Six Hotchkiss residents, including two incumbents, are vying for four seats, three for four-year terms and a fourth for a two-year term, on Hotchkiss Town Council. In the order they will appear on the ballot, candidates are Ralph Sandmann II, Mary Hockenbery, Patrick Webb, Larry Jakubiak, John Marta and James Roberts.
The candidate forum originally scheduled for this Friday has been postponed. It has been rescheduled for 7 p.m., Friday, March 11, at the Church of Art, 188 North First Street.
The candidates, in order as they appear on the ballot, are:
RALPH SANDMANN II
Ralph Sandmann II, 46, is a professional cabinet maker/artist and has lived in Hotchkiss for 17 years. He served as a trustee in 2004 until a family situation forced him to move to Denver. He returned about seven months later. Sandmann has been involved with the Creamery Arts Center for many years and served three and a half years as a board member. He is also active with the Clampers.
Sandmann believes Hotchkiss' best assets are its people and its location. That the town is located on the highway makes it prime for tourism development. With continued drops in coal mine production, "people are feeling the pinch," said Sandmann, and tourism could be a way to address declining revenues.
The biggest challenge the town faces is "trying to figure out how to stimulate our economy." Between mine layoffs and the empty commercial spaces along Bridge Street, "we need to shift gears." He would like to see the town consider tax incentives to attract business, "so it doesn't look half-empty around here."
With many towns and cities already benefiting from the cannabis industry, he would like to see the town examine how those communities are making it work "and come up with something that will work for us. I don't see it as a big issue, but as a potentially good revenue source."
Sandmann said he remains in touch with council members, is current on many of the issues, and believes the town is addressing the needs of its citizens. Some of the needed improvement projects are underway, and once the sewer main rehabilitation project is complete, other projects can be considered. He would like to see upgrades to streets and sidewalks, which he says the town has been talking about the last two to three years.
As a businessman, Sandmann said he knows what it takes to see projects through to completion. He is open-minded about the issues and will try to "use a common-sense approach" to getting through the more difficult matters that will come before council.
Mary Hockenbery, 63, is a seven-year resident, an artist and owner of the Church of Art. She served four years on the Hotchkiss Planning Commission, including as chairperson. She has volunteered since 2012 for the Downtown Improvement Committee and is a former chairperson, and has been active with the Hotchkiss Area Chamber of Commerce, including a term as board member. She has served on other boards and commissions, including a library board in New Mexico and four years on the Arts Commission in Santa Cruz, Calif..
Hotchkiss lives up to its motto of "Friendliest Town Around," said Hockenbery. She appreciates the small-town lifestyle. "A little effort can go a long way in a small town." She wants to help promote the town as a great destination place with "amazing outdoor opportunities" where people can come to relax. She also wants to help support businesses that support outdoor recreation and other industries.
Since moving here she has attended many council meetings and is up on current events. "The town is really well-run," said Hockenbery. All of the areas where the town needs improvement, including streets, sidewalks and water and sewer infrastructure, are already being addressed. The master plan addresses future growth and the planning commission is already working on updates
But the shrinking budget -- she said the town has lost $30,000 annually in severance taxes due to mine closures, with more layoffs announced last week -- and the health of the economy are the town's biggest immediate challenges.
Hockenbery spearheaded the effort to put cannabis on the town ballot in April. Cannabis has provided tax money for other small towns, where fears like increased crime and teen usage have not materialized, she said. She believes that many of the citizens' concerns are not materializing in communities where it's legal. If the three-question initiative is approved, she believes the industry should be strongly regulated and wants the community to be proactive as the town moves through the legislative process.
By no means is she a one-issue candidate, and her record reflects that, said Hockenbery. In addition to her ongoing involvement in the community, as a business owner she is also concerned with the health of arts, culture and tourism, and how they can help improve the economy. The North Fork area is a designated Creative Arts District and she is involved in the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition. Last April she attended the Creative District Summits, where she served on the Small Towns, Big Impacts panel and was a presenter. "It's a way to promote the town outside of the North Fork Valley," she said.
Patrick Webb, 65, is a semi-retired businessman. He has lived in the North Fork area on and off for almost 40 years and returned, "hopefully for the last time," in 2011. He served on the KVNF board of directors from 1978-1984.
Webb said he chooses to live in Hotchkiss because of its beautiful location and sense of community.
The biggest challenge will be improving the economic base, said Webb. If voters approve marijuana businesses within the town this April, Webb said he believes town representatives should speak with representatives of towns like Ouray and De Beque and visit municipalities, large and small, where businesses are already established and learn about the unintended consequences communities have experienced. That way, said Webb, town leaders can incorporate what they learn into the regulations that will need to be created.
Webb said he knows little about the specifics of current town code, and while he's not out to become an expert, he is willing to put in the time and effort to learn what is pertinent to issues the town is working on. "I like to make informed decisions," said Webb.
Webb said the town is doing a good job, but he would like to see the entire length of Bridge Street, which he describes as a "patchwork," paved so that when people visit or drive through they see one continuous strip of pavement.
While he understands council members don't always agree, he believes that through all of the personal perspectives it's possible to get an accurate picture of any situation.
Incumbent Larry Jakubiak is completing a two-year term on council and is concurrently serving as council member and mayor pro tempore until the end of his term following the resignation of another trustee. He is a retired restaurateur and has lived in Hotchkiss for 30 years.
Jakubiak has served two terms as mayor, and as of this April will have served on council a total of 12 years. As mayor he was active in the construction of the new sewer plant, and was involved in getting a state-of-the-art water treatment plant built. He currently serves as the town liaison to the Delta County Housing Authority. Jakubiak has also put on the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas day meals at the Hotchkiss Senior Center for many years.
Jakubiak believes the main purpose and focus of a town council is to serve the community and to ensure that citizens are provided all the basic and necessary services, such as water, sewer and trash. He believes the council is meeting those needs and that the town is fiscally sound and well-managed. His main focus is on constructing sidewalks from one end of town to the other. "I can't even walk to City Market on sidewalks," said Jakubiak.
Regarding the Hotchkiss Planning Commission's ongoing discussion on mobile homes and mobile home park regulations, he believes no changes are necessary to the current regulations.
If the cannabis ballot issues 2A, 2B and 2C pass in April, Jakubiak said he is "for anything that creates revenue, as long as it's legal and legitimate." He would work to ensure that businesses are located in commercial zones and not on side streets, and that they will not adversely impact citizens.
He would also like to see more communication and coordination with area organizations such as the Hotchkiss Senior Center and Chamber of Commerce.
Jakubiak, who was appointed to a two-year term on council due to a lack of candidates and who once ran unopposed for mayor, said he's encouraged that six candidates are on the ballot. He hopes people aren't one-issue candidates with personal agendas and really do want to serve the citizens.
John Marta is seeking a four-year term. He has lived his entire life in Hotchkiss and recently celebrated 41 years of marriage to his wife, Billie.
He is retired after working as a coal miner, truck driver, and in construction. He also worked on his folks' ranch near town. He is nearing his 54th year as a member of Hotchkiss Lodge #1807 and serves as a trustee. He also served nine years on the board of Hotchkiss Senior Citizens and is a former senior transportation driver. While he's no longer a board member, he remains active with the local seniors.
The biggest challenge the town and council face "are getting things done and getting the money to do it."
If voters approve to allow marijuana businesses, Marta said he will work with council to protect citizens. "I'm not for having it in town," said Marta. "We don't need it, and it's already too easy to get." He's concerned about exposure to area youth. "There's already too much exposure," he said. In creating regulations, he said he will wait to see how the people feel about it and what they have to say before weighing in on the specifics.
As a lifelong resident he sees Hotchkiss as a pleasant town. "I'd like to keep it friendly and nice like it is," said Marta. He believes the town has done a good job in helping people and addressing change. "In my 76 or 77 years I've seen a lot of changes," said Marta. It's something that can't always be predicted, and decisions on how to address it need to occur as the changes occur.
As an active senior citizen, he believes the town has been proactive in creating a safe place for them to be in the senior center. "They do all they can to help the seniors," said Marta. If not for the support of the town, the senior center, located adjacent to the Town Hall offices, wouldn't be there. It was built in 1982 and is a nice facility, said Marta. "I just wish more seniors would come and use it."
Marta said his experiences in life make him a good candidate for council and he will try to do what the people want. "I think I can help," said Marta.
Incumbent James "Jim" Roberts is concluding a four-year term on council and is running for a two-year term. He is retired and in the past has served as a firefighter and on the board of the Hotchkiss Fire District for 12 years. He was a long-time member of North Fork Ambulance and was a driver for about 15 years until his health forced him to step down.
In looking ahead, he sees money as the No. 1 issue the town faces. Due to a decline in activity at local coal mines the town has experienced continued decreases in severance taxes and had to cut back on expenses for the 2016 budget. With more layoffs and continued tax losses, "We may have to cut back more-so than now."
He supports businesses of all kinds. "Slowly but surely, everyone is working to create new businesses and to keep the dollars at home," said Roberts. "That's the bottom line, keeping the dollars home."
If voters approve marijuana businesses in April, he sees location and where businesses might fit into the community as primary concerns in creating legislation. "I'm against it, personally," said Roberts, and it remains illegal on the federal level. "Any business is welcome, except illegal business, and as far as I'm concerned it's illegal."