What matters in Eagle County?
“I would ask the commissioners to do something to help us buy our first house,” Ramos says.Affordable housing is at the top of the to-do list of Laurie Bower, the unaffiliated candidate.”We still have a lot of work to do on affordable housing,” says Bower, a former housing planner with Eagle County. “I’d like to work with more partnerships with the private sector. Eagle County hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity as much as they could. I’d also like to focus on some of the types of housing for seniors (not just assisted living).”The county’s first priority should be to serve the people that are already here rather than newcomers, Bower adds.Democratic candidate Gerry Sandberg says his concern is the outlook for the county, which some people say isn’t real bright because of the economy.”We need to work in the common view,” says Sandberg. If he wins the election, he says, he’ll leave his job as an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office and be a full-time commissioner. “Important issues include water, affordable housing and transportation.”What I’d like to do to help the economy in Eagle County is to bring the county and all municipalities on the same page,” he adds. “I’d individually meet with them.”Incumbent Tom Stone, a Republican, says the economy is one of the issues that affect most people in the valley.”When we talk about the economy, we talk about peoples’ lives,” Stone says. “Families are having difficulties to feed and dress their children. It maybe predominantly Spanish-speaking people, but we’re all affected by a downturn economy. We need to diversify the economy. We shouldn’t have all the eggs in one basket.”Countywide cooperationThe key to continued success in Eagle County lies in the towns working together, Sandberg says.”The master plan (adopted in 1996) is broken because it’s been continuously changed,” he says. “An example of a master plan broken is the hopscotch in development.”An example of intergovernmental agreement would be Eagle and Gypsum building a recreation center together instead of one for each town.”We need to get over the turf battle,” Sandberg says.For Bower, there’s a big difference between saying we need intergovernmental cooperation and actually doing something about it.”Obviously, we need more work in this area or it wouldn’t be an issue,” she says. “Communication is one of the answers. The county tries to look at the big picture, but it only has jurisdiction over unincorporated areas.Each town is concerned with its own issues.”A countywide affordable housing summit could reinforce that relationship, she added.”We need to have a more consistent dialogue with towns, and this should be the county’s job,” she says.A successful example of cooperation between Eagle County, the school district and Vail, Stone says, is the Berry Creek 5th residential and recreational development in Edwards. The Tree Farm Community Center is an example of cooperative effort between the county and Basalt.”We need to have more cooperative efforts,” Stone says, “for recreation and bus services. Recreation is of primary importance to me because it’s supporting the future of our youth. I’d rather build more recreation centers than jails.”But Sandberg says the last thing the commissioners can do is to dictate what the towns should be doing.”All towns have to look out for their own individual needs,” he says. “The big picture is how they all interconnect in the county as a whole. Here is where a true county master plan could be utilized.”The towns don’t need to be doing the exact same thing as each other, Bower says.”If they understand their differences that can be just as important,” she adds.Bower says she worked as a housing planner with Vail and Eagle on housing regulations. Vail chose to pursue employee housing linkage – a policy that requires developers to build housing for a portion of the employees that they will generate. Eagle adopted inclusionary housing requirements that require developers to build a percentage of affordable housing within a new residential community.”These choices have to do with each town having different needs,” she says. “Vail’s primary need for housing is for the workforce while Eagle is seeking to create more opportunities for low- and moderate- income people.”Stone says he’s concerned the proposed affordable-housing regulations link employee housing with businesses.”That makes it more difficult for business owners in a downturn economy to come here,” Stone says. “This would be heaping more charges to them.”Bower says she also wants to encourage businesses, but not at the cost of affordable housing.”We can’t sacrifice affordable housing for the sake of bringing in new businesses, mainly because workers then don’t have an affordable place to live,” she says.Getting resultsThe biggest failure of the current Board of County Commissioners, Sandberg says, has been not working together.”I will not make decisions for one side or the other,” he says. “I want to make my decisions from facts and information. After all, the decisions I make now can put a 15-year-old in jail for life.”Bower says one of the weak points of the current board is a lack of tolerance.”For example, I think the recall of (Arn) Menconi’s vote was inappropriate,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that in this day and age that could happen. It looked like a modern day witch hunt.”Also, there’s been a lack of consistent policy in terms of housing and planning issues, Bower says.”Developers have expressed frustration over the inconsistencies that they encountered in the approval process,” she says. “There could be better communication with (county) staff and greater levels of trust.”A positive aspect of the current commissioners is they have been supportive of affordable housing, Bower says. Another one is the construction of recreational facilities in critical areas like El Jebel and Edwards, Bower and Sandberg agree.”They’ve had to deal with difficult issues,” Sandberg says. “The Berry Creek 5th development in Edwards is among the good things the current Board of Commissioners passed.”Hispanics and limitsThe more the Hispanic population can be integrated with the community, the better, all candidates agree.Education, Stone says, is key.”I believe in giving the people a hand up, not a hand out,” he says. “If we want the Hispanic community to succeed, they need to have the same goals and aspirations that we Americans have.”Developing leaders in the Hispanic community could be a way of doing that, Stone says.If she becomes commissioner, Bower says, she will help the Hispanics become a more integrated part of the community.”This isn’t a job they can do,” she says. “We need to work on bigger issues (immigration) with the Legislature. We could have a coalition of resort communities or counties that could work together.”Sandberg doesn’t believe just getting Hispanics registered to vote will serve them and the county adequately .”Other steps also are needed to ensure that they become full-time taxpaying residents and homeowners, that they’re paid living wages and are afforded health care benefits,” he says.What the county should do, Stone says, is try to complement what the towns are doing.”We’re going to reach a maximum capacity,” Stone says. “Eighty-five percent of the county is owned by the government. That only leaves 15 percent, and of that only a small portion can be developed.”We also face limits to our water, to how many homes we can build and to traffic,” he adds.To those limits, Bower adds financial ones, which are sometimes determined by voters.”We also have our limits in terms of representation,” she says. “For statewide issues, we represent a very small portion of the total state population. However, Eagle County is one of the reasons why many people come to Colorado. If we position ourselves as a critical asset to the state we could have more influence.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.