By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Pat Darlington and Jay Kuruvilla are running for Stillwater City Council Seat 3. The position is held by Chuck Hopkins, who couldn’t seek re-election because of term limits. Darlington and Kuruvilla answer five questions from the Stillwater News Press.
1 The city transfers nearly $18 million every year from the Stillwater Utility Authority to the city of Stillwater to balance the city's budget. Should the city raise taxes or cut services to reduce its dependency on the SUA or not make any changes? Why?
Darlington: ”The SUA is a public trust created by city ordinance in 1979. As described on the SUA website, it was established to operate and maintain the city utilities system, which provides water, electric, wastewater and waste collection to Stillwater residents, businesses and industries. The dollars we each pay each month for these services go to the SUA. Using a designated formula, the SUA transfers money to the city’s general fund. Changing the system seems unnecessary. Raising taxes; not too much latitude there. Cutting services? Perhaps exploring the designated formula would provide new possibilities.”
Kuruvilla: “I believe that it should remain the same. It is not uncommon in other Oklahoma municipalities for a utilities authority to transfer money to a city’s general fund. Right now, the Council has done a great job of staying in the green. It is important to remember that the SUA was an investment that the residents of Stillwater made in the 1970s and the transfer of revenue is equivalent of a dividend on that investment.”
2 Residential zoning has become a problem in Stillwater because the City Council has rezoned strips of land to allow large multi-family apartment complexes adjacent to neighborhoods filled with single-family homes. How would you balance the need for student housing and the privacy desire of homeowners?
Kuruvilla: “As a city councilor, you have the opportunity to have an influence in the development within the city. The best way to balance the need for student housing and the desire for privacy of nearby homeowners is through dialogue. This is a difficult situation and there is no ‘one’ right or wrong answer. There needs to be plenty discussion between the developer, city leaders and residents of the affected neighborhood to guarantee the best decision. Moving forward, it will then take decisive action and courage to make decisions.”
Darlington: “I have been a property owner in Stillwater for 37 years and have been on both sides of this issue. Thoughtful evaluation of needs for housing, clear planning, and well-articulated expectations for development provide a good starting place for these types of issues. The Comprehensive Plan 2030 as a work of the residents of Stillwater and approved by the City Council is a good example of being proactive rather than reactive. Helping ourselves out of the “us vs. them” mindset into one of “we are in this together” is an attitude shift for which we are all responsible.
3 Stillwater has entered into public-private partnerships on three ventures — Multi Arts Center, Lake McMurtry and youth and adult recreation leagues. Do you think this ongoing trend should continue in Stillwater? Why or why not?
Darlington: “I have talked to residents and staff who are involved in these new public-private ventures and, although clearly not exhaustive, the feedback is positive. Having private entities who have passion for the particular area has infused a new energy into these vital areas. In that respect, the trend sounds positive. As other opportunities come up for public-private ventures, careful evaluation of overall objectives and resources (both financial and human) should be employed. Accountability of each party in the venture is crucial. I am also aware of the challenge of providing quality services to all residents no matter their financial status.”
Kuruvilla: “I have to say that I love public-private ventures. Anytime there is a public-private venture, it reduces the burden on the city while making opportunities to our residents who are passionate about that venture. That way the venture can thrive and be successful. For example, the Multi Arts Center is becoming very successful. This is because of people that are passionate about different arts teaching great classes for the community.”
4 Stillwater has been designated as a certified retirement community for the state of Oklahoma. How can the city support and promote creation of retirement housing and activities?
Kuruvilla: “I believe that it is a great honor and a mark of pride for Stillwater to be a certified retirement community. It is important to make sure those services and activities are available to elders who decide to relocate in Stillwater. The city’s role is to facilitate and coordinate to see that these needs are met. More specifically, I am interested in finding activities that engage elders, such as having them teach classes to younger people on something they have experience in or activities that bring elders of the community in touch with the younger generation.”
Darlington: “I love this question and not just because I’m old. I like it because it’s a great place to talk about thinking outside our ‘separateness.’ What do seniors look for in a community? I‘ve spent the last six years ‘selling’ Stillwater as a great place to retire — and it’s not a hard sell. Seniors need/want good transportation, good health care, educational, art, sport (spectator and participant) activities … not much different than any age. Attracting more seniors requires cooperation, I think, between the city, the hospital/medical community, OSU and Stillwater Public Schools. No one entity by itself can provide everything. Together we’re dynamite.”
5 If elected, what would be your goals for your term in office?
Darlington: “My goal for my term of office is that I would be able to look back with the sure knowledge that I was present (literally and figuratively), that I was open, attentive and well-informed about issues, and that I represented the residents of Stillwater well.”
Kuruvilla: “I will work to strengthen the partnership between the city, Chamber of Commerce and the university to enhance our economic development opportunities, working to bring new jobs and opportunities, which will bring revenue. We need to make sure we keep businesses in Stillwater while at the same time bring businesses in.”