Candidates wrangle over future
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” The future of the county was the topic of discussion at a Vail county commissioners race forum, and the candidates disagreed on how the county should deal with growth.
Republicans Debbie Buckley and Dick Gustafson attacked every housing decision made by the current county board, including new housing guidelines that require developers to build more affordable homes for their projects or pay a penalty.
“I don’t believe in taxing developers into submission,” said Buckley, who is running against Democrat Jon Stavney for the midvalley seat.
Gustafson, a former commissioner, is running against incumbent Democrat Commissioner Peter Runyon for the upvalley seat.
Buckley said she wants to see the hospital, which has outgrown its facilities, move to Wolcott and build some employee housing.
“The hospital is outgrowing their building, and we need a real community hospital. We also need some affordable housing because nurses are hard to find and hire,” she said.
Both Republicans also wanted to work with Colorado Mountain College to turn it into a four-year school. That would provide places for students and seasonal workers to live, as well as bring in more education dollars.
But Stavney argued those solutions aren’t enough to address the county’s housing needs.
“That’s not going to solve the (staffing) problems on the mountain and provide teachers and firefighters (with homes),” he said.
Infill development, or building in already developed areas, is a better, though more difficult solution, he said.
“I really believe the county is on the right track, not on the socialist track as some people suggest,” Stavney said. “It is seeking solutions and answers and facilitating with every tool they have.”
Republicans said the county also needs more affordable rentals.
“Every community has different needs,” Buckley said. “Many are making $15 an hour, and honestly those people just aren’t ever going to be able to buy a home.”
Stavney agreed, but said that home ownership is an important part of keeping young professionals and middle-class workers in the area.
“Those people leave our community because they can’t find a foothold of ownership,” he said.
Runyon said he was concerned with the number of second homes that were being built in the county.
“I don’t diss the second-home owners ” they’re a vital part of the economy,” he said. “But it’s an economic issue. They need workers.”
Without affordable housing for those workers, the quality of service and tourism in the valley will suffer, he said.
Stavney said he had similar concerns that all the approved development in Vail will result in a drop in service as the businesses compete for workers.
Candidates were all in agreement regarding transportation. All wanted to work toward a rail system, and all thought the bus system should be expanded in the meantime.
Runyon talked about how he secured state money to build four new roundabouts at the Edwards interchange, and said he is committed to working on a half-diamond interchange in west Edwards, and an interchange at the airport.
Others were skeptical about the airport project.
“I don’t think its going to happen,” Stavney said.
“Frankly, there isn’t money for that,” Gustafson said.
He said the towns, developers and businesses would probably need to chip in to solve the county’s current traffic problems.
The candidates also discussed how the county should deal with the coming tough economy.
Gustafson said he doubted the county had saved very much and said it should stop spending so much.
But Runyon said the county budgets have always been balanced during his term, and the reserve funds don’t drop below 35 percent.
The Democrats said they wanted to plan ahead for better economic times.
“We’ll see some slowing of second-home construction, some correction in the market and a cooling affect downvalley,” Stavney said. “But don’t overreact. We’re going to get through hard times, but if we let down our expectations on quality of life and the developments we allow, we’ll get what we settle for.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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