Martin running on accomplishments, knowledge
Second of two parts.
After 20 years on the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, John Martin is running on his accomplishments and his detailed, firsthand knowledge of the county’s business.
Martin is not running a campaign of change. He’s offering to continue steering the county by the philosophy he’s held all along.
The commissioner initially ran for the position to help clean up a dysfunctional and debt-ridden government, which two decades later is flush, sitting on $100 million-plus in reserves.
Martin said when he first came into office, the county government’s philosophy was to spend every dime every year because it may not get that money next year.
“But now that’s not our philosophy at all.”
Government needs to be small, efficient, effective and cost-effective, Martin said.
A county government is “one of the most effective and efficient and most responsive governments you can possibly have because you’re closer to the people, and you have so much less bureaucracy to take care of.”
Martin also is proud that the board has not once proposed a tax in his two-decade tenure. The commissioner defaults on a steadfast “live within your means” perspective.
And he raises concerns about what the taxing districts that have raised and relied upon property taxes — the municipalities, school districts and special tax districts — are going to do with the drop in oil and gas activity.
Meanwhile, the commissioners are expecting next year to see a $13 million drop in the county’s revenues from property taxes tied to oil and gas activity. But because of the county’s prudent planning and saving, it is not in panic mode, Martin has said.
One of Martin’s most prized accomplishments is the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District, which he points to as a major economic driver.
In the last four years, FMLD has distributed more than $15 million — money that the county receives from mineral leasing on federal lands — to Garfield County municipalities and other taxing districts for infrastructure projects.
The county is an entity that can watch trends and change its own rules and regulations for its partners’ benefit, he said.
A major role of the county is to support the municipalities on multiple fronts. Though the county doesn’t use its sales tax for the general fund, the commissioners work to support the municipalities that live and die by it, he said.
Martin is intimately familiar with the county’s past decisions but says other partners sometimes don’t like that he has a good memory for the agreements they struck with the county.
With the municipalities in particular, Martin is to this day irked by an unfulfilled agreement with Glenwood Springs and Carbondale struck 15 years ago. When the property west of Highway 82 near Cattle Creek, at that time called Sanders Ranch, was proposed for development, the two municipalities promised to promote industry and draw new businesses and housing within their borders in exchange for a rejection of Sanders Ranch.
But 15 years has passed and “they haven’t done a dog-gone thing,” said Martin.
Martin, like his Republican challenger, Aron Diaz, also looks to the municipalities to spearhead affordable housing solutions.
It’s not the county’s role to get directly involved in housing because it has no authority to do so, said Martin.
You can force people to build affordable housing, and then you’ll have empty housing projects like on the East Coast, he said.
“It doesn’t work.”
But it can set some peripheral policies for support.
The county supports affordable housing by making it an incentive, rather than a penalty, to build, he said.
Building affordable housing isn’t a requirement for developers, but the county offers bonuses, like allowing higher density, if developers choose to build affordable housing.
The county also has supported corporations providing senior housing, sponsoring them through bonds at low interest rates.
And the county contracts with Garfield Housing Authority to mange low-income properties.
It’s going to take a cultural shift to solve the county’s housing woes, which Martin called a “vicious cycle.”
“It’s real tough to say we’re going to provide cheap housing when the average cost of a house just for the people [who are already] here ranges now from $500,000 to $800,000 in each community.”
The inventory of residential properties $300,000 and less is zero, said Martin.
The commissioner points to the municipalities’ denial of many proposed residential developments, even after the county offered transferable development rights and attempted to entice developers into the municipalities.
“What it amounts to is there has to be an attitude change in the local governments,” what’s acceptable to the community, what style of houses and level of density they’ll allow.
It’s a society’s acceptance that we’re really up against, he said.
“We’re up against people’s willingness to change their whole way of living.”
Achieving that attitude change, bringing the right people together, “that’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” he said.
“There are walls you wouldn’t believe. They may be glass walls, but they’re a mile thick in some areas.”
“But if we work together, we can get so much accomplished. I don’t know how many millions of dollars we’ve given for water lines, sewer lines, electrical lines, computers, vehicles — you name it.”
The Board of Commissioners has tried to decentralize everything, not to control, but to bring the municipalities into a partnership, he said.
“I’ve made tens of thousands of decisions for you,” he’s told constituents during this campaign. And not everyone has liked all those decisions. “But I’m able to go ahead and still work with them, bring them back, and help change either their opinion or my opinion.”
“I try to make sure my priorities are for the betterment of all people, not just a few.”
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An inmate at the Garfield County Jail was found dead in his cell Sunday morning.