Summit County’s commisioners visited the White House on Monday and brought up issues important to Summit residents
Summit County’s county commissioners visited the White House on Monday, March 5, for the Colorado County Supervisors White House Conference. The conference was an opportunity for local officials from across the state to meet with White House officials and staffers and discuss policy issues important to their communities. Colorado was the 15th state to have such a conference with the Trump administration.
Commissioners Dan Gibbs, Karn Stiegelmeier and Thomas Davidson were among the dozens of Colorado county commissioners invited to the conference. Trump administration officials from a variety of Executive Branch agencies offered presentations on their roles and policy objectives, and commissioners were given opportunities to ask questions of the speakers.
Gibbs used the opportunity to raise issues important to Summit residents, touching on topics ranging from housing to the environment.
“We were able to share what is going on with issues that are affected by federal policy, and the kind of help we need,” Gibbs said. “It was a unique opportunity to share with key White House staffers the kind of challenges we have with Summit, as well as to make connections and get to know the staffers who implement policy.”
Housing is consistently one of the top issues of concern in Summit, and Gibbs said he raised the issue of how housing grant funding is calculated with Stephanie Fila, a representative from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Gibbs said he was concerned about how housing grants depend on average median income in a county, but do not take into account the cost of living.
“HUD could be a very important partner with the housing needs we have out here,” Gibbs said. “I urged them to be more realistic about the overall cost of living, since rent, day care and health care is so expensive here. They need to look at a wider variety of factors to get the full financial picture of a place like Summit.”
One of the biggest areas of intersection between Summit and the federal government is public lands, as the U.S. Forest Service owns most of the open space in the county. Gibbs raised the issue of federal forest funding for the White River National Forest, which has been slashed from $33 million in 2008 to $12 million in 2018.
“I stressed the importance of tourism for our local economy, as well as protecting our environment,” Gibbs said. “If the Forest Service doesn’t have the funding, they won’t be able to properly manage these lands.”
Gibbs also brought up the issue of “fire borrowing,” where money is taken from Forest Service budgets across the country to pay for major wildfire disasters in places like California. “We lose out on really important money here to pay for forest fires in other states, whereas in other departments there is usually an emergency fund that can be used instead of raiding other Forest Service budgets. Forest Service is one of the only departments that doesn’t have an emergency fund,” he said.
Gibbs also raised other environmental issues, including a proposal to use more preventative measures instead of solely expensive restorative treatment to rid water bodies like the Green Mountain Reservoir of aquatic nuisance species. “Instead of spending millions of dollars to fix the problem after the fact, they can use preventative measures to stop it happening in the first place,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said he asked about the fate of Dreamers in Summit and across the country. However, aside from saying the president was still working with Congress on the issue, Trump’s deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn provided little in the way of assurance about their protection. Gibbs also said the White House did not seem to offer much interest in issues such as climate change and broader environmental concerns.
Gibbs said he still appreciated the invitation and believes it was an ultimately productive experience.
“I want to stress the unique opportunity to hear from these key decision makers at the White House,” Gibbs said. “It was a great experience to share with them a snapshot of the issues we face here in Summit County, but a lot more work needs to be done to find solutions.”
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