Sizing them up: How Westminster candidates responded

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 10/31/19

The countdown is ticking away. City government and school board candidates (except Westminster Public Schools) are hustling around with last minute door knocking, handing out campaign literature, …

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Sizing them up: How Westminster candidates responded

Posted

The countdown is ticking away.

City government and school board candidates (except Westminster Public Schools) are hustling around with last minute door knocking, handing out campaign literature, working the phones and sending an occasional robo call our way.

All of the candidate forums are now behind us. In Westminster, there were at least five that I was aware of and I attended three of them. If you wanted to hear the candidates’ responses at a forum, you had a variety of opportunities. Plus, the city’s newsletter and the Westminster Window contained pretty good questions and candidate responses.

So, there has been adequate opportunity for voters to do their homework and vote intelligently. This year is especially important in being informed given the issues of accelerated development activity, a lack of city council oversight on using dedicated open space money to purchase open space and others.

Background on candidates

In attending three forums, I heard a lot of rhetoric, promises and too few concrete, detailed answers.

Although I have to say, if you want black and white answers, candidate Bruce Baker will give them to you. The trouble is that they are negative and he says the current City Council is a bunch of crooks. However, I know better.

While I disagree with most of them on the amount of growth they have allowed in the last two years and their failure to know how little money has been spent or earmarked for open space acquisitions and trail development out of $7.7 million, they are not crooks or liars.

Anita Seitz and Sheela Mahnke are Emerge graduates and have relied on the Democratic Party’s support. Pat Moore has not been bashful about being a Democratic Party chairperson for Adams County. Rich Seymour and Lindsey Smith have looked to the Republican Party for support. Michele Haney is Unaffiliated and not an Emerge member.

Remember, Westminster City Council elections are supposed to be non-partisan.

Positions on purchasing more open space

Regarding the issue of spending more Parks, Open Space and Trails (POST) funds on open space land acquisitions, Seymour, Dyer and Moore were the clearest spoken saying they support a 50/50 division of the funds between acquisitions and other expenses. Mahnke wanted an unspecified increase. Baker said since the 15% goal of open space has been achieved the tax should be eliminated. Voters previously approved the extension of the tax to the year 2032. This was done to be able to issue bonds against the flow of tax revenues so there is no option to drop this tax.

Positions on city giving incentives on new development

On the issue of the city offering incentives to new larger development, the group was split. Baker, Moore and Dyer said that no incentives should be given. Seitz, Seymour, Mahnke and Haney offered positions of limiting the amounts, but still granting incentives while Smith suggested it should be determined by the market.

A Westminster increased minimum wage?

At the Rotary Club’s forum, the question was asked where the candidates stood on the City of Westminster raising the minimum wage given the new state law allowing individual cities to set their own minimum wage. Haney, Smith, Seymour and Baker were clear spoken in opposition to municipalities raising the minimum wage on a city-by-city basis. Mahnke, Seitz, Moore and Dyer generally supported the idea.

Room to improve on city communications

On the issue of communications with the citizens, all candidates thought there was room for improvement. Seymour saw it as a key issue and would return to something like “Council is all Ears” program while Seitz said the city is relying on “experts in the field” to improve. Haney wants to have council meet with the homeowner associations and related groups on a regular basis while Moore suggested council meetings being held during the daytime in deference to seniors who don’t want to be out at night. Going to a ward or district system to elect council members was mentioned as a way toward improving communications.

Rolling back water rates

On the issue of water rate increases, there were some statements made to roll back the water rate increases. While this is a hot issue, people need to understand that the rate increases are needed. The previous City Council and City Manager failed to authorize sufficient water and sewer rate increases during the past 10-years; plus, the current council and administration let the accelerated growth catch the city off guard.

Regardless of who didn’t do what, the rate increases are necessary to support the major water and sewer infrastructure replacement program which is underway. Recently, the city issued $100 million in utility bonds to help pay for some of these improvements. The increased revenue from the higher rates is needed to pay the annual debt service on these bonds as well as higher operating costs.

Not enough specificity on growth management

On the issue of growth management, voters need to understand what true growth management does, compared to the city’s current so-called growth management.

TRUE growth management does not stop growth in its tracks but provides for spreading out the residential construction demand with a predetermined number of dwelling units allowed each year. Also, it does not affect new office, retail, commercial and high tech development. These types of developments provide the new jobs and generate the tax revenues to help fund city operations and capital improvements. Residential development consumes the most water.

Most candidates were vague in their stance on true growth control. Moore opposed more high density while Seymour was against the high-density new urban center plan at the former Westminster Mall site.

Transportation needs

Questions at the three forums I attended did not do justice to the increasing need for better transportation options — whether it is widening arterial streets, expanding RTD bus service, DRCOG carpools, promoting more use of the B Line or other options.

Mahnke mentioned the need to find innovative ways to raise more funds for transportation. Smith wanted the city to be more active in working with RTD while Dyer wanted to get single-occupant in cars off the road.

Increased interest and concern in this election

In the 2017 city election, 20,748 residents voted with 75,680 registered voters in Westminster, and that produced a 27.4% turnout. Based on the frustration, anger and lack of trust I see and hear across Westminster, I predict a higher turnout this November 5. Furthermore, I anticipate a couple of new faces on city council. Decide if you want the status quo or change.

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