Frisco Town Council candidates sound off on housing, minimum wage, quality of life and more | SummitDaily.com

Frisco Town Council candidates sound off on housing, minimum wage, quality of life and more

Editor’s note: Five candidates are running for three open seats on Frisco Town Council.

Do you support setting a local minimum wage?

I do support local control for the ability to increase the minimum wage. However, I don’t want to focus only on minimum wage as a solution to the high cost of living — because it’s not. We need to address other factors like housing and support working families in creative ways like child care programming and assistance rather than put all of our eggs in the minimum wage basket. 

— Jessica Burley

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Absolutely not. There is currently a state minimum of $12 per hour, which is still not enough in Frisco or Summit County. Every business owner in Frisco knows what it takes to run their business. This includes the cost of their employees. I believe that each business owner has the opportunity to hire the best employees they can for the amount of money they can afford to pay. I believe in a free market for the local workers.

— Greg Hess

I support a minimum wage law to protect employees. The minimum wage should reflect cost realities within the local jurisdiction, so the minimum wage in Frisco, Aspen and Limon should not all be the same. Any minimum wage law should be viewed as a safety net to protect employees from unreasonable labor practices. I also support the competitive forces of capitalism in boom times. In a labor shortage environment where many entry-level jobs are left unfilled, I encourage qualified employees to request a competitive wage. If the employer is unwilling to pay the requested wage, then the employee should consider looking for a job with an employer who is willing to pay higher wages. 

— Andrew Aerenson

I support raising the minimum wage. This is an expensive place to live. It has long been the norm for locals to maintain multiple jobs to make ends meet in the High Country. The current minimum wage is not a sustainable living wage to survive here.

— Andy Held

Not at this time. The current legislation needs to be revised. I have spoken with several business owners in town. They consistently report, because of the market and competition for staff, that they pay more than minimum wage. Now, I do see this as an opportunity to take local control from the state. If the legislation was revised and a tipped worker adjustment implemented, I would strongly consider taking local control. That said, I am not interested in setting an hourly wage because the market is setting it now. However, if we take control, future Town Councils will have the ability to address this if the need arises.

— Rick Ihnken

Do you think short-term rentals should be taxed at a higher rate than residential homes?

Absolutely. Homeowners of a short-term rental should be paying more than typical residential homeowners or homeowners of long-term rentals. Unless the short-term rental is 14 days or less per year.

— Greg Hess

No, currently short-term rentals are required to obtain a business license, pay sales and lodging tax. If we find that the licenses and current taxes are not covering the cost to regulate short-term rentals, then we could look at additional fees or ask residents about a tax. Furthermore, if we taxed approximately 1,000 new commercial businesses, there would be unintended consequences because of the Gallagher Amendment.

— Rick Ihnken

My kneejerk reaction is yes, of course, because it’s a business use of that property. However, I think we are just now understanding the new short-term rental market, for-rent-by-owner concepts and the overall impact of them on our community. Higher taxes drive up home prices in a town where the average residential home price in 2019 was $766,000, so we have to be careful about conflicting outcomes. I’d like to see a year or so of short-term rental program data now that we’re licensing and tracking our rentals in town before pursuing this as a strategy. 

— Jessica Burley

We should implement a tax on short-term rentals and divert those resources to local housing assistance. Short-term rentals are a business proposition and should be treated as such. Thirty years ago, 70% of our homes sat empty but for two weeks out of the year. Today, many of them are occupied with short-term rentals. This applies new pressure on dated infrastructure and drives prices up. I am not opposed to higher values, but the priority must include the social sustainable aspect of supporting our local workforce with the ability to live within the town limits or close by. 

— Andy Held

Yes, properties utilized as short-term rentals should be paying a higher tax than long-term rentals for two primary reasons. We need to encourage more long-term rentals, and the economic lever of taxation is one way local governments can drive the changes we need in creating more housing options for our workforce. Changing the tax rate on short-term rentals is also a more effective, less costly and much more sustainable proposal than expecting all taxpayers to subsidize the construction of more homes. Additionally, from a strictly revenue perspective, it is fair to tax short-term rentals differently. The town’s primary source of revenue is sales tax. Full-time residents shop locally almost every week of the year. Short-term rentals are vacant a large portion of the year and therefore are not generating the same sales tax revenue as the full-time resident homes. Additionally, unlike owner-occupied homes, the owner of the short-term rental can take an income tax deduction for ordinary expenses like condo/HOA fees, repairs and maintenance. So yes, it is fair and appropriate for owner-occupied homes and long-term rentals to be taxed lower than short-term rental properties. 

— Andrew Aerenson

Should the town build more workforce housing or focus on incentivizing homeowners to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals?

The town’s choice here is not an either-or option. It is an “and” opportunity. The least environmentally sustainable and most expensive option to any housing problem is to build more. So do I think we should simply build our way out of the housing shortage? No. Building more can be a part of the solution but should be acknowledged as not the best or only solution. Summit County has a huge percentage of its housing stock that is vacant on a regular basis. We do not simply have a housing shortage; we have a usage problem. Our local governments should be incentivizing homeowners to rent long term and develop programs to help owners buy and stay in their homes. 

— Andrew Aerenson

The town and the county as a whole need more workforce housing. I believe both long-term rentals and new construction are needed.  The town has 5A funds and will continue to receive 5A funds for several more years, in total around $13 million. It has been my experience that if the town brings land and partners with builders, it becomes a win-win situation for all. Full-time residents get housing, the builder makes a profit, and the town gets workforce. Additionally, the housing needs assessments shows that the greatest need is for rental units. To this end, I believe that any new project should have a mix of rental housing and housing that is listed for sale. Lastly, while on Frisco Town Council, we implemented the Frisco Housing Helps program. This new program is intended to get locals into housing. There are several ways to access this funding. To summarize the program, it is a down payment grant. Frisco Housing Helps can also transform short-term rentals into long-term rentals by incentivizing the owner to long-term rent or sell to a member of the local workforce.

— Rick Ihnken

Yes, I think the town should remain focused on building more affordable housing. The town should keep looking for options for private development and/or town developed projects. The town should not cave into developers just to gain a few more housing units. There should be a win-win for both parties involved. I think incentivizing homeowners to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals is a great idea. I also think that incentivizing homeowners to build or convert existing spaces to long-term rentals is another smart option to meet the demands of the long-term rental market.

— Greg Hess

Frisco doesn’t have a lot of room left to build, nor do we have the housing coffers some of our neighbors have. This means residential density in the core, which is controversial but also more sustainable. We have to get creative to support our workforce and that includes a variety of housing approaches. When public-private partnership opportunities arise to build new housing, I think the town should engage in that conversation. But building new units is very expensive, so we’re going to see more success with our existing housing stock by trying to convert to long-term rentals and homeownership for locals.  We’re just now exploring what those incentives need to be. The current housing program is a start, but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s a lot cheaper to convert a unit and fix it up than to build a new unit for the workforce. Having well over 60% of our units occupied for short-term or second-home ownership doesn’t create a sense of community. Short-term rentals aren’t going away, but there are ways that we can better support and incentivize our desired outcomes for housing. 

— Jessica Burley

I believe workforce housing is a key part of the big picture to attainability for locals to live here.

— Andy Held

What is your vision for connecting and improving the town’s major economic drivers between Main Street and the marina?

We need to connect the marina, the middle school and the commercial/industrial zone via pedestrian/bike bridges or tunnels. Safe passage is imperative. Summit Boulevard experiences over 25,000 cars and trucks daily. As for economic sustainability, improved signage could drive some of that traffic toward Main Street. We could move some Main Street events to the marina. This would allow full patronage of Main Street businesses. Create new and exciting activities at marina park utilizing the resources of the town’s marketing department and the Make Frisco Arts Council.

— Andy Held

We absolutely can and should do a better job improving this connection for the benefit of our businesses, locals and visitors who walk or bike between the marina and Main Street. The intersection at Colorado Highway 9 and Main Street is a dangerous mess in the summer. While I will bring a number of important skills to council, being the street-scape visionary, designer and planner for this project is a role best left to those who have committed their careers to that field. During my time as a real estate attorney, business professional and member of numerous boards, I have been involved in countless construction projects and gained great respect for professional planners, architects, designers and contractors. The best ones utilize a collaborative process involving all stakeholders to formulate their proposals. My philosophy for planning and design issues like the Main Street-marina connection is that we need to engage the best and most creative people in the industry who can develop and present the very best ideas and opportunities, solicit input from the community and council in the creative process, integrate environmental thinking and ensure that all residents have the opportunity to benefit from the project. 

— Andrew Aerenson

Frisco’s No. 1 economic driver is Summit Boulevard. With the Gap Project on the schedule for this summer and the redevelopment of Exit 203, opportunities to connect Main Street and the marina will evolve. Now that the Big Dig is complete, we are working on phase two at the marina. People want outdoor experiences, so we are working on creating an amenity that people will not forget. The return on investment at the marina will be realized at the marina and Main Street. One of the goals of the Gap Project is to increase the walkability from the marina to Main Street. El Rio was and Tavern West is the anchor on West Main. We are encouraged that more businesses will come and stretch Main Street to North Tenmile. I believe we should create amenities for locals. With this in mind, we have added more trails to the Peninsula Recreation Area and created a strong relationship with the U.S. Forest Service. I envision having Ophir Mountain to Mount Royal within the town’s special-use permit. These management areas are for our locals as well as our visitors. Visitors and locals using our trail system will find their way to Main Street.

— Rick Ihnken

My vision would be to redesign the entrance from Summit Boulevard to Main Street, removing the large concrete triangle, installing a turn lane to Main Street from Summit Boulevard from the north. Enlarging the open space and parking area at the corner, possibly adding some historic building in this area and maybe even some old mining equipment. Connecting the sidewalk on Main Street on the north side across Summit Boulevard to the East side would be a huge benefit. I would like to see some low-rise buildings developed on either side of the marina entrance, providing more shops and restaurant options. I also envision a marque sign over the entrance to the marina and Main Street to help tie the two together. Let’s not forget about Summit Boulevard. This area provides massive tax revenue for the town. I would like to focus on making this area more welcoming, from Exit 203 all the way to Main Street. There are lots of businesses throughout this area, and keeping this area vibrant is just as important as the focus on Main Street.

— Greg Hess

The great thing about our major economic drivers is that they can largely sell themselves. But it needs to be managed and sustained so as not to negatively impact the local community for the sake of increasing revenue. Frisco is really good at having a public process, and we see great outcomes because the community members are smart, creative and willing to try new things. For me, I think what will enhance the Frisco experience is getting people out of their cars. It’s too easy to drive down Summit Boulevard, stop at a store, spend some money and skip the rest. You have to make a conscious effort to get off the highway and see Main Street. Connectivity is about connecting people as much as it is businesses. If we continue to build our communities for cars, we lose out on major benefits of clean air, less traffic and noise, safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians and a more vibrant core. Those are the things that will generate more revenue for the businesses and town, not cars. Our Marina to the Mountains plan needs to be bold and reflect that thinking.

— Jessica Burley

What do you think is the biggest problem facing your town today?

The biggest problem facing Frisco is how to manage growth while maintaining our character. The other day on the radio I heard, “Remember when Frisco was funky.” I want to retain our character as best we can. People will continue to move here and visit Frisco. This will put pressure on our services, which will demand more staff. The staff will need a place to live. As a steward of the town, I want to retain “funky Frisco” while creating a sustainable, inclusive community. Our natural resources need our protection while we plan for growth.

— Rick Ihnken

Relative to most other places, our biggest problems, while important, reflect that this is a thriving resort community and an awesome place to live. The cost of living issues are our biggest problem and are a result of so many people wanting to be here as either locals or visitors. It is important to note that cost-of-living issues are prevalent conversations throughout Summit County, most of the Colorado mountains, the Front Range and lots of places throughout the U.S. As residents, we need to do as much as we reasonably can to address these issues, but we also have to respect that complete and absolute solutions to cost-of-living issues are sometimes not realistic. We also need to acknowledge what we do well and what are not problems in Frisco because they are well-managed and deserve compliments: snow plowing, cleanliness of our parks and rec areas, Thursday night concerts, renovations to the marina and peninsula and other parks, drinking water that tests clean, and government staff and employees who are caring and nice. 

— Andrew Aerenson

The biggest problem facing our town is to deal with this influx of population. As the Front Range continues to grow, so will we. Summit County will be a primary destination for perpetuity. This issue brings a broad range of effects including everything I have listed above. Outdated infrastructure, affordable housing, water rights, environmental impacts, to name a few, need to be addressed.

— Andy Held

Trying to be everything to everyone. Frisco is a unique town. It is fun, friendly and welcoming. It provides Frisco and Summit locals and tourists great places to shop, eat, drink and catch a concert as well as the many outdoor activities in and around the town. Maintaining that uniqueness that has made Frisco what it is today should be cherished. It is a special place, and we should not loose that focus while planning for the future of Frisco.

— Greg Hess

I think one of the biggest threats is our reliance on sales tax. It hasn’t been updated since the 1970s, is below the state average for communities of our size, and yet it makes up roughly 45% of our general fund revenue. If the economy turns, or consumer sentiment declines and people stop buying things, we’re in for a real treat. Diversifying our revenue streams and making sure there are full-time working families in our community will help ease this burden. This plays into housing. We’ll see a housing needs assessment released soon, but we don’t need that report to tell us what we already know. We have to be leaders in supporting programs and funding housing options that keep working families in Frisco. Finally, we benefit from being a town located adjacent to a major interstate, but it’s also a threat. We see increasing vehicular/wildlife accidents, record numbers of vehicles and congestion problems that rival that of major U.S. cities. Air pollution and increased traffic volumes do not benefit our community. We need to work on broader policies with our neighbors, ski areas and state agencies to come up with solutions to Interstate 70 woes. 

— Jessica Burley


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