Q&A with Kelly McElfish, candidate for Oak Creek town board trustee
Occupation: Treeline Decor owner, Starbucks barista, raft guide
Prior political experience: Oak Creek town board trustee 2014-present
Civic involvement: Routt County United Way, Leadership Steamboat, STARS, Relay for Life, Audubon Sanctuary Program, Routt to Work, American Whitewater, and various Oak Creek community events
List your top three priorities as a town council candidate and talk about how you would go about accomplishing them.
Downtown revitalization: This is one of greatest passions as a trustee. An attractive, exciting downtown area is not only a positive for our current residents, providing them a local avenue for shopping and social events, but helps us attract new residents and development.
New businesses and residents: I have continuously pushed for improving Oak Creek’s image online. I have advocated improving our website and Facebook pages and being proactive in communication with residents. I feel that this keeps the town current, and when people or businesses are looking to relocate, it makes the town a viable option for them.
Infrastructure: While serving, we have taken great strides to improve Infrastructure. Not only the final projects that can be seen, like Main Street, but the behind-the-scenes activity, like improvements to our planning and a capital improvements plan. We can leverage these activities to obtain grant funding.
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?
The town needs to provide the citizens up-to-date, relevant information on a regular basis, which is now and will continue to occur. I would like to see a staff member continued to be used as liaison for people in need. Many people are intimidated by filling out applications on computers or may not have access to the internet. By providing a safe one-on-one environment and helping to navigate the forms, it’s a win-win for both the citizen and the town, as hopefully financial support will be obtained, and bills can be paid. While most businesses in Oak Creek are still operational, as they are deemed essential, many are being negatively impacted. For survival, our town must not only provide information about available government and foundational loan programs but also fight for federal help on their behalf.
What goals do you have in terms of economic revitalization of some of the empty commercial spaces on Main Street?
My goal would be to find buyers for each unoccupied space and entrepreneurs to open a variety of establishments for the community. Many buildings are already in state of deterioration and modern building codes necessitate significant capital investment for legal occupancy.A strategy could include the town implementing revolving loan funds, which can be capitalized by our local government, private institutions, federal grant programs and local philanthropic organizations, providing the much-needed cash for property improvements. The town was able to successfully do this on a small scale in 2018-19 with the business improvement grants for several downtown businesses. With an eye to public health and safety, working with Routt County to amend any building codes that might unintentionally raise the costs of historic building restoration is another strategy. Another strategy may be encouraging owners of empty businesses to provide space for local artisans market making a more vibrant downtown
Looking ahead, how is Oak Creek preparing for the changes in the coal industry, both in terms of tax revenue and jobs?
Having had the opportunity to take a full underground tour of the 20-mile coal mine, I can speak to the first-class operation that runs out there with many invested employees that have been the backbone of the Oak Creek community for almost a century. I understand the concern that changes in the coal industry will have significant impacts on tax revenue our town receives and jobs for residents; however, it is important to look at this critically. Our town receives approximately $20,000 in tax revenue from the coal industry each year. This is half the amount of our industrial marijuana licensing fees collected each year. I do not want to minimize the impact it will have on individuals and the greater South Routt community. I am committed to proactively working with alternative industries to replace lost jobs and the South Routt tax revenue.
How do you want to see Oak Creek change, and how do you want to see it maintain its unique small town identity?
It’s important to me that the town take the time to plan where development should or should not go, where businesses can thrive on a walkable main street, and families can live close to their daily destinations. I believe the town has to have policies in place that protect the rural landscape and preserve open space, protect air and water quality, provide places for recreation, and create tourist attractions that bring investments into the local economy. In my opinion, Oak Creek’s identity is rooted in being a wonderful caring community of neighbors. As the town grows, we must always focus on the residents and their needs and concerns to preserve this special quality of our community.
There are very few options for early childcare in Oak Creek, what would you do to address this?
As a working mother of a 5-year-old, I know the struggle of finding adequate childcare first hand. There is nothing more essential than providing the opportunity for all children to be nourished and thrive in their surroundings in a safe environment while parents are working. I would support, encourage and put anyone interested in opening a childcare center in touch with First Impressions of Routt County, as they help people obtain grants, state funding and educational resources. A great example of that is South Routt’s newest childcare center, Little Lambs. Professional development scholarships are available for early childcare teachers, aides and substitutes willing to commit to work for one of the day cares in our county. It’s essential to make our community aware of this by advertising this in our town newsletter and website.
Many residents in Routt County struggle with affordable housing, both in and out of Oak Creek. How would you address this issue?
Updating strategic plans and policy documents to accommodate new growth through compact and continuous development. The board needs to continue to reform policies to make it easier for developers to build compact, mixed use places as well as tiny homes. It’s essential to recognize and reward developers that build using smart growth and green building approaches. In my time as a trustee, I have always supported land use code changes that have allowed opportunities for affordable housing developments. In each of our business districts in Oak Creek, there are different requirements for setbacks and the building of secondary units. In Business District 1, a homeowner can build lot line to lot line, providing opportunities for accessory dwellings, therefore offering potentially additional housing in the community and subsidizing a mortgage. In other districts, this is not the case, and I would like the town to explore creative solutions for infill.
How has your experience and background equipped you to serve Oak Creek as a town council member?
Having lived in Routt County for 20 years, the last eight in Oak Creek, I have had opportunities to work in industries equipping me with not only professional skills, but primarily life skills that enable me to relate to most of the citizens of the valley. Recognized by my peers as passionate, hardworking and a results-oriented leader, I strive to find the best in people/situations. My talent lies in building cohesive teams emphasizing exceeding customer experiences, open communication and conflict resolution. I thrive on innovative tactics and strategies for customer acquisition and retention. My work experience includes senior level management in the hotel and restaurant industries, earning those positions through hard work and dedication from frontline service. I spent 10 years with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. in various departments. With a passion for the outdoors, I enjoyed many years on the grounds crew with Haymaker and guiding on the Colorado River.
Open ended statement:
I thank you for your trust in electing me to the town board for the past five years. The experience has been rewarding and educational. There is much to learn when you take on this position, and I feel I have served the community well and have proven to be hardworking, honest and professional. My votes have always been taken with the utmost consideration for the residents and the town as a whole. My desire is to continue to serve. I will always focus on five main priorities: public safety, infrastructure, the delivery of necessary services, promoting an environment that attracts and retains businesses and an advocate for our citizens in their time of need. I’m not afraid to go out on my own and say how I feel from the budget and town infrastructure to our downtown revitalization. I’m invested in our town, I am a resident, a business owner, and a mother, which I hold as the most important job — ensuring a community that is a great place to raise my son.
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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