Candidates Q-and-A: Byron Willems

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Byron Willems

Age: 54

Occupation: Owner/president of Craig Fire & Safety, Inc.

Years in Craig: 50-plus

Immediate family: Wife, Kim Willems (retired); daughter, Emily Knudsen (manager of Craig McDonald’s)

Previous political experience/civic involvement: I have been a committed public servant for more than 30 years: Craig Fire Rescue firefighter, 23 years; Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board of Directors, 12 years and its current president; Colorado State Fire Fighters Association Executive Board, eight years and past president; Craig City Council, eight years

Q: The Craig City Council recently passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of marijuana on industrial and commercial zoned properties. Do you support that ordinance? Why or why not? If elected, what other steps would you take in regards to Amendment 64 implementation?

A: I support the ordinance. Amendment 64 was passed before adequate state regulations were adopted. I want to avoid that in Craig. I did not support Amendment 64, but I respect the voice of the voters and want to ensure that Amendment 64 is implemented appropriately. It makes sense to restrict the startup of businesses designed to allow marijuana smoking before rules about its sale are finalized.

In regard to the implementation of Amendment 64, we should wait until the state finalizes regulation and determine if that regulation adequately meets our needs. If the state fails to meet its deadline, we should continue with a moratorium until we can all align at the same time. It’s a waste of city resources to develop guidelines that may or may not align with the state. The cart is way before the horse on this issue

Q: Craig recently took part in a downtown revitalization assessment focused on spurring economic development in the downtown core. What do you consider to be the state of Craig’s economy, and what specific steps would you take as a city councilor to address local economic issues?

A: Research suggests that prosperous and sustainable communities are only as healthy as the “core.” A strong and vibrant downtown will lead to a more engaged community, stronger appeal to new businesses and more spending from visitors. Craig’s economy is largely dependent upon a few key industries. Small-business diversification is key to strengthening downtown and creating viable economic drivers that can withstand big industry booms and busts.

I think it’s critical to the city’s long-term health to remove unnecessary barriers to entry for new businesses and to develop responsible and thoughtful incentives for new businesses or current businesses seeking to grow.

Q: Do you agree with renewable energy mandates? If so, why? If not, what would you do to change things?

A: No. I understand the importance of incorporating renewable energy into the long-term energy crisis solution. Like many government mandates, they are pushed out as a blanket initiative with incredible costs to communities and with little thought for how those impacted most will adapt quickly enough to keep up with the mandate while preserving the community economy. It is a waste of resources to spend our time fighting the initiatives, but we should be working diligently to determine how we can meet mandates while protecting the economy and jobs related to traditional energy sources.

Q: Rehabilitating the Shadow Mountain subdivision is estimated to cost $4.5 million in city and county funds. Do you support that sort of expenditure, and what do you think is the right long-term approach to Shadow Mountain capital infrastructure needs and oversight?

A: The city has an obligation to service all of its customers. We need to find a way to accomplish the Shadow Mountain rehabilitation. We should quickly explore the best process to get from where we are today to the completed upgrade. The city and county recently pulled the DOLA grant application on the recommendation of DOLA that we establish an improvement district so landowners can help bear the burden of private property upgrades. I see next steps as setting up the improvement district, applying for DOLA funds and outlining the remaining costs and timetable for finishing the project.

Q: Years ago, voters approved the idea of building a recreation center but would not support the $15 million cost for its construction or tax increases to fund the center into the future. Does the City of Craig need a rec center, and if so, would you explore options to reintroduce the project while in office?

A: Yes, we need a rec center. In addition to offering a positive and healthy environment for community members of all ages, it would supplement activities offered by organizations such as Boys & Girls Club of Craig. I am willing to explore all options for making a rec center possible. Based on history, taxpayer funding (at least for the full project) seems unlikely, so we will need to find creative ways to fund the project. I think it’s time we bring the project back to the drawing board.

Q: What do you view as the most pressing issues and greatest opportunities facing Craig in the next two to four years, and what are your ideas to address them?

A: Unlike Washington, D.C., the City of Craig must operate efficiently and effectively within the annual budget. Ensuring that the City of Craig is fiscally sound should be a top priority. With revenue streams such as Department of Local Affairs grants becoming more scarce, the city is constantly faced with finding creative ways to finance positive progress. The current city’s conservative approach to setting annual budgets in addition to a smart and thoughtful budgeting process contributes to the city’s ability to improve infrastructure year after year in anticipation of community growth needs. Maintaining quality city fleets to ensure that community needs are adequately met and employees are operating safe equipment. Keep city employees healthy by offering quality insurance and benefit programs, appropriate resources for mental and physical wellness and providing compensation packages that help city employees to feel valued. Overall, my vision is to ensure the City of Craig is a great place to live and work and that the environment supports and encourages responsible economic development, growth and opportunity.

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