Derek Franz

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February 13, 2013
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County applauds its 2012 benchmarks

Eagle County Commissioners Jon Stavney, Sara Fisher and Jill Ryan took turns presenting the State of the County Address on Tuesday and the mood was merrier than last year's address.

The commissioners pointed to many benchmarks reached in 2012, especially the county's continued ability to do more with less during a tough economy.

With property tax revenues projected to drop by another 20 percent, or $3.2 million, Eagle County's budget has had to get even tighter after years of consolidating staff and resources while maintaining or increasing service levels. Since 2009, the county has cut operating expenses by $12.6 million.

Expenditures for 2013 are budgeted at $86.6 million with total revenues estimated to be $90.5 million.

Unlike last year's somber, financially laden address, however, the vibe of Tuesday's assembly was upbeat.

"Our staff has done a great job with tremendous challenges," Stavney said.

As the newest member of the board, Ryan had the honors of delivering the bulk of the address.

Fisher pointed out that Ryan is only the third woman to be elected commissioner in the county's history and that this is the first time two women have been on the board at the same time. Ryan and Fisher are Democrats.

Johnnette Phillips, a Republican, became the county's first female commissioner when she was elected in 1992. She served two terms in that office.

"We have more women as elected officials than ever before," Fisher said. "I'll add that among the county employees in this room right now, 46 are women and 45 are men."

Before Ryan took over the presentation, though, Stavney mentioned "three items of strategic importance" that happened in 2012 - the county locked in a contract for 5 acres in Eagle Ranch to build a new assisted living facility; the open space program had a banner year, securing millions of dollars in grants for properties and projects across the county, especially along the Colorado River; and the first of many improvements were made at the Eagle County Regional Airport, which included an expanded security checkpoint and retail space. The airport is also finishing the update of its 20-year master plan, which has been a huge undertaking and is likely to finish this summer, Stavney said.

Stavney also cited it was a big deal to complete refinancing of Lake Creek Apartments in Edwards with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"That is freeing up about $6 million for us to put into this deal (for the assisted living facility)," Stavney said. "A lot of bench marks will be coming up - stay tuned."

Building a senior care facility in the county is something local officials have discussed for decades. The commissioners signed a purchase agreement for the property in July.

Ryan started her speech talking about the ongoing drought.

"The county is heavily involved with wildland fire preparations and emergency management," she said. "The county is also getting ready to construct an emergency operations center (EOC) that will be critical in a wildfire and other events."

Eagle County received a $100,000 grant last month to build the EOC in the basement of the county building. The grant is conditional on the county matching it with the same amount. The EOC is expected to be operational by the fall.

"The county's public safety personnel have also been involved with planning for the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships (at Beaver Creek)," Ryan said.

She went on to talk about environmental sustainability.

"I will champion our efforts to be 'green,'" she said, referring to environmentally friendly practices. "The county already has several projects in the works. These are important because they are not only Earth friendly, but some also generate revenue and extensive cost savings."

She mentioned the county's Energy Smart and ECO-Build programs, the county's first year of recycling electronics and efforts to use less paper in county business.

"Economic development in our world-resort region goes hand in hand with protecting our natural resources," she said. "I am a member of a newly formed group - the Economic Development Leadership Council, which has about 30 members from industry, the county, municipal governments and others. When I was campaigning, I heard a lot about how the county needs to come together and work on community development efforts."

Ryan said key strategies include expansion of businesses, diversification of industries, new business recruitment, promoting tourism and recreation year-round - "especially in the shoulder seasons and downvalley. We need to attract more tourists in the Eagle-Gypsum area," she said. "Securing and maintaining a workforce is important, too."

"Finally, speaking of maintaining a workforce, another future project is building a community health center," Ryan said. "Between 20 and 35 percent of our residents don't have health insurance. A community health center would provide primary care, physical, behavioral and mental health services to anyone regardless of insurance status."

Ryan said the county, Vail Valley Medical Center, Mountain Family Health Center in Glenwood Springs and other entities are collaborating on the project.

"We're hoping to get this up and running within the year," she said. "If you don't have a healthy workforce then you don't have an economically viable workforce."

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The VailDaily Updated Feb 13, 2013 02:14PM Published Feb 13, 2013 02:09PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.