County commissioner candidate: Chandler-Henry is a water warrior | VailDaily.com

County commissioner candidate: Chandler-Henry is a water warrior

Kathy Chandler-Henry

EAGLE — Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry's phone rang in the late afternoon, as it often does. A cranky voice bellowed that the Red Dirt Bridge was supposed to open at 4 p.m., but it was still closed at 6 p.m. Members of a local family were stuck on opposite sides of the river and it was suppertime.

"What (was she) going to do about it?" the family asked.

Most of us think, "Why is this my problem?"

Chandler-Henry does not think that. The commissioner dialed the phone and solved the problem.

“The county cannot be all things to all people. I believe we need to focus on the core services.”Rick BeveridgeCounty Commisioner District 2 candidate

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That's the life of a county commissioner, perhaps the most accountable of any elected position anywhere, and Chandler-Henry wants to keep doing it.

Chandler-Henry, a Democrat, is running against local businessman and recreation district leader Rick Beveridge, a Republican.

Water warrior

Chandler-Henry is a water warrior, linking land and water planning, working on the state water plan and fighting against more Western Slope water being diverted to the Front Range.

"You can't have unlimited growth on the Front Range without talking about what that does to water. And you can't keep saying 'We need to look to new supplies,' because there are no new supplies."

"New supplies" is a euphemism for more transmountain diversion, Chandler-Henry said.

"The Colorado River is already over-allocated, as we all know," she said.

The state water plan's assumptions are based on huge population growth, so therefore there's a gap in water supply. That's why Front Range interests say they need new supplies and more transmountain diversion.

Chandler-Henry favors conservation. She was testifying on the matter when a real estate broker from the Denver Water Board said that bluegrass medians in the highway is critical to Colorado's economic growth, and without them the state will die, and that's why they need all that water.

"I learned that you had better show up and listen because even though you can't believe someone can be that ridiculous, sometimes they really are," Chandler-Henry said.

County can't fund everything

When she became a commissioner the county had an extra $5 million in its fund balance, which the county staff decided wasn't enough if it faced something like a wildfire or FEMA is slow getting to a disaster. Now that reserve is $13 million, which the staff says is about right. There's an additional $2.5 million fund required by the state constitution.

All in, the county's reserve fund is a healthy $25 million, Chandler-Henry said.

It sounds like all the money in the world, but it's a small world.

"Expenses keep rising faster than income," she said.

The county's health insurance costs keep going up, the Eagle County Sheriff's Office has added some deputies in the Roaring Fork Valley and the county's compensation plan is in good order, she said.

But there are more things to do than there is money, she said, and childcare is one of those things. A $75,000 study called child care a "crisis" in the county.

"If there's a crisis, what is it and is there a play for the county in propping up that infrastructure until we can get private business or private investors?" Chandler-Henry said.

Taxpayers might be willing to pay a child care tax in the future, she said, but maybe not. She said county does not have the money to subsidize a proposed child care program.

"We can't afford $1.8 million every year, and we certainly can't create bunch of things that rely on that $1.8 million that will then go away. We have to figure out what the gaps are, what the appropriate role for the county is, and can we afford it."

The county's core responsibilities are public health, safety and welfare, she said.

"Doing things cooperatively, such as bringing in Augustana with the Senior Care Center, to me is the prime example of a good way to do things," Chandler-Henry said. "We did everything we could to make that happen. Now it's owned and operated by Augustana, and requires no ongoing subsidies from taxpayers at all."

Proud accomplishments

She's proud of the commissioners' accomplishments: The Castle Peak Senior Center in Eagle has spaces for 64 seniors and created 60 jobs.

West Eagle is on the table as a workforce housing possibility. Management of the Lake Creek Village apartments was brought in-house and the money the county saved by not paying a management company helped cover renovations. Riverview Apartments in Eagle-Vail now offers eight units of housing for disabled people.

The county partnered with the new owners of the Delaware Hotel in Leadville in a tax credit program, getting a guarantee that the rents stay low. Many Delaware Hotel residents commute to the Vail Valley for jobs, Chandler-Henry said.

The county's down payment assistance program now includes more than 200 local homeowners. The county is carrying loans that helped those homeowners reduce their down payment and get into their own homes. The default rate is less than 4 percent, Chandler-Henry said.

Board diversity

The current board of county commissioners is three Democrats for the first time in memory, which raises some diversity questions.

Chandler-Henry is an Eagle County native, a former Boettcher Scholar and has earned two masters degrees in political science from Duke University, so she has some historical perspective, she said.

"With only three commissioners, there will never be very much diversity," she said. "For a long time there were no females or Democrats, now no men or Republicans. There are also no Hispanics, no one from the eastern end of the county, no one from the western end, no LGBT residents, etc. etc.," she said.

"The way I deal with that is to try to talk to a wide variety of folks on a regular basis. I meet regularly with lunch/coffee partners who think quite differently, travel to the Roaring Fork to hang out with residents and basically try to talk to affected constituents and those with different perspectives all the time. And county issues are not partisan issues — at least I don't think they are. They are constituent issues and matters of public health, safety and welfare."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Meet your candidates

Democrat Kathy Chandler-Henry and Republican Rick Beveridge face off in District 2 Eagle County Board of County Commissioners seat.

District 1 candidates Republican Michael Dunahay and Democrat Jill Ryan will be profiled tomorrow.