Eagle County leaders set lofty goals | VailDaily.com

Eagle County leaders set lofty goals

Chris Outcalt
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The county commissioners spent the last few months finalizing a budget they say sets the county up well to handle the national economic recession.

The $109 million budget has a $5 million decrease in expenditures from the previous year and includes $3.2 million in contingency money the commissioners could decided to spend later in the year.

Now the board plans to focus on topics in 2009 ranging from health care and transportation, to preserving the Vail Valley’s quality of life and creating a good work environment for county employees.

There are so many thing that need to get done in the county, it’s hard to rank them, Commissioner Peter Runyon said. But, because of the ‘changing economic times,’ fiscal responsibility has to be the No. 1 priority, he said.

“Positioning ourselves for potential further downturn in the economy ” we’re running everything through that lens,” Runyon said. “We’ve done that in the budget process and following through on that is key.”

The county always gets financial requests, and during tough economic times, it tends to get even more, Runyon said.

“We have to be very prudent,” he said.

Collaborating with other towns and businesses to address the lack of affordable housing in the county will also be a priority of Runyon’s.

“We have a chance to take advantage of the downturn in construction trades to position ourselves better to re-balance the second home versus local workforce housing,” Runyon said. “But it’s real important to emphasize that it’s not just the county, but a collaborative effort.”

Runyon, who was elected to a second term in November, said there’s no question he’s in a better position to tackle the problems facing the county.

“This is a job where there is a minimal amount of training,” Runyon said. “I’ve certainly learned a lot over the last four years, hopefully I can bring more to the table.”

He also wants to continue the board’s focus of creating a quality work environment at the county.

“We’ve really had a priority in the past that we want to continue into the future, of honoring the employees and engaging them and making the workplace a collaborative one where we honor and value each worker,” Runyon said. “

Leadership goes in both directions, he said.

“We don’t tell, we ask ” that’s a huge physiological difference,” Runyon said. “It’s important to the employees that they understand we honor them and the contributions they make, particularly in these tough economic times when we can’t necessarily give them all of what we would like to in terms of annual raises.”

The 2009 budget approved by the commissioners includes no raises to employee salaries.

Improving workforce housing, regional transportation and health care are at the top of Commissioner Sara Fisher’s to-do list for 2009.

The commissioners have worked on providing more affordable housing, but there’s more to be done, Fisher said.

A 2006 Urban Land Institute study that identified the Vail Valley as being short 3,500 affordable housing units is still a good goal to shoot for, she said.

“That became a realistic figure and we’re trying to chip away at that number,” Fisher said.

Partnering with Gypsum and Meritage Development on the Stratton Flats affordable housing project was a step in the right direction, Fisher said. The county invested $4.5 million in the project, which will be a mix of 399 deed-restricted and free market condominiums, townhomes and single-family homes.

“It was similar to Miller Ranch,” Fisher said. “Sure it’s a risk, but who is going to take it, it’s been deficient for years.”

The growing demand for county transportation needs to be dealt with in 2009, Fisher said.

ECO Transit ridership increased more than 20 percent in 2008 ” one of the organizations biggest yearly increases.

It may be time to form a true regional transportation authority that includes Avon and Vail to handle the increased demand, Fisher said. The county should also consider complimenting any statewide efforts to build a rail system from Denver International Airport to Grand Junction, Fisher said.

The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority ” a collection of representatives from 50 counties, municipalities and other organizations ” recently identified Vail as a high priority spot for a railway station along the Interstate 70 corridor.

Fisher also wants to work on making health care more accessible in Eagle County in 2009.

“People who are uninsured or underinsured have a difficult time receiving services locally,” Fisher said. “The Medicaid reimbursement is so low that it’s not worth the effort. People then, unfortunately rather than seeking medical attention when they need it, wait until it’s too late and end up in the emergency room.”

Jon Stavney, who will replace Commissioner Arn Menconi in January, could not be reached for comment.

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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