Commissioner candidates differ on regulations, economy
EDWARDS, Colorado – The five county commissioner candidates squared off in a forum in Homestead that asked them about everything from regulations to rebates.
The five are competing for two seats.
Republican Courtney Holm is challenging Democrat Jon Stavney, the incumbent in District 2.
Unaffiliated candidate Dale Nelson is challenging Democrat Jill Ryan and Republican Jeff Layman.
The forum was moderated by Homestead resident Richard Carnes and the candidates took questions from the audience.
What is the single biggest challenge facing Eagle County in the next four years, and what do you propose to do about it?
Courtney Holm: Jobs and stimulating the economy, she said.
“If we don’t have economically diversified jobs, we don’t have a lot to regulate,” she said.
About 300 businesses closed in the last three years, two a week, she said.
She suggested pursuing location-neutral businesses to move to the area and promoting the county’s assets, things like recreation, medical tourism, Colorado Mountain College.
“That’s the most important thing right now,” she said.
Jon Stavney: “A catastrophic fire would the one thing that would be a game changer around here. I’m not sure second homes owners would stick around for 50 years to watch the forest grow back,” he said.
The airport could lose a significant number of routes as the airline industry contracts.
“The airlines are on a year by year agreement and they might not cut us off but they could wean us,” he said. “It’s a risk factor. People assume it’s always going to grow.”
Dale Nelson: He suggested looking for ways to diversify the economy.
“We have to do all those things we’ve talked about to make our local economy as robust as possible,” he said.
Jeff Layman: “We’re a microcosm of the rest of the nation. We do need to support our economic powerhouses, recreation. Development and real estate come along with that,” he said.
He suggested going after location neutral businesses.
“We’ve been successful in attracting those people to our valley,” he said. “I’ve talked with a number of second homeowners who would love to talk about how we could grow our economy.”
Jill Ryan: The economy is important, but she came at it from a healthcare perspective.
“Eagle County’s uninsured population is 24 percent, 13,000 people,” she said. “That means they wait until they don’t have options besides hospital emergency rooms.”
Local medical providers write off a lot of charity care, but the rest of us pick up the tab for that.
She suggested pursuing a federally qualified healthcare center to provide primary care and indigent care.
“I think this is a way to keep our premiums down, to keep the number of uninsured residents down, and save on our overall healthcare costs,” she said.
Is an international terminal feasible at the Eagle County airport?
Jeff Layman: It would bring more visitors to the valley, he said.
“I’m not a financial planner and I haven’t seen final numbers on it,” he said. “It’s being studied, but if the studies say ‘go,’ I’ll be the first one to pull the trigger on it.”
Jill Ryan: “International flights need their own terminal and luckily we have a terminal that’s not being used,” Ryan said.
Renovating that terminal would cost the county $2.5 million.
The preliminary study showed it could pump $50 million a year into the county’s economy. That study is scheduled for completion in 2013.
International flights would mean bigger planes, more staff and facilities and other expenses. It’s a fine idea if it generates enough money to pay for itself, she said.
Courtney Holm: “There’s no question that it would bring in more tourists, but we’d have to be careful that there’s a sustainable market for it,” she said.
Homeland security is an issue, and whether or not Eagle County could get stuck with a year-long tab for a security staff that’s here only in the winter, she said.
“If the feasibility study indicates that it could be sustainable, then yes, go for it,” she said.
Jon Stavney: The airport is funded through its own revenue streams, he said. Renovating the terminal is no big deal. The question is customs. Right now there is nowhere to put people who are only working here for 15 weeks, he said.
“In 15 weeks can we get enough enplanements to pay for all that,” Stavney said. “We’re working with Vail Resorts and they’ll probably be charter flights instead of commercial flights.”
Dale Nelson: “We have about 16,000 passengers that would be considered international,” Nelson said. “Is that enough? Probably not.”
He said it’s a business decision.
“It’s a business plan,” he said. “We can’t get emotional about it. It’s a numbers decision. If the numbers work, fine. If they don’t then it’s not personal.”
We went though a 15 years period when all anyone wanted to talk about was affordable housing. How do the housing policies work now?
Jill Ryan: “The current affordable housing guidelines require that 35 percent of a development needs to be deed restricted,” she said. “I think that could be lowered.”
The housing industry is cyclical and we don’t want to create a shortage when it comes back around, she said.
Courtney Holm: “Everything needs to be addressed on a regular basis,” she said. “We have a glut of housing and a glut of foreclosures. Let’s find creative ways to keep that owner in that home.”
In many cases the county’s housing regulations have driven the cost of building higher than the cost of materials, she said.
Jon Stavney: The county, to much fanfare, unveiled all the regulations just as the industry collapsed.
“If we’d had 10-20 percent of inclusionary housing 20 years ago, we might not have a problem now,” he said.
Eagle County is limited by the land we can use. In most places affordability is made possible by sprawl and we’re surrounded by national forest land, he said.
“I’d rather be land banking so we could do a Miller Ranch, or create public/private partnerships,” he said.
Dale Nelson: He suggested a moratorium on some of the county’s housing regulations.
“ECO Build has always seemed punitive to me. It should be incentive based instead of penalty based,” he said. “People building homes want those kinds of efficiencies anyway. If someone puts in a high efficiency appliance, give them $50 for that.”
“I’m a carpenter and I haven’t built anything new for two years,” he said.
Jeff Layman: These sorts of guidelines should consistently be revisited, he said. “We’re talking about affordable housing and it’s important to the success of our resorts, and let’s face it, that’s why we’re all here,” he said.
But, when we require 35 percent affordable housing in every project we create a disincentive, he said.
How would you bring Edwards’ infrastructure up to date?
Dale Nelson: “Roundabouts have been proven to work in moving traffic,” Nelson said.
He’d put one at the intersection of Lake Creek Road and Highway 6, if possible, saying it was one of the county’s more dangerous spots.
He also advocated putting more pressure on developers to help pay for the traffic impacts their projects create.
Jeff Layman: “In my 32 years of public service I’ve found that cooperating and collaborating helps get things done,” Layman said. “You always work with developers to make sure their project does not erode the quality of life residents have come to count on.”
He suggested that getting all of the Edwards area’s property owners associations and homeowners associations together at the table is a responsibility of county government.
Jill Ryan: Ryan suggested cooperation, collaboration and seeking out new funding partners to help do some of the upgrades needed.
Courtney Holm: “It comes back to being collaborative,” she said. “It’s not what traffic is doing today, it’s what traffic will be doing tomorrow.”
The valley has only two major arteries, I-70 and Highway 6 and if the population continues to grow, at a certain point we’ll have to consider how it will be accommodated, she said.
Jon Stavney: The Edwards roundabout projects were shovel ready for six years. The $8 million to pay for it came from the feds as part of the stimulus spending.
The next project is a roundabout at Highway 6 and the Edwards spur road, one of the most dangerous intersections in Eagle County, he said.
Developers should pay for some of their impacts, but in the case of projects like the West End project in Edwards, “you can’t make enough money to pay for a $3 million roundabout.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.