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Trying to save a few bucks in D.C.

Alison Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon went to Washington to try to save the county $350,000.

That was not the only thing Runyon said he had on his to-do list during his trip to the nation’s capital from March 3 through March 7 to participate in the National Association of Counties’ 2007 Legislative Conference. The conference was held at the Hilton Towers, which is also where Runyon stayed.

“Going to Washington is exciting because I am so in awe of the institution, and keeping contact with the higher level government from a county standpoint is invaluable,” Runyon said. “National Association of Counties has a lot of power as a lobbying group, and to be a part of that and get things done for our county is great.”

All three county commissioners are members of Colorado Counties Incorporated, an organization that brings commissioners from across the state together to discuss and legislate on common problems. The group regularly sends members to national conferences to represent the state, said Larry Kallenberger, the organization’s executive director.

One of the most important things Runyon lobbied for while in Washington was preventing the federal government from cutting the payments it makes to the county on behalf of the forest service, which does not pay taxes, Kallenberger said.

“The forest service and other governmental entities don’t pay taxes, and yet we are still expected to help build and maintain their roads and provide other services to them,” Runyon said.

“Payment in lieu of taxes is a big deal because the forest administration is trying to cut those payments by about 30 percent, and right now Eagle County gets $1 million a year from them,” Runyon said. “We would lose $350,000 if we don’t keep up the pressure.”

The preservation of public land was also a hot topic Runyon said he wanted to discuss in Washington. A National Association of Counties resolution that opposes the sale of public land without consulting local governments and residents was presented to Congress, Runyon said.

“Preserving public land is important to me because in Edwards there is a part of the forest area identified for sale by the federal government that has a lot of people very concerned about the sale,” Runyon said. “We need to be sure it doesn’t happen.”

The public lands representatives were also able to work with the legislature on a bill about the bark beetles that are ravaging Rocky Mountain forests, Runyon said.

“I think it’s great that he went to lobby at a national level for our public land,” El Jebel resident Marc McKinney said. “Some people, and I’m normally one of them, might not want their local representatives spending their time lobbying, but I’m all for it in this case. I want my kids to have a place to hike and play.”

Runyon is a member of Colorado Counties Incorporated’s Public Lands Steering Committee. Eight representatives, including Runyon, were elected by the steering committee to represent them in Washington, Kallenberger said.

The Public Lands Committee is the only board that sends more than one representative to the national conference. While in Washington, Runyon worked on other matters relating to federal lands, including tax immunity problems and federal land management programs, Kellenberger said

The county pays $4,700 a year to be part of the public lands committee, and an additional $22,269 to be part of Colorado Counties Incorporated, said Sharee Wettstein, assistant to the county commissioners.

“The money for the representatives to go to Washington comes out of the steering committee’s budget, so it didn’t cost the county anything,” Kallenberger said.

If either of the other two Eagle County commissioners had opted to go to the conference, the county would have had to pay for their trip out of the county’s budget.

“The good thing was that I got to go and do all this good, but the citizens didn’t have to pay for me to go,” Runyon said. “It was great getting to know my fellow commissioners and developing greater communication with them.”

Staff writer Alison Miller can be reached at 748-2928 or armiller@vaildaily.com.


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