RIDGWAY – The Ridgway Town Council faced a tense public at its meeting last Wednesday, Sept. 11, as it dealt with the fallout from its hasty decision a week earlier to withdraw the Streetscape bond initiative from November’s ballot.
For some, regret weighed heavily in the room.
“We as a council made the wrong decision for the right reason, to avoid community division,” said Councilor Eric Johnson. “At the same time I really think this is a project that dovetails with both the Main Street Initiative and the Ridgway Creative District, and I think it has potential economic benefits. We need to look at moving forward.”
Johnson proposed reducing the scope of the Streetscape project, and its cost, and putting it back on the ballot in some form next April, by which point the current RAMP grant opportunity through the Colorado Department of Transportation will likely no longer be an option to help offset the cost of the project.
Ridgway restaurateur Tammee Tuttle, who helped spearhead opposition to the Streetscape initiative because of the undue burden it would have placed on the business community, took a conciliatory stance at Wednesday’s meeting, stating that many in the business community would be open to something on a smaller scale. “We don’t want a divisive community; we really don’t,” she said.
Councilor Rick Weaver said the project could be scaled back. “I think there is a way to present this to the public that is potentially a lot less money than $2.7 million.”
Councilor Ellen Hunter disagreed; “I don’t think we should make the project smaller and smaller and smaller,” she said. “At this point I am so frustrated. I don’t want to whittle it down until it’s nothing.”
Hunter, too, expressed regret at the council vote on Sept. 5 that took the bond initiative off the ballot. “I have had huge numbers of people who have come to me and said ‘Why did you do that? Good job for rolling over,’” she said.
Jim Kornberg, a county resident, suggested that one reason the business community so strongly opposed the bond initiative was because many of them lived outside of town limits and would not be allowed to vote on the matter – in effect, they were subject to taxation without representation.
He proposed a new ballot measure to appear on the town ballot next April, “granting all Ridgway business owners and property taxpayers the ability to vote in all future elections involving the Town of Ridgway.”
“A lot of this would be taken off your shoulders if folks who are stakeholders would have a chance to participate in how their money is spent,” Kornberg said. “I offer this as a wound-healing method that heals the indigestion for everybody.”
Kornberg’s proposition did not make much headway, however, and inspired the ire of at least one town resident, Andy Mueller, who retorted, “I will be so offended and angry if you let people who don’t live here vote.”
Mueller and his wife, Kara, took council to task for submitting to pressure from the business community to take the Streetscape funding question off the ballot at a hastily convened meeting that they and many others in the community did not even know about until after the fact.
Mueller reminded council that infrastructure improvements to the core business district have been part of Ridgway’s master plan for at least 18 years. “This is not a harebrained plan,” he said. “This is something the community has wanted for years. It is an investment in the community and the future.”
Mueller volunteered to serve on a committee to push to get some form of Streetscape funding measure back on the ballot in April.
Paula James, Streetscape committee co-chair, said she would happily cede her place on the committee to Mueller. She contested the view expressed by many business owners who were against the Streetscape ballot measure that they didn’t have a voice in the matter, and maintained that the research conducted by the Streetscape committee showed that “it’s a project that the town really wants.”
Councilor Johnson weighed back in, reminding those in the room that the majority of the $2.7 million that would have been raised by the bond “is almost all infrastructure. We need to keep in mind we are not building benches and planter boxes; we are doing drainage and streets.”
Councilor Weaver called for the Streetscape committee to be reconstituted. “I am not willing to drop it,” he said. Mayor John Clark recommended inviting members of the opposition group to serve on the new committee. Council agreed to post vacancies for the committee in the near future, with the goal of reconstituting it by the end of September.
“Nothing hurts me more than the fact that this is creating such division in our town at a time when so much is going on,” Clark said. “For this kind of thing to go on is really a crime, and very disheartening to hear. I hope we can move forward, not demonizing anyone. Let’s move forward together to find solutions.”
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