Commissioner candidates talk economy, housing
Garfield County commissioner candidates Wednesday talked about their diverging visions for economic development and affordable housing in the county.
The Democrat John Acha is challenging 20-year incumbent John Martin, a Republican.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Garfield County is in for a change,” Acha said at a debate sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Association of Realtors. The sinking price of oil and gas is a worldwide issue following discoveries that deposits have been largely underestimated, not just in Garfield County, he said.
Decreased revenue from that industry is going to be a fact of life, and therefore it’s the commissioners’ job to look forward and work for economic diversity, said Acha.
Much of the county’s problems also derive from the commissioners running the county as managers rather than letting the county manager do his job, said Acha.
Acha has leaned heavily on better marketing of Garfield County to attract outside businesses.
Martin said this kind of marketing effort is already being done, and he criticized the idea of prioritizing outside companies rather than promoting the companies that are already here.
The county is looking at a $17 million reduction in revenues for next year, but it’s nothing commissioners are panicked about, said Martin. Rather, this is something they’ve been planning on for years, he said. Adjustments in mill levy allocations will allow the county to use reserves to cover this shortfall, said Martin. And he promoted the county’s prudent savings and pulling back on capital spending next year.
Martin highlighted the Federal Mineral Lease District’s role in paying for infrastructure projects of municipalities and other governmental subdivisions.
“If you can’t promise infrastructure, you have nothing but hot air,” he said.
The FMLD has now provided about $17 million to local infrastructure projects over about four years, said Martin.
The commissioner also outlined the board’s efforts to encourage affordable housing: supporting Garfield County Housing Authority will tax dollars, using tax credits to offer incentives to developers and utilizing Department of Housing Urban Development program as examples. The county has also increased Section 8 housing and is fighting for more units that are controlled by the Front Range, he said.
The county contributes sales tax to 41 nonprofits, many dealing with housing, said Martin. But the municipalities have to work with the county and look at their height and density rules for affordable housing to be successful, he said.
In Martin’s view, approaches to affordable housing are split into two philosophies: that the government should provide everything for everyone, or that you have the right to success but the possibility of failure.
Elected officials need to recognize that this community’s and nation’s success has been based on the simple principle of people’s right to own, gather and exchange property, said Martin.
On affordable housing, Acha focused on changing building designs and techniques for more efficient and cost-effective projects, pulling from his experience as a federal contractor on projects with price tags in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“You can build affordability in this county as long as you use common sense design,” he said.
The county has also in the past required that residential developers in the Roaring Fork Valley make a certain percentage of their houses affordable, but the commissioners put a moratorium on that when they all became Republicans, said Acha, who wants to reinstitute that rule.