Candidate Q&A: Walter Magill
Editor’s note: Steamboat Pilot & Today has asked each of the local candidates in the 2021 Election on Nov. 2 to participate in a Q&A to better inform voters, asking the same questions related to each specific office. Visit SteamboatPilot.com/election for the latest election news and information.
Walter Magill is running for Steamboat Springs City Council District 3.
Why are you running for City Council?
I am running for a seat on the Steamboat Springs City Council as the decisions made by City Council in the next four years will impact city growth for the next 20 years. In my opinion, there are four critical areas of focus for the council in the next two years. Annexation for affordable housing is the first. I support a quick annexation and zoning on the Brown Ranch property that avoids the City Council getting into a long, drawn-out planning review of the project. The other three are short-term/nightly rentals, public transportation and the city budget. I work well on a team and believe my experience working with the city staff as a civil engineer and land surveyor on development projects gives me insight into many of the issues the community will face in providing future housing opportunities.
Do you believe short-term rentals should have restrictions? If so, what specific restrictions would you support? And if not, why not?
Short-term rentals should have restrictions and increased licensing fees that directly benefit the workforce and affordable housing. Increasing the short-term rental license fee for non-owner-occupied units, with the revenues dedicated to workforce housing, is a good start. Larger homes around Steamboat Resort, servicing guests similarly to hotels, should pay accommodation taxes in line with the hotel rooms in the city. The staff should analyze the data on number of units licensed, rooms per rental and locations. The data will provide the information to guide policy decisions.
In your opinion is transportation a key service the city should be providing to the community, and do you have any ideas on how the city can provide sustainable funding to continue the service at current levels or expand it?
The public transportation system is a key service for residents and guests of Steamboat Springs. Over the years, the city has been hesitant to change schedules during the off-seasons. I believe it is time for to explore charging for transportation services from user groups. The city can offer waivers for local employees, students, low-income riders or seniors. Technology is available for riders to pay by a phone app quickly and easily. Initially, ridership will be impacted, but most visitors are used to paying for services and understand the use of non-cash payments.
What parts of the Climate Action Plan do you think need to be prioritized? And how can they be funded?
The city can move forward with the goal to increase new construction energy efficiency by reviewing and modifying city policies and the Steamboat Springs Community Development Code to support the goals of the strategic action plan to improve energy efficiency. Another priority, can be to expand and improve the bike/pedestrian infrastructure and systems throughout the county with a focus on infrastructure that will support a reduction in vehicle miles traveled. The priority is a connection from the Gloria Gossard Parkway to Routt County Road 42, sidewalks on Tamarack Drive, and other thoroughfares and links in the community. Funding can be provided through fee-in-lieu programs from sidewalks that do not connect to existing infrastructure. The two-year goal I support is to complete sidewalk gaps, such as Downhill Drive, Tamarack Drive, Anglers Drive and other busy thoroughfares.
The city has a goal to diversify its revenue streams and reduce its dependence on sales tax revenue. How would you propose accomplishing this?
Diversifying the revenue streams would be helpful to reduce the dependence on sales tax revenue in Steamboat. However, the primary source of the diversity discussed is a property tax. I agree that Steamboat has relatively low property taxes compared to other communities across the U.S. However, the Gallagher Amendment makes increasing property taxes three times more impactful to business property in our community. The city and county should look into increasing tax assessments for second homes owned by non-residents, similar to those in counties of Utah and other parts of the country. Additionally, the city should look more intently at the budget and reduce some services that permit savings year over year.
What steps should the city take to ensure that there is affordable housing now and into the future?
The first step in the affordable housing issue is moving forward quickly with the annexation and zoning of the Brown Ranch property once an application is submitted. The city has the opportunity to complete a significant part of the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan with the annexation. Council needs to move away from looking at detailed plans and permit the applicant to annex and zone smaller parcels and then make planning applications. The internal cost of infrastructure for the property will be substantial, and the property of 500-plus acres is a 20-plus-year development project. Many citizens may want to get into the details, but Council will need to trust the process. This land will have additional property taxes to pay for water firming, infrastructure, and other city services but is more of a math/assessment issue than details for an annexation approval.
Council has prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion for a number of years. What steps do you think the city should take to move forward in this space?
Providing the opportunity for affordable housing neighborhoods is a good start for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion for all citizens. City Council and other City Departments can partner with existing organizations, churches, and the school district to engage families to participate together in community events. Maintaining ski- free Sundays at the Howelsen Hill ski area is an excellent program for families in the winter months and to introduce the culture of Steamboat skiing to locals, guests, and visitors. Additionally, the city can partner with employment agencies to ensure job positions are listed in multiple languages and providing an job listings in a multitude of sources.
If elected, what would you do differently than those elected before you?
Past City Council have been effective in maintaining the balance of Steamboat Springs as a world class tourist destination and an outstanding community. The city of Steamboat Springs contains a great river running through the center, the best park city park in the country (Howelsen Hill), and a caring place for residents. As a Council member I will continue to uphold the tradition of a local resident and business owner working to make Steamboat a great place to live for all people. I will vote with the long term future of Steamboat in mind, make decisions based on data, and be flexible with my vote based on the experience of the living in Steamboat, looking to the future and taking input from residents.
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