Gov. Hickenlooper visits Summit to share goals and answer questions
Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Summit on a sunny Friday afternoon, accepting questions on all subjects from county residents. Hickenlooper received a warm welcome at the Frisco Adventure Park’s Day Lodge, starting off his speech with a few words on the recent Flight For Life tragedy.
“Our hearts and prayers are with you,” Hickenlooper said. “You go through that level of challenge and grief and you really can come out strong.”
The governor proceeded to address plans for improving state infrastructure, education and businesses. He emphasized the importance of building new roads, encouraging business and educating future generations.
“We are in a place where we are creating a state where we have very high standards,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re at the top of development.”
He praised the state’s quality of life and health, and the state’s rapid growth since the recession, adding that Colorado is in the top two states nationwide for growth.
But he also addressed areas where the state has room for improvement, such as the highways.
“We can’t afford not to do it,” Hickenlooper said. “We can’t keep growing and not have these roads.”
Hickenlooper also emphasized the importance of paying teachers a competitive salary, in order to prevent them from leaving for other states for better pay.
“We have school districts in the state where after teaching for 15 years, you’re still getting less than $40,000 a year,” Hickenlooper said.
Focusing in on more regional issues, Summit County residents expressed their concerns with topics ranging from health care costs to recreation funding.
Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs thanked Hickenlooper for his support in changing health insurance regions, reducing Summit’s sky-high premiums.
“We in Summit are now in region nine but insurance is still very expensive,” Gibbs added. He also expressed concerns that he had heard rates may increase up to 45 percent on the west slopes.
“That won’t necessarily happen,” Hickenlooper responded.
He added that the country is paying more for health care compared to previous years.
“It will improve the quality of our health care. But at the same time it still costs,” Hickenlooper said. “There’s a million ways that all of us can impact that.”
Another woman asked Hickenlooper about ensuring funds intended for recreation on public lands are not diverted to fires. The question comes in light of a bill that would allow wildfires to be funded as natural disasters, instead of requiring the U.S. Forest Service to pull funding from other sources to extinguish the blazes.
“This is not just money for recreation use, but for fire suppression and forest health,” Hickenlooper said. “I came up here, we talked for an hour and noticed all of the places in the state where we have failed to get all that fuel out of the woods.”
He added that this year, Colorado has more resources, with a wet summer and fewer fires. The state also has an entire fleet dedicated to helping extinguish fires, following the disastrous wildfires the state has seen in recent years.
One last point that the governor touched on was a question by Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the Summit Combined Housing Authority. She asked on line items for workforce housing, and plans to bring more funds from the Front Range the mountain area.
“Almost everybody thinks they’re getting the short end of the stick,” Hickenlooper laughed.
But he added that improvements to workforce housing and rural economies support the rest of the state.
“A healthier Eagle, a healthier Grand Junction or a healthier Frisco — long term, that benefits Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs,” he said. “That vitality in one part of our state affects that vitality in another part of the state in the long term. It certainly justifies subsidies for people who work.”
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