Paul Strong is the Republican candidate for Routt County Commissioner in District 3. He will face Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in the Nov. 7 election. Strong sat down Friday for a chat on steamboatpilot.com
Q: When you were City Council president, you voted with the majority and had fiscal oversight responsibilities regarding several projects which had significant cost overruns (such as the tennis bubble). How did these cost overruns occur?
Strong: No one was happy with what happened with the Tennis Center. After the project was started, it was discovered that the foundation was not correctly built the first time. We had to redo much of the concrete work which was not budgeted. This happened after the project started and our choice was to close down the center and end the large tennis community that had developed or move forward. In the public arena, staff always comes forward with rough numbers so the decision can be made whether to go forward with the engineering studies to develop the hard numbers. Frequently, these rough numbers are held on to as what the project should cost. The city has changed its procedures to eliminate these issues in the future.
Q: What do you see as the major differences between you and your Democratic opponent, Diane Mitsch Bush?
Strong: I feel that I have a broad level of experience in local government involving many different departments and wide-ranging issues. As an elected official, I understand being held accountable and how to be responsive to complaints from members of our community. My financial expertise is important in helping set budgets and understanding different financing mechanisms. The county government is one of the largest organizations in Northwest Colorado and having real-world business and financial experience will be invaluable in serving as county Commissioner.
Q: You are currently a member of the Emerald Mountain Partnership. During your tenure, the Partnership has approved 15,416 acres of Routt County BLM lands to be privatized in order to purchase only 4,138 acres of Emerald Mountain. How do you justify such an exchange as a benefit to the citizens of Routt County?
Strong: The proposed exchange is a value-for-value exchange not an acre-for-acre exchange. The appraised values for the exchanged parcels need to be roughly equal for the exchange to happen. The BLM had to determine that the exchange was in the best interest of the public to approve the exchange, which they have done. They concluded that they could manage one large parcel better than many scattered parcels, most without public access and the public could make better use of the Emerald Mountain parcel. I served on the Emerald Mountain Partnership as a representative of the Steamboat Springs City Council. I was elected to represent the best interests of the residents of Steamboat Springs and strived to do that. I promise to represent the best interest of all of the citizens of Routt County if elected and will work with anyone who would like to use this exchange as a template for the benefit of any of the other areas of the county.
Q: Hi Paul, I am concerned about recent efforts to divert Yampa River Basin water to the Front Range. One diversion has already occurred, giving Yampa River water to Eagle County. At that time you were President of City Council, with a majority usually voting with you. I would have thought you and Council would have protested this diversion, but so far as I know, this didn't happen. If not, why not?
Strong: The city was involved in litigation over the Recreational Instream Channel Diversion (RICD) water right that we had filed for our kayak park. We had spent a great deal of money on this and the city's attorney was also representing the diversion to which you refer. We expressed our desire to file a protest but were told that would cause our attorney to be required to withdraw from our case, causing this large investment of time and money to be lost. We felt this would be financially irresponsible even though we were all against the diversion. When this diversion was recently modified, I asked the council to protest it but found no support from the other members and our attorney expressed the opinion that the modification did not affect the Yampa basin. Being an elected official frequently means having to weigh between two choices that are both desirable but mutually exclusive. I will continue to make decisions that I feel are in the best interest of the citizens who elected me.
Q: You have said that the citywide sales tax used by Steamboat's Education Fund Board should be a countywide tax, to benefit all three Routt County school districts. As commissioner, would or could you work to make this happen? How would you work to balance the disparity in facilities and salary levels in the three school districts?
Strong: That is not exactly what I said. I said that when the tax was started, we should have looked at a county-wide tax that could be shared among all the districts. I said that it was probably impossible to change it at this point. The county is limited to a one percent sales tax by state statutes with a few limited exceptions. The county already has this one percent tax in place, so an additional tax for education would exceed this limit. There are efforts underway to share some of the half-cent tax among the districts. The grant writer, which is funded by the sales tax, writes grants for all three districts and the vocational education efforts are partially funded by the tax. As a Commissioner, although not having any authority over the School Districts, I would work to encourage and enhance the partnerships that are already developing among the Districts to share resources and knowledge.
Q: How would you work to balance booming growth in Routt County with preservation of agricultural lands and heritage?
Strong: I think we all agree that this is one of the biggest challenges we face. There are only a handful of ranches left that rely on ag operations as their sole source of income. We need to do everything we can to reduce county regulations on agriculture to ensure their survival. Continued use of the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) tax proceeds for ranches that want to use it and expanding Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs such as the non-continguous Land Preservation Subdivisions (LPS) allowed South of Steamboat Springs will be crucial.