Commissioner candidates consider community programs

Kathy Chandler-Henry

EAGLE COUNTY — This week, we pose the following question to the candidates for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners: In what kinds of community programs should the county’s money be invested, including the county’s obligations in health and welfare? What can we afford?

Dick Mayne, Republican, District 3

The Eagle County Healthy Community Coalition is an excellent plan for promoting health and welfare with healthy living. This program helps residents to learn to eat healthy and also supports the economy using locally grown products. It provides great resources on exercise and fitness and is an economical program for the county. I am proud that Gypsum recognizes healthy lifestyles within the work place and encourage continued county support.

The community programs the county’s money should be invested in are those that help all of the residents in Eagle County. Help means providing opportunities that make it possible for people to find their way to self-sufficiency. It also means working to provide amenities that cannot be provided solely by individuals, businesses or towns.

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Jobs creation and a sustainable economy should be the primary focus of investment in Eagle County. As your commissioner I would work with the Vail Valley Partnership and their community business brand that creates a method for us to talk about our county and promote its business advantages. This plan will help us identify the attributes of people who will become a success in our county. We need to help our businesses who are already here be more successful — success breeds success. Let’s use this to attract the businesses, people and opportunities we need to our towns and county.

Recreational opportunities are many times a need that cannot only be met by individuals, towns or businesses. The county has a role to play in enhancing our indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities when those opportunities promote a better and more diverse economy and healthier lifestyle. Things like river access, trails, interconnectivity of communities, valley-wide coordination and cooperation to maximize the visitor experience are all part of what should be community programs that the county can work to coordinate and fund.

Jeanne McQueeney, Democrat, District 3

The county’s money should only be invested in programs that reflect the county’s mission and values. Programs that are linked to local need, reflect best practice, demonstrate good outcomes, show a return on investment, demonstrate fiscal integrity and impact the success of our community should be considered for county investment.

Our obligations toward health and welfare are part of the county’s core values and mandated services. The investment in the Castle Peak Senior Care Center is an excellent reflection of core values. One of the county’s main responsibilities is the welfare of its residents, but our seniors were being neglected without a facility equipped to care for them. Augustana, our first senior care facility, will allow seniors to remain in the community they love, with caring family members nearby. This is the way to take care of our residents.

Augustana is also an excellent example of a private-public partnership. The development of the senior care center was not fully funded by the county. The whole community got behind funding this investment for our collective health and welfare.

Many of the county’s programs in the area of health and welfare are funded by state and federal grants. Some of these grants require a local match. I believe providing a local match in order to leverage the opportunity to access thousands of dollars to better our community is a good investment.

Like most businesses and nonprofits, the county should have a diversified income stream. I will assure that we fully participate in state, federal and foundation funding opportunities in order to bring new revenue and resources to our community. If Eagle County is not the right match for the funding resource, I will work collaboratively with our community partners so they have the support they need to bring the resources to the community.

Courtney Holm, Republican, District 2

Community programs need to address the current and long-term goals and needs of our locals. When the early education of our residents can contribute to saving future expenses of the county, that is an essential program in which the county should invest. Meaning, that if you can inject a small amount of money early on to prevent huge costs down the road, it benefits the long term and immediate needs of the county. Considering that Eagle County residents pay some of the highest health insurance premiums in the state, alternative cooperative efforts should be sought to reduce that unfortunate reality for our financially strained residents. The goals should be to provide the necessary services at the most efficient cost rather than spend all the money budgeted in that area.

What we can afford perhaps means different things to different people. Keeping healthy reserves is always imperative to the health of the county’s economy. The county is often bound by the legislative actions of those in higher government, which is why commissioners need to reach out and advocate for our community members’ needs in the infancy stages of the legislation prior to its implementation. Once legislation is implemented, exceptions from the rule are hard to acquire. In this time of decreasing economic fluidity, serious hard choices need to be addressed to meet the overall needs of our community in order to maintain the obligations imposed by other authorities and maintain the economic health of the county. Listening to the community members regarding their needs is essential to providing proper services. As families in this valley continue to struggle and more families are requiring assistance from food pantries, the wellness of our community members is a focus.

Kathy Chandler-Henry, Democrat, District 2

Economics is the study of how societies allocate scarce resources. Eagle County’s economic system is no different — resources will always be scarcer than the needs and demands placed on them. We do have obligations, often with accompanying funds, to provide adult and child protective services, public health services and environmental health (think restaurant and wastewater system inspections). These community health and environmental programs help us maintain the quality of our basic infrastructure for both residents and visitors. Human service programs provide a safety net for those families who may need temporary assistance, and they provide protections for our youngest and oldest residents. Those are bedrock community programs and part of the county’s core services like roads and bridges.

On top of those required programs, however, we can consider funding other community programs. This is where the list gets long, and the needs get expensive. To guide allocations, we use our set of five strategic priorities: quality services, social investment, sustainable communities, environmental stewardship and economic vitality. Community programs such as the Salvation Army (social investment), the EGE Air Alliance (economic vitality), the Eagle River Watershed Council (environmental stewardship) and solar farm investment (sustainable communities) vie for limited funds. After a detailed risk assessment, we nearly tripled our reserve requirements from $5 million to $14 million in the General Fund. That conservative fiscal approach limits (wisely, I think) what we can afford. I believe it is important to work with community organizations, municipalities and homeowner groups, businesses and individual residents to determine what community programs are the most important, what priorities should guide us into the future and what investments will provide the biggest payoffs in terms of positive outcomes. The main jobs of a commissioner are to protect public health and safety, safeguard the public’s money and enhance our quality of life. Determining how to invest and what we can afford get right to the heart of those jobs.

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