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Candidates discuss issues, don’t much disagree

Sections: News Published

Four
running for three seats

By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Editor

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In Aspen, it’s called “Squirm
Night,” where candidates often field nasty questions and everyone gets the
opportunity to vent.

At Monday night’s candidate forum
at the Third Street Center, it was more like “Cozy Up to the Microphone” night,
where the four candidates running for three trustee seats didn’t disagree on
much of anything.

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Four candidates are running for
three Carbondale Board of Trustee seats: incumbent Frosty Merriott, plus
Alexander (AJ) Hobbs, Katrina Byars and Wayne Horak. Mayor Stacey Bernot, a
fifth-generation Carbondale native, is running unopposed for a second term.

Monday night, this reporter’s notes
show that the word “definitely” was apparently used only once, by Merriott,
when asked if he thinks the town needs a new grocery store.

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Hobbs and Byars, both Roaring Fork
Valley natives, said or implied that Carbondale can be a “role model” in
sustainability.

And after taking a pass about the
question concerning the town’s biggest challenge, Horak returned to it later in
the night and said “It’s the budget.”

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The night’s moderator, Sopris Sun
board member Frank Zlogar, posed nine questions to the panel. Some questions
were submitted previous to the forum and others by audience members. They
included questions about economic development, Highway 133 construction,
balancing events such as Mountain Fair with the impacts they cause to
neighbors, the intersection of Highway 133 and Dolores Way, future use of the
former Gordon Cooper Library building, drilling in the Thompson Divide, and how
to increase sales tax revenues.

Bernot made her opening comments
then was retired to the audience, where she sat next to trustee Allyn Harvey,
to observe the remainder of the forum. Here is some of what the trustee
candidates had to say.

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AJ Hobbs

Hobbs (who also answers to the name
Xander) got the best laugh of the night when he pointed out he’s a “single
young male” who has participated in all of Carbondale’s special events. In his
opening comments he said he’d be guided by five principals that relate to the
town: health, vitality, prosperity, community and sustainability.

Hobbs said he doesn’t have any
solutions to the Highway 133/Dolores Way problem off the top of his head, but
said they will get worse in the future. He wrapped up on that point by urging
people to “drive less, ride a bike or walk.”

About 50 percent of Carbondale’s
general fund budget comes from sales taxes, and the City Market grocery store
is the town’s largest sales tax generator. Hobbs, who said he is on the
Carbondale Community Food Co-op board, said healthy competition between grocery
stores is good, but any new store must be “state of the art” in sustainability,
and indicated he doesn’t see why it can’t have solar panels, wind energy
producers and gardens on the roof. He also pointed out that money spent at a
corporate grocery store ends up going “outside” Carbondale and that residents
need to support local farms and the resources that are here.

On the Thompson Divide, seven miles
southwest of Carbondale, Hobbs said the town’s clean air and drinking water are
more important than money that energy companies might make there.

Hobbs was the only candidate to
talk about the lodging industry and said there would be an economic benefit for
Carbondale to have an upscale hotel downtown.

Katrina
Byars

In her opening comments, Byars said
the main reason she’s running is to protect the town from energy companies’
fracking in the Thompson Divide, which has the potential to “threaten” the
town’s drinking water.

On the town’s budget, Byars said
it’s “maxed out” and one way to help the economy is through the Creative Plan
that’s currently under way. She said the plan includes signage and “way signing,”
that those working on the plan say will help to direct customers to businesses.

On the question about whether the
town needs a new grocery store, Byars said she’d like such a building to be
“state of the art” in sustainability, and also wants it to be built on
“previously” developed land. She said she also doesn’t want to lose existing
businesses if a new grocery store is built.

The old library building should
serve the most people possible and created the maximum good for “everyone.”

Wayne Horak

In his opening comments, Horak said
he was one of six kids raised by a single mother after his father abandoned the
family. At one point, he and his brothers worked multiple paper routes to help
put food on the table. He came to Carbondale eight years ago to take classes at
Solar Energy International and stayed because he fell in love with the town. He
said the town needs to sustain it’s economic viability while at the same time
retaining its “character and charm.”

Horak said he favors a new grocery
store being built in order to increase sales tax revenues. He also suggested
the town create a committee to help make the town more business friendly.
During Highway 133 construction, it might also be a good idea to have a “tax
break Friday” to help bring people into businesses affected by construction.

Horak suggested the town might look
into selling or trading the old library building, or tear it down for parking.

 

Frosty
Merriott

As for Merriott, he said he wants
to keep Carbondale’s “small town character.” At the same time, he’s concerned
about the sales tax “leakage” that sends revenues to Glenwood Springs and
Willits when people shop there. He pointed out the town trustees have had to
dip into reserves to balance the budget, but with a new grocery store and the
increased sales taxes it’s expected to produce, the town should be in “good
shape.”

 

(Editor’s
note: GrassRoots TV recorded the candidates forum, which can be seen in its
entirety on The Sopris Sun website at soprissun.com). 

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