Pool, police, sales tax among top concerns at crowded Craig City Council meeting | CraigDailyPress.com

Pool, police, sales tax among top concerns at crowded Craig City Council meeting

A crowd of about 65 to 70 people overflowed the halls of Craig City Council Tuesday night to share their concerns on several hot issues including the possible closure of the city pool next year, the sales tax ballot measure and recent turnover at the police department.

During its regular meeting, council also passed on first reading a 1.75-percent sales tax increase question for the ballot, as well as how to fast-track a recreational marijuana question to put before voters in November at the request of representatives from the Committee to Grow Craig.

The Committee to Grow Craig did not seek to put its own measure on the ballot by gathering signatures, but instead came before council again — as it did before the April election — to ask it to refer the measure. With only one council meeting left before the Sept. 8 deadline to submit and certify a ballot measure, however, Mayor John Ponikvar suggested council call a special meeting to complete the first and second readings and refer the measure before the deadline.

The pool was an important issue for many attendees, with 15 to 20 individuals standing to show to their support for maintaining the amenity and four people speaking during the public comment period.

"Something I'm really concerned about here in Craig, Colorado is when it comes to us as teenagers… there's not a lot of stuff to do here, and when there's not a lot of stuff to do, people turn to a lot bad stuff," Moffat County High School student and pool lifeguard Jacob Briggs told council. "As someone else brought up, the drug problem here, I do think that is really a big problem."

Members of the Sea Sharks swim team also attended to ask for the pool to remain open as well as several seniors, who cited the therapeutic benefits of water aerobics and swimming.

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Of the 11 individuals who spoke during the public comment period, several addressed issues of public safety and the recent shake-up of staff at the Craig Police Department.

"I'm concerned about the drugs and the drug dealers and while I applaud the efforts of our new city manger to clean up and rebrand Craig, our biggest problem isn't trash on the streets and an old logo, our biggest problem is drugs," said Craig resident Vickie Eiser. "Craig's brand right now is 'junkie town.'"

Third-generation Craig native Ann Irvin shared her disappointment in council regarding how budget cuts have impacted Craig Police Department.

"I'm basically outraged that officers who have served our community with excellence, loyalty, professionalism and integrity have been treated like they have," Irvin told council. "Now we have a new mayor, and a new city manager… and we are taking their 'new direction'. Why are we not asking more questions of the city staff who have served with excellence and distinction for all these years?"

The Craig Press also asked for clarification regarding the council's loss of confidence in former Chief of Police Walt Vanatta and the new direction it wanted to take the police department, but Ponikvar declined to answer, citing that it was a public comment period only and that they couldn't comment on personnel matters.

Finally, another Craig native, Angela Switzler, expressed dissatisfaction with the police department's response when she called to report a drug dealer outside her daughter's apartment, saying they didn't take it seriously.

"If we want to pretend that the way that our city looks does not affect the crime rate here, we are wrong. The empty buildings, the empty homes, all of those things attract those people here. It's a place to hide, it's a place to do the drugs," Switzler said.

She also suggested that city residents didn't take the budget crisis seriously enough a year ago or when they voted on April's sales tax measure.

"We knew the budget was dropping and we were not taking care of it then and we did not vote the way we should have," she said.

Council will vote on a second reading of the sales tax increase for the November ballot at its next meeting Aug. 22. The 1.75-percent increase — which is worded to exempt the lodging industry from paying the increase, and eliminates city sales tax altogether on all motor vehicle and off-highway vehicle purchases — would raise an estimated $2.1 million in additional annual revenue.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.