Four candidates -- all female -- are poised to fill the four vacant seats on the Hotchkiss Town Council. The top three vote-getters will serve four-year terms; the fourth position is a two-year term.
The mayoral race is a contest between Larry Wilkening and Tom Wills. They are profiled in a separate story in this week's issue of the DCI.
All four trustee candidates are familiar with the role and responsibilities of town trustee.
Mary Hockenbery moved to Hotchkiss in 2008 from New Mexico. She began serving on the Hotchkiss Planning Commission in 2010. That led to an interest in downtown improvement and beautification. From planting flowers to purchasing a church in the downtown core and creating the Church of Art, she has worked hard to do her part in investing time and energy in her community. Hockenbery is a photographer and mixed media artist.
Esther Koontz is the wife of Hotchkiss Mayor Wendell Koontz, who is term limited. She grew up in rural Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in education. After teaching for three years, she moved to Denver and worked in the oil and gas industry. Her job took her to Dallas, Texas, and after five years she and her husband relocated to Utah. After moving to Hotchkiss 21 years ago, she worked for 13 years as the district administrator for the North Fork Pool, Park and Recreation District.
Sheila Maki, a lifetime resident of the North Fork Valley, moved to Hotchkiss in 1980. She has been a postal service employee for five years.
She served on the Hotchkiss Town Council from 2000 to 2012, and has been involved in numerous community organizations. "I've been around the block," she said.
She decided to run for office because she very much enjoyed her service to the town. "I realized I actually missed being on the Hotchkiss Town Council," she said.
Patricia Medina grew up primarily in Delta and moved to Hotchkiss in 1997. She started working for Larry Jakubiak at the North Fork Valley Restaurant in June 1998 and purchased the business in September 2014. She currently serves on the Hotchkiss Town Council, having been appointed to fill a vacancy.
The candidates were asked to provide responses to five questions:
What are the community's biggest assets?
Hockenbery: Our biggest assets are our location, the people and traditions that make up our community, and our infrastructure. Our town staff has years of experience and our town marshal's department, public works department and town clerk all work hard to provide us with great infrastructure and services.
Koontz: The people. There is a dedicated town staff, a growing business community, caring schools, good medical/dental services, fire and ambulance services, library, recreation district and the fairgrounds and county annex, all working together to make a better Hotchkiss.
Maki: Hotchkiss' biggest asset is the people. Hotchkiss is still a very close-knit community. Everybody takes care of everybody, including the town trustees, who work things out. We really do try to get along. Another asset is the town's location. A lot of people through Hotchkiss on a regular basis.
Medina: I think our community's biggest asset right now is the fact that we have several new people buying property and moving into the area with new ideas. As a town councilmember, it is my duty to encourage these "newcomers" to express new ideas to the community on positive changes that would benefit our area.
What are the community's biggest challenges?
Hockenbery: One of our biggest challenges is recovery from economic downturn. We all want to see a thriving downtown. I think we're heading in the right direction. Buildings that have been on the market for years are selling. New buildings are being built and new businesses are coming to town.
We will face some challenges from growth. I think having our zoning, Master Plan and planning commission in place will be helpful.
We should never take our water for granted. We are facing possible long term drought from climate change and global warming. This could have a disastrous effect on our agricultural community.
Koontz: Maintaining our infrastructure during challenging economic times, preparing for town growth in a positive manner and also giving consideration to the "silver tsunami."
Maki: We probably face some of the very same things other towns face in regards to water, sewer, streets and sidewalks and being able to pay for that. Being able to balance the budget for necessary items, as well as some of the nicer things citizens feel we need, like more recreation, more parks. It's a fine line.
Medina: One of our biggest challenges as a community is closed mindedness. People who are afraid to change, because they are comfortable with the way things are. If we as a community are not receptive to changes we will remain behind in the future.
Have you reviewed the draft Master Plan? How will this document affect your decision making as a council member?
Hockenbery: I've read the draft Master Plan. I'm also familiar with the master plan from serving on the planning commission in the past and working on the 2012 update. The Master Plan will help my decision making because it is a detailed list of goals and objectives on a wide variety of topics from infrastructure to community spirit. The Master Plan was first adopted in the fall of 2006, updated in 2012, and updated again this year. Our planning commission has worked hard to create and update this document with input from our community.
Koontz: Yes, I have reviewed the Master Plan. First, I would like to thank Tom Wills and the Hotchkiss Planning Commission for putting in numerous hours to prepare this document. With community input and years of experience by those on the commission, this will help affect my decision-making by knowing the direction the citizens want the town to go in the next 5 to 10 years.
Maki: I have not reviewed the latest draft, but I will certainly take into account what the community has said they would like to see in Hotchkiss. I believe an earlier Master Plan said people like the small-town feeling. I tend to be a person who makes my decision based on listening to all of the information, asking questions, reviewing the whole thing. I don't make my decisions quickly and I don't make my decisions based on just one factor.
Medina: Sadly, I have not seen the draft of the Master Plan, so I cannot reply as to how it will affect my decision making at the moment.
What direction do you see the Colorado Main Street program taking? Do you have any thoughts on increasing business interest/participation?
Hockenbery: I think the Main Street group in Hotchkiss will need to build participation from the business community as well as interested residents and civic groups by networking and personal contact. Time to bring back our monthly downtown meetings over coffee. We are hoping to get a DOLA REDI grant in order to hire a consulting firm to complete an economic development assessment of our business community. Region 10 is helping us move forward with informational meetings and by taking on the REDI grant application. I believe that this process will be vital in increasing business interest/participation and will leave us with some concrete projects to consider. We have other small communities in the area that are working on their downtowns and can show us the way -- Cedaredge and Ridgway come to mind -- we need to make some time to visit and learn from them.
Koontz: I am supportive of the Hotchkiss Area Chamber of Commerce and business community leadership.
Maki: I am interested in doing anything we as a council can do to encourage new businesses and help existing businesses, whether that be helping them as a town council or sending them in the direction of the resources that are out there.
Businesses along Bridge Street bring in the sales/property tax that allows us to do those other things the community would like to see -- paving the streets, keeping the sidewalks nice. There are some very successful business owners on Bridge Street who don't live in Hotchkiss and therefore aren't able to vote. Those people who are the bread and butter of downtown Hotchkiss should have a say. Maybe the chamber could help facilitate a more direct relationship with those business owners.
Medina: Hopefully the Main Street Program will help local talent make Hotchkiss vibrant, but in a tasteful way. I think if Hotchkiss would have had direction with this a few years ago we could have benefitted a little more.
My thoughts on business participation is to get the business owners more involved. There again with people being comfortable with the way things are, no one wants to go the extra distance. And now that Hotchkiss has several new businesses and more coming, we need to get them involved in local affairs. I also think we need to utilize the fairgrounds more than they are. I know this is a fair board issue, but it is part of Delta County. And giving our citizens more activities to do locally should be the goal to helping our county to succeed.
Finally, what organizations/entities do you view as vital partners to the Town of Hotchkiss?
Hockenbery: That is a long list! Delta County, Region 10, DCED, DOLA, CDOT, North Fork Mosquito Abatement District, Library, Fire Department, Schools, Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce and our hardworking business community, North Fork Ambulance, Delta County Memorial Hospital and the West Elk Clinic, Hotchkiss Seniors, North Fork Recreation District ...
Koontz: I view the following as vital partners to the Town of Hotchkiss: Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce, Delta County, Delta County School District, North Fork Ambulance, Hotchkiss Volunteer Fire Department, Hotchkiss faith-based community, Hotchkiss Senior Center, North Fork Pool, Park and Recreation District, Delta County Libraries, North Fork Medical Clinic, Region 10 and the Department of Local Affairs.
Maki: State entities that are able to provide funding such as DOLA. We need to communicate with other municipalities and the county because Hotchkiss is right smack in the middle of unincorporated Delta County. Colorado Municipal League, law enforcement entities. Hotchkiss can't be independent; we need to be in communication and open to having a relationship with whoever we can to the benefit of Hotchkiss, the county and ultimately the state.
Medina: The most vital organizations to Hotchkiss in my opinion right now are the Delta County Fair Board and the chamber. We need to work hand in hand.