Future commissioners face big issues
Those who have attended Pitkin County’s Board of County Commissioner meetings will know that the commissioner’s have their hands full. Pitkin County, after all, is a big place. There’s the roads, the airport, the rivers, the ranches and of course the ever-present property developers to tend to. And that’s not to mention the county’s projected budget deficit, the affordable housing issue, and the interactions with other governments, particularly state and federal legislatures, who jockey for influence in county affairs.In November’s general election, three of the five members of the board are up for re-election. Incumbents Jack Hatfield, Dorothea Farris and Shellie Roy will square off against challengers Cheryl Koehne, Tom McBrayer, and Michael Owsley, respectively.This week, high-ranking employees of the county offered their thoughts on the most important issues that will face whoever is elected Nov. 2.Pitkin County Manager Hilary Smith:In thinking of issues of the future I really go back to our strategic plan. The plan identified eight areas of focus that I think will continue to challenge the commissioners: Environmental protection, regionalism, regional transportation, growth, affordable housing, community involvement, revenues and services, and organizational excellence.I think the most important thing that should be focused on is public trust, or “community involvement.” If you look at national surveys in people’s trust in government it’s low. What we want is for citizens to come into the county and they can feel heard and of value to us. The simplification of the land-use code is crucial to that, of course. But it also includes building relationships with caucuses and neighborhoods and making business with the county easier. The commissioners need to lead the way on that.Director of Community Relations Nan Sundeen:The county is projecting a budget deficit by 2007. So from my perspective [the commissioners] need to find out more about what kind of services our constituents want and what we can make work financially. Our structural deficit is looming large. We’re going to have to make cuts.Director of Public Works Brian Pettet: I can name four issues off the top of my head: housing, water, land use and transportation. They are all connected. Water quality and quantity might be the most important. It’s not just about drought. We should continue to question how our water is being used. The Front Range is interested in gaining access to water on the Western Slope. So do we allow water to go to the Front Range so that development there can continue, or do we keep water here with the threat that development will follow where the water is? Transportation is also vitally important. I think Pitkin County has done a very good job controlling and managing growth. But the transportation system has been adversely impacted because other adjoining counties have not been as successful. But because Pitkin has been great at controlling growth we now have a housing problem. All these issues are really interrelated. Balancing them all will be the challenge for the commissioners.Director of Community Development Cindy Houben:I believe the main issues facing whoever is elected are affordable housing, water policy, open space and intergovernmental agreements (IGAs). As far as IGAs, if we want to maintain planning goals we have to have strong urban growth boundaries. The commissioners need to find a way to work together on agreements between the county and cities to ensure the corridors to our community remain open and rural in nature, and reflect the joint master plans and the rural master plans. It just seems that all four of those are our big agenda items as we move along. Those are the items that keep showing up as we work jointly with other jurisdictions in the valley.
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