Although issues such as the proposed Lafarge gravel pit and Emerald Mountain land swap are important, priorities for spending in the face of dwindling resources is the key election topic for the District 2 county commissioner candidates.
Financing and building the new justice center as cheaply as possible is among incumbent Doug Monger's "tier 1" spending goals, which also include taking care of Routt County employees and making sure their wages are competitive with those in similar-size areas, he said.
After that, Monger, a Democrat, wants the county to continue funding pools enabling the purchase of new equipment when old equipment becomes obsolete. Another "tier 2" spending goal is the continuation of improvements to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, he said.
If he is re-elected, Monger expects maintaining services as resources decline to be one of the biggest challenges facing him and other county commissioners.
"That will be tough, and we will need to be very aware, very diligent and very efficient to continue providing the services we provide now with less resources," he said.
Overall, Monger's highest priority is to continue encouraging fiscally conservative spending, he said.
The new justice center continues to be a hot topic in the county, which awaits the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' final approval or disapproval of a wetlands permit for the proposed site west of Steamboat near the county jail.
In the case that the permit is denied, all options -- including revisiting the downtown location on Sixth Street or finding new property west of Steamboat -- will have to be considered through a process of hearings and discussions, he said.
"If we get turned down, anything is on the table," he said.
Because of space -- particularly room for expansion -- parking and security issues, Monger thinks the west Steamboat location is the right site, he said.
Monger countered critics who say the new justice center, as it stands now, costs too much.
"We're either going to cut the quality of the building or the servicability, usability and security of the building," he said.
Monger neither supports nor opposes the Emerald Mountain land swap, a process in which the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would purchase State Land Board property on the mountain using funds from the sale of isolated BLM parcels throughout the county.
Monger asserted that the partnership might have done more legwork in communicating the issue with all landowners bordering the parcels -- giving each an equal opportunity to be involved in the process, he said.
But Monger also argued that single landowners surrounding BLM parcels with no public access should not be able to privately benefit off that land, he said.
"The commissioners' role in this would be to make sure the process is handled correctly and that the values are represented fairly and broadly for the whole county," he said.
On the issue of the proposed Lafarge gravel pit just south of Steamboat, Monger said the county needs a gravel pit in that area but that minimizing environmental effects of the operation is crucial.
As a small business owner, Republican candidate Jeff Fry, who owns Bears Ears Excavation, said he has learned the importance of keeping his options open.
That perspective applies to his view of the new justice center and how the county should proceed if the Army Corp of Engineers denies the wetlands permit for the west Steamboat site.
"Limiting options takes away bargaining power," he said.
One of Fry's biggest concerns is the cost of the justice center, pushed up in part by the increased square footage of the structure proposed near the jail, he said.
"I don't disagree with wanting room to expand, but at what cost will it come to other budgets?" he said.
With Routt County's population rising, the county cannot afford to take money from any other budgets or departments, he said.
Along those lines, Fry said his priorities for spending would be health and human services programs, such as the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice.
One of the toughest issues facing the county is finding permanent funding for the First Impressions early child care and education program, Fry said.
As commissioner, Fry would take the issue back to the voters, he said.
Like Monger, Fry would make competitive compensation packages for county employees a spending priority, as well as road improvements, he said.
"I want to look at other options for doing roads," Fry said. "I'd like to start doing some chip-and-sealing. ... If you do it right, it's a nice surface for driving and biking."
On the issue of the Lafarge gravel pit, Fry said the cost of hauling gravel from west of Steamboat to the south valley warrants a new gravel pit in the south valley.
"I don't care if it's that site, and I don't care if it's Lafarge, I would just like to see a pit in the south valley," he said.
Fry also asserted that he is opposed to the Emerald Mountain land swap in its current form and is particularly concerned that selling the BLM parcels may affect the recovery of the sage grouse, which is slated to be on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's list of threatened species, he said.
Fry advocates searching for other ways to fund an Emerald Mountain purchase such as Great Outdoor Colorado grants or funding support that may be available through the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, he said.
"We can save the BLM lands and get Emerald Mountain purchased," he said.
Fry said he also would like to see something happen with the West of Steamboat Area Plan, which was approved by the county and city of Steamboat Springs more than five years ago to encourage residential development west of Steamboat.
Getting rid of the mill levy and taking away the stipulation that building starts with the eastern-most parcel and moves west would help the process, he said.
"Why are we taking away options," he said referring to the stipulations.
Fry and Monger support efforts to take advantage of heritage tourism throughout the county. The new trend in tourism highlights historical and cultural assets of communities.
In Hayden, which is in the process of revamping its master plan to prepare for growth, Fry would like to see a revitalized downtown area and more light industrial and commercial development to help support the town's tax base, he said.
Consistent with the county's master plan, Monger supports more compact development in Hayden and less development in rural areas surrounding the town. Devising a process for transferring development rights may help that plan, he said.
Shortly after the primaries, Cheriene Marchus joined the District 2 commissioner race as a write-in candidate. Registered as a Republican, Cheriene Marchus' husband, Mark Marchus, was defeated by Fry in the primaries.
She has worked as a secretary in the commissioners' office but has been on leave since late August. Town Manager Tom Sullivan declined to say how long she would be on leave.
Although she prefers the west of Steamboat site for the new justice center, in the event that the wetlands permit is denied, Cheriene Marchus would want to explore the possibility of building a parking structure underneath a justice center in the downtown location, she said.
She also proposes building the justice center in phases to control costs, she said.
Marchus criticizes the Emerald Mountain land swap process, questioning why all landowners bordering BLM parcels -- including her and her husband -- were not contacted about the issue.
Regarding the gravel pit, Marchus supports the proposed Lafarge site but would encourage a stipulation that when the company is finished claiming gravel, the area be made into a park, she said.
Among Marchus's spending priorities would be funding education programs and chip-and-sealing roads. As commissioner, she also would encourage a long-term plan for a bike path extending from the Routt County boundary on Rabbit Ears Pass to Craig, she said.
In addition, Marchus would like to see the airports be self-sustaining, she said.
Working in the commissioners' office, Marchus said she has seen a lot of areas that need changing in certain departments, particularly in terms of attitudes, she said.
"I would like to see justice and compassion and common sense in the commissioners' office," she said.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail email@example.com