Q&A with Bernard ‘Bernie’ Gagne, candidate for Oak Creek mayor
Occupation: Director of facilities at Catamount Ranch & Club, responsible for all aspects of facilities maintenance, housekeeping, contracts and capitol construction projects.
Prior political experience: Eight-plus years of service as Town Board member in Oak Creek. Served two years as Oak Creek public works commissioner. Sitting board of directors at Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska representing the town of Oak Creek.
Civic involvement: Graduate of the Leadership Steamboat Class of 2015, noteworthy accomplishment was our class project was the creation of the amazing Yampa Valley Gives program; involved in sustainability programs in the Yampa Valley for several years and sustainability work at Catamount Ranch has achieved us a Gold Certification from the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council; member of Egeria Lodge of Freemasons # 167 in Yampa and past master of Centennial Lodge of Freemason #84; contributor and supporter of various charities and fundraisers in South Routt.
List your top three priorities as a town council or mayoral candidate and talk about how you would go about accomplishing them.
- Short-term rentals vs. affordable housing
2. Infrastructure and rising utility rates
3. Comprehensive plan update
Looking at each:
Short-term rentals are popular in resort oriented towns like Oak Creek. The prospect of a home owner creating revenue by renting by this means is lucrative. This reduces the availability of affordable housing at a time when the demand for housing is immense. We must at minimum regulate this business to mitigate the loss of affordable housing.
Infrastructure is of utmost priority. Several areas of town are in desperate need of water system repairs. We should also strive to reduce the continued increases in utility rates.
The comprehensive plan is the guiding document for the town of Oak Creek. It is due to be revised in its entirety this year. The plan identifies affordable housing, bolstering the economy, infrastructure improvements and parks, recreation and beautification projects as priorities.
The COVID-19 outbreak has had unprecedented impact on our county. How has it impacted Oak Creek and what role do you believe the town needs to play to navigate those impacts?
Our primary duty at Town Hall is to protect the health, welfare and safety of our citizens, while every individual must do their part by obeying safety guidelines issued by county, state and federal mandate. Fire Chief Wisecup, Police Chief Maher and Administrator Johnson are actively involved in the multiple layers of emergency operations. They are working tirelessly on behalf of the town citizens who should look to the county emergency management resources at the county website for detailed updates and directives. In Oak Creek, employees are working hard providing for residents’ needs, and respect goes out to every business on the frontlines, serving our community in this time of uncertainty. Wait staff and bartenders are suddenly unemployed. It is incumbent on us to provide direction to all those affected on the many resources available to them via the federal stimulus bill, SBA (Small Business Administration) and unemployment compensation programs.
What goals do you have in terms of economic revitalization of some of the empty commercial spaces on Main Street?
The economic health of Oak Creek is strong. Tax revenues are trending upwards with back-to-back years of increased growth; we’re moving in the right direction. There is much work yet to be done though, as empty storefronts are an issue. We should recognize current areas of success and build on current strengths. We have two auto mechanic shops off of Main Street, the marijuana industry continues to grow on Arthur Avenue, there are two or more excavation contractors in town, and a healthy dose of home-based businesses and location-neutral employment combine to provide a healthy economic base. Empty storefronts are a challenge, and outreach on this is necessary. One owner is absent and disinterested in town. Other properties are for sale at exorbitant prices — unlikely to encourage investment. Town can motivate change by reaching out to property owners regarding growth and investment. Beautification of downtown will increase interest and value of downtown.
Looking ahead, how is Oak Creek preparing for the changes in the coal industry, both in terms of tax revenue and jobs?
The decline of the coal industry has had a negative impact on employment in South Routt over the last decade. However, Oak Creek is not heavily impacted now. Employment in the energy industry is low here, and tax revenue is no longer an issue for Oak Creek. Our 2020 budget has negligible contributions from energy industries. I believe strongly that introducing solar energy will make significant contributions to employment and tax revenue. We have the possibility of introducing solar at several town properties, providing low-cost electricity and generating revenues that would off-set the need for increased utility fees.
How do you want to see Oak Creek change, and how do you want to see it maintain its unique small town identity?
Change is inevitable; it is controlling that change that is important. As mentioned, preserving the small town feel and character of the town is imperative. Limiting short-term rentals is part of this equation, as is a desire for traditional housing. Continued and enhanced support of town “traditions” is a big part of this too. Labor Day celebrations are a mainstay of Oak Creek celebrations. Taste of South Routt in various forms should be reinvigorated, and Easter, OaktoberFest and Winter Holiday celebrations all contribute to a healthy and vibrant small town identity. The board, Town Hall and respective volunteer committees should collaborate to ensure continued success of these traditions.
There are very few options for early child care in Oak Creek, what would you do to address this?
Early childhood care is a challenge county wide. We were blessed with Little Lambs coming on line in South Routt to help meet the needs in this area. Collaboration from all the stakeholders will be necessary to address the shortfall in childcare options in South Routt. This is a district-wide challenge, not limited to Oak Creek. Each town in South Routt and unincorporated South Routt County and the school district should be engaged in this discussion and efforts to resolve the shortfall in coverage. Oak Creek has made substantial contributions in the area of child care with the growth of the after-school and summer camp programs under leadership of our recreation coordinator and the town administrator. I would encourage a roundtable discussion of all stakeholders involved to address this issue.
Many residents in Routt County struggle with affordable housing, both in and out of Oak Creek. How would you address this issue?
Oak Creek has some unique challenges with physical and environmental constraints on growth, so infill is the first option for increased housing. We should promote building on any available lots within town. Further, the Housing Authority owns several lots in the Sierra View subdivision, and the town could make concessions to encourage construction there. Annexation for development is limited to only a few areas in town as we are land-locked by private land and ranches on several sides. The town should be willing to negotiate with any land owner who is willing to consider annexation for development of housing. Deferred water and sewer tap fees are on the table for discussion, and potential tax concessions could be considered. Potential development highlights the need to improve our infrastructure now to support future potential growth. The comprehensive plan describes best opportunities for growth areas outside town.
How has your experience and background equipped you to serve Oak Creek as a town council member?
Over eight years experience on the Town Board has been quite an education. A solid understanding of the various codes and comprehensive plan are part of that learning process for all board members. Living in Oak Creek for over 15 years now has given me insight to where the town came from and where and how we should move into the future. My 12-year tenure with Catamount has given me exceptional project and personnel management experience. For 20 years, I worked on the Front Range designing and installing access control, CCTV and building automation systems for high-rise buildings, banks, petro-chemical and military installations, acquiring a wealth of project management and business experience. Many of the challenges we have worked on in Oak Creek in the past are relative to future endeavors in town. There have been many successes for the board in the past decade and many more to come. I’m excited to be part of those successes.
Open ended statement:
I have enjoyed my tenure as an Oak Creek town board member and pledge to serve the town’s best interests as mayor. I have provided leadership through the several unsavory personnel issues including the untimely resignation of our prior administrator and leadership in hiring our new Town Administrator Chris Johnson. I possess the necessary qualifications for the job at hand. Accountability: The town has consistently done the absolute minimum with informing the public of board and planning commission business. I will reverse that and do the maximum possible outreach to the community. Transparency: Town Hall business will be conducted at Town Hall. Leadership: On time and present. Proven leadership skills to lead Oak Creek into the future.
Editor’s note: The town of Oak Creek will be holding an election Tuesday, April 7. Voters will be able to drop off their ballots from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Oak Creek Town Hall, 129 Nancy Crawford Blvd., if they haven’t already mailed them in. There are seven candidates running for four open trustee positions, and two candidates vying for mayor. Trustee candidates include Wendy Gustafson, Charli Hollingshead, Rhonda Crawford, William “Bill” Auer, Kelly McElfish, Lynda Hoskinson and Benjamin Turati. The two mayoral candidates are Bernard Gagne and Nikki Knoebel. Q&As with candidates for trustee will be published Thursday, April 2.
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