What have candidates learned in Eagle County? | VailDaily.com

What have candidates learned in Eagle County?

Melanie Wong
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” After knocking on thousands of doors and attending countless public events and walking in many parades, Eagle County, Colorado commissioner candidates said they feel they have a good idea of what concerns residents.

However, the candidates differed on how they thought residents wanted those problems, such as housing and traffic, addressed.

“I didn’t hear anything particularly surprising,” said Democrat and incumbent commissioner Peter Runyon. “People are definitely concerned about the affordability of this valley for their families and employees.”

He said that his general impression was that residents wanted the county to be involved in solving problems such as housing and traffic.

For example, Edwards residents told him they were happy about the new roundabouts planned for the Edwards Interstate 70 exit, and others told him they wanted the county to be involved in housing, but that other towns and businesses should be partnering with the county.

Runyon said he was disappointed at what he has called “mud slinging” by his opponent, Republican and former commissioner Dick Gustafson.

“The negative tone (of this race) was unfortunate,” he said. “It just simply doesn’t have to be ugly.”

However, Gustafson said he has heard some very different responses from residents.

“I’ve learned that taxes are the key issue, then the openness of government. Decisions need to be made out in the open,” he said. “The county has not been very responsive to the public.”

He said some residents also feel the county is competing with small businesses with projects like the Home Store, which manages the county’s affordable housing stock; with child-care centers; and by building its own affordable housing, such as Gypsum’s Stratton Flats project.

“They feel like small businesses have to compete with their own tax dollars,” he said.

He agreed that affordable housing was a top concern for county residents, but he said he disagrees with the way the county is addressing the shortage.

“The direction of affordable housing is going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We should be increasing the rental markets, instead (the county) is doing a bunch of for-sale projects that people can’t afford.”

Republican and former Avon Town Council member Debbie Buckley said that throughout her campaign, in which she knocked on thousands of doors from Basalt to Vail, she heard clearly that the economy and property taxes were top issues.

“Working families need more money back in their pockets,” she said.

People seemed particularly concerned now that some residents are losing their jobs, and more and more workers are going to Garfield County, where more construction projects are underway, she said.

“I think we can all work together on this to make sure that our good-paying jobs don’t go to Garfield County,” she said.

She said she was also pleasantly surprised at how many residents wanted to see more senior care offered in the county.

“These were people of all ages,” she said. “Many people want to live here their whole lives.”

She said the campaign has been very friendly, and that many Democrats and Republicans have similar concerns about the county.

“I have really enjoyed all the bipartisan support. I’ve made a lot of friends from both parties, and we’ve had some great dialogue,” she said.

Buckley’s opponent, Democrat and former Eagle mayor Jon Stavney said that in the course of his campaign, he came to appreciate the unique qualities of the communities up and down the county.

“They all have different values. For example, Red Cliff reminded me of why I first came to Colorado. While the midvalley has become so urbanized, Red Cliff is still concerned about good sewer and clean water,” he said.

The challenge would be to respect each community’s concern while still keeping a regional outlook, he said.

Stavney also said he heard from residents that people want to be able to live in the communities in which they work. Affordability issues were “universally understood and appreciated,” he said.

While Stavney said Buckley has run an “impressive campaign and is a worthy opponent,” Stavney said he thinks that residents want county leaders to take action.

“I really think that we have a lot of important issues that require proactive leadership,” he said “It’s important for voters to look at who has real leadership experience and the energy to do that.”

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

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