establishing indoor recreational space, garnered general agreement from the seven candidates for Rifle City Council.
The answers and ideas came during the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday night in council chambers. Sitting on the same side of the council dais typically occupied by councilors, the candidates answered questions ranging from collaboration, to economic development, to transportation. In many instances, individuals stated their agreement with one or more of their fellow candidates.
That was the case when asked about the role of city council in any future convention or recreation center, which all seven candidates said would not be a top priority.
Voters soundly rejected a proposed 0.74 percent sales tax increase in 2013 that would have paid for a recreation and community center in Metro Park.
With that history in mind, the candidates also acknowledged the results of a recent community survey that found that 68 percent of respondents who had an opinion stated they would be willing to pay a ¼-cent sales tax for a new outdoor pool and water play area as well as an indoor multi-use athletic facility.
That led many of the candidates to call for further discussion and consideration of the matter, while repeating that the issue is not a top priority.
After the 2013 election, Councilor Joe Elliott — the only incumbent in the race and a college-wide construction manager for Colorado Mountain College — said he wrote off the idea of a recreation center, and although it would still be difficult at this fiscal juncture, the topic would be worth exploring based on the survey results.
The same survey also found that given a series of choices of “must have” recreation amenities, 46 percent of respondents who had an opinion selected gym space as the top priority.
As the director of districtwide services for Garfield Re-2, Theresa Hamilton said she knows first-hand the demand on school gym space. Noting the lack of other options in the community, Hamilton said the second question she hears from incoming parents is: Where is the Boys and Girls Club? Where is the YMCA?
Dana Wood, LiveWell Garfield County coordinator, and Ed Green, former Garfield County manager who is now retired, said a long-term collaborative approach could help lead to something more feasible in the future.
That something feasible could be “a paired down version” of a recreation center, said Annick Pruett, community relations director for Grand River Health.
Business owners Brent Buss, owner of Thrifty Thrills, and Aaron Flesch, owner of Aaron’s Heating and Cooling, said a partnership with private funding entities could be could be another option to explore.
Similar friendly and at times light-hearted discussion carried through the roughly 90 minute question and answer session of the evening’s event. Of the seven candidates, five will be elected to council this fall — the fifth will fill a seat left vacant after the death of councilor Dirk Myers July 30.
While council will look much different after Sept. 8, Rifle is lucky to have such a large number of qualified candidates, Councilor Barb Clifton said after the event.
“It is going to be a tough vote,” she added.
At two years into her first term, Clifton will be the second most experienced member of council behind Mayor Randy Winkler after the election.
Due to the high turnover and resulting importance of this election, the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce will announce official candidate endorsements later this week, Chamber Board Vice-Chair Aron Diaz announced at the start of Tuesday’s event.
Once it was over, several in attendance remarked about how informative the event was.
“I was impressed,” said Jane Dyke, a Rifle resident who was interested in hearing the candidates’ positions on roads and balancing the budget — all seven spoke about the need to reduce the city’s debt while maintaining a healthy reserve fund balance.
Rifle resident Gary Miller attended in order to learn more about several of the candidates in particular.
“I think I learned more about them than I knew coming in, by far,” he said.
For those who were unable to attend or watch the event live, the forum will rebroadcast on Ch. 10 leading up to the election and it will be available to stream at RifleNOW.com.
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