Jon Stavney: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
The perception that Eagle County neglects the midvalley is a folkloric remnant from days when the county operated out of a dilapidated garage in Basalt.
It’s a perception with which our 18 employees who go to work every day in the clerk and recorder, health and human services, sheriff, and road and bridge offices in El Jebel would beg to differ.
Serving the midvalley is their job every day.
Additionally, county employees work on Roaring Fork matters from Eagle, traveling regularly when necessary. Arguably, per square mile, the midvalley is more thoroughly served in employee hours than any other part of the county with an office closer to most residents there than in most of the rest of the county.
I hear people wondering if they get their money’s worth. With 16 percent of the county population (8,267), the midvalley contributes 10 percent of the property tax revenue ($1.6 million). Of the $1 million in sales tax collected there last year, a third of that sales tax money went to support the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and trails. The remainder, $654,000, went to county services. So Eagle County accumulated revenues of approximately $2.2 million in the Roaring Fork Valley. Sounds like a lot of money, but it represents approximately 5 percent of the overall county budget. The county does not separate what is spent for services there, but that sounds like bang for the buck to me.
Commissioners make sure any file or topic of significant public concern for midvalley residents gets a local hearing. We’ve been faithful to that idea, hosting no fewer than 17 public hearings in El Jebel these past three years versus eight during the previous three. Numerous work sessions with Basalt and Pitkin County, as well as meetings with RFTA and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, easily triple that number.
Frankly, I have spent many more hours working in the Roaring Fork Valley than I have in Vail since I was elected.
Regular visits to the Roaring Fork Valley have born fruit with a variety of collaborative efforts, some of which fly under the radar of public perception.
Those victories include intergovernmental agreements with Pitkin County that include plowing Frying Pan Road and solidifying an old agreement for Pitkin County offices to be co-located with ours in the midvalley.
We have multiple agreements in Health and Human Services, including the Midvalley Collaborative with more than 60 members working to align services from the three counties that serve the Roaring Fork Valley. Eagle County Health and Human Services coordinates services and contracts directly with Community Health Services in Aspen so clients can be seen either in Aspen or El Jebel. We also partner with Garfield and Pitkin counties for dental and senior services as well as public-assistance services.
Roaring Fork Valley partnerships have led to significant open space investments, including a deal jointly funded with Pitkin County and Basalt. The Saltonstall deal will protect significant agricultural lands while allowing improved public access to the Bureau of Land Management’s Crown Mountain recreation area.
Another example of collaboration is Energy Smart. Eagle County manages the three-year Department of Energy grant program for Gunnison and Pitkin counties. Staff at the county is working closely with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency on implementation. Many residents on both sides of the hill have taken advantage of that program to lower utility costs in their homes.
At a policy level, we have worked closely with the Clean Energy Collaborative in Basalt to allow our Eagle County Efficient Building Code, or Eco-Build, grants to be used by Eagle County residents on their solar arrays in the midvalley and Garfield County. This past year, Mike Bair’s innovative micro-hydro project on the Fryingpan River received an Eco-Build grant.
We are in discussions with the town of Basalt and the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. on how Eagle County can assist in relocating the trailers to allow the town to redevelop riverfront property.
In 2011, we collaborated with the Crawfords to improve pedestrian safety on El Jebel Road by adding a sidewalk. The year before, we helped fund similar sidewalk improvements in the Blue Lake subdivision.
Also in 2011, our Community Development Department worked closely with residents on Cedar Drive to establish a Local Improvement District that brought grant money to help them significantly improve the safety of their access road. I applaud those neighbors for recognizing that they needed to come together for their own safety.
Though it is a very sensitive issue currently, I am proud of our leadership and collaboration with our partners on the Crown Mountain property to solve existing access-road issues that will only worsen in time.
We are still working with residents of Sopris Village to mitigate potential impacts to their safe, quiet neighborhood. We are funding preliminary engineering studies so as not to hold up RFTA’s bus rapid transit station and park-and-ride or delay a future Crown Mountain Recreation Center. We share an interest in ensuring that this property serve as the best public-amenity center possible. Ultimately, voters will decide if the rec center should happen. Eagle County will be ready to make the necessary road updates if voters say “yes.”
Communicating regularly isn’t necessarily easier than enjoying the distance that geography allows. Spending more time in the Roaring Fork Valley doesn’t mean we are always on the same page.
Basalt and Eagle County especially seem to perpetuate a rivalry over who has approved more “sprawl” in the midvalley. Our jibes have to be reconciled with knowing each other better.
Commissioner Sara Fisher and I spent a day recently with officials from Basalt and Pitkin County, interviewing aspiring Basalt Library board members. The atmosphere was collegial. At the end of the day, both Pitkin County commissioners present commented that for “being a Republican, (I was) kind of OK.”
I accept compliments however served, so after politely correcting that I am a lifelong Democrat, I paused and said, “In Pitkin County I suppose I would be a Republican.”
That got laughs all around, though it underscores how difficult changing perceptions can be. I’m not sure they were convinced.
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