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Stillwater City Council Councilor No. 4

City Council is responsible for making policy, passing ordinances and approving the City’s budget. The Council appoints a city manager who implements the policies the Council adopts. The Council also sits as the trustees for the Stillwater Utilities Authority (SUA) and the Stillwater Economic Development Authority (SEDA).

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  • Christie Hawkins

  • Ariel J Ross

Why have your decided to run for City Council, and what qualifications and experience do you bring to this office?

What would you do to improve the quality of Stillwater's streets and infrastructure?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of creating a Tax Increment Finance for the districts of the City of Stillwater?

Bond issues are often used by municipalities to fund capital projects. Some citizens have suggested a bond issue for projects such as a new fire department station, streets, and an animal welfare facility. Others have suggested raising the city sales tax. What do you view as the advantages or disadvantages of each choice?

The importance of strong local government – which has rarely been more evident than over the past year – guided my decision to run for City Council. Our local government provides outstanding leadership, often making difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions for the collective good of our community. Continuity of this steady and thoughtful leadership is critical. My leadership roles at OSU have allowed me to develop skills in gathering input and building collaborative relationships, experience in planning and decision-making, and a commitment to service. All qualities which will translate to a successful role in community service and leadership.
Because I am a firm believer in informed decision making, my first step would be educating myself on the existing plans for these types of improvements and how projects are prioritized and funded. I would also be interested in any information and/or metrics providing data on the existing conditions of streets and/or infrastructure -- how information was collected and how it translates to existing improvement plans. Most importantly, as a public servant, I would want input from citizens regarding their perspective and where they see the greatest needs.
TIF districts provide a useful mechanism for municipalities to self finance redevelopment projects without increasing taxes. Advantages include stimulating economic development in a targeted area, attracting new business, adding jobs and increasing property tax receipts. Increased revenue pays bonds, reimburses investors, and can be allocated toward new projects. Disadvantages occcur when TIFs are initiated in areas where they are not supported by businesses or property owners. Also, when successful, TIFs can result in gentrification and displacement of lower-income residents. This can be addressed by ensuring a percentage of TIF revenue is used to preserve availability of affordable homes.
Upfront costs for capital projects are high, but investment in infrastructure benefits the public for many years. Borrowing money through issuance of bonds is a low-cost way to get projects completed more quickly. Municipalities receive low interest rates with tax-exempt bond financing. Managing debt levels and ensuring payments can be made is essential. Increases in city sales tax must be considered carefully. University towns may see this as an attractive option, collecting revenue from visitors during football weekends and other events. However, increases in sales tax tend to hit lower-income residents harder and therefore may not be preferable.
The short answer to why I’m running for City Council is that I’m constantly plagued with the feeling that I’m not doing enough to contribute to a community that has done a great deal for my family. Public service, as a regular practice, is the best response I’ve found. I have spent the last six years serving on the Planning Commission, Board of Adjustments, and Block 34 Trust – experiences that have all contributed to my readiness to serve on the Stillwater City Council.
As far as I can tell, Stillwater residents are unanimous in wanting better streets, and I agree – some streets are in better shape, and some are still a mess. Stillwater has already made a commitment to a Complete Streets approach to developing transportation infrastructure, and I would strongly advocate for holding up that commitment. Most important, I’d like to make sure that part of every transportation conversation is a consideration of the disabled community here, who are too often at risk because of a lack of well-maintained, continuous sidewalks. That should be the first concern, not the last.
Tax Increment Financing is a tool cities can use to encourage development in areas where growth is stagnant, and like any tool, it can be misused. In terms of its ability to get the ball rolling, so that new businesses can open up and start generating tax revenue that then allows more businesses to take advantage of the TIF, I don’t see a drawback. What I hope is that the tool will be used in Stillwater to support small, local ventures, and minority-owned businesses, in addition to some of the larger developments.
Again, these are tools Stillwater has available to realize big projects, and I’ve seen their benefits. Thanks to a bond issue (that as a citizen I voted for), my son spent his last year at Westwood Elementary in its beautiful new building. Extending the half-cent sales tax in 2015 allowed us to continue improving streets. Given the financial fears that many are facing during the pandemic, I would hate to see people burdened with new taxes. On the other hand, Fire Department #2 and Animal Welfare are in desperate need of new facilities, which a bond could make possible.