Incumbent Martin describes self as county educator
Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories profiling the candidates for Garfield County commissioner District 2. Wednesday’s paper featured Democratic challenger John Acha.
“All I am is a teacher right now. I wish to remain a teacher and also a good steward,” said Commissioner John Martin.
The 20-year incumbent Martin is running against New Castle Democrat John Acha, and he approaches the campaign with the lengthy experience and having helped amass the county’s $126 million in reserves.
Commissioners, however, anticipate drawing down reserves by about $20 million in 2017 due to the reduction in county revenues, driven by non-production of oil and gas wells. Martin says this is what reserves are for.
While his Democratic opponents worry about this turning into a trend that drains the county’s reserves in a only a few years, Martin says the commissioners have seen these challenges coming and have been preparing for them.
The county will also likely tap into its oil and gas mitigation fund — which Martin calls the “rainy day fund” — for a few million dollars toward that end. He takes credit for having created this fund at the beginning of the energy boom with protections that keep commissioners from spending every dime of it.
Martin has highlighted that there is no statute requiring the county to keep a certain percentage of expenditures in reserves. Though the board has a policy not to dip below 30 percent, that policy can be changed, he said.
The municipalities have also recently fretted over the county’s plans to shift the mill levy dedicated to road and bridge into the general fund to help cover this revenue reduction.
Martin clarified Tuesday that the municipalities, which would collectively share in about $400,000 of the road and bridge mill levy, won’t see a reduction in this money due to this mill levy adjustment.
Rather, commissioners intend to create grants from the general fund for the same amounts, said Martin.
“What it amounts to is it’s accounting, using state staututes and understanding state statutes to assist yourself as well as your municipalities. And by the way, it’s legal.”
Responding to criticisms that the county is too invested in the oil and gas industry alone, Martin has a laundry list of county efforts for economic development and job diversity, not least of which is the board’s recent steps toward an broadband infrastructure.
He points to the Garfield County Regional Airport, which generates about $65 million per year in economic development.
The county has not put all its eggs into the energy basket, he says, but has also worked with the chamber of every municipality to advertise nationwide what Garfield County has to offer.
And the county has worked to promote businesses, albeit not by investing taxpayer dollars directly into any business, which is against state statute, he said. Rather the county sets the stage with things like land use regulations and infrastructure to encourage business growth.
He created the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District, which over the course of about four years has put $15 million into other local governments’ infrastructure projects.
“Federal Mineral Leasing is the greatest economic development tool ever created in Colorado,” he said.
Martin is also proud to point out the county initiatives that don’t rely on taxpayer dollars. In his two-decade tenure as a commissioner, the board has never proposed a tax increase.
He promotes the commissioners’ approach of leveraging federal dollars and investment earnings to pay for programs instead of county tax dollars.
“All I’m doing is educating these folks,” said Martin, whose 20 years as a commissioner has given him an intimate knowledge of the county’s dealings. “(I’m) helping these folks get that institutional knowledge, understand the depth of what they have to do on a daily basis and why they do it.”
“It’s not all me. It’s a team. And that’s the difference.”
“We can talk big and promise the world, but until you get there and you understand the makeup of a board (and you’re not in the majority) how much are you going to change?”
“If you’ve got somebody who says they’re going to change the world, go back to what they told Teddy Roosevelt about changing the … direction of the United States as president. They compared him to a 16-year-old bull rider on his first bull.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.