Incumbent county commissioners defended their decision to move the proposed justice center west of town during a candidates forum Monday at Centennial Hall.
Their challengers questioned whether there was a better solution.
In District 1, incumbent Republican Nancy Stahoviak is being challenged by Libertarian candidate Mike Kien. In District 2, incumbent Democrat Doug Monger is facing Republican candidate Jeff Fry.
Monger and Stahoviak stood by their decision to build the new court facilities on a site west of downtown. After voters rejected a bond issue to fund a new downtown justice center in 2002, county commissioners decided to move the new center west of downtown and partially fund it through certificates of participation, which do not need voter approval.
That decision to go west has been challenged by individuals as well as the Steamboat Springs City Council.
Kien said that although he understands the need for "sacred court facilities," he felt the county's decision to issue certificates of participation to fund the building violated the spirit of the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights. He said he would have reviewed options for funding new facilities and brought a different plan to the voters.
Fry said he felt the bond issue should have been taken back to the voters after it was rejected, and that county commissioners had "circumvented" voters by deciding to use certificates of participation. He said he felt the county should take every step to keep the cost of the facility low, and that a new building downtown without a parking structure should have been considered before county commissioners made the decision to move west.
Monger responded that county commissioners never brought the issue back to the voters because they were working under a court-ordered timeline -- which has since been removed -- and thought that the public would not have voted to fund the new justice center.
Stahoviak said she felt county commissioners could not have done anything differently, and had a good process involving the public and research before making the decision to move west. That site, she said, fits better with community plans, is less expensive, and allows the county offices to expand into the current facility.
Stahoviak, who is recovering from her fourth knee surgery in Denver, did not attend Monday's forum, which was sponsored by the Pilot & Today and KRMR radio. Jeannie Whiddon sat in Stahoviak's place, reading statements prepared by Stahoviak in advance of the debate.
When asked how they would deal with current budget constraints, Stahoviak, Monger and Fry agreed that a top priority was to fully fund market increases in employee salaries. Stahoviak and Monger said funding the justice center also was a priority, while Fry said funding health and human services as well as the road and bridge departments was key.
Kien said he felt the critical role government should play in society is to protect the rights of residents. He said a top funding priority was law enforcement, but that funds given to the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team should instead be given to a group such as Routt County Search and Rescue.
All candidates agreed that a good relationship between the city of Steamboat Springs and the county was important, as was a good relationship with each of the other towns and communities in the county.
Stahoviak and Monger said they felt the relationship between the city and county is positive.
Kien said he felt it was important to keep good communication and be open to changing one's mind, and Fry said he felt the county's communication needs improvement.