Candidate forum features debates on ballot issues
EAGLE – It was like the Vail Daily opinion pages in the flesh.As prologue to a county commissioner candidates’ forum, familiar faces argued the pros and cons of a proposed tax increase and a new county charter Wednesday evening. Commissioner Tom Stone did double duty during the debates, arguing against both the tax increase and the new charter. Other familiar faces argued for the issues, with Commissioner Arn Menconi – the sponsor of the proposal – arguing for the tax hike, and Don Cohen – chairman of the Eagle County Home Rule Charter Commission – speaking in favor of the new charter.With a total of four minutes per ballot issue, Stone, Menconi and Cohen relied on familiar themes.Tax increaseThe primary problem with the tax increase, Stone said, is the lack of accountability.”This gives the government total discretion where this money can or might go,” Stone said. “The taxpayers of Eagle County deserve to know exactly where the money goes.”Money the county gets from the state and federal governments comes with strict standards and requirements, Stone said. County taxpayers should expect the same.Stone said if the tax increase and home rule are both defeated in November, he would recommend that money budgeted for home rule – more than $350,000 – go into a pilot program to see where more money should go.Menconi argued that a plan is in place. That plan, he said, is an early childhood study county and nonprofit group officials put together over the course of a year.”Working with kids is the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve sat here for six years, and we haven’t had the votes applied to pilot programs. I want you to know there’s a guarantee we’ll put our kids first.”Menconi cited studies that indicate $1 spent on “at risk” kids before they turn five will save government agencies $17 down the road.
“You make the decision about what’s the most fiscally responsible thing to do,” he said.Home RuleStone stayed at the podium to debate home rule with Cohen.With only a few minutes Cohen quickly went through the charter’s high points: Expanding the board of commissioners from three to five members, putting a commissioner from the Basalt/El Jebel area on the board, and taking partisan politics out of county elections.Other than that, Cohen said, “We wanted to keep county government as close as possible to the way it operates now.”Stone said the way government operates now is pretty good. He held up an award from Colorado Counties, Inc., proclaiming Eagle County “county of the year” for 2000.”Don’t mess with success,” Stone said. On removing parties from the election process, Stone said, “They claim it will take away the rancor. But it doesn’t take away politics or personalities.”Cohen argued that a five-member board would provide more accountability for a “county in transition.”But, Stone said, Douglas County, a fast-growing area on the Front Range, has a population of more than 200,000 and just three commissioners.While the arguments for and against home rule and the tax increase have been played out in the opinion pages over the last weeks, Eagle resident Peggy Randall Buckau said Wednesday’s debate helped her make a decision.”I was definitely for home rule,” Randall Buckau said. “But I really wavered over (the tax hike). Tonight I decided to vote yes, because of what (Menconi) said, and because of what (Stone) said.”
Decision timeAiram Gonzalez and Francie Orellana are relatively new voters. This will be the first time Gonzalez has voted, and this is the second election for Orellana.Both are Colorado Mountain College students, taking a government class from Dan Smith, who was the moderator at the forum. Both said the appreciated the opportunity to see the candidates up close.”It’s really helped me make a decision. I really got a background on the candidates,” Orellana said.”It was a great experience to hear the candidates,” Gonzalez said.Paulo and Susie Narduzzi of Eagle used to live in New York City. The Eagle forum was the first time they’d come out to a local event since moving to the county a few years ago.”It’s important to hear what the candidates have to say to your face,” Paolo said. “I made some decisions tonight,” Susie said, acknowledging she’s been going back and forth on the tax increase. “Accountability came up. How do we know where the money goes. We don’t really know.”One more for the candidatesThe commissioner candidates – Democrat Sara Fisher, Republican Tom Edwards and independent Roger Brown – also walked familiar ground, talking about transportation, housing and so on. But a few new themes came up, because of recent events and questions from the audience.The top topic was this week’s news of an anonymous postcard that personally attacked Fisher. “It’s a bruise for me, but a black eye for Eagle County,” Fisher said. That topic led to a question about out-of-county groups that have been running ads against the ballot issues.
“I don’t think we need to attack people that way,” Brown said. “Someone trying to influence the vote from outside the county isn’t something we need,” Edwards said. “I believe it’s very much people in our community who are responsible for this,” Fisher said. “They’re hiding.”The ads against the ballot issues is different from the postcards attacking her, Fisher said. “Those are just anonymous slimeballs,” she said. Pine beetlesAll three candidates said the county needs to continue to work on ways to pull out the dead timber that now dominates many hillsides in the county.”We need to turn it into an opportunity,” Brown said, urging the use of “biomass,” or the use of chipped dead timber, to heat buildings. “It’s very efficient, very clean,” Brown said. “We could heat the schools here for 20 years.”Fisher said it’s important to encourage builders and others to use beetle-killed lumber.”We need to keep talking, focusing, and use whatever means are available to cut the devastation that could happen,” she said.”We need a plan of attack to rid ourselves or the dead and diseased timber to cut the risk of fire,” Edwards said.Vail, Colorado
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