In this year’s municipal election, eight people are running for five open Cortez City Council positions in the April 3 election.
Incumbents Jill Carlson and Orly Lucero are both running for their second terms. The other candidates are: 74-year-old Mike Lavey, retired; Sue Betts, 65, retired police officer; Gary Noyes, 40, Shamrock Foods delivery driver; Geof Byerly, 53, a fatherhood program coordinator at The Piñon Project; Jonathan Walker, 47, maintenance worker at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; and 61-year-old Lance McDaniel, retired from a career in transportation and management.
The candidates answered the following questions by email and in interviews. Their responses have been edited for grammar, style and length where necessary.
What is the biggest problem facing Cortez right now?
Betts: One of the biggest problems Cortez is facing is unemployment. Cortez continues to lack the jobs needed to keep our present and future generations here. I also feel we sadly lack housing for many of our low-income and elderly citizens, and the increase of substance abuse is staggering.
Byerly: Montezuma County experiences among the highest rates of children living in poverty across the state. It becomes imperative that we as a community see the importance of education and take every step to assure that our children continue to have quality teachers. The recent failure of the mill levy override will mean a continuation of high turnover rates among teachers, as they move for better pay, and children wondering who will finish the year with them in their social studies class. Affordable housing remains an issue. Rising rent makes it increasingly difficult for families to secure quality living situations. Homelessness is being supported through the Bridge, yet the shelter is not in a position to shelter families with children.
Carlson: Lack of entrepreneurial support and resources and utilities (e.g., fiber) that would support entry of and sustain development of innovative businesses.
Lavey: The biggest problem facing Cortez right now is lack of good, paying jobs that provide a living wage. We need to attract new business to our area to provide employment so our residents can buy groceries, purchase a home, pay rent and enjoy the amenities of living in Southwest Colorado with all of its beauty and charm. We need to work with the county more often to provide a fertile ground for responsible growth and development of our resources.
Lucero: I see availability of both jobs and affordable housing as being big problems in Cortez. Also the lack of a mental health facility and a drug and alcohol detox or rehab center.
McDaniel: I believe our largest problem is well-paying employment. We need to do what we can to attract clean business to our area. The work the city has done with laying fiber optic cable for high-speed internet and broadband capabilities is a huge step in that direction.
Noyes: Unemployment and drugs. Everybody sees it every day, and you read about it in the paper. If somebody doesn’t have a job to go to, what do they say? “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.”
Walker: The biggest problem facing Cortez, and Montezuma County in general, would be the economy. Making a living can be tough for many people in our town. Things are getting better in our community, and I want to do my part as a citizen to ensure that working families can succeed in Cortez. As our local economy grows, so do the opportunities for our residents, young and old. I am very glad that Cortez has been able to retain businesses like Tuffy Security Products and Osprey Packs. We need to make sure that we can continue to encourage and support the growth of local businesses, and attract more employment opportunities to our area. We can do this with a skilled, well-trained, educated and professional workforce, a strong education system and an infrastructure that can support growth.
The city is getting ready to update the land use code. Some of the proposed changes, like penalties for carports that don’t follow city rules, have been met with negative feedback. What changes would you like to see in the new land use code, and what should stay the same?
Betts: I have no suggestions right now on the land use code. I understand there has been negative feedback on penalties for carports that do not meet code. To my knowledge we have had building codes for years. The carports should have been built to code from the start, so maybe enforcement or lack of obtaining building permits is the real problem.
Byerly: Conversations around land use and property owner rights will be contentious, and provide a wonderful opportunity for the community to express opinions about safety, aesthetics and practicality. I see myself listening to the community concerns and participating in these land use decisions with an open mind and interest in supporting constructive dialogue that the majority support. Objectivity in these discussions will support the most favorable outcomes.
Carlson: The land use code revisions have been in development, and I’m in favor of a land use code that emphasizes sustainable, efficient, safe and visually appealing structures within the city limits.
Lavey: One of the provisions in the land use code that indicates forward thinking is the Three Mile Plan, which refers to subdivisions and potential growth areas within 3 miles of the city boundaries. Our city is growing. We are over 9,000 now and will need to expand in the future to make room for more residents. We should continue to work with Montezuma County in plans for future growth.
Lucero: The new land use code is still in the making, so I can’t speak to that. Nothing says a person cannot have a metal carport. It is the property owner’s choice as to what kind of carport they choose, as long as they go through the procedure of getting a city building permit.
McDaniel: City planning and zoning rules need to be followed concerning carports. I think we need to consider working with the owners of vacant buildings and businesses to fill the vacant buildings in our area when dealing with land codes. We need to continue to encourage public feedback and communication with land use issues.
Noyes: I talked with (City Planner Tracie Hughes) a little bit about it. One thing they are looking at changing is the facade for new businesses. Right now, you can just put a business up and you don’t have to make it look any way, shape or form, and they’re wanting to change that. I think there should be some kind of guideline for new businesses. You can’t just make it whatever you want. It has to be somewhat appealing. You don’t want somebody driving through your city to see a business that’s just totally run down.
Walker: I have a carport that had previously been constructed on my property when I purchased my house, and I don’t want to give it up, so I understand why people would be upset about being penalized for carports, but I can also understand how some carports may be unsafe for a number of reasons. Therefore, a balance must be met. Safety is of course a primary concern, and should remain so. There are many provisions in the current land use code that reflect a forward thinking municipality, and I think these are important for managing growth in our town while still maintaining the aspects of rural living that brought many of us here. I think a primary concern this year, after seeing the devastation of the wildfires in California, is to look at how we can mitigate the potential for devastating fires in our area, particularly if we don’t get any more snow. Another area I think deserves some attention is the potential for more multifamily, affordable housing as a pathway to home ownership.
The council has approved several major construction projects over the past few years, and others have been proposed, such as an update to some of the aging water pipes. What kinds of construction projects do you think the city should prioritize in the future?
Betts: Major construction projects for the city need to continue. Aging water lines are a problem and the city needs to continue updating them. Inspections are needed of work done by contractors to make sure projects are finished and are done properly before payment is made in full. We need to make sure that the citizens are satisfied with the way the construction company has left their yard when the job is completed. Road improvements are also very much in demand and many Cortez streets need improvement.
Byerly: Traffic is improving around the High School, yet congestion and safety continue to be a concern. Plans are being developed to support and improve Main Street, and emphasis gets to be placed on the safety of pedestrian traffic especially east of Mildred to Highway 145. I support efforts to assure safe crossings and a manageable speed moving through Cortez that allows motorists an opportunity to take in what Cortez has to offer. I look forward to participating in the conversation involving broadband, as this is critical to the future of business and education in the area.
Carlson: Repairing sidewalks and alleys along Main Street. Developing and cleaning up brownfields.
Lavey: Since the subject of aging water lines has been brought up, I would stress the importance of prioritizing replacement of the old lines. Many of the lines are 60 to 70 years old and will fail in the near future. Many of the existing lines have already leaked and some have repeatedly leaked. New and improved valves will insure the water will efficiently turn off or on. Low-cost housing in the city should be a priority. The city has plans for the old high school grounds, and that would be good location for this type of housing.
Lucero: Every year I would like to see money in the budget to replace water lines and repair and maintain city streets.
McDaniel: Cortez needs to update our aging infrastructure responsibly. I think we need to consider friendlier downtown parking for local residents and for tourists. I’m also very interested in a public park at the site of the old high school. I think some type of water feature would be a good asset in a park in that area.
Noyes: Prioritize everything that has to do with paved streets or sewers or any kind of infrastructure. You’re going to always have to make that a priority because you’ll always need to have that working. You don’t want to drive through Cortez and see bad roads. And the police, firefighters, health, anything you can do on that end to make sure it’s an appealing place to come to. From then on, it’s anything that might bring revenue to the city, might bring more jobs to the city, might bring more people to the city. As long as you’re taking care of your people, you’re taking care of the city itself.
Walker: Construction projects are a topic of great concern to me. I appreciate many of the recent projects: for example, the recent installation of lights and the restrooms at Parque de Vida, and the handicap-accessible ramps downtown at Market Street. We should be proud of how well our city has been maintained during a time when other cities have been struggling. It is essential that future projects focus on infrastructure maintenance and development, including high-speed internet, as a way to promote and sustain growth and education potential. As someone who spends a lot of time walking around town, I think we need to promote projects involving pedestrian safety and accessibility for all citizens.