Q&A: Summit County commissioner District 2 candidates weigh in on Fiester, housing and pandemic response
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 personally believe we mandatorily shut too much down for too long. If big businesses like Walmart, City Market, Safeway, Target and gas stations were OK to be open with only so many people per square foot and masks, why not give small businesses that same option immediately? Especially given what we know now. I have a conversation with a decades-old college friend in my phone from late March saying after the first 15-day shutdown phase, everyone under 40-45 years old should’ve been going back to work on March 30, but anyone who had underlying medical conditions or very close to someone that did could use the extra two weeks granted federally plus any and all of their vacation and sick days built up to stay home longer or even take a leave of absence. We had data from Japan, South Korea, Italy and Spain at that time to support this idea. That conversation is still in my phone for anyone who sees me out in Summit County between now and Election Day and wants to see it.
— Daryl Bohall
The economic and mental health impacts of the shutdown are devastating to all of us. I am grateful for the hard work of county, town and school district leadership in navigating through these difficult and unprecedented times. I appreciate the way in which the county has used data to drive its decision making. I also appreciate the way the towns have responded to the crisis by developing creative ways to bring guests into town safely, from walkable streets to relaxation of regulations, all designed to help our community make the best of a terrible situation. As a parent, I am thankful for the way the school district has balanced the emotional and physical health needs of our children.
In times of crisis, communication is essential. I think more efforts could have been made to communicate directly with the public about the decisions that were being made and why. I am impressed with the efforts of organizations like the Breckenridge Tourism Office to connect town council and the business community. I think conversations like these need to be had with the business community across the county to capitalize on their expertise and ideas to keep businesses open while also keeping us all safe.
— Tamara Pogue
How do you plan to help Summit County’s economy recover from the pandemic, and how would those proposals help individuals and businesses?
Our recovery requires a collective approach that leverages the strengths of government, the private sector and the nonprofit sector. The county must seek state and federal, county and municipal funds and use these in a coordinated and aggressive way, and funding must be delivered directly into our community quickly and efficiently.
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My first step will be to create a countywide economic advisory committee that works in cooperation with our existing organizations and municipalities. This will ensure the coordination and collaboration necessary as we seek support from the state and federal government. More importantly, this commission will draw on our community’s ingenuity, innovation and strength as we will need every idea on the table and all hands on deck. My second step will be to create a financial review committee which will review the county’s budget and spending decisions each year to ensure that every penny is spent as wisely as possible.
Since we heavily rely on tourism, a lot of Summit County recovering will depend a lot on the state of Colorado fully reopening and other states, as well. That means not cutting tourism advertising dollars as we reopen. In fact, we might want to increase tourism spending dollars as soon as we fully reopen. Also, if we stay at a 50% or so dining capacity in the county and a 60% ski slope capacity, for example, with reservations only beyond Thanksgiving, business tax relief will need to be considered, if possible, to help prevent job cuts if no more Paycheck Protection Program funding is allocated at the federal level. Anything more than that, I’d personally have to look within the county code to see if there’s anything else we could do that the state doesn’t cover.
Summit County is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the local workforce. What solutions would you work to implement, specifically addressing housing and wages?
Any future resort expansion should include coverage for housing for the expected number of employees needed to staff that expansion and to maintain that specific expansion.
Affordable housing, if we do it, has to be actually affordable. The recent Dillon Valley Vistas built in Dillon Valley had four immediate applicants for 12 units with prices over $400,000. Is that the best use of our tax dollars?
One of the biggest concerns I personally have with this idea is that when we approve a small tax increase here or there, it affects the people trying to get into affordable housing the most. Example: A property tax increase means increased rent rates quite often for the people who can barely afford it. A utility rate increase? The very same. That’s before a possible HOA fee in some affordable housing units.
We’ve made great progress on building for-purchase 100% to 120% area median income housing. However, we desperately need affordable rental housing. While at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, I helped create the Housing Works Initiative, which incentivizes homeowners to rent to locals. At the height of the program, it had 45 rental units at a mere fraction of the cost of building those same units. It is an example of a public-private partnership that can have a significant impact on the housing crisis and one that I intend to pursue further if elected
Of our job base, 70% support the tourism industry, and many of those jobs are low wage. I support forming an economic advisory committee and an office of economic development, which will take a more holistic look at how these issues — wages, child care, housing and social infrastructure — intertwine and connect to our economic progress. Summit County must take a long-range approach, including bringing more job and income diversity to the community.
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 support the repeal of Gallagher, and here’s why:
The county projects that it will lose $5.6 million dollars in revenue each year moving forward with the changes predicted in property tax rates. Gallagher creates a terrible distortion in our community that places an enormous burden on commercial and vacant land while ratcheting down property taxes in our community. And because the county relies primarily on property taxes to provide residents vital services, the consequences of feeding this distortion year after year cripples the ability for the county to provide them.
Nobody is a fan of limitless government. But I reject the notion that county services are handouts, and the reality is that cuts to everything — from open space and wildfire mitigation to housing, senior services and the Summit Stage — will have devastating consequences to our social infrastructure, our workforce and our economy.
While I don’t like the wording of the Summit County initiative, it is no different than the initiatives voters have already passed to support our fire district and Colorado Mountain College.
Right now, I personally haven’t decided on a Gallagher repeal or not because the commercial property tax rate appears to be 29%. If we vote to repeal Gallagher, will that rate go down but residential property tax rates go up, hurting the lowest-income bracket even more? Or will commercial taxes go up, strapping business even more, possibly putting them out of business and creating job loss?
Personally, I’m not for Summit County Measure 1A. It doesn’t give a clear saying of the voters deciding on the ballot every year for future mill levy changes. Does that leave it open to the three county commissioners to decide, not the voters of Summit County? If it leaves it to the commissioners only, it doesn’t also give a sunset clause for that. So will the county commissioner board have that power going forward? I don’t support that, even if I were to be one of the three granted those powers with an election win in November.
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?
There are a few things with the Fiester Preserve condemnation I’m not excited about. First, the original document written by a prior commissioner board long ago appears to me to be very poorly written. Secondly, it is actually county property, and the county may have a ruling in its favor before I could take office. I’ve had a senior group contact me personally asking about this very topic. I said that a senior assisted living center would be the only thing I could support on that property at this time for the following reasons: That kind of proposal wouldn’t be many levels high, so disrupting the views of the mountains for many could mostly be avoided by this kind of development versus others. The county senior center is right across the street for seniors to vote at and to socialize with other seniors. The County Commons and library are close by, and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center is, too. The fire department is only about a mile away. The Colorado State Patrol office is very close if an emergency arises before anyone else can there. They might be able to assist, as well.
I am opposed to the condemnation of the conversation easement at the Fiester Preserve. My concerns stem from a lack of process and a need to make sure that we’re prioritizing open space and our commitments to protect it. While I do support addressing needs for affordable senior housing, we need to consider what other parcels might be more suitable for such a project and ensure the process is open, data-driven and transparent.
Fiester isn’t the only recent example of community priorities coming into conflict. The planning and construction of Dillon Valley Vistas attainable housing has caused conflict with Dillon Valley’s need for safe, walkable streets and open space.
This issue also points to the larger need for a transparent process in planning decisions. Our planning commissions are under used, we have an outdated master plan, and we need to make sure that we are constantly seeking a balance between our natural resources and our infrastructure and economic needs.
Tamara Pogue, a Dillon Valley Democrat, is running against Daryl Bohall, a Frisco Republican, for the Summit Board of County Commissioners in District 2.
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