Editorial: Eagle County should lead in ’08 | VailDaily.com

Editorial: Eagle County should lead in ’08

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Vail CO, Colorado

Change was the theme for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in 2007.

There’s no denying the historically conservative Eagle County government has taken a left turn as of late. In the past, the commissioners have preferred to leave solutions for challenges like affordable housing and child care in the hands of the private sector. And while the Eagle County of yesteryear encouraged businesses to be more friendly to the environment, the county itself didn’t exactly make bold moves to make its operation a little greener.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Eagle County has altered its course lately. Sara Fisher, Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi, all Democrats, have always made clear their belief that government should be more directly involved in solving the county’s challenges. In the past year, the board put some of that talk into action. For the most part, they’ve made Eagle County a better place by doing so.

We saw evidence of the commissioners’ desire to make Eagle County more environmentally friendly when the board approved spending $462,000 to purchase 20 Toyota Prius hybrids. The cars have reportedly helped the county save more than $45,000 in fuel and earned the county a $60,000 state grant.

Time will tell if the hybrids really will save the county money in the long run. But that’s really beside the point. If Eagle County hopes to become a leader in preserving the environment then we need to be willing to spend a little more to preserve what makes the county so special.

The county already has plans to expand its green goals to include tearing out the grass around the county building in Eagle and putting in landscaping that uses less water. Installing energy-efficient light bulbs and boilers are a few of the small ways Eagle County hopes to reduce its energy use. Building a photovoltaic farm near the airport sounds ambitious and almost too good to be true; if it represents the best use of taxpayer money we’re eager to see the board pursue it.

Like resort communities across the country, Eagle County plans to strengthen its affordable housing guidelines. Unofficially, the county already has shown developers that business has changed. The West End project is the best example of how the county has tasked developers with the responsibility to make sure their projects don’t price all working folks out of the area. Of the 185 homes planned for the Edwards neighborhood, 72 will be priced so they are reasonably affordable for local residents to purchase.

The county will consider new affordable housing guidelines in 2008. At first glance those guidelines ” which would put most any developer coming to the commissioners for approval on the hook for a good chunk of affordable housing ” look thoughtful and innovative, if not somewhat complicated. It’s clear the county still needs to convince developers that it would be possible to build in Eagle County and still make a profit. But we approve of a more aggressive approach to a problem that is getting worse every year.

Once again, the county is showing leadership the towns would do well to emulate.

The commissioners bungled a few thing in 2007, too. The county should have been open about the results of a survey that polled voters on support for a tax to expand the county jail. We also aren’t convinced the county needs to keep all the tax revenue raised from the whopping increase in property values. Some of that tax revenue will be used to help expand the jail, which is overcrowded. But how does the county justify adding five new positions to the county payroll when it already has had to make cuts in many departments?

We’d also like to see Commissioner Menconi use this last year as a commissioner to work on his ability to listen and understand his critics. The polarizing figure did no favors to early childhood programs supporters by suggesting that opponents don’t care about children. We supported the 2006 early childhood tax, as well as the county’s decision to fund those programs out of the county’s coffers after the measure was voted down. But even we understand the difference between opposing how programs are funded and opposing who the programs are for.

Those mistakes along the way haven’t cost the county much in money or momentum, but it has cost our county leaders credibility with the voting public. Earning the trust of county residents will be crucial if Eagle County is to lead the towns in finding solutions for affordable housing, environment, transportation and other critical county issues.

Despite the blips, Eagle County is poised to accomplish much in 2008. As the county’s most influential and omnipresent government, we will be watching them every step of the way.

” Tamara Miller for the Editorial Board

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