“It’s two years completely devoid of accomplishments,” Sutherland said. “I challenge anybody to disagree.”
Sutherland believes his passion for community level politics, knowledge of local issues and a pragmatic belief that complex, multi-faceted problems require humility to tackle, makes him the ideal candidate to represent the residents of Fort Collins.
“We’re here to help each other,” Sutherland said. “Governments exist to help people and we lose sight of that over and over.”
Time and again, Sutherland said, the City of Fort Collins has been reacting to problems to late instead of taking a long term, proactive approach.
He singled out student housing as something that hasn’t been properly planned for. As CSU is expected to increase enrollment to 35,000 students, the need for affordable housing is high in an already tight rental market. Sutherland said the U+2 program needs to be re-evaluated and chastised the city for taking two-and-a-half years to put together the student housing action plan.
“U+2 should have precipitated a planned, programmed approach so student housing needs are met,” Sutherland said. “You shouldn’t be forcing students to go live in Windsor or Loveland.”
Even though Sutherland would be in public office for the first time if he wins election, he’s no newcomer to local politics. He said he’s “probably the most active person in local politics,” and has consistently attended county commissioner, city council and other community meetings since 2007.
Taking a proactive approach to resident involvement, Sutherland heavily advocated and fought for years to get the city to end the practice of purchasing renewable energy credits from out of state suppliers, something he said saved taxpayers over $1 million.
“They weren’t doing anything for anybody,” Sutherland said. “Nobody in the city could even explain what we were getting out of these things.”
County commissioner Steve Johnson said Sutherland has been very active in commission meetings. Johnson said “a very serious injustice” is occurring with tax increment financing in the county.
Portions of money collected from property taxes on commercial property that received government subsidies has traditionally been pumped back into county coffers. Johnson said the city instead has been keeping the money and re-investing it back into property development. He estimated the county is losing $3.6 million a year with this arrangement.
“Eric is making this a big issue in the campaign…he serves a critical purpose in exposing what I think is an injustice in our community and that’s the diversion of tax money from schools and the county into the hands of private developers,” Johnson said.
As for another perennial student issue — transportation — Sutherland said the Mason Corridor Bus Rapid Transit system will probably not generate revenue that was originally estimated and believes it still doesn’t solve the problem of connecting to certain student housing developments in the city.
“It’s not what I would have built but we have to make it succeed,” Sutherland said. “We owe the taxpayers due diligence in making it succeed.”
He would like to see a transportation system that connects Fort Collins to the rest of the Front Range, allowing a student to easily get to the metro area for the weekend to see family or friends and hang out and have fun before getting back to town before classes start Monday.
“You should be able to live in Fort Collins without a car as a student and still have easy access to the front range,” Sutherland said.
Senior Reporter Austin Briggs can be reached at email@example.com.