Summit, state and federal candidates discuss housing, budget, the pandemic and more at virtual election forum
DILLON — Summit County voters are weeks away from a highly anticipated election at the end of a year that has altered lives significantly.
At a virtual election forum hosted by the Summit Daily News on Wednesday, Oct. 7, the candidates answered a variety of pressing questions. Here’s a selection of some of their responses:
Colorado House District 61
Colorado Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat, was asked how residential versus commercial designations should affect short-term rental taxation.
McCluskie said the House passed a bill this year that gives counties more authority over short-term rental units and that she’s proud of how the Legislature responded. She added that she learned from constituents that now is not the right time for a tax rate change.
When asked about workforce housing, Republican Kim McGahey said he firmly believes the government should not be in the real estate business due to inefficiencies. He said the proper role of the public sector is not to the partner with the private sector, rather to provide incentives specific to taxes and fees.
Turning the conversation to the pandemic, McCluskie said she felt guidelines such as masking and social distancing need to continue while “balancing public health guidelines along with those steps to open up economic engines like the ski industry and outdoor recreation.”
McGahey, who has been critical of the business shutdowns, said he supports a herd-immunity approach to the coronavirus because he doesn’t think “there has to be a choice between economy and human life.”
He said data indicates that it’s safe for the vast majority of people who aren’t elderly and don’t have preexisting conditions to return to work, school and church.
Summit County commissioner District 1
With an anticipated $5.5 million county budget shortfall if the Gallagher Amendment stands, Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, a Democrat, addressed spending cuts, saying the commissioners have asked all county departments to provide information for a potential 10% budget reduction across the board.
Republican Allen Bacher said he’s looking at state constitutional clauses to reduce and abate the taxes for citizens.
When asked about workforce housing, Lawrence talked about seasonal workforce group quarter housing, which most likely would be paid for through previously approved funding for that purpose. She said the housing could be built on property in the county’s land bank, saying the idea is “perfect for public-private partnerships with ski resorts.”
Bacher said that after surveying the amount of land taken on county tax rolls in recent years, the land is ideal to be repurposed for public-private partnerships to build housing.
In terms of how the county should approach enforcement of COVID-19 violations and whether law enforcement should play a role, Lawrence said the county wanted to approach enforcement first through education and warnings.
“Certainly, if behavior continues through ski season, we’ll change our tone a bit,” Lawrence said. “… At the end of the day, we all have the same goal: Keeping virus numbers low and the economy open.”
Bacher said if cases continue to rise heading into winter, it’s important to realize “one size doesn’t fit all” with public health orders in more rural versus urban areas.
Summit County commissioner District 2
Republican Daryl Bohall and Democrat Tamara Pogue were asked for details on workforce housing projects that they’d advocate for. Pogue said a recent project in the Dillon Valley community didn’t meet locals needs, suggesting the for-purchase project would have been better suited as rentals.
“We need to bring everyone to the table to work together to maximize resources we already have rather than building things we don’t need any longer,” Pogue said.
Bohall suggested that any expansion of a ski area or resort should require housing for any new employees.
The candidates then discussed Summit County Measure 1A, an override of the state constitution’s Gallagher Amendment that aims to avert a projected $5.5 million budget shortfall.
Pogue supports the measure and said although she feels the county can get to a point to sustain another year of cuts to the budget, she’s concerned how slashes could impact basic services long term.
Bohall, who does not support the measure, said he’d propose a budget freeze or 5% to 10% budget cut across the board as well as scrutiny of any new hires.
“It comes down to being very frugal and fiscally conservative in these times and being smart about the decisions we make,” he said.
Summit County commissioner District 3
Democrat Josh Blanchard and Erin Young, who is unaffiliated, were asked what type of workforce housing projects they’d advocate for. Blanchard said more diverse housing types, including rent-controlled units, would benefit the community. Young said her focus is ensuring locals who make $15 to $20 an hour can afford a place to live. She said the housing onus can’t only fall on small businesses to pay higher wages.
“If we don’t have workers who stay here, we won’t have families who stay here,” Young said.
Independent Bruce Butler was asked his thoughts on the recent Smith Ranch and Dillon Valley Vistas workforce housing projects, where there were fewer applications than units. He said he thinks a lot of people “got hung up on single-family home workforce housing models.” He added that he thinks the county needs much more of a rental component. He also said he likes the idea of offering housing directly for sale to local qualifying businesses.
Moving on to funding shortfalls, Blanchard was asked what he’d cut from the county budget to accomplish one of his stated goals during the pandemic: expanding mental and behavioral health services. He said he’d leverage collaboration with nonprofit partners and individual residents as well as look at federal and state funds to subsidize programs.
Butler, who is against Summit County Measure 1A to override Gallagher, said he’d consider cutting items that are a “want and not a need” to balance the budget.
Young, a small-business owner, was asked how she would support business if the county faces another shutdown. She said the county should work “reasonably” with variances specific to COVID-19 regulations while simplifying the guidelines.
2nd Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat, said the framework for a new COVID-19 relief package should include renewed Paycheck Protection Program funds, emergency loan forgiveness, direct financial relief for citizens and rental restriction relief.
When asked where he stands on balancing health and the economy, Dr. Charlie Winn, a Republican, said slowing the spread was intended to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
“Right now, there’s no reason to stay locked down,” Winn said. “There’s certainly no reason to tell 16- to 20-year-olds in Boulder (to). … (We) need to come up with better therapeutics to get through the pandemic.”
Neguse, a supporter of “Medicare for All,” was asked how government-run health plans would reduce costs and what the tax burden would look like. He said he approaches the matter simply, out of his feeling that no family in the country should go bankrupt if a loved one gets sick. He said he feels a “Medicare for All” system ensures people have access to life-saving care.
Winn, who is against “Medicare for All,” said a “one-size-fits-all” system out of Washington, D.C., would require rationing and price fixing. He said a state-first model utilizing health saving accounts would improve the quality of direct patient care and improve price transparency.
Colorado Senate District 8
Addressing housing, state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican, said although he believes short-term rentals should be paying commercial property tax, it’s a belief not shared by Summit real estate agents and the chamber of commerce.
Asked the same question, Democrat Karl Hanlon said different kinds of short-term rental owners should be assessed differently. He also said local communities should decided on regulations.
“Is it 50 different short-term rentals managed by an out-of-state company, or someone renting out the accessory unit over their garage,” he said.
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