Hatfield and Koehne square off | AspenTimes.com
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Hatfield and Koehne square off

Eben Harrell

Cheryl Koehne feels unfairly represented by local governments in Pitkin County. Look around the county, Koehne will tell you, and you’ll be hard pressed to find young elected officials.”The median age of the county is 37 years old,” she said. “But other than [Aspen Councilman] Torre there’s no elected officials to represent the younger generation.”After five years in the county, Koehne, 38, said she has had enough. So she’s running for incumbent Jack Hatfield’s seat in the November election for Pitkin County commissioner.What do the younger residents of the county need? More opportunities to own property, for one. Koehne opposes any further county property tax because “not everybody who owns property in the county is rich.” She also said affordable housing projects should create more ownership opportunities.”I hear from so many of my friends that if they don’t win the housing lottery they will have to move downvalley,” she said. “There’s an undersupply of houses to purchase; the county needs to lead the way. We can’t just target renters.”Koehne cited the Woody Creek Trailer Park, which for years has attempted to buy its property from the county, as an example of the county ignoring the importance of those wanting to own property.”[Residents in Woody Creek] are being strung along. The county needs to finish what it started,” she said.Young people like more opportunities to party, too. Koehne chided her opponent for being the only commissioner to oppose the number of functions allowed at the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain.”Young people are the key to the vibrancy of this town.”Koehne also said she’s prepared to deal with all the issues currently facing the county, not just those facing its younger generation. Regarding the county’s projected deficit, she has a plan to offer incentives to individual departments that manage to save money. And she’s not afraid to identify expenses that she said could be cut.”The county spends $582,000 for TV and FM translators – essentially half a million dollars for programs to rabbit ear television sets. That doesn’t seem right given the deficit.”Regarding the county’s current efforts to protect rural areas, Koehne said the county has been overlooking the importance of environmentally friendly development. Conservation, she said, is not just antidevelopment but green development, too. “Right now there are not enough incentives for environmentally sensitive development. The county does reimburse recyclable materials, but there’s so much more that could be done.”Regarding transportation, Koehne supports the initiatives on the November ballot for New Castle, Silt and unincorporated Garfield County to start funding the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority – “we carry too much for the financial burden,” she said. Regardless of the November outcome, Koehne said there are still problems with the transportation authority that need to be addressed.”I’m not the only person who has noticed that most of the buses are running empty,” she said.Koehne, who worked as a legal assistant in Aspen’s city attorney’s office for three years, said she has a good understanding of the processes of county government. She’s never held an elected position before, but said that shouldn’t stop voters from selecting her.”What’s a better qualification than to be concerned about the welfare of the community?” In board meetings, Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield can come across as methodical and predictable. It’s not that he is in any way dull. It’s just that Hatfield has certain values and viewpoints, and he doesn’t hesitate from articulating and repeating them.It’s become a familiar refrain: “I was elected with a certain mandate,” he often says in meetings, “and I have to be true to it.” It is this dedication to principles that Hatfield hopes will vault him safely into another term come November. His philosophical beliefs are a particularly Pitkin County concoction of liberal environmentalism and fiscal conservatism.Since he took office, Hatfield said he has been integral in the de facto adoption of the county’s urban growth boundaries, which limit dense development to town and city cores. He’s consistently worked to limit development and sprawl.At the same time, he’s been mindful of the county’s projected budget deficit. And it’s this insistence on pinching pennies that is primarily responsible for Hatfield’s reputation on the board.”Every board member has his or her role,” he said. “I am the one who always leads the in-depth questions about fiscal matters and the responsible use of public money. It’s the role I play.”Predictably, Hatfield said the answer to the county’s financial woes is not new taxes, though he will support the renewal of a health and human services tax set to expire in 2006. Instead he said the county must make tough decisions about cuts in nonessential services.”I’m opposed to any new property taxes. We have to be as efficient as possible. If we do that, I expect we’ll be able to keep the budget balanced.”Hatfield pointed to 2002, when he and fellow commissioners cut $1.7 million from the budget but still managed to undertake new projects, such as the paving of Owl Creek Road, as an example of successful fiscal prudence.Hatfield said while he clings to the core beliefs of his first campaign, his platform has broadened over the past four years (“I’ve learned as I’ve gone along,” he said). A project to simplify the land-use code is currently under way and he hopes to continue the effort if re-elected. “We need the land-use code in black and white as best we can,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be that complicated. Eventually we should get to the point where many of the simple applications can be handled administratively, without even having to come in front of the commissioners.”Hatfield said he’s also become convinced that the need exists for a strategic plan for the county’s water resources. Such a plan would direct the county’s future policies on water resources, stream flow, septic systems and water diversion to the Front Range.Hatfield is also concerned about the county’s current airport master plan, particularly the proposed lengthening of the runway. Many community members initially opposed the extension, expressing concerns that it would lead to larger aircraft and increased traffic at the airport. The federal government recently agreed to fund a study into the environmental impacts of the extension.”I fully support the concept of the runway,” Hatfield said. “I’m pretty confident we will never have larger planes here. But this is not something that can be done without continued public input.”Above all, Hatfield said he is confident his record and behavior will win over county voters. After all, there’s no doubt about what you’re getting with Jack Hatfield.”I think everyone knows what I bring to the table.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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