Florence City Council candidates discuss infrastructure, housing, other issues during second forum – Canon City Daily Record

2022-06-30 21:19:06 By : Ms. Ales Fung

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Florence City Council Ward 2 candidates, Matthew Stiefel (left), and Johanna Nabors (right), discuss issues during Wednesday's candidate forum.

Florence City Council Ward 1 candidates Rudl Mergleman, Anthony Puckett, and James Vanhoutan discuss a city issue amongst themselves during Wednesday's candidate forum at the Historic Rialto Theatre.

FLORENCE — Ten of the 11 city council candidates for Florence’s upcoming Aug. 2 special election gathered Wednesday evening at the Rialto Theater to communicate their views on various issues currently within Florence. The forum’s theme was infrastructure, water rights, housing and finances.

The forum was hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Florence in conjunction with the Rialto Theatre.

Unlike the previous forum June 1, Wednesday’s gathering consisted of a brief section, where each candidate replied to a particular question, followed by a “team-building” exercise. During that time, each ward worked together to solve several proposed problems currently facing Florence. The final section consisted of a Q & A with the audience.

The questions started off simple.

“Complete this phrase: in the future, I would like my town to be…” asked Rodger Duncan, spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens of Florence and host for the night.

“We have so much heart here and we’ve experienced some division so, in the future, I’d like to see us overcome the challenges that we’ve run into. We have so many wonderful people and talents in this town,” said Ward 2 candidate Johanna Nabors. “I’d really like to see those shine through.”

Unlike the first forum, where many questions focused on the basic issue of how Florence residents can trust the new city council and how the candidates will prove their worth, Wednesday’s forum presented a different take.

“How can the town support the council in the specific interest of the community?” Duncan asked.

“The community needs to voice their opinions and give guidance — that’s what we’re here for,” said Ward 1 candidate Anthony Puckett. “We’re representing the people so if there are no people to represent or to be heard it’s on the council to make decisions, but if you don’t like it, you really have to show up.”

The responses were heartening, but the questions became more complex and involved as the night went on.

When asked how much it costs to run the city and exactly where the revenue comes from, responses were varied.

Eric Hatfield of Ward 2 pointed out the fact that the city is losing revenue because of Airbnbs in the area that takes livable homes and turns them into weekend rentals.

“I think we need to look into things like that, bringing in the housing development so that will help with our housing crisis and also bring us in property taxes, water tax,” he said.

Nabors cited Cañon City’s recent awarding of a $1 million grant and, thinking outside the box, proposed grants as another way to bolster the city’s economy.

“I think we should be chasing some grants where it’s not all on the backs of the taxpayers,” she said.

Questions ranged from zoning concerns (such as a proposed meat processing plant outside of Florence), water rights, homelessness, and healthcare opportunities.

Some questions proved to be rather simple in revealing a unified force, where each candidate had similar thoughts but others resulted in different thoughts and replies.

One such example came out in a question regarding the homeless population and how Florence plans to deal with the growing issue.

“It think it falls on affordable housing, that kind of stuff where we can start hopefully support and help them to get better,” said Ward 1 candidate James Vanhoutan. “They are struggling, they are looking for some help, if possible. Sometimes they do it in the wrong fashion.”

Vanhoutan went on to cite the problems that are often associated with public restrooms at Florence’s parks.

“My own grandson goes there (the park) all the time, but when he needs to go to the bathroom, we have to leave because they’re usually locked,” he said. “It’s really a loaded question.”

“I don’t think we have in our community the resources to help these people,” Ward 3 candidate Deborah Gibson said decisively. “The only thing I would say is don’t make it comfortable for them. There have to be ordinances that are set up to deal with these.”

A nurse at the Florence Junior/Senior High School, Gibson went briefly detailed how homelessness affects even young adults.

“I think that it’s really, really sad that these kids live in situations, they can’t even take a shower,” she said. “Why would we want to put them in that position that they are laughed at and complained about? Let’s have ordinances and let’s enforce them.”

The most challenging part of the night was possibly when questions were leveled at the candidates who had three minutes to converse with their wards to try and problem-solve.

For example, Ward 1 candidates were asked how water debts are implemented, how the water systems would be maintained, and if reviews are in order. Vanhoutan, Puckett and Rudl Mergelman returned to the audience with a reply of, yes, an audit of the budget is in order to clarify where money is spent and how.

Ward 2 was asked how Florence, a small town, would attract larger healthcare providers to the area. Hatfield, Nabors, Steve Wolfe, and Matthew Stiefel, conversed for three minutes and Hatfield responded on behalf of the group.

“We are a very small community so we might not have the market to bring in larger healthcare providers. We live within 10 miles of two urgent care facilities,” he said. “We would love to get the proposed VA clinic if we can.”

Hatfield further detailed how they hope to focus on first responders and emergency services.

However, this only scratches the surface of the items that were discussed throughout the night.

The next candidate forum is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 13 at the Rialto Theater in Florence and will have a new format. Issues will be presented to candidates beforehand, and they will have the opportunity to research said problems and present their solutions to the community.

Kevin Bradley Anthony Puckett Rudl Mergelman James Vanhoutan

Eric Hatfield Kathryn Johanna Nabors Matthew Stiefel Steve Wolfe

Deborah Gibson Gayle MacKinnon Michael Vendetti

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