Red Cliff holds first election in 8 years
Voters to choose between two mayoral candidates and seven trustee hopefuls vying for four seats
By Tamara Miller
Daily Staff Writer
Emma Aragon will have her work cut out for her next Tuesday.
For years, the longtime resident and election judge has watched openings on the town’s Board of Trustees come and go. Mostly they’ve been filled by appointments or by default, because only a single candidate would step forward for the open seat.
But things are different in Red Cliff this year, Aragon said. The old-timers who have served Red Cliff for so long have died or gone away. There are new residents in town and a new town administrator. Things are changing in Red Cliff.
And for the first time eight years , the tiny mountain hamlet of 350 people will hold an election. Julie Sturt and Town Trustee Ramon Montoya will face off for the mayor’s slot and seven candidates are vying for the trustee seats.
Aragon can’t predict the outcome.
“It could be a surprise to almost any of us,” she said.
While Sturt and Montoya will face off for the mayor’s slot, seven candidates are vying for four seats on the board.
Candidates for the trustee seats are: Valarie Blevins, Jim Bradford, Eric Cregon, Debbie Faber, incumbent Walter Fox, Duane Nelson and Betty Sandoval, who is finishing up her most recent term as mayor.
The top three vote-getters will serve a four-year term. The fourth trustee will serve a town-year term.
Some of the candidates on the ballot are lifelong residents while others have lived in town for only a few years. Some are incumbents, who have already served the town while others are running for public office for the first time in their lives.
Everyone on the ballot agrees that Red Cliff residents have many concerns. For instance, the town has the highest property taxes in the county yet its water and sewage treatment plants need significant repairs.
For more than two years, the town has battled on-again and off-again orders to boil tap water before drinking. When the water plant is not operating properly, the town water mains fill with untreated water from Turkey Creek. More than a few residents have contracted giardia, a troublesome parasite, from drinking the untreated water.
The town also is on a cease-and-desist order from the state because its sewage treatment plant isn’t working properly, either. As a result, it sends less than fully treated water back into the river below town.
Candidates for Mayor
Montoya, who was born and reared in Red Cliff, was appointed to the board just nine months ago to fill the seat of a trustee who’d resigned. After living several years in Southern California, Montoya moved back to his hometown. He said he wants to make Red Cliff a better place to live.
“Water is a major concern,” he said. “We need to make sure our water plant is working and that our wastewater plant is brought up to specs. We need to repair our basic infrastructure without going way, way under in debt.”
He is encouraged by the new interest in public office among residents, but is concerned that some of the newcomers don’t understand the town’s issues, he said.
“Only one has taken the time to attend meetings,” he said. “Some of the new people have been in town for a while, but others have been in town barely over a year or two years.”
Montoya also has concerns about Vail Mountain’s continued expansion, he said. With Red Cliff literally just over the hill from the ski resort, the town needs to prepare itself for that possibility.
Like most Red Cliff residents, Montoya said he wants to maintain the town’s small size and status as a place for full-time residents.
Sturt, on the other hand, is one of the town’s newcomers. She moved to Red Cliff just under two years ago and was prompted to run for mayor because of her concern for the town. “There was this little ominous cloud over Red Cliff,” she said. “We need to find out what that is.”
Residents are not reaping the benefits of paying the county’s highest property taxes or the state’s highest water bills – $70 a month, she said. While she doesn’t have a solution to Red Cliff’s water problems, she wants to help find one.
She also is concerned about how the town looks, she said. Residents don’t pick up after their dogs and buildings need to be spruced up, she added.
Sturt, who is self-employed and builds log furniture, agrees that Red Cliff needs to maintain its small-town character.
“I’m here to listen to what our community has to say and I’d like to help,” she said. “I’d like to help see this town have more community and to have more spirit and pride and respect.”
Bradford, a 12-year Red Cliff resident, said he is encouraged by the long list of trustee candidates. The community has largely been apathetic about town politics in the past.
“We tend to be a community of very independent-minded people,” he said. “We need to focus our goals to make this a better place for all residents.”
Correcting the town’s water and sewage plants are on the top of his agenda. Tapping other agencies in the community and the state could help Red Cliff fund repairs to both systems, he said.
“There are a lot of partners that are out there that are willing to help us and I think we need to take better advantage of that,” he said.
Taxes are already high, Bradford said. Searching for grants or loans, and perhaps drawing more commercial business to increase sales tax revenues, could help, he added.
Bradford served as Red Cliff’s fire chief at one point. He also helped the town merge its department with the larger and more fiscally stable Eagle River Fire Protection District.
Faber, another relative newcomer to town, moved to Red Cliff about 2 1/2 years ago. She is an assistant Eagle County attorney and has experience working in government. Her experience in both law and government would benefit Red Cliff, she said.
“To me the important thing is striking a balance,” she said. “Preserving the past while preparing for a better future. Red Cliff is such a wonderfully unique little town, but we recognize that there’s always room for improvement.”
If elected, she also would search for “creative funding sources” to help fix the town’s water and sewage plant, she said.
“I think there’s a lot of availability out there, whether it’s state or federal grants,” she said. “I think in the past Red Cliff hasn’t had a very strong voice.”
Nelson, a carpenter who works out of his home, said the town is on the cusp of change. He applauded Guy Patterson, the new town administrator, for trying to make things better.
“Red Cliff has changed more in the past 10 months than in the past six years,” he said.
One way of solving some of Red Cliff’s water problems would be installing water meters for every home, he said. Because the town’s water lines aren’t far beneath the ground, they freeze easily in the winter. Like many residents, Nelson “bleeds”, or keeps water running through his lines to keep them from freezing. But some residents abuse that, putting additional stress on the already precarious water plant, he said.
Nelson wants to make sure Red Cliff’s property values are stable so that residents can continue to afford to live there, but also reap the benefits of living in a desirable place, he said. He noted that property values in nearby Minturn are increasing and Red Cliff’s are, too.
“I want to raise my family here in town,” he said. “I have an 18-month-old son and we’re going to be here for the long haul.”
Blevins, Cregon and Fox did not return calls for comment. Attempts to reach Sandoval for comment were unsuccessful.
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.
The polls will be open in Red Cliff from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday at Town Hall, 400 Pine Street