On Friday, March 21 the eight candidates for the three open seats on Breckenridge Town Council attended a forum to discuss hot-topic issues surrounding the April 1 election.
Eric Buck, Mark Burke, Craig Campbell, John Ebright, Erin Gigliello, Elisabeth Lawrence, Carol Rochne and Tom Schaetzel all presented opening and closing statements, as well as answers to 10 questions.
Kyrstal 93 news director Roman Moore facilitated the discussion. The candidates addressed general issues such as affordable housing and child care, parking and traffic concerns, as well as more specific topics on past council actions.
Candidates were not asked their thoughts about retail marijuana in the town, and if it should be sold in the downtown core on Main Street. However, some candidates did suggest the revenue from the marijuana tax could go toward the funding of child care.
Opening statements addressing why the candidates chose to run.
If you were to grade the town’s performance over the last four years, in terms of policies, legislation and management, what grade would you give it and why?
Buck: B+ “I think they’ve fallen short in being an advocate for the people of Breckenridge.”
Ebright: “High marks for the vision and sustainability plan, expanding the arts and cultural … and managing the budget.”
Campbell: “The town’s finances are in tremendous shape, tourism continues to improve as well.”
Gigliello: A- “The council values what this community values, environment and local businesses … could improve through some transparency and forums, and parking and sidewalks.”
Burke: B+ “We’re not done, we have to address child care and housing needs, and really bring our community together.”
Rockne: B+ “There should be more openness, more input by the citizens.”
Schaetzel: C “They’ve done an outstanding job but have overstepped some of their powers.”
Lawrence: Proficient+ “I’m proud of the arts district and community center, and recognizing the needs of the residents. I would improve more consistent listening through Engage Breckenridge.”
Most background and debate on the council’s agenda takes place during mid-afternoon meetings, where no minutes are taken. That leaves citizens who can’t attend during the day out of the process. In order to address transparency and include citizens, would you be in favor of directing staff to take minutes or broadcasting the meetings online, or both?
Ebright: Weekly publication that is easy to read, summarizing and highlighting what happens at the meetings.
Campbell: Possibly move some of the earlier debates to the later session.
Gigliello: Film the sessions and put them online.
Burke: We do put the minutes for the meetings online, it’s frustrating for us to talk about everything and debate it and then have to go through things again at the evening session.
Rockne: Work sessions are very informative, but citizens only get three minutes to speak at the regular meetings, on non-agenda items.
Schaetzel: Everything is hashed out and the council has made their decisions by the time for public comment at the regular meeting.
Lawrence: Supports idea of having minutes or video, or a summary so people are informed.
Buck: Video taping is a “no-brainer” but is concerned about a newsletter which might create a filter for the information. Public input should happen earlier in the process.
City code currently states that, should a member of the town council be in violation of the code of ethics or conflicts of interest, the town council will investigate itself. Would you support modifying this portion of the code to ensure complains are investigated independently and without bias?
Campbell: Yes, but historically the council has made the decision if someone should be excused from a portion of the meeting.
Gigliello: Yes, would be open to the idea.
Burke: Almost every decision, those who work and live and play in Breckenridge could have a conflict in almost every decision the council makes, that’s the risk of having someone from the outside.
Rockne: Yes, supports the idea.
Schaetzel: Yes, but do we need the additional expense? Most of the time they stand down by themselves.
Lawrence: Good idea to have an independent party to be fair.
Buck: Most cases will see people recuse themselves, would like a two-tiered system where if the council could not reach an agreement, they would go a third party.
Ebright: We need to understand why the rule is the way it is currently, and if there has been a history of violations.
Vail Resorts has reacted negatively to a tax on a lift ticket, even though the town of Vail has done it for infrastructure that benefits both the town and the ski area. If the ski area continues to oppose one in Breckenridge, would you still be willing to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide, knowing if you don’t, citizens could circulate a petition, bypassing the council and earmarking funds for things not related to infrastructure improvements?
Gigliello: “If a family comes here and only has a certain amount of discretionary funds, are we taking away from a local business?” Sees the ski area as the town’s partner and is open to the idea.
Burke: Lift ticket tax itself is against state law, would have to be an overall entertainment tax that would also affect town businesses like the Backstage Theatre. “We should determine what the needs are in this community and where the money would go.”
Rockne: “Vail has gotten away with a lot, they don’t pay sales tax on the mountain restaurants up on top.” Town has huge reserves now, and does not want to see property tax go up.
Schaetzel: Visitors should pay a tax on their lift tickets, or entertainment, the money should go to improve parking and traffic.
Lawrence: Careful to make sure if there’s a true need it would be going to, not just being punitive to Vail.
Buck: Tax could have negative consequences of raising ticket prices, creating a competitive disadvantage to us.
Ebright: Need a reason to have a tax, finances of the town in excellent shape, doesn’t appear to be a need for it.
Campbell: It would have to be a mutually beneficial thing, there is no real need here.
Would you support repeal of the town ordinance on town projects passed last year that exempts town-initiated projects form the town’s land use guidelines and development code, making it totally discretionary for a project to be submitted to planning commission?
Burke: “I want to clarify Vail commercial properties do pay sales tax, all of their restaurants do collect sales tax and remit that to the town.” Ran into issue with solar panels that the council could not engage with the community because it was going through planning commission. Council currently puts projects through the planning process.
Rockne: “Pence Miller was huge and it bypassed all the land use guidelines and codes, it didn’t go by the vision plan. Had it gone through it would have been a disaster for this town.” Does support a repeal of that ordinance.
Schaetzel: Seems too broad, can do anything and call it a town project and have no permissions.
Lawrence: Believe current council trying to stay within town planning gudielines, but there could be a problem in the future since the ordinance doesn’t specifically say the council has to go to the planning commission.
Buck: Support getting public feedback on these projects, but this ordinance seems more broad than that. “Who knows what council’s going to come down the road.”
Ebright: Maybe ought to change it, having the community look at it makes a lot of sense.
Campbell: “I’ve been through the planning process, and they follow the guidelines.” Need to protect the integrity of the downtown core, so not to lose the viability of the community.
Gigliello: Open to looking at it but conflicted because believes should go according to planning code, but people are also voting for town council representatives to be their voices and reflect their values.
Is the town’s proposal to build additional rental units for employees, if within budget, and return on investment, something you would support?
Rockne: Not against rental affordable housing if it meets the code and the town’s vision.
Schaetzel: Need to support smaller business owners by making affordable housing for their employees, not necessarily Vail Resorts.
Lawrence: Hear all the time about people looking for affordable rentals, the market is really scarce right now and we want to keep those families.
Buck: Wants to shift focus from affordable housing to affordable rentals, sees every day people asking where they can get a long-term rental.
Ebright: Clearly a big need, does support additional rental units, council needs to be ready to absorb the high costs. “It’s time to say yes to spend the big bucks.”
Campbell: From a sustainability standpoint, town needs rental housing.
Gigliello: Yes, “100 times yes,” we need to keep our workforce here to make it a real town.
Burke: Council knows we have a real issue with rental projects. “I’m all for it, but not at all costs.”
Would you recommend housing subsidies to help a family purchase a home, if you thought it would help keep families from moving elsewhere?
Schaetzel: Unsure if affordable housing is needed at this time. “Rental property is necessary because we are in a transient location.”
Lawrence: Wellington neighborhood has been super successful, and these are neighborhoods town should be proud of. Keeping working families here is important.
Buck: Possible mismatch with the supply and demand, not convinced there is a need for additional affordable housing.
Ebright: Supports housing subsidies, but would rather address rental issues first.
Campbell: Believes long-term viability of the community relies on affordable housing in general.
Gigliello: Supports smart growth and wants people to continue to live and work in Breckenridge, believes cycle brings people from affordable rental into affordable housing.
Do you think Breckenridge is currently overcrowded on some weekends, or at risk of overcrowding?
Lawrence: Positive for local businesses, but wants Breckenridge to remain attractive. The council needs to address infrastructure of the roads and parking.
Buck: Carful to manage our growth, need to improve parking and spreading out the visitors to get people her in other times.
Ebright: The focus should be on traffic and parking and transportation, so there are positive guest experiences.
Campbell: Would support the plan for more roundabouts and believes town is heading the right direction to address traffic.
Gigliello: “Parking definitely has a negative effect on our reputation.” Improve traffic flow and use current resources, or valet services for events.
Burke: Very few 100 percent occupancy days in town, so issue is how to move people. “The good news is we have a problem.”
Rockne: Supports F-lot parking idea, and would like to see the Riverwalk be more usable.
Schaetzel: There should be a review of town parking, and working on traffic flow.
What are the top three issues in order of importance for the town, and how will you address them?
Buck: Transparency, business, McCain property and gateway into town
Ebright: Parking/traffic, growth of sustainability plan, water conservation and water treatment plant
Campbell: Viable local community with jobs and affordable housing, infrastructure issues, cost of the water plant
Gigliello: Transportation/parking, affordable housing and child care, managing natural resources
Burke: Affordable housing and child care, parking/transit, new City Market or grocer
Rockne: Post office in town, parking/construction, reducing taxes
Schaetzel: Traffic/parking, managing water, affordable child care through a livable wage
Lawrence: Rental housing, year-round marketing for business growth, maintain town character
Should the town of Breckenridge help with child care tuition, and if so, where should that funding come from?
Ebright: Supports child care tuition, in the short term council should support through general fund.
Cambell: Benefited from the subsidy himself, believes it will be a challenge to find long-term funding but the general fund is healthy now to support it.
Gigliello: “We do need to listen to our voters, but we have the money and can make it a priority.” Town needs to continue affordable child care for a stable economy.
Burke: “Finding a viable solution for this issue is my No. 1 goal.” Currently a committee is working on coming up with some solutions for funding.
Rockne: Families need funding for this, possibly could come out of the marijuana tax.
Schaetzel: “I don’t think in Breckenridge there is a livable wage for the lower class of people. I’d like to raise the minimum wage in the town.” Thinks more people are aging and retiring in Breckenridge, so that is the better approach.
Lawrence: Unsure if tuition assistance will be the way to move forward, but supports options to continue to take care of the centers in town and finding a sustainable funding stream.
Buck: If funded out of the annual budget, would be able to get reviewed yearly as well. Focus on cost and availability, only for people who need it.
Many criticized the lack of public input when the town accepted a large amount of money from the company of a council member in order to put their company name on a historic building. What would you do to ensure better outreach, even when public at odds with council?
Campbell: Not a fan of the branding of the community center, conflicts with historic values of the town.
Gigliello: Understand that fundraising was needed, but doesn’t think everything in town should be named.
Burke: Rooms inside are named, seats in the theater are named, and town coulc have ended up with Pepsi or Budweiser but these are community businesses that have made a difference in town.
Rockne: Council didn’t listen to the community and needed to have a better open public process to decide on the name or find another way to come up with the money.
Schaetzel: “The city has plenty of money, and now they need money for this project?”
Lawrence: Naming rights were kept quiet until the last minute, “but I can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Buck: Recognizes the importance of the contributions, but the branding dilutes the town branding as a whole. “We are at risk of a lot of other buildings here having the same kind of commercial branding.”
Ebright: Widely known that there was a funding goal to meet, and “it’s no secret that anything that didn’t move was going to be named after someone.”
Closing statements addressing what candidates hope their legacy will be, if elected.