Candidates talk court, economy

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— The Routt County Justice Center and encouraging economic growth in Hayden were hot topics of discussion at a Republican forum held Tuesday night in Hayden.

About a dozen people attended the forum at Hayden Town Hall. It was the second of three forums giving Republican candidates for county commissioner seats, as well as GOP candidates for the 3rd Congressional District, opportunities to share their views on a variety of issues.

All four Republican commissioner candidates agreed the county's property west of downtown Steamboat Springs is the best location for the justice center because it is close to the county jail and offers ample room for parking and the 50,000-square-foot planned building.

Several candidates, however, questioned the center's hefty price tag of about $15.5 million.

"I just don't think Routt County can afford the facility we currently have on the books," said Mark Marchus, who is running against Jeff Fry for the chance to oust Democratic incumbent Doug Monger in District 2.

In response, District 1 incumbent Nancy Stahoviak emphasized that Steamboat Springs City Council's opposition to the project's west Steamboat location has further delayed construction, ultimately making it more expensive.

"The longer we have to wait to build the building, the more it's going to cost," she said.

The candidates agreed with Stahoviak and criticized the Steamboat Springs City Council's influence on the project.

"I don't think the city should dictate where the justice center goes," said Bea Westwater, who is challenging Stahoviak.

A main focus of Westwater's platform is encouraging a sense of cohesion and identity throughout Routt County, which is too often identified by just Steamboat, she said.

Fry, a Hayden resident and owner of Bear Ears Excavation, emphasized economic development as one of the most important issues facing Hayden. Yampa Valley Regional Airport, as well as the railroad and U.S. Highway 40, make Hayden a prime area for attracting light industrial companies, he said.

Stahoviak pointed out that the county must compete with every other Colorado community to lure businesses.

Marchus, a former county building official who also has worked in Prescott, Ariz., noted that the airport in Prescott has helped attract major companies, such as U.S. Motors, to the town.

"They are as interested in being here as we are in having them," he said.

Westwater said there are creative ways to find operations looking to relocate and stressed that commissioners need to focus more attention on economic development throughout the county.

During a somewhat contentious part of the meeting, audience member Ron Sills questioned whether Stahoviak should have stepped down as county commissioner because of her illness. She uses a wheelchair and has been recovering from kidney failure and knee infections since December.

Stahoviak emphasized that though she has not been able to attend all commissioner meetings in person, she has participated via phone and kept up on county issues. The county attorney, she said, researched laws to ensure her phone participation was legal.

"I've done a lot for Routt County. I think the people of Routt County can give me some leeway," said Stahoviak, who was first elected in 1992.

Also in attendance at the meeting was United Airlines pilot and commander of the U.S. Naval Reserves Matt Aljanich, a Steamboat Springs native who is running to replace Scott McInnis in the 3rd Congressional District seat.

Aljanich has worked on anti-terrorism issues for the Navy and said his extensive military experience makes him the best candidate to represent the district in defense issues.

He emphasized the importance of implementing the Sept. 11 commission's anti-terrorism recommendations immediately as well as developing sustainable energy sources to wean the world's nations off of Middle East oil.

Aljanich, who cofounded a health software company, said his experience in the medical industry has made affordable health care --including guaranteed health care for veterans -- among his top priorities.

He is one of five candidates on the Aug. 10 primary ballot. The other candidates are state Rep. Greg Rippy of Glenwood Springs, state Rep. Matt Smith of Grand Junction, Palisade peach grower Greg Walcher and Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino.

The candidates are in the midst of a series of debates throughout the district. The debate in Pueblo today will be followed with a debate in Durango on Aug. 2 and a Craig debate Aug. 3. Aljanich is proposing the candidates also schedule a debate in Steamboat before Aug. 10.

Meanwhile, the Republican forums in Routt County will conclude with a meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Oak Creek Town Hall.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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