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Economy, open space dominate debate

Veronica Whitney

The three candidates for the District 3 commissioner’s seat, however, agreed at a forum Monday that continuing growth, affordable housing and diversification of the economy are critical issues in Eagle County.

About 100 people participated in the forum where incumbent Tom Stone, a Republican, Gerry Sandberg, a Democrat, and Laurie Bower, an unaffiliated candidate, squared off with a month to go until Election Day.

Bower, 36, of Gypsum, recently resigned as a housing planner with Eagle County. She is a current member of the Colorado State Housing Board. Sandberg, 59, has been an investigator with the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office for 17 years. Stone, 49, a real estate broker, was elected to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in 1998.

Here are the candidates responses to some of the questions asked Monday night in Eagle:

What should the county be doing to attract new businesses and diversify the economy?

Laurie Bower: If we create a community with good schools and affordable housing we will attract more and new businesses. Employers will come if their employees can afford to buy a house in the county. More flights and better services at Eagle County Regional Airport are also key for economic development.

Gerry Sandberg: The county has the ability under state statute to provide incentives to businesses. I would consider some tax incentives. We need to attract some outdoor- or sport-related businesses like Cabela’s – a catalog business.

Tom Stone: We shouldn’t enact regulations against businesses. Transportation also is key and it’s very good to see the county working to bring customs to Eagle County Regional Airport. We’re also working on bringing more flights in the summer.

What will you do for our senior residents?

Bower: We worked hard on senior housing opportunities but seniors are sorely underserved here. I would pursue assisted living in a more residential setting, maybe by remodelling old houses.

Sandberg: I’m very close to them. We need to honor people who did so much for this county. I’ve heard from so many seniors they can’t afford to live here anymore. We need to make allowances for them to stay in the county.

Stone: We need to build an assisted living center and we need to find a way to pay for it.

The Hispanic population is rapidly growing in the county, what would you do to improve services for them?

Bower: It all seems to go back to housing. We know of so many cases of Hispanics who are living 10 in a trailer home. We need to communicate with those people to see what their needs are.

Sandberg: The Hispanic population is growing everywhere in the country.

Stone: I think we have done a lot to improve communication with the Hispanic and Latin community. This has been a focus of mine. We instituted, in conjunction with Catholic Charities, a Hispanic advocate, who is helping the community to deal with different issues. To help them we need to develop a good Hispanic leadership. Leaders the Hispanic community can look up to.

How do you propose to preserve open space?

Referendum 1H , also on the November ballot, proposes a countywide property tax increase to fund the purchase of open space in Eagle County.

Bower: I’m willing to pay additional money to preserve open space. It’s a tricky issue because a lot of open space is owned privately. We also have to work with developers.

Sandberg: I support the open space initiative but we need to show the taxpayers for what and when the money is going to be used.

Stone: The best way is working with developers and help them be responsible with the community, particularly in the Edwards area. I will have a difficult time voting for the open space initiative, though. I’m concerned there are areas in the county like Basalt and Vail, which already have a transfer tax. (Those towns use proceeds from a real estate transfer tax to buy land).

The Village at Avon project will bring an additional 2,500 employees. What can the county do to provide housing to these people?

Bower: This illustrates a big difference between the candidates and I.

The free market is just taking care of the medium income bracket and not the low income. One third of our workforce is low income.

Sandberg: I propose that new larger developments in the county offer low-priced day care services. In this way, both parents can work and therefore afford payments on the house.

Stone: County commissioners are considering now a set of new affordable housing regulations. Also, there currently are two affordable housing projects on tap: about 500 units at Buffalo Ridge – part of the Village at Avon project and 282 units at the Berry Creek 5th project in Edwards.

How would you like to change the county relation with the towns?

Bower: The county needs to communicate more with the towns.

Sandberg: The key to continued success in Eagle County lies in building intergovernmental relationships. We need to make a master plan for the entire county.

Stone: We do enjoy now a very good relationship with the towns. The Berry Creek 5th project, is an example of a successful intergovernmental relationship between the county, the Eagle County School District.

The candidates made the following closing statements:

Bower: I’m running for county commissioner because I believe people deserve a choice. I believe this place is the best place to live in the world and we need to preserve it.

My platform revolves around the following five issues: responsible growth and land planning; continued commitment to local housing issues; effective resource management; economic development and diversification; and safety.

Also, I would be the second woman commissioner in 100 years.

Sandberg: Experience isn’t important to make decisions. I believe people make the difference. I pledge I don’t have political ambitions and I will not run for another office. Government is about making choices and not promises.

Stone: It has been an honor to serve as county commissioner for four years. I need another term to finish the work I started, including the sand sedimentation clean up on Vail Pass and construction of an assisted living center for senior citizens.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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