Eagle County candidates plan for tough economy | VailDaily.com

Eagle County candidates plan for tough economy

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Each week, the Vail Daily will publish a Q and A with the four Eagle County commissioner candidates.

Democrat and incumbent Commissioner Peter Runyon will be running against Republican and former Commissioner Dick Gustafson for the upvalley seat. Democrat Jon Stavney will be running against Republican Debbie Buckley for the midvalley seat that’s being vacated by term-limited Arn Menconi. All Eagle County voters will vote for all the seats, regardless of where they live.

The questions will cover local election issues. This week’s question pertains to the state of the nation’s economy. The valley has already felt some of the effects as some of the county’s largest businesses have already cut workers, and a slow down in lodging reservations and flight bookings threaten to bring a slower ski season.

The county is already predicting a slowing flow of revenues for next year, and some commissioner candidates are calling for less spending in preparation.

Q: In light of a downturn in the economy and uncertain times ahead, what specifically would you do as county commissioner to help Eagle County’s economy?

I’ve made 63 trips around the sun, and I can never remember a time of such financial volatility and uncertainty; we will all be entering uncharted waters in the months ahead. Take comfort in the fact that in every previous national economic down turn, Eagle County has always fared better than the rest of the country.

Having said that, as one of your county commissioners, I am charged by the public trust to take threats seriously, and that is exactly what we are doing. Even though we currently enjoy a comfortable fund balance of around 35 percent, we are planning for no increase in the 2009 budget. Further, we’ve directed each department head to re-examine their budget and come up with a contingency plan where they cut 10 percent more from their budget.

We are also examining other areas of possible savings such as reducing the number of fleet vehicles we own, cutting back on community grants, and delaying capitol projects. Hopefully none of that will be necessary, but we are prepared.

This will all pass, the economy will recover, and we will return to our long-term issues of smart-growth planning, environmental sustainability, and preserving our quality of life.

Rules don’t apply in preparing for a financial crisis, but common sense does. The warning signals started when President Jimmy Carter insisted on reducing the mortgage regulations years ago, and the county should have started preparing then.

The best emergency actions now are:

– Eliminate all unnecessary discretionary spending, consultants, and future commitments. (Across-the-board cuts are inappropriate. Some departments may need cuts while others should be building, i.e. the Sheriff’s department. Criminal activity increases in hard times.)

– Fund balances should be increased to carry the county’s mandatory expenses for at least one year. Tax increases are inadvisable.

– Suspend all new projects. Suspend existing projects that are not essential to the survival of the county government and the safety of its citizens.

– Delay any new construction and existing construction contracts (even paying necessary reasonable penalties).

– Suspend hiring, cancel department expansions, growth plans, salary increases, expenses and preserve current employees.

These are minimum actions. Drastic times require drastic measures, so say the experts. The county will probable not suffer by economizing. The county should be optimistic while preparing for the worst.

There is, however, one expense that the county can afford ” a county government forensic audit. http://www.electdickgustafson.com

Vail will remain a place where smart money chooses to be ” if we continue to preserve what is great and good about this place. I believe the quality of our employees and the quality of life that our visitors appreciate will suffer if those who make it possible only pass through. How we respect the opportunity for long-term community building will define our future.

If we value the people who come here through rental opportunities and footholds to ownership, we will retain our spirit and continue to define this place as “world class.”

We are linked in this challenge from Vail to Dotsero. If we are not proactive in ensuring that those who come have the opportunity to afford to stay, then we will suffer together.

Our real-estate investment economy will see some chilling effects in this national economic climate. I foresee hard times again in the valley in the near term. If we let down our guard — and this is expressed through our local land use codes ” then we will get exactly what we settle for.

This is still a great place to live. That balance is fragile and depends on how we govern ourselves.

I will foster a cooperative relationship with the established chambers of commerce in the county and work with them to stimulate our year-round tourist economy.

At relatively no cost, the county can use the county Web site, ECO TV, and other county infrastructure to showcase and attract turn-key special events. An event like Mule Days, in June, brings rental income for fairground facilities and attracts tourists who support local businesses.

Turn-key events like the recent dog show and soccer tournament are a great way to diversify our tourist economy and bring new people to the mountains. These people often return at another time to ski, hike or play golf.

ECO TV can host a regular show that gives the chamber directors a chance to talk about special events in their part of the valley. ECO TV can share this program with other public and government access television stations in the United States at no cost. As the president of Public Access 5 I know that most public access channels welcome new programming.

The county Web site should have a prominent link for tourists on the home page that goes to a countywide special events calendar.

Visit http://www.ElectDebbieBuckley.com for more information.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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