EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - After nearly 30 years of police duty, Jeff Layman wants to continue his public service in an elected role.
Layman, of Eagle-Vail, is the Republican candidate for the District 1 Eagle County Commissioner post currently held by Democrat Peter Runyon. Layman said he decided to run because he believes his life in public service is a "calling."
"I really feel it's what I was put on earth for - I've been doing it for 32 years," he said. Layman said his law enforcement background has given him the experience - and local connections - needed to be an effective commissioner right away.
That experience makes him uniquely qualified to be a commissioner, Layman said.
While Layman believes his experience with other officials in the valley gives him an edge, he added that seeing people at their worst, or most vulnerable, when he was a street cop has also given him an appreciation for treating people with compassion and dignity.
"I've had people I've arrested for DUI or domestic situations thank me later - although there haven't been many of those," he said. "But I've always done my job in the most humane way possible."
Talking about dealing with people and problems in a humane, pragmatic way, Layman said that would be the approach he'd take as commissioner to the county's next round of budget cuts.
More budget cuts coming
After preparing for a couple of years for this year's drop in property tax revenue, the county will face another drop in revenue starting in 2014, since the county has now gone through two consecutive drops in property valuations in the state's two-year cycle.
Tackling the next round of cuts is going to be tough, Layman said.
"I've never been a fan of across-the-board cuts," he said. "It's easy, and it doesn't hurt anybody's feelings, but you end up cutting services used by most people."
Layman said a better alternative is to conduct a "pragmatic, thoughtful evaluation" of all county departments.
While acknowledging the county has already taken a "back to basics" approach with budgeting, Layman said a year like 2014 will require the county to provide only the services required by state law.
To ease the strain, Layman believes the county needs to find partners in the local nonprofit community, or among the county's special districts that might be able to provide services more efficiently than the county can.
Layman, who is a member of the Vail Valley Cares board of directors, said that fund-raising nonprofit group - which operates the Thrifty Shops in Eagle and Edwards - recently awarded $250,000 in grants to a group of local nonprofit groups. That sort of cooperation could be an opportunity to better use the county's funds, he said.
What about open space?
Layman has said he has serious reservations about the county's open space program, now a decade old. That program generates about $4 million per year from a dedicated property tax levy. Layman said he was troubled by the county's first big purchases - which essentially paid local ranchers not to develop their property.
"We were buying without (public access)," Layman said. "I think that set the tone for the current unrest about (the program)."
Since those early days, though, county officials have been buying property outright, and ensuring public access to local rivers. But, Layman said, there's a problem with that strategy, too.
"The original ballot language didn't support spending on improvements," he said. "I think parking lots, boat ramps and bathrooms are improvements."
Any changes to the tax would have to be approved by voters, and Layman said he'd like to hold public hearings to determine whether residents want to abolish or change the tax.
Layman said he'd lobby for hearings even if his is the only new voice on the board.
"It's important to develop working relationships with the other commissioners on open space," he said. "We've got to find common ground."
Helping the economy
While substantial parts of the local economy continue to struggle, Layman said there are policies the county can pursue that could help businesses.
"It's important to re-develop our housing guidelines - they're too rigid now," Layman said. "We need to be able to adjust as we go."
Layman said he'd also like to see if money currently used for the county's down payment assistance program could be used to help residents stave off foreclosure.
"The government can't always be the answer to every problem," Layman said. "But there are ways the government can help."
Layman said he remains bullish on the county's economic prospects, from a Whole Foods store coming to Basalt, to Gypsum's recent approval of a power-generating plant that uses beetle-killed timber to Eagle trying to market itself to mountain biking enthusiasts and the valley's embrace of health and wellness as a business model.
"We need to support all of that, whether it's with dollars or getting out of the way," he said.
And, he said, he supports the idea of an international terminal at the county airport as a way to bring still more paying customers to the valley.
But support for business has its limits.
"Not every development is in the best interests of the community," Layman said. "But you can't start every conversation with 'no.'"
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.