Commissioner candidates face young audience

Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy students sit in the school's gymnasium as the four candidates for County Commissioner debate topics from questions posed by students.
Anthony Thornton | |

Who’s running?

There are three seats on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners. Two are being contested this year.

• District 2: Democrat Kathy Chandler Henry of Eagle, an appointed incumbent, is being challenged by Republican Courtney Holm, an Edwards resident.

• District 3: With current Commissioner Sara Fisher retiring due to term-limit laws, Republican Dick Mayne and Democrat Jeanne McQueeney, both Gypsum residents, are running for the seat.

County commissioners are paid $72,500 per year.

MINTURN — At this point in the local political calendar, candidate forums take on a routine look and sound. A Monday forum was a little different.

Students in the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy’s U.S. government class for high schoolers hosted a forum for this year’s candidates for Eagle County commissioner. Much of the student body turned out to listen to fellow students question the candidates.

Senior Will Thrasher said the forum was actually a class project. Class members asked questions after the candidates made opening remarks.

As you’d expect, some of the students’ questions focused on education.

Student Zach Fedrizzi asked the candidates about the recent cycle of falling property tax revenues and how those could be increased. That’s when the students learned that money collected by the county government and the Eagle County Schools don’t really mix.

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Candidate Jeanne McQueeney, the current school board president, told the students that the district, not the county government, would have to ask voters to increase property taxes. Even then, she said, state formulas about school funding would limit the amount of any increase.

Candidate Dick Mayne, who’s running against McQueeney for the seat in Commissioner District 3, told the students he’d personally support a tax increase for schools, “But I can’t do that as a commissioner.”

While Mayne said he’d favor a proposal to increase funding for schools, “We need a well-defined, well thought-out proposal.

Responding to a similar question, this one about the prospect of further cuts in education budgets, Mayne noted that while the school district receives roughly 33 percent of every property-tax dollar in the county, the county government collects only about 14 percent of those revenues.


Continuing on the topic of education, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Courtney Holm, the candidates for the District 2 seat on the Board of Commissioners, were asked about this year’s Amendment 68. Backers of that state initiative are asking to expand gaming at a horse-racing track in Arapahoe County, with some of the future proceeds going to schools in the state.

Both candidates oppose the measure.

“I think it’s disingenuous to fund schools with sin taxes … and there’s a very small amount of money for schools,” Chandler Henry said.

Holm, an attorney, also opposes the measure.

“With constitutional amendments, you’re stuck with the language” in the proposal, Holm said. She added that the amendment would also damage the mountain towns where gambling is allowed now, since those communities depend on gaming revenue for their municipal needs.

Other students asked questions about environmental issues, including fracking, a controversial process used in oil and gas drilling. There’s a slim prospect of any future fracking in Eagle County — the oil and gas on the Western Slope is all west of here — but the candidates said the argument over the technique illustrates how they make decisions.

All said they’d listen to both sides and do research before taking a position.

Candidates were also asked about water issues. There were some variations on the theme — for instance, Chandler-Henry advocated for conservation, while Mayne talked about how he and rest of the Gypsum Town Council have worked to expand the capacity of LEDE Reservoir at the top of Gypsum Creek. But all vowed to work to keep Western Slope water on the Western Slope.

The candidates also talked about how the county government could encourage job growth. Chandler Henry talked about the county’s relatively low wages compared to the state average. McQueeney said she’d like the county to work closely with Colorado Mountain College and others to develop programs to spur new businesses and jobs. Holm shared her ideas about making the county an “education destination” and the need to develop a plan for economic development. Mayne also talked about working with the Vail Valley Partnership — a county-wide business group — to help businesses develop and grow.

At the end of the session, students said they’d learned quite a lot.

Freshman Finn Anderson said he was somewhat surprised that candidates from different parties had the same views on Amendment 68.

Thrasher said he was happy with the way the project turned out.

“I thought the candidates answered the questions thoroughly,” he said.

Although he’s still too young to vote, Thrasher said he came away from the morning with a better idea about who he would vote for next month if he could.

“We got a lot of information on who they are,” he said.

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