Gustafson, Stavney for commissioner |

Gustafson, Stavney for commissioner

Let’s get one thing straight right now: Four honorable, qualified people are running for Eagle County Commissioner this fall. You can make a well-reasoned, legitimate argument for any of them.

But only two of the four candidates will be elected this fall, and our preference is for Dick Gustafson and Jon Stavney.

The incumbent, Democrat Peter Runyon, deserves credit for bringing a more thoughtful approach to community planning to the county government by approving regulations that put the onus on developers to compensate for the affordable housing demand their projects create. Runyon also has helped organize local and regional leaders into the I-70 Coalition so that the mountain communities have a voice in discussions about the interstate’s future.

But, Runyon fundamentally shows a lack of regard for the impact the county has on taxpayers, and yes, we are beating the drum again about the county’s decision to freeze its mill levy. The county’s slice of the pie may have only been about 15 percent of each taxpayer’s bill, but we believe the Board of Commissioners, as the most visible board in our county, set the precedent that prompted most other taxing entities in the county to also freeze their property tax rates. The result was, on average, a 38 percent hike in taxes for local homeowners.

Especially in light of the nation’s economic crisis, and the trickle-down we are now beginning to feel in Eagle County, we believe the county board could benefit from a fiscal conservative.

Gustafson, a Republican, has vowed to be a taxpayer advocate, and a look at his record while serving as county commission during the ’80s and early ’90s, shows he will walk the talk. In the eight years he served on the county commission, there were no or minimal property tax increases. Gustafson also was instrumental in creating the Eagle County Regional Airport, which not only has been a revenue source for Eagle County, it supports the primary economic engine ” tourism ” for the entire county.

Gustafson’s ideas for slimming the county’s budget, his zeal to find affordable housing solutions that won’t make taxpayers foot the bill, and his overall philosophy that a county commissioner should represent the will of the voters ” rather than pursue a personal agenda ” will provide the county board the kind of balance we need right now.

While we hope to see one conservative voice on the board, we also prefer former Eagle Mayor Jon Stavney over opponent Debbie Buckley.

Stavney, frankly, is the kind of Democrat that used to run wild and free in Eagle County ” someone whose ideals are tempered with real world experience.

Stavney, currently a project manager for Beck Building Company, understands intimately the important role that construction and second homes play in the local economy, something Runyon, his fellow Democrat, is too quick to discount, in our minds.

Stavney also understands the reality of small-town budgets, thanks to his decade on the Eagle Town Board. Stavney has defended the recent large tax increases in the county ” which, in fact are an aggregate of county, town, school district and other hands in taxpayer pockets ” but we also believe he’ll do his best to make sure county spending is directed wisely, instead of the seemingly willy-nilly check-writing the current board engages in.

On the subject of spending, Stavney seems to understand that the county must indeed spend money on housing, a place where there’s a clear division between him and Buckley.

Like Gustafson, Buckley believes in letting the free market take the lead in providing housing, with some government help in the form of tax credits, regulatory incentives and other tools. We believe our housing market is too far out of whack for those steps to be more than tools in a more aggressive approach to provide more for-sale and, critically, rental housing for the people who make this valley work.

Stavney shares that belief.

Stavney also has the strong backbone needed to serve as a county commissioner, something honed in his time as Eagle’s mayor. Members of this board have personally seen Stavney preside over dirt-dull work sessions and highly-charged public hearings. The vast majority of the time he handled himself, the board he led and the public he represented with calm and dignity.

Debbie Buckley, a Republican, would be a smart, perceptive county commissioner, and we have no doubt she would be a good leader.

But this year, in this economy, we believe a board of one strong conservative and two moderates is the way to guide the county toward spending where it’s truly needed, environmental stewardship that’s more than just window dressing and firm but restrained action on housing.

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