by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- The Citizens for a Better Walsenburg hosted a candidates’ forum in the meeting room at the Spanish Peak Library on Thursday, Oct. 13, giving the voters of Walsenburg a chance to meet the hopefuls. The forum lasted about an hour and a half.
The candidates responded to questions that had been emailed to the Citizens for a Better Walsenburg, one question from the press, and a few questions from the audience. About 20 people attended the forum.
The candidates in attendance were Paul Rivera, Dave Mockmore, Wanda Britt, Denise Vigil, Larry Patrick, Susan Blake, David Tesitor, Gary Sporcich, Nick Vigil, Bruce Quintana, James Baca, and Rick Jennings.
The forum opened with an email question about the Northlands district to mayoral candidate Larry Patrick. It asked why Patrick viewed the annexed area as a “cash cow” and why he didn’t view the historic downtown area in the same light.
Patrick replied, “Downtown is very important to me. Business owners downtown are the backbone of this community and they’re not to be neglected. … It’s important that downtown stay vibrant and vital.”
“But at the same time we have an opportunity to bring in additional businesses at Northlands which will bring in additional jobs … [and] sales tax revenue which the city sorely needs now. … I don’t look at one being more important than the other.”
Throughout the forum, the topic of the Northlands turned up again and again with questions probing different aspects of the project.
The next question was given to the entire forum and took on the controversial issue of the $100,000 in subsidies and benefits that the city has in part spent on the new grocery store or will spend on street work around the store. According to the question, the money may have been better spent on a downtown parking area to attract some of the 3.2 million cars that pass through Walsenburg annually.
Dave Mockmore, city council incumbent for Ward 3, said city council and administration decided two years ago to help First Choice come into town. “They could not come into that location without the department of transportation getting a turn lane there.” The left turn lane would aid traffic in making the turn from Walsen on to Pine. “That was part of the state’s requirement. We were able to help out the owner of First Choice, as we’ve helped other businesses come in. We now have a program that will help to some degree all businesses coming in.”
The obligation to the owners of First Choice was an agreement between former city administrator Alan Hein and store owner Hugh Brown. Mockmore said the city will fulfill the agreement.
Gary Sporcich, Ward 2 candidate, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by James England said that the turn lane is a safety issue. “The turn lane is a safety issue with the school nearby. I see it as a high traffic area that needed a turn lane.”
Nick Vigil, Ward 4 candidate, said that given the city’s finances, the nearly $100,000 in incentives to bring in the new grocery store shouldn’t have been spent.
Incumbent Mayor Bruce Quintana said he agreed with Vigil about the incentive program. “We have incentive programs to help our businesses grow and there is a program to help businesses grow on the fringe of our town. We believe that growth doesn’t always lie within the city but that we have to look at the perimeter also.”
Ward 3 candidate James Baca said the city needed a second store, however he was alarmed at the amount of money spent on the store in terms of the in-kind work that was done. “There is the sidewalks, the in-kind work, water and sewer lines that were never offered to other businesses who tried to move into Walsenburg. The concern is that if big business does want to come into the Northlands, they will take this as some kind of opportunity to get what they can from the city.”
Rick Jennings, Ward 2 candidate, said he thinks giving business incentives is a good idea. “As far as downtown, we [the city council] need to see about getting a parking area, and also revitalize the main streets with the business owners. Hopefully in the future we can do that.”
Along with attracting new businesses into town comes job opportunity. However a problem faced by some employers locating in Walsenburg is finding educated workers and a trained workforce.
Denise Vigil and David Tesitor are both running for the District E, RE-1 school board seat. Vigil said that as a mother and grandmother her experiences give her credentials. “I feel that all of the budget cuts and the CSAP test scores need to be addressed. I can work with the team. I can help the district, the students and the future.”
Tesitor said the primary concern and issue the school board is facing are the budget cuts. “Several cuts have been made to bring the budget within bounds, it’s not. Seventy-five percent of the budget, this year, is for administration, salaries, and fixed mandatory spending leaving only 25 percent for discretionary spending. Without a means to raise additional revenues, we will be forced to make cuts and as a parent, as a grandparent, as someone who has worked within budgets, we need to learn to work as a team to make these schools the best schools.”
In general, the issues most discussed had to do with the Northlands, economic development, and cleaning up Walsenburg. There was not enough time to address all the questions submitted.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward