Commissioner candidates spar over spending, housing
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” County commissioner candidates Peter Runyon and Dick Gustafson butted heads on everything from affordable housing to spending to open space at a debate Wednesday night.
The debate was broadcasted by ECOTV 18 and KZYR 97.7 radio, and local attorney Rohn Robbins acted as host and moderator.
Gustafson, a Republican and former commissioner, accused Runyon, a Democrat and incumbent commissioner, of “trivializing” the amount of property taxes the county collects and going on a “spending blitz.”
The county did not lower its mill levy after assessed values jumped, and it received a total of $7 million in additional property tax revenue from the increase in existing property values and new construction.
Gustafson said investing in affordable housing at Stratton Flats, spending $24 million to expand the justice center, remodeling the low-income Riverview Apartments and xeriscaping the county building grounds were several examples of “frivolous spending.”
Tax cuts or rebates would have put most of the money back into the pockets of second-home owners and out of the Eagle County economy, Runyon said. Also, the savings for local property owners would only average $10 per month, he said.
The candidates agreed housing was needed in the county, but completely disagreed on how it should be built.
Gustafson said he believes in letting the free market take care of the problem ” the county should use state tax incentives to encourage private builders to produce affordable housing.
The county’s role should be minimal, and it should not be investing any of it’s own money at all, he said.
However, studies show Eagle County is one of the few places where the free market will not solve the problem, Runyon said.
“It’s totally government’s role to get involved,” he said. “It acts as facilitator, and it involves other governments and employers.”
The tax incentives Gustafson advocates are still not enough to create a profit for builders in this county, Runyon said.
Runyon attacked Gustafson on some of his decisions as a commissioner also.
He said that Gustafson, whose board approved both Arrowhead and Cordillera, failed to make developers meet any of the housing needs created by the developments.
“He did not have the vision to see this oncoming storm,” Runyon said. “You were on the board eight years and you didn’t build a single affordable housing unit. I can’t believe you don’t understand the incredible imbalance this county is headed toward.”
The current commissioners ignore voters and don’t value public input, said Gustafson, bringing up the ever-controversial early childhood development program.
Residents voted against a sales tax to fund the program, but commissioners went ahead and funded a scaled-down version of the program from county money.
But Gustafson has done the same, Runyon said. When Gustafson was commissioner, residents voted against funding an expansion for the newly built justice center.
Commissioners at the time went ahead and began setting aside $400,000 each year to fund the expansion.
The voters should have more of an input in spending matters like the Justice Center or the county’s proposed $53-million sale of the Lake Creek Village apartments in Edwards, Gustafson said.
“Most decisions are made behind closed doors, and when there are hearings, they’re shams,” he said. “They’re not interested in public comment ” they have their minds made up.”
However, the county is listening by working on concerns that residents listed as top priorities in a quality-of-life survey completed last year, Runyon said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.
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