MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Mountain Village government is gearing up for a changing of the guard, with four town council seats up for grabs at the end of this month. Only five candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the regular June 28 mail ballot election, and last week, they went toe-to-toe at a Wilkinson Public Library-hosted Candidate’s Forum.
From hiring a new town manager to the much-deliberated Comprehensive Plan, the candidates discussed the most pressing issues affecting the community. As it turned out, there was little jousting and few points of contention among the five candidates seated shoulder to shoulder in Town Hall; four of whom will secure regular posts there come July.
The only incumbent in the 2011 Town Council race, David Schillaci says Mountain Village’s financial state of affairs is his number one issue as he seeks re-election.
“The budget is really pretty scary,” he said at the Wednesday, June 8 forum, noting that working through the “gamut of issues” raised by the soon-to-be-voted on Comprehensive Plan would also be one of his top priorities, if re-elected.
Schillaci was a member of the council-appointed Comprehensive Plan Task Force before being appointed to council to fill a seat vacated shortly after the last election, in which he was the third-highest vote getter. He has been a Mountain Village resident since 1992, and a Meadows homeowner since 2002. He currently manages The Market at Mountain Village and is married with two children, ages 7 and 5.
On the budget, which faces shortfalls due to decreases in property values as well as revenues and several years of postponed capital improvements… “In the long term, if the Comp Plan is enacted, the idea… is that flag hotels will come in and use their money to market the Mountain Village, fill up hotels and feed sales taxes, hopefully bringing more vibrancy to the Village. But that won’t take care of everything, and really our issue is shorter term over the next several years.”
Schillaci noted that he would explore raising sales taxes, and consider using the money generated to marketing the area through Marketing Telluride Inc. (MTI) and the Telluride-Montrose Regional Air Organization (TMRAO.)
He also said he would continue exploring ways to cut back on budget expenses, working with the Telluride Mountain Village Owner’s Association (TMVOA) to continue to finance Dial-a-Ride.
“We’d all love to keep the services at the level they are and not raise taxes, but that’s easier to say than to do,” he said. “I would hate to see something like Dial-a-Ride go away, but honestly, roads and sewer are the truly necessary services.”
On making Mountain Village better… “Due to the town’s financial situation I think we need to pick the low-hanging fruit… trails [improvements] are one of those low-hanging fruits. A lot can be done without huge cost, adding on to trails and creating more connectivity throughout town, and not just from a recreational point of view. I believe this can be done in the relatively near future.”
On the region, and how Mountain Village can participate in creating regional solutions for regional problems… Schillaci said transportation and marketing, as a means of economic development, were the most pressing regional issues the next council will face. He noted that while it was important for Mountain Village to be a player in regional problem-solving, he believes future councils need to be careful about how they participate.
“I was in favor of funding the roundabout [at Society Turn,] but I also wanted Telluride and San Miguel County to contribute to Mountain Village’s transportation costs,” he said, referring to the Gondola, which is financed entirely by Mountain Village homeowners.
On the Comprehensive Plan, and its future implementation… Schillaci noted that the various hotel sites built into the plan, as well as the proposed Conference Center expansion, are two points he believes are most significant and will someday improve the local economy by making Mountain Village a more year-round destination.
But current budgetary shortfalls will ultimately dictate what aspects of the Comp Plan the coming council will be able to accomplish, he said. “The ultimate job for this council is the process of preparing all of these things to happen; changing the land use ordinances will be the first step. From there council will have to reprioritize every year depending on [the town’s] economic situation.”
Jonette Bronson says she looks out into the Mountain Village core from the window of her office every day, “and it’s disturbing that such a beautiful village can’t be more vibrant.”
Bronson said that the vitality of the Mountain Village core was her top interest as she runs for Town Council.
Bronson is a clinical psychologist who has been a permanent resident of Mountain Village for nearly ten years. In addition to running her Mountain Village-based private practice, Bronson has taught AP Psychology at Telluride High School as well as Introductory Psychology for the University Centers of the San Miguel (she holds a BA in Sociology/Anthropology, a Masters Degree in Education (Counseling and Guidance), and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, with a Minor in Law.)
She is married with two college-aged children who graduated from THS.
On the budget… Bronson said she feels there is enormous potential to increase revenues through better marketing.
“We could support an enormous number of conferences, especially in the shoulder seasons,” she said, adding that better marketing of the Telluride Golf Club could bring in more visitors and thus bump up revenues for local businesses.
The Telluride Regional Airport is more reliable than some believe, she said, sharing that she flew in and out of the Telluride Airport almost weekly for much of the last decade and has never missed a flight.
On making Mountain Village better… Creating a more vibrant and thriving business environment, achieving zero waste, improving cross-country skiing, hiking, mountain biking and trail access, are important goals, she notes. A recreation center would be a draw, but she doesn’t believe the project would pencil based on the Mountain Village’s current revenue stream.
On the region… Workforce housing should be looked at as the most pressing regional need, thus requiring the most participation from Mountain Village as well as other regional governments. Bronson also noted that day care centers should be considered in any new workforce housing developments. “If we don’t provide good daycare, we’re making a grave mistake,” she said.
On the Comprehensive Plan… “We need a five-year plan to enhance the community in the short term,” Bronson said, agreeing that the goals of the Comp Plan are good but that the current and future Town Councils “will need to figure out what we can do this month or this year” to see some of those overarching goals come closer to fruition.
Michelle Sherry has been a Mountain Village resident for close to 20 years, coming to the Meadows as one of the first buyers of deed-restricted housing in the community. Much of that time she and her husband have owned and operated Telluride Landworks and Telluride Snow Removal.
Prior to the birth of her three children, who all still reside with her in Mountain Village, Sherry joined the Peace Corps, working for vaccination clinics in Cameroon, West Africa. She is currently a member of the Mountain Village Design Review Board.
On the budget… “We need to look at ways the town can save money,” Sherry said, suggesting exploring options for out-sourcing town services like Dial-a-Ride. She said that in general, she would be less inclined to raise sales tax, preferring to seek out other ways of creating revenue. She also believes Mountain Village should investigate opportunities to draw more small businesses here.
On making Mountain Village better… “A recreation center could make a big impact,” Sherry said, noting that finding the location and exploring ways to finance its construction would be great goals for the future. Other amenities for both locals and visitors that Sherry hopes to see explored are an outdoor amphitheater or putt-putt golf; “We need to be creative to find more options for entertainment.”
On the region… Shoring up the Airline Guarantee Program to bring more flights into the airport, and exploring more cooperative transportation services for regional workers, topped Sherry’s list of the biggest issues facing the region.
“We need to work more cooperatively with other regional governments, specifically in the places where our employees are living,” she said.
On the Comprehensive Plan… “The most important thing to remember is that the Comp Plan is just a blueprint. It has incorporated into it a lot of flexibility,” Sherry said of the elements of the much-debated Comprehensive Plan, which she says were not designed to be set in stone, but were instead intended to offer a guideline for future development. “Now we need to try to find the certain areas where we can plan out the best possibilities for future development.”
A ten-year resident of Mountain Village, John Howe moved here from his long-time home of Florida following numerous trips to the region starting in the early 1970s. He said at the Candidate’s Forum that the issue that most concerns him as he looks ahead is that the community’s financial foundation may not be on solid footing.
“Our income stream is based primarily on construction and tourism,” he said. “My real concern is that construction may not bounce back in the next several years, so we’ll need to look at other income streams.”
Howe and his wife own THAM, Inc., a property management corporation managing properties and HOAs in the area. He is a retired Deputy Fire Chief, who worked at Walt Disney World and Longboat Key. He also served in the United States Air Force from 1964-1968. He currently serves as the secretary of the San Miguel Democratic Party.
He and his wife have two sons and a granddaughter still residing in Orlando.
On the budget… Reducing overhead by further cutting town staff “is not the answer” to the town’s financial woes, Howe said. Rather, he would elect being more aggressive about increasing revenues to further bolster the currently lagging budget. Marketing was the big word for Howe.
“We haven’t done a good enough job marketing ourselves, particularly in the off-season and with the Conference Center,” he said. “We haven’t seemed to attract those big companies… that’s something that needs to be focused on.”
He also added that he believes the Telluride Ski and Golf Company should play a more obvious role in promoting the ski industry as a whole, suggesting offering free ski lessons for kids “to grow the ski economy into the future.”
On making Mountain Village better… “So many people park in Mountain Village, then ride the gondola into Telluride and spend their money there,” Howe said, impressing again his belief that marketing the community and its activities is of utmost importance.
On the region… Howe deemed housing and transportation the two biggest problems facing the region,
noting however that any workforce housing built in the Village “would need to be very sensitive to the neighbors in the community. It would need to be done a prudent way, on a project-by-project basis.”
On the Comprehensive Plan… “I like the thought of the plan, and I hope the things I’m concerned about in it will be explained better in the future. My perception of it is that it’s a dynamic plan that’s not carved in concrete,” Howe said, adding that “it would be a far stretch” to believe the elements envisioned in today’s plan will come to fruition in 30 years. “I think there’s room to make some significant changes.”
“This town’s revenue model is a little wobbly,” four-year Mountain Village resident Dan Jansen said in his opening statement. He went on to emphasize his career background in business, his experience with non-profits, and his education (he has a degree in Economics and an MBA in Finance and Marketing), which has given him the “balanced problem-solving approach” Mountain Village government will need as it tackles its problems in the future.
Jansen currently operates part of his business, a social media company called Virtual Greats, from his home in Mountain Village where he resides with his wife and three young children.
On the budget… Jansen floated the concept of “two time horizons” for tackling Mountain Village’s financial woes. In the longer term, council should identify ways to attract “location agnostic” businesses such as his own. In the shorter term, he is in favor of examining town government expenditures.
On making Mountain Village better… “I think we start with the customer. What do they prioritize, what do they want? I’m fiscally conservative, so I wouldn’t approve any expenditure if we don’t understand how to finance it in a fiscally proven manner,” Jansen said, explaining that enhancing air service, expanding the Conference Center, and attracting a “flag” hotel were his top priorities for improving the community – if done in a “fiscally responsible” way.
On the region… Jansen favored more public-private partnerships as a means to tackle regional problems, specifically that of economic development. Non-profit organizations as well as businesses should be invited to play a role in improving the business landscape across the entire region, he said. “We should broaden our partnering philosophy,” he said.
On the Comprehensive Plan… “Let’s put the contentious items on a separate track, but let’s not lose the larger point of the plan,” Jansen explained of his thoughts on seeing the Comp Plan into the future. “Let’s prioritize the large areas of consensus and sequence those accordingly.” He added that he also believes Mountain Village will need to take a stronger role in eliciting cooperation from partners in the Plan, including the Telluride Ski and Golf Company.
The Town of Mountain Village will hold a Regular Municipal Election by mail ballot Tuesday, June 28, 2011, to elect four candidates to serve on the seven-member Town Council. Mail ballots were sent to registered voters between Monday, June 6 and Friday, June 10.
Mountain Village Town Hall, located at 455 Mountain Village Blvd. Suite A, will serve as the polling place for this election, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.