Q&A: Summit County commissioner District 1 candidates talk affordable housing, taxes and COVID-19
The debate around coronavirus public health orders often pits the economy against human life. What do you think the county did right and wrong in the first six months of pandemic response?
I have been a part of this from the very first moment we learned the first case of COVID-19 in the state was in Summit County. There are many things I would change, and there are many things I believe we did right and are still doing right. In hindsight, I would have liked more outreach to our community — sharing what we know regularly and building a relationship of trust with our community.
There is lot of misinformation out there and, while that is tough to overcome, I do believe that strong relationships build trust and that is the best way to ensure facts reach every corner of our community. I appreciate that we listened to science as soon as we started to learn about the virus. We continue to treat COVID-19 as a marathon and make policy that focuses on community safety, low virus numbers and supporting our economy. In the future, I think it is important to have a small, dedicated group of policy advisors whom the public knows and trusts as policies are recommended.
— Elisabeth Lawrence
The total shutdown of the county was a grievous error of commission by the current county commissioners. As in most matters in governance and life, one size does not fit all. The declaration that liquor stores and marijuana were “essential,” and that other venues of commercial activity were not, was revealing. The importance, or lack thereof, the current county commissioners place on our societal needs here in Summit County was spoken loud and clear.
Could it be that government has become addicted to the sales tax stream from these industries and that their judgement was clouded by their needs and not the needs and welfare of the citizens? Could it be that they didn’t want to deal with withdrawal chaos? They created a different sort of chaos.
The draconian dictates of Gov. Jared Polis from his isolated position in Denver did not even consider that Denver is not the center of the universe. Summit suffered due to the blind allegiance of the “party over the people” by the current commissioners.
— Allen Bacher
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How do you plan to help Summit County’s economy recover from the pandemic, and how would those proposals help individuals and businesses?
I would open the county back up with sensible guidelines, not unconstitutional mandates, for the welfare of our residents. Pay attention to what your mother always told you: Wash your hands, do not be around others if you are feeling poorly, and wear a mask if you are concerned about your well-being and/or that of others. Play nicely in the sandbox. It is “we the people” not you our rulers.
Keep in mind that this pandemic was inflicted upon the world by wanton actions, commissions and omissions of the Chinese Communist Party — not the people of China, but their draconian and oppressive regime.
I would suggest and empower the local merchants to set mask and distancing standards appropriate for their own particular business. Once again, one size does not fit all. Just as “no shirt, no shoes, no service” has been a standard for decades, “no mask, no service” could be, as well. I would take suggestions from the public health officials as to what should be done, but they are not representatives of the people — the commissioners are. Do what is sensible and use common sense rather than listen to what some plutocrat occupying the governor’s office says.
Our biggest goal is to keep Summit County open and maintain and expand our recovery through lower case numbers. Low case rates allow our schools to stay open, which allows our families to go to work, which allows our businesses to stay open. It all starts with managing our cases so that our economy can remain open to visitors.
This requires an ability to cultivate a strong relationship with our business community so we can understand their challenges and get their input and feedback on our policies and ideas. I am proud to serve on the Summit Chamber of Commerce board of directors and how that relationship has led to collaboration between the county and the business community.
Keeping our economy going has a direct connection to being able to help those who are in need. Summit County supports the many local nonprofits providing help to individuals in our community with food, child care, rental assistance and health care. That requires strong economic performance. The summer sales tax numbers have been very strong, but we need to keep an eye on what sectors are lagging so we can expand support and make sure everyone who needs assistance can get it.
Summit County is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the local workforce. What solutions would you work to implement, specifically addressing housing and wages?
We know that we cannot build our way out of our housing problem for our local workforce. However, continuing to build a variety of attainable housing for our local workers is critical and requires creative solutions. Some of those include exploring adjusting planning and development codes to incentivize accessory dwelling units, help homeowners who might own short-term rental units be open to more long-term rentals and other solutions such as group quarter housing for our seasonal workforce.
We want a diverse community where young workers, families and retired residents can thrive. Pursuing this diversity in both demographics and wages ensures long-term viability for any community and ultimately its economy. Collaboration among the public and private sectors can help build strategies and the goals necessary to succeed, and those goals should be memorialized in the county’s updated master plan.
Along with child care and transit, housing and wages are important parts of the overall affordability and livability equation. We are all stakeholders in seeking the balance needed to ensure the county is a unique, livable place for everyone.
My website has the specifics that I would advocate to address this question. For the details, please access it. In general, I would encourage and foster the private-public partnerships utilizing the land that the county already holds to be repurposed for addressing this issue. I would revise and revamp the planning and zoning rules and regulations to encourage and allow a better use of private residences. I would foster the utilization of lock-offs, require all new commercial development to be mixed-use in design and require that all new major developments or expansions would include in their proposals a provision for additional head count accommodations as a part of the application process.
Voters will be asked to weigh in on several tax initiatives, including a statewide measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, which sets limits on property tax assessment rates, and a local measure to override the amendment. How will you vote and why?
I stand against any and all efforts to repeal the Gallagher Amendment as this was placed as a protection against the continuing encroachment of government’s appetite for ever-expanding intrusion into the citizens lives and wallets. Governments were established by the consent of the people. The elected officials and bureaucrats have forgotten that they are to serve, not rule.
Government has to make choices for the allocation of limited resources with regard to unlimited demands, desires and needs. As currently seated, they have forgotten that they are to serve the county’s citizens, taxpayers and voters, not outside interests, and that they are to be good stewards of their fiduciary trust.
I know of no elected official or bureaucrat within local or state government who took a pay cut while they dictated that the citizens should bear all of the pain that they inflicted.
I will vote “no” on all measures. Government must learn to live with the resources that they have been entrusted with by the citizens, taxpayers and voters and not keep reaching into the pockets of the people.
We’re currently in the budget process and “tightening our belts.” We haven’t yet recovered tax revenue lost during COVID and, unlike many of our local incorporated towns, we rely on property taxes.
Gallagher will force a property tax adjustment statewide in 2022. It will impact any entity that relies on property taxes to provide services, including us. This adjustment will automatically create an extreme budget shortfall — estimated to be close to $6 million here in Summit. That will mean employees will have to be let go and programs will have to be cut or reduced under this amendment.
Further, in order to meet the obligations mandated by state statute, additional county services (many of which are essential but not mandated) will have to be reduced to a level citizens and guests aren’t accustomed to.
The community has voted to allow Colorado Mountain College and our fire districts to retain their revenue (known as “de-Gallaghering”). I plan to vote “yes” for Summit County’s question for the same reason. I also plan to vote “yes” on the statewide question.
Across the state, 72% of leaders from both parties support repealing Gallagher. I join them in seeking a fix for this broken amendment.
The condemnation of a conservation easement at Fiester Preserve to develop senior housing was a hot-button issue before the pandemic. Where do you stand?
Fiester is a prime example of why the county should prioritize a collaborative process for the best end result.
It is a complicated issue, as the easement is on county-owned land. However, that land is very special to neighbors who live around it. On March 9 of this year, I hosted a meeting at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, across the street from the Fiester Preserve. In attendance were 75 citizens willing to share their thoughts with me on the Fiester Preserve, conservation easements and housing for seniors. Additionally, I met with the Friends of Bill’s Ranch group to go over their history with the property and what they wished to see happen with the preserve. These meetings were set up on my own, and I felt it was the right thing to do as commissioner, especially when the outreach from residents showed that they were clearly not being heard.
I do think there is a collaborative solution to addressing senior and workforce housing in the County Commons area, but it must be done with the stakeholders as part of it. I do not support a complete extinguishment of the conservation easement.
As stated within my website, I oppose and would never allow the extinguishment of any conservancy that was granted in perpetuity. Perpetuity is defined as “forever.”
I favor the establishment of a facility to serve the needs of those who wish to have assistance to help them remain in the county they have come to love. This is another area that would be well served by the aforementioned private-public partnerships. Government often does not act in the best interests of the people; in this instance, they were listening to the siren song of vested-interest groups.
Elisabeth Lawrence, a Breckenridge Democrat, is running for reelection to the Summit Board of County Commissioners in District 1 against Allen Bacher, a Breckenridge Republican.
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