Spending splits Eagle County commissioner candidates | VailDaily.com

Spending splits Eagle County commissioner candidates

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Melanie Wong/Vail DailyPeter Runyon rebuffed allegations from challenger Dick Gustafson that the Eagle County Board of Commissioners has lost the trust of voters.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” County commissioner Peter Runyon asked voters to look at the work he accomplished while in office, while his opponent Dick Gustafson said Runyon had been part of a board that spent money unwisely and ignored voters’ wishes.

“I’m running a campaign of ideas, while my opponent Dick Gustafson has been throwing rocks at me,” Runyon, a Democrat, said at a debate held by area Rotary Clubs on Thursday.

He said that he has brought in funding from state, federal, private and nonprofit sources to help solve the county’s environmental, transportation and growth problems.

Gustafson, a former commissioner, is criticizing the current board without realizing the problems the county faces today, Runyon said.

“Dick wants to take us back to the good old days,” he said. “Those were the days when the population was a third of what it is today. We had more land and less pressure on our civic infrastructure.

“Today we face complex challenges no one was thinking about in the early 90s.”

Gustafson, a Republican from Vail, said the real issue is regaining voter trust ” the county has spent millions of dollars “of rather imaginative discretionary spending” without voter approval and doesn’t give tax payers a chance to weigh in on decisions, he said.

“I emphatically deny that we do not listen to the people,” Runyon said. “Perhaps you’re confusing now with the commission when I came in four years ago. Commissioners then felt like they could dictate to the towns and ignore their wishes.”

Now the county regularly meets with the towns, and also invites the public to all of its meetings, he said.

The candidates clashed when it came to spending. Gustafson attacked county spending on housing, consulting, early childhood programs and landscaping the county building with environmentally friendly plants.

When property values rose dramatically last year, the county should have lowered it’s mill levy, he said.

“Times are tough, and people are forgoing vacations, worrying about prices of food, worrying about higher gas prices, and affording their mortgages,” Gustafson said. “I think the county should tighten its belt when their constituents have to.”

Runyon insisted that the county’s share of the tax increase was small. However, he said he would support a tax rebate program that gave money back to local residents.

While both candidates agreed that the lack of affordable housing in the county was a problem, they differed on the role the county should play.

Runyon said the county should be a leader in providing workforce housing.

“I would argue in a community such as ours, workforce housing is a part of the infrastructure as much as road and sewers,” he said.

Gustafson called the county’s $4.5 million investment in an affordable neighborhood at Stratton Flats in Gypsum a “complete waste.”

He advocated using federal and state tax credits to encourage developers to build housing.

“The county should be the referee, not an investor,” he said.

In closing, Runyon pointed out the open space the county has preserved, it’s green initiatives, and his work finding solutions for Interstate 70 traffic.

Gustafson simply said he wanted to change the way things are run at the county.

“Imagine a government that respects the tax payers and the voters, over personal agendas,” he said. “Imagine a fair, responsive, honest, transparent, accountable county. You shouldn’t have to imagine these things ” you should expect them.”

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

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