Q&A with Ashley McMurray, Hayden mayor candidate
Bio: Born in Michigan and the oldest of four siblings, Ashley McMurray moved to Steamboat Springs in 2004 and to Hayden in 2008. Drawn to Hayden for its available housing and safe community, McMurray now loves this area that she calls home. She is the mother of three children, Addison, 11, Sydney, 8, and Emmitt, 5, and enjoys area outdoor recreation, including horseback riding, skiing and hiking. Before moving to the area, she graduated from the University of Michigan. Her two degrees focused on political science, and she has always believed that people can make significant beneficial changes by working together in government. To that end, McMurray began working to move Hayden forward by joining the Planning Commission in 2015. In 2016, she was elected to Hayden’s Town Council and, then in 2017, McMurray was appointed to chair the newly recommissioned Economic Development Commission. McMurray is also a board member of the Colorado Municipal League and Young Professionals Network. She has also operated her own marketing business since 2011.
Q. What is the biggest challenge the town of Hayden faces?
A. One of the biggest challenges the town currently faces is balancing our need for critical infrastructure and capital improvement projects with a limited budget, while also being able to take advantage of economic development opportunities and smart growth. Infrastructure improvements take priority and must be done in ways that are sustainable in the long term. To avoid problems like our outdated water plant and damaged Vista Verde roads, we must have budgeted and sustainable infrastructure maintenance and improvement plans. No one wants to see paved roads returned to gravel or have a water crisis, so smart infrastructure planning must be a focus of our council and staff. That said, we also need to take advantage of our best economic development opportunities now, while the economy is good, so Hayden can sustain, and even prosper, in the next economic downturn.
Q. How does the town leverage the momentum of our Hayden School District, which is embarking on a $61 million growth project?
A. The new school building is a wonderful first step in improving our schools right here at home and will be an excellent feature to help Hayden market to new families and businesses. But the new school building is not the only way to improve our schools here in Hayden. It also means hiring, retaining and encouraging high-quality teachers and administrators for our schools. As mayor, I’ll work with our administrators and the school board to help their efforts to find and retain quality teachers and innovate wonderful school programs for our kids. I am also a strong supporter of our police department to ensure that Hayden schools and our children remain safe.
Q. Economic development has been a priority for Hayden in recent years. What can the town do to foster new businesses and support existing businesses?
A. With both the upturn in the economy and freshly inspired town leaders, Hayden recently refocused its economic development efforts. In August 2017, Town Council recommissioned the Economic Development Commission, of which I am the chair. The commission has been working with town council, residents, businesses, regional partners, the Office of Economic Development and the Department of Local Affairs to develop and foster a vibrant economy that sustains an enhanced quality of life for the Hayden community. We have successfully obtained two Blueprint 2.0 grants, one of which we are working on now to better brand and market the Town of Hayden. As Hayden’s mayor and Economic Development Commission chair, I will continue to focus on policies and outreach programs that encourage businesses to choose Hayden. That focus both improves Hayden’s economy and promotes already existing local businesses. To grow, we must have improved infrastructure, retail shops, a vibrant main street, a community center and place for folks to gather that will encourage businesses, as well as residents, to locate here in Hayden. We can accomplish this by using smart growth strategies that are designed to promote growth while retaining the distinctive home-town character of rural communities. I will advocate for continued participation in rural grant investment programs as one way to accomplish these goals. Focusing on policies and outreach programs that encourage businesses to choose Hayden will improve our economy and place Hayden on its best path to the future.
Q. With the affordable housing crisis in Steamboat Springs, what can we do to make Hayden a more desirable community for those seeking affordable housing?
A. Hayden is already one of the most attractive and affordable housing options in Routt County; the numbers prove this. Before 2017, Hayden experienced an average of one to five new family home builds per year. In 2017, we had 20, and in 2018, we’ve had 40. Families are drawn to Hayden because they can have a home — with a garage and a yard — and still be able to afford a reasonable quality of life. They also are drawn to Hayden for its safe communities, its community-minded culture and its proximity to outdoor recreation and the resort town of Steamboat Springs. That said, while Hayden is already a very attractive community for residents desiring affordable housing in the valley, we also recognize that we can do more to improve the quality of life right here for residents. A vibrant downtown with varied shops and community gathering places will enhance our quality of life and the community feel here in Hayden and will further encourage more residents to choose Hayden.
Q. Is there any other issue you would like to discuss?
A. In addition to the critical issues of infrastructure, housing and economic development, there are a few priorities I will focus on as your mayor. First and foremost is keeping our police department sufficiently staffed. Along with other towns and counties, the Hayden Police Department is facing challenges in recruiting new officers to reach the staffing levels Hayden needs. It is critical that we maintain the right level of police staffing to not only keep our town safe and minimize response times but also to prevent officer fatigue and burnout. Similar concerns exist for our dedicated Hayden staffers. I will take steps with our council to make sure that we listen to our employees and our officers so that these needs can be properly addressed. Second, while I am committed to our community’s economic development and smart growth, we must honor and protect our ranchers, coal families and agricultural heritage. Hayden has deep roots in agriculture and mining, and a rich cultural heritage. As we focus on smart growth, we need to maintain this unique heritage through balanced policies that support — and do not ignore — these industries.
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