Delta will seat 3 new council members
By Pat Sunderland
Published Wednesday, March 9, 2016 8:14 am
There will be three new faces on the Delta City Council after this year's municipal election wraps up April 5. Current council members Mary Cooper and Robert Jurca are term-limited; Ray Penick has declined to seek re-election.
Districts A and B each have just one candidate, Ron Austin and Gerald Roberts, respectively. The at-large seat is a contest between Wilford "Fay" Mathews and Christopher Ryan. Profiles of all four candidates are provided.
A resident of Delta since 1969, Mathews retired in 2010 after 42 years with the City of Delta. He started in streets and alleys. A year later, he moved to the municipal light and power department and worked his way up to department head.
Having reached the five-year mark, he decided he'd been gone from the city long enough. "I decided I could represent the citizens of Delta with hopefully a lot of good knowlege," he said. "It's time for me to once again give something back and I look forward to that."
He looks forward to tackling the challenges facing the city -- a lack of community input, economic growth and a tight budget.
Just a handful of citizens attend council meetings, and residents seldom even write letters to the editor. "With no feedback, council takes it that everything is fine with the way we're going. Decisions that affect the whole community are made with no input."
As for economic growth, Mathews said he doesn't have any answers, "but I will sure have open ears." Unfortunately, there's not a community that's not looking for jobs. "Any gains we made over the last few years was lost when Meadow Gold abandoned us."
Delta has a lot going for it, including infrastructure and attractive property along the truck route.
Mathews is concerned that maintaining that infrastructure will be difficult with little wiggle room in the city's utility and street funds. He believes the council must closely monitor spending citywide, to ensure funds are being spent as budgeted.
Voters who approved the combined parks/recreation departments felt the subsidies from the utility funds would disappear. They didn't. "I don't think people are getting what they voted for," Mathews said.
"I looked at the budget today and I'll quote a figure: Each utility payer in the City of Delta contributes $20.61 to each round of golf played out there." Revenue covers just half the cost of operating the golf course.
"I don't know what the answer is, but I feel very strongly they should live within their own budget," Mathews said. "It's definitely wrong for the ratepayers of the city to be making up the difference."
Mathews said there's no way he would contemplate closing the golf course. "We just need to manage it better."
He concluded, "Knowing the city, knowing the operation and knowing budgets, I think I can be beneficial to the citizens. I will listen, although I may not always agree."
Mathews and his wife Paula have two grown children and three granddaughters.
Mathews was a volunteer firefighter for 21 years, and chief for seven. When he was employed by the city, he was an alternate on the Project 7 water board and served on the board of directors of the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities. He chaired that board for 15 years. He is a Vietnam veteran and is looking forward to a 50-year reunion this summer in Colorado Springs.
Christopher Ryan, a 2000 graduate of Delta High School and father of five, brings youth to the city council race. Ryan is a self-employed web designer who works out of his Delta home.
"People of my generation often talk about things they're discontented with, but don't take action, me included," he said. "I decided I wanted to be a more integral part of the community. It's not so much that things are entirely broke, not at all. But our economy has changed, our way of doing business has changed. Delta has not changed sufficiently with that."
He wants the city to move forward with technology andbroadband development, both of which he believes are imperative to economic development. He speaks of his own children, saying he wants it to be viable for them to come back to Delta to live, if they choose; to see, as he does, that there's something special here.
"This is a very new direction for me," said Ryan, who's been getting out and talking to voters. Instead of posturing like a political candidate, he takes the same approach as he does in his business: "How would I look at this if I were consulting?"
He begins by listening, assessing and exchanging ideas, before forming an opinion.
"To be honest, I would need to learn a lot but I definitely have an interest," Ryan said.
Many of the citizens he's visited with feel disconnected from the city council, so that's one thing he'd like to change.
While getting to know his more distant neighbors, he's heard the desire for a more business-friendly attitude in the City of Delta. Concern has also been expressed about the handling of past due utilities in rental properties. As the owner of a rental home, Ryan found common ground with citizens with landlords whose tenants have racked up utility bills for several months. The tenant moves on, leaving the landlord with hundreds of dollars in utility fees. If the tenant walks out on the rent, and has incurred damages to boot, the damage deposit is quickly chewed up.
Ryan would like to see what he can do to help solve problems like those. "This area has so much going for it," he said. "I would like to see both the city and county be more proactive.
While many economic issues are tied to private enterprise, government plays a valuable role in facilitating development. "Government's role is not to build barriers, but rather to remove those barriers," he said.
Ryan describes himself as having conservative values. He's looking for a shift in direction, but certainly doesn't want to see Delta become a boom town. "That would destroy what we are. Delta is unique and that's what keeps me here."
Ryan's blended family includes five kids between the ages of 3 and 12, so he keeps very busy with school and church activities. He is a Webeloes leader and is on the emergency list at Abraham Connection.
Ron Austin discovered Delta while on vacation in 2004, but was reluctant to leave his daughter and her family behind in San Diego. The problem was solved when both families moved to Delta.
Austin moved to San Diego in 1968, when he joined the Navy. After his discharge, he joined the San Diego County Sheriff's Office. He retired in 2001 after 27 years as a deputy. He's also a small business owner, currently manufacturing love seats made out of the back seat of an old car.
A self-described "car guy," Austin said he's owned at least one Corvette since 1967. In San Diego, he and his wife were active in the Corvette Club. Now they're as likely to climb into a Jeep, for a scenic ride through the mountains.
As a city council candidate, Austin said his number one priority is jobs. He'd like to see every storefront on Main Street filled, and has some ideas for generating interest in land development.
"We certainly enjoy living here, and I really want to see Delta take advantage of its location right in the middle of some of the most beautiful tourism spots in the country."
The tourism industry not only offers "real potential" as far as jobs, it could also benefit the golf course.
"We're not going to sell Delta strictly because we've got a really nice golf course up there, but if you get other tourism-related businesses and activities going here, it's a natural that there will be people who come in who golf."
Two of Delta's biggest assets, Confluence Park and Bill Heddles Recreation Center, could also be enhanced, he believes.
To encourage economic development, Austin would like to make Delta more business friendly, perhaps by streamlining regulations.
Austin said he's trying to visit every business in District A, and all businesses in Delta County. "I want to introduce myself and let them know there will be a voice on the council they can turn to if they have concerns. We'll work to try and get those straightened out. We're a small community and people have to work together."
But Austin believes both businesses and residents can't expect their city government to do everything. For example, he said, there are some businesses on Main Street that could use a facelift. It's unrealistic for the city to come along and foot the bill to do that.
Austin and his wife Donna have immersed themselves in the community. They are active members of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and are involved with Abraham Connection and Delta-Montrose Community Concert Association. Ron is a precinct captain and serves on the Republican Central Committee.
Concern about dwindling city finances prompted Gerald Roberts to run for city council. "We really have to tighten our budget, and use our employees and other resources as efficiently as possible," he said.
Roberts is chairman of Delta Planning and Zoning Commission, a position he will be resigning to take his seat on the city council.
Roberts has been involved in city government for most of the 39 years he has lived in the community. He served on city council from 1982-1998 and is a three-time mayor.
"Given my extensive years of service and involvement in the community, I believe I possess the necessary knowledge of the responsibility, financial needs and staffing needs of the city and its departments," he said.
One area that bears close inspection are the transfers to the golf course, which continue to come out of utility funds even after citizens voted to allow broader use of the sales tax dedicated to the recreation center.
Roberts also wants to make sure each department is truly supporting overall operations.
Above all, he desires to make the City of Delta the best possible place to live. He's always been interested in municipal government, because it has a more direct affect on people's lives than the county, state or federal government.
He believes more open communication with the public would reinstill some faith "in that damn city," a phrase he heard frequently when circulating his petition. "A lot of dissatisfaction is a result of misunderstanding," he said.
Roberts retired from the Delta Correctional Center about 14 years ago, and is now a part-time county employee overseeing an inmate work crew assigned to the county road and bridge department.