Rifle City Council candidates talk priorities, direction, water plant and reserves
Citizen Telegram Editor
Aside from the recreation center, sales tax and local economy, candidates for Rifle City Council discussed other issues at the Aug. 20 election forum.
Sarah Brainard, Barbara Clifton, Steven Fuller, Dirk Myers, Wilma Paddock, Hans Parkinson and Randy Winkler are vying for four seats in the Sept. 10 municipal election.
The candidates were asked their top priorities for the city. Paddock listed the city budget and the economic climate. Parkinson said he would like the city to encourage more local spending, improve the streets “and help bring this community back together. It’s really divided over one issue, and there isn’t just one issue facing the city.”
Winkler listed economic development and “getting rid of the Chinese elms,” adding a chuckle. The trees are notorious for spreading their seeds each year.
Brainard said the economy, downtown development and better pedestrian movement were her top priorities.
Clifton mentioned economic development, better sidewalks and intersections and “working together with respect for one another.”
Fuller said his priorities would be the downtown Main Street program that began this year but now lacks a coordinator, economic development, transportation, “and seeing Rifle get a community center.”
Myers listed economic development, the budget and seeing the completion of unfinished housing projects as his priorities.
Many candidates mentioned better communication between the council and Rifle residents as a direction taken over the next four years.
“We had four public meetings, but then these claims of holding secret meetings” when the new water treatment plant was discussed last year, said Winkler. “There were never any secret meetings. I like the fact that [the city’s RifleNow.org website] is streaming this live. But if the people don’t come forward, we can’t hear them.”
Brainard said she felt the council had done a good job of listening and sharing information. But she did not feel people should have to be asked to participate.
Clifton said city projects need to be prioritized, while Fuller said he doesn’t hear of community events until after they’re happened, so communication could be improved.
Myers agreed communication is a key and suggested televising council workshops that are often held before regular meetings.
Paddock favored better communication and transparency, while Parkinson praised the current council for good communication and getting things done.
“With the hard economic times, they’ve struggled to get things done,” he added.
Water plant delays
Clifton noted the delays in the start of water plant construction will allow the sales tax revenue to accrue, and were largely due to permitting and further soils testing.
Fuller said the city should ensure “that we get what we need and that it lasts longer.”
Myers noted the plant is a big project.
“It’s something the city has never done before,” he said. “You’re going to have a few glitches and delays here and there.”
But Myers said the delays should not add to the $25 million cost of the new plant.
Paddock said she does not think anyone deliberately delaying the project, and large construction projects are commonly delayed.
Parkinson agreed and said the current council is being cautious and deliberate.
Winkler said there is nothing good about the delays.
“Obviously, they’re doing the best they can to get it going,” he added. “I do think the cost will go up slightly. I hope not, but it concerns me a lot.”
Brainard said the project “needs to happen. They’re going a good job of evaluating everything.”
In order to build up the city’s fund reserves, which have dropped from $7 million to $4 million in three years, Paddock said it’s crucial to have enough money to run the city government.
Parkinson said making careful budget cuts could allow more money to be set aside. But he also favored salary increases for city employees, who he said had gone five years without raises.
“And we need to be buddy-buddy with the [natural gas] companies in this county to have the reserves we need,” Parkinson added.
Winkler said the drop in reserves “is not horribly wrong.”
“The name ‘reserves’ means it’s there for a reason, and we’ve used them,” he added. “We’re doing pretty good. We’re in OK shape.”
Brainard said the city still meets a Colorado constitutional requirement to have at least three percent of a city budget in reserve.
Clifton said the city should pick its projects and prioritize them, then work to make sure reserves are there, if needed.
Fuller said the reserves should be built back up but within reason.
“What good is a $9 million reserve, an $80 million reserve?” he asked. “If we’ve got that money, let’s put it back into our community.”
Myers said the city is not in “horrible” shape, but would like to see the reserves stay where they are now and eventually increased to potentially help build a recreation center sometime further in the future.
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