Q&A with Wendy Gustafson, candidate for Oak Creek town trustee
Prior political experience: Town of Oak Creek board of trustees
Civic involvement: Community education — local yoga instructor
List your top three priorities as a town council candidate and talk about how you would go about accomplishing them.
Fiscal responsibility: The town has been able to increase fund balances while completing several new projects. I supported the town as we aggressively pursued grants for the Main Street water line replacement, downtown revitalization, upgrades to Decker Park, developing two new parks for our citizens and our new water tank. Leveraging these dollars helps us successfully accomplish many of the needs and goals identified in our comprehensive plan.
Attract new residents: The creation of childcare programs has made it easier for families moving to Oak Creek. I continue to focus on assuring these after-school and summer programs remain vital. I continue to insist on the importance of maintaining and developing affordable housing in town so people can afford to live here.
Downtown revitalization/economic development: I support the town’s and community’s efforts to support, assist and expand local businesses, as well as encouraging shopping locally.
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?
Obviously, the biggest concern is the potential impacts on the health and wellbeing of our families, friends and neighbors. We need to support emergency responders’ efforts to secure our health and welfare in town and throughout the country. Secondarily, the financial impacts being experienced by our citizens and businesses because of stay-at-home orders and closures are going to be devastating. In acknowledgment, the town has instituted utility payment plan options and is providing information regarding various aid that is available locally. As well, town staff and board members are checking in with our elderly and other vulnerable folks during this unusual time to assure their needs are being met as well.
What goals do you have in terms of economic revitalization of some of the empty commercial spaces on Main Street?
The town must first support our existing businesses. Their continuing success and vitality will serve to attract new businesses by providing an attractive, vibrant and active Main Street that encourages tourists and travelers, as well as area residents, to stop and shop locally. Other efforts, such as the Shop Local campaign and South Routt Bucks, should be expanded as well. New and upgrading businesses can also access a small pool of town Business Improvement Grant funding for storefront upgrades or increasing local employment. While not a lot of money, evidence of the successes can be seen in the numerous storefront upgrades and at the reopened laundromat along Main Street. The town also needs to leverage its outdoor and recreation economy to attract new businesses that serve these industries. We have ripening opportunities with the town’s recent acquisition of the Oak Creek Mountain Park property to attract and grow related businesses.
Looking ahead, how is Oak Creek preparing for the changes in the coal industry, both in terms of tax revenue and jobs?
While the impact on the town’s tax revenues will be minimal as they relate to the pending coal and power plant closures, this change will have profound effects for our community. Oak Creek was founded because of our surrounding coal resources, and coal represents our history. However, we know the school district, library district and other similar local service providers will be significantly economically impacted, and this is likely to have long-term impacts on local levels of service. As a community, we must work alongside our peers to fully analyze the economic impacts from the loss of these industries. The town must be part of the collective action to replace these jobs, and it is likely that those jobs will come from various industries and probably piecemeal. We must support positive action to grow our community while preserving what makes this place special to all of us.
How do you want to see Oak Creek change, and how do you want to see it maintain its unique small-town identity?
The biggest change I would like to see in the town is in the town’s infrastructure. Much of it remains substandard; however, a lot of what we have done over the last few years has laid the groundwork for the future. However, in our current economic climate, this is very difficult to do all at once and always takes outside funding. As an example, the Main Street improvements cost over $3 million, all but $500,000 of which were grant funds. Infrastructure funding is something that necessitates a long view with multiple steps needing occur, and we have to work to ensure we are ready when funds become available. Maintaining and improving quality of life while keeping that “small town character” is a constant challenge. The most important aspect of Oak Creek is our sense of community, and my focus on that will help the town as we move forward.
There are very few options for early childcare in Oak Creek, what would you do to address this?
The town has successful after-school and school-age programs serving children between the ages of 4 1/2 and 12 and coordinates closely with the school district. I would like to see the town continue to work with the school district and the private sector to expand affordable childcare to include options for younger children.
Many residents in Routt County struggle with affordable housing, both in and out of Oak Creek. How would you address this issue?
Oak Creek’s Land Use Code provides numerous creative ways for housing development that can include provisions for housing affordability. We welcome and urge those looking to develop housing in Routt County to consider bringing their projects to the town. I continue to insist on the importance of maintaining and developing affordable housing in town so people, particularly families, can afford to live here.
How has your experience and background equipped you to serve Oak Creek as a town board member?
I am an accountant with 30 years of experience in working with CPA firms and in private industry. My focus has been with the engineering and architectural industry. For the last 12 years, I have worked with the A&E industry to implement business and industry standards to improve their profitability and understanding of their business. I work with companies both on their business practices and technological improvements to ensure my clients stay current with the most contemporary approaches to business management. I was brought up in a small town, and over the past 10 years, have served as a member of the town’s board of trustees. I have learned a lot about municipalities, governance and the town in that time. My job as a business owner and professional keeps my knowledge of business practices and improved technology up-to-date. I try to bring this knowledge and experience to the town.
Open ended statement:
My goal when I initially ran for the town board was simple: serve my community to the best of my ability. I have been blessed to work with outstanding people on the board and town staff — all working toward the same goals. We don’t always agree, but I hope we have always approached the questions at hand with the best interests of the town in mind. As a board, we have made some hard choices; however, we have been able to do some awesome things. Not everything has gone per plan, but the board and staff have pulled together to make Oak Creek a better place. If I am elected, I will continue to foster that team effort so we can continue to improve and manage growth appropriately. By myself, I am nothing special, but being teamed with the extraordinary board and town staff, we are special. My focus is, and has always been, improving the town according to the community-developed Town Comprehensive Plan while pursuing and utilizing all the funding available to us at the federal, state and county levels. We have been able to leverage the town’s funds exponentially, while keeping town funding reserves at the levels recommended by accounting standards.
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.
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