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Trinidad’s ‘meet the candidates’ forum

by Bill Knowles

TRINIDAD — Last Thursday, Trinidad had the chance to meet the candidates running for election for mayor, city council, and school board at Massari Hall on the campus of Trinidad State Junior College. The event was live streamed for the first time by Tom Murphy for Trinidad Times TV71.

The presentation began with statements from the city council candidates. Out of the ten candidates, two were absent; Linda Velasquez and Rusty Goodall. The six school board members running for two open seats on the Trinidad school board followed them. Then the two mayoral candidates spoke, first incumbent Phil Rico, then Joe Bonato, a currently seated city council member.

The race between Rico and Bonato speaks to the political division in Trinidad, with Rico representing growth and change, and Bonato representing a more homegrown view of cautious change and conservatism in spending and economic development.

During his statement, Rico pointed out that two years ago voters elected him to help make Trinidad a progressive community and a more attractive place to live. He then cited the 9% tax credits awarded Trinidad for the building of the structures that will house Space to Create. The tax credits will yield $10 million for the project.

“You have to take risks if you want to make progress,” Rico said. “Risk is something we will not all agree on. Without risk you will remain stagnant or move backwards. While some are comfortable with the status quo, I am not.”

The list of work the city faces will take years to do and the costs are staggering for a community the size of Trinidad. About $100,000,000 will be needed to do the infrastructure, both water and sewer. Compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) will cost another $15,000,000, even though the city is still in litigation with the Justice Department.

Another big cost the city faces is a $1.5 million draw from the retirement fund as older city workers begin to retire. According to the mayor, the city doesn’t have those funds in their coffers. Another area the mayor addressed was business retention and recruitment. “What we have to do is a thing called ‘business hardening’,” Rico said. “What that does is you take the current businesses and you try to enhance them by providing them with incentives.”

When asked by the World Journal if providing incentives to businesses was a form of subsidizing and was a way to socialize the costs while privatizing the profits, Rico answered, “By providing incentives for businesses you allow them to be more profitable.”

Bonato was second to address the crowd of about 100 people. Following his opening statement, he looked at the biggest challenge the city is facing and infrastructure was identified as that challenge, “Water, sewer, and gas,” Bonato said.

Looking at what the city council has done over the past year that he disagrees with, “It’s the way the city has handled our water treatment plant,” Bonato said, “That’s my opinion.”

“When our former city manager was here he was in touch with CH2M. They come in and manage these types of programs. And our charter says, ‘…you cannot sell, lease or buy…without the vote of the community.’”

About five city worker jobs were lost when CH2M-Hill took over the management of the wastewater plant January 2016. “I voted against it because I didn’t want to see five jobs lost.”

He then looked at the main trunk line break in the city’s sewer line in the last 220 feet before it enters the plant. At an emergency meeting two weeks ago the city council approved repairs that would be paid with by using $62,000 from the utility fund, “…instead of using marijuana money.”

He then addressed the importance of having a strong reserve fund for just such an emergency.

When Bonato spoke on the use of marijuana sales tax revenues as grant funds to several nonprofits, the total given out, according to Bonato, was $1.7 million rather than the $1.3 million that was actually given. Mayor Rico tried to call Bonato on the figure while Bonato was still speaking.

The evening ended at about 9 pm.

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