Commissioner candidates address the issues
Editor’s note: Following are responses from candidates for the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, in their own words, to questions posed by The Aspen Times. The responses are ordered by district, with the incumbent first. Responses to two additional questions will be printed in Monday’s edition.What are the most important issues facing the county in the next two years and what do you think should be done about them? District 3: Shellie Roy Four key issues facing Pitkin County are the decline in revenues to provide necessary services; erosion of local land-use control by the state; increased pressure from the Front Range for mountain water; and changing dynamics in the airline industry.I am currently serving on a Colorado Counties Inc. taxation task force working with the state legislators and Bell Policy to develop amendments to the state constitution to be voted on. Tax amendments have gone a long way toward keeping taxes low, but we are beginning to see a negative effect on the provision of health and human services, nonprofit support, higher education and highways.Last year, I was a lead player in defeating the “Droste Bill,” which was designed to erode much of our local land-use control and shift local decisions to the state. I have the network and contacts to continue that work.Pitkin County is now taking the tact that we can’t just react to the Eastern Slope’s need for water, but we have to take the offensive. We are now signatures and creators of a growing mountain counties agreement that forces the Front Range water districts to deal with all the mountain counties as a unit, giving us a better bargaining position.Pitkin County is now aggressively addressing changes necessary at the airport to make the airport safer and more efficient for commercial aircraft. I will continue to push working with the various airlines and the FAA to fix the shortcomings at our airport that block increased service.District 3: Michael OwsleyI feel that the biggest challenge facing Pitkin County in the immediate future is the integration of the valley’s geographic and political entities. Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin counties, and all the towns impacted by the same concerns, must unite in practical ways. Solutions should be defined not as uniquely “upvalley” or “downvalley,” but as shared challenges for the whole valley. District 4: Jack HatfieldI have a two-part answer:1) Oil and gas exploration. Our challenge will be to come up with legislation that will protect the county from off-site impacts, as currently allowed by state law. We will have to continue to work cooperatively with other counties, in particular Garfield, Delta and La Plata. We do not, at present, have language in our code that addresses this issue. I would expect to incorporate in our code a rewrite, as additional work, separate of the larger project.2) Protect county water from transmountain diversions. Although the county has been diligent in the past, the Front Range’s unending “thirst,” combined with five years of drought, makes this an “in our face” issue. The Twin Lakes Exchange, as well as the recently proposed federal PSOP legislation, has raised the threat level to “orange,” since the Eastern Slope parties involved have never lived up to their part of previous agreements and now want to expand two reservoirs to accommodate additional storage of Roaring Fork and Frying Pan water. The solution lies in cooperative relationships, and work, between Pitkin County, Aspen, RWAPA, CRWCD, Western Slope counties, the state legislature and our federal representatives.Both these issues are emerging challenges that will require thoughtful consideration, hard work, financial resources and an environmental ethic that must be central to all considerations. Jack Hatfield is the right guy from District 4 for the job, as I already represent the county on RWAPA, QQ (water quantity/quality, NWCOG), public lands, natural resources, the environment, agriculture and land-use committees (Colorado Counties Inc.). District 4: Cheryl KoehneRestoring the financial stability of the county is of utmost importance.More often the county is receiving requests for funding or ballot questions are proposed to raise taxes, such as the Health and Human Services tax and the Historical Society’s request for support. The cost of living is high here and every time taxes are increased, it increases the burden of making ends meet. If the county is going to support these interests without increasing taxes, we need to look at nontax revenue.Fees are a source of nontax revenue that only affects the end user. The county performs services for which no fee is charged, such as notary services and fingerprinting for certain licenses. Small fees could increase revenue.While the county has made some budget cuts, there are still areas for consideration. Employees no longer have coffee provided. However, inmates get coffee at the taxpayer’s expense. Inmates could be charged for coffee and other items.There are other changes that could be implemented which would realize greater revenues.Bonds could be reviewed for re-issue on a timelier basis than every other year as they are now. Rates fluctuate greatly during a two-year period. Some call for provisions could allow re-issuing at a lower rate during that time period.Delinquent fees and fines add up to a large sum for most municipalities. The county’s accounts receivable is not centralized. Therefore, it is unknown how much outstanding revenue is unaccounted for until the end of the year. By having departments report to the finance department on a monthly basis, we could determine if it is equitable to have a firm collect the monies. District 5: Dorothea FarrisThere are many issues that are vital to the county, ranging from the environment to transit to regionalism to growth management to affordable housing to the county budget. On the environment, we need to protect open space, guard against our water being diverted to Denver and demand that oil and gas companies mitigate the impacts of their activities.I believe strongly in the need for public transit, buses and trails throughout the valley, and I support the inclusion of Garfield County, Silt and New Castle on the board of directors of RFTA. I am also committed to seeking the solutions for the completion of a trail that connects the communities from Aspen to Glenwood Springs along the Rio Grande corridor.The needs of counties, and thus their decisions, extend far beyond their boundaries. It is essential that we maintain working relationships with neighboring jurisdictions, and state and national leaders in governmental agencies and offices. Master plans have been developed and approved by the planning and zoning commission for most areas of the county, including the Crystal Valley. In all of them, the message is clear: Retain the rural atmosphere, retain access to public lands while protecting those lands, direct growth to areas within urban areas where infrastructure is available, and continue to address the impacts of new development.I am committed to keeping the county’s budget in balance and our services in line with our revenues. District 5: Tom McBrayerThe most important issue over the next two years is the projected budget deficits facing the county. I do not believe the county should count on the people continuing to tax themselves or that a new tax should be proposed. The county should have alternative planning in place as part of the budgeting process. Jack Hatfield has stated that this planning process is currently under way.I do not support across-the-board reductions, and if cuts have to made, each department and service provided by the county needs to be analyzed independently. The value received by the taxpayer for each tax dollar needs to be the basis for the analysis. There is time for this process, and our elected officials need to avoid a fiscal emergency through planning.About one-quarter of all affordable housing in Pitkin County is classified as “resident occupied,” serving approximately 6 percent of the working population with incomes too high to qualify for category housing. Another one-quarter of the housing stock is Category 4, serving people with professional-level incomes. Do you think the average Pitkin County family, making approximately $60,000 per year, is served by this allocation of affordable housing? If your answer is yes, why? If your answer is no, then what would you do about it? District 3: Shellie RoyThe system is inequitable, but not for the reasons suggested by your data.First, there is an assumption that RO [Resident Occupied] is only for the richest workers. Out of a total of 476 RO units, 362 are in subdivided trailer parks and 39 are at W/J. RO rules are broader and allow a wider range of people to qualify without having to win a lottery. Because they are RO, trailer parks continue to be a foot in the ownership door for many.The unfairness in the category system is that the better a local worker does financially the lower his chances of winning a lottery. Take the Highlands – Category 3 or below households could put their name in for all 49 homes, while Category 4 – the midpoint of incomes – only qualified for 21 homes. Category 5, 6 or 7 was disqualified. It’s tough enough to find anything when you first move here, but when you are ready to move up, the choices are even more limited.A solution I suggested the county might try at Stillwater was to not preset categories but let all qualified enter the lottery then charge winners for the unit based on their income category. At resale the county would buy back the unit, then repeat the process to a new lottery winner. May be complicated, but at least a try toward fairer opportunity and sales costs.Without a local population we lose our vitality, but if we set a goal to build enough affordable housing we lose our small-town, rural character. The dichotomy of these conflicting needs is and always will be a struggle.District 3: Michael OwsleyThe average family in Pitkin County is not well-served by RO housing and Category 4 housing. I feel we need to have an emphasis on lower category housing, where young workers and families can begin to become a part of our community.District 4: Jack HatfieldThe housing stock has evolved over a long period of time – before I was privileged to become our District 4 commissioner. It’s what is. I do not believe our current inventory serves the needs of the average household (family, couple or individual).As housing opportunities become available (especially the land and money), I would prefer to focus on building Categories 1-4 for two reasons. First, a housing authority survey indicated this product is lacking. I agreed with that opinion when first elected. Second, and most important, is that our recent county survey, published in The Aspen Times, shows that in the 1990s Pitkin County lost population in the 20-40 age group.Although aging demographics is an important factor, I believe an equally important factor has to do with the fact that housing opportunities are limited. My focus would be to provide housing for this very important, vital segment of our community resort, thus meeting the needs of both entry level and average income households. Two keys to accomplishing this goal will be having development pay its fair share for job generation, as well as partnerships.District 4: Cheryl KoehneWe all know the pay scale in Pitkin County doesn’t match the cost of living. A couple with no children whose annual income is at least $123,200 falls into Category 4 according to APCHA guidelines. I don’t think there are too many applicants who are within that income level.However, buyers can “bid up” if they qualify to purchase a unit in a higher category. Which means, if you qualify for the mortgage and you are classified in either Categories 1, 2 or 3, you can purchase Category 4 (or higher) housing. That’s assuming you fall within the net assets guidelines. A couple earning an annual income of $60,000 would fall in Category 3 unless they have two or more children, which would put them in Category 2. If their recurring monthly debt is low and depending on the amount of money they have for a down payment, they could possibly qualify to purchase Category 4 housing.With a list of repeat applicants, it wouldn’t be difficult to survey the needs of those seeking housing. I would image there are more Category 2 and 3 applicants with fewer units available and more competition. With changing trends in the local economy and a transient population, we need to regularly analyze if the supply meets the demand, particularly in regard to affordability and availability.District 5: Dorothea FarrisThe limited resources of Pitkin County that are spent for housing must be utilized where the need is most urgent. This need is determined by the Housing Authority. Our most current information indicates that the most critical need at this point in time is for owner-occupied housing for the average Pitkin County family. The county’s Stillwater project will provide some of that housing, the city’s Burlingame housing will provide more, and future projects should be directed toward housing those employees. District 5: Tom McBrayerThe answer is that no one really knows. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are addressing the housing issue with any of these angles: categories; income level analysis ($60,000 or $160,000); or lotteries. The fact is that regardless of how much housing is provided (10 times more, a thousand times more), demand will always outstrip supply. Someone will be left out.So then, what is the most equitable method for selection and how are the costs covered become the question. If we leave the market system to correct itself, housing costs will continue to go up. I doubt that equilibrium of supply and demand would be met at a price level that would be attainable by anyone but the very wealthy. So if we’re going to subsidize housing (and that is an important question), who’s obligation is it? Should society bear the cost (socialism hasn’t worked that well)? Should the local taxpayer (sales tax or otherwise) bear the cost? Or should business shoulder the responsibility. They already bear a heavy burden.The long-term solution will be in accepting the concept of a regional economy, with our neighboring counties and municipalities working together to provide integrated infrastructure and multiple industry economic diversity.