The state of the county
We, Eagle County, are abundant in resources and wealth. Most counties in America are not. Most places on Earth are definitely not. We have so much to be both blessed for and positive about in this context because all too often we forget how well we have it in the county. Our public safety departments and Road and Bridge and motor pool have the best and newest equipment to serve our citizens. Our innovation technology and GIS departments continue to search out and implement the most efficient and effective hardware and software to bring data to our staff and taxpayers.We are striving to better communicate with our citizens. Eagle County government provides many important and vital programs and services to the community. Over the next year we will develop better ways of communicating those to you so you can take advantage of them, and better understand how we are managing your tax dollars. Soon you will even be able to watch the Board of Commissioners meetings on television, so you can better understand how we make the important and sometimes difficult decisions that affect all of our lives.I feel that last year was a very successful one for Eagle County. We were able to accomplish some very significant projects. We completed the Eagle County skate park, playground and volleyball courts, marking the end of a 10-year project called Berry Creek. The county invested over $10 million in this project. Very soon, babies and toddlers will begin day care in our new child-care facility at Miller Ranch that will accommodate up to 80 children.Another successful project was the preservation of 72 acres of riverfront right in the heart of Vail Valley. It may have had a commercial past, but it’s got a pristine future. We came together as a community by raising $12 million to preserve this parcel historically known as the Eaton Ranch, located along the Eagle River and in the center of the rapidly developing Edwards community. I believe we are a more enriched community when we preserve accessible open space lands in the core of our residential and commercial areas. As we look outside the organization and into the future, Eagle County will focus its commitment to its people through economic sustainability, land use policies and social capitalism.Recent economic data shows that second homes make up 68 percent of our economy. Our population projections for 2025 are over 80,000. We are also producing service sector jobs faster than the number of employees and our affordable-housing stock can support. Economic growth for second-home markets shows a drop-off in the next five to seven years. Economic sustainability in Eagle County is not about creating more jobs, but working to make sure that new jobs are high quality and offer diversification and stability to our county. That is why we have supported the development of the Eagle County Economic Council, which is gathering and analyzing economic data for better public policy.Our land-use policy changes are now becoming front-page news. Controversial, yes. Complex, yes. Committed, always. Each policy must weigh the values and vision of the commissioners to develop the purpose and intent. There are 15 proposed regulations in the process now. The most noted is the zone-change criteria. Put simply, if you upzone we want to better understand and fairly offset the impacts. More and more, Eagle County citizens are concerned about the impacts of growth, whether it is more traffic, loss of natural habitat or less affordable housing. When this Board of County Commissioners or future boards are making tough decisions, they must be better prepared to represent us all on what is the community benefit.Another land-use policy being considered is the question of whether there is a disconnect between land use and water planning. An appropriated water right does not mean water will be available for use. As the droughts of the past several years have demonstrated, we must be greater stewards of this resource. All our visions for land-use changes are based on the value and integrity we place on our environment, energy efficiencies, conservation and our community. The last subject I would like to cover is social capitalism, that vague term meaning “it’s the people, stupid.” We are reaching out and opening dialogues with our fellow elected officials here and in other communities. We are working hard to develop stronger relationships through county-wide mayor and manager Meetings, “Shaping the Future” classes or attending town council meetings. We also met recently with the Eagle County School District to understand how we can work together as a community to close the achievement gap. Over one-third of our student population is limited or non-English proficient. Nearly one-third of our student population is on the free- and reduced-lunch program. If we want to diversify our economy and have a well-educated work force, we must start with our own children.This leads me to my most important priority: early childhood development. Children are born learning. Ninety percent of brain development occurs in the first three years. How we as a county value our children is a true understanding of our values. To neglect a child is to neglect what is good, beautiful and vitally important to our future. Eagle County has completed an early childhood initiative and we are learning were to best invest in kids. Eighteen to 25 percent of Eagle County households report they have no health insurance;730 children under the age of 6 receive Medicaid; and nearly 200 pregnant women out of 800 births a year receive no prenatal care. I believe this to be an injustice in our community, one that must be addressed quickly. On Jan. 9, 2001, I became a public servant. Until that time I was a private citizen. Today, more than five years later, I realize that each generation has a moral duty to consider its own political and social values, and not simply accept them deferentially from previous generations.This task may be politically unpopular, especially in a county with so much wealth. In any case, there is no chance for us to be the best county unless a good society is clearly defined. We must match our physical growth with our moral restraint, our wealth with our wisdom, and our influence with our purpose.Thank you for allowing the Board of Commissioners to serve you and this special place called Eagle County. For more information on and services provided by Eagle County, go to http://www.eaglecounty.us.Arn Menconi is an Eagle County commissioner.