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Occupation: County commissioner, rancher, accountant
Prior political experience: Routt County commissioner (2001-present); ran twice unsuccessfully for Routt County treasurer
Hometown: Steamboat Springs
Years in Routt County: 56 (my whole life)
Family: Wife, Lauretta Davidson; son, Kyle; stepson, Travis; daughter, Tyra
Civic involvement: Routt County Open Lands Committee (1994-99); Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (1994-present); Colorado Water Resources Power Development Authority (2004-present); Y Knott Beef (1994-2001); Yampa/White Basin Roundtable (2008-present); Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (2007-present); Colorado Interbasin Compact Committee (2010-present); Routt Building Advisory Board (2004-present); Colorado Counties Incorporated, board member (2003-09), president (2007); Yampa Valley Airport Commission (2004-present); Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association board member (1983-88); Yampa Valley Economic Development Council (2004-present); Walker Ditch Company (1994-present); Routt County Cattlemen (1984-present)
Q. Improving the local economy is often cited as your top priority, if elected. Identify three specific actions you would take as county commissioner that would directly impact Routt County’s economy.
A. 1) Infrastructure: Solid infrastructure (including roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc.) sustains our existing businesses and draws new business to our community. I will continue the careful planning, pre-funding and budgeting that ensure our limited revenues achieve the biggest bang for the buck.
2) Broadband: State-of-the-art broadband is critical for our businesses. Routt County must do everything it legally can to help the coalition of schools, municipalities, special districts and the Chamber, which is working to achieve this goal. I will continue to champion this effort.
3) Yampa Valley Regional Airport: This airport is essential to our economy. For many visitors it is the first thing they see when they arrive and the last experience they have in our community when they leave. I will continue to be a champion for the airport and to work to make it financially self-sufficient while at the same time maintaining a top-quality airport.
Q. Declining local property valuations could have a significant impact on the county budget in the next couple of years. What areas of the county budget are best suited for cuts? And what is your position on using reserves to pay for operating expenses?
A. I believe we have hit the bottom on property values and stand ready to see a recovery. Routt County still has a small TABOR credit on property taxes that would allow for another 10 percent drop in assessed values while still providing a stable revenue source. In 2009, the commissioners examined every expense line item in every department. Every possible cut was made, including cutting 24 positions, while still maintaining a stable level of service. If we need to make further cuts, those cuts will have to be in reduction of services. The most probable cut would be in the Road and Bridge budget; roads might not get plowed every morning, and we may have to accept longer periods between resurfacing the 150-plus miles of road while still protecting the infrastructure. I would not favor paying for operating expenses from the reserves. In government, we must be sustainable.
Q. Oil and gas exploration is a hot-button issue for many residents. Do you support the actions taken by the current Board of Commissioners as they relate to energy development within Routt County? If so, why? If not, what measures do you oppose, and why?
A. Our most valuable assets are our air and water quality. I support the actions that we commissioners have taken to ensure their protection, even though those actions have pushed my personal tolerance for regulations and conditions to the limit. I am ready to work with the industry to provide for responsible energy extraction, job growth, economic vitality and environmental responsibility. I am not in favor of further regulations; I believe that during the last year we have reached the balance we were looking for as a community, and I do not support further changing the rules after achieving that balance. While that balance might not be supported by the industry, they are not as dependent on our community and ecosystem as we are. We need to take every reasonable precaution to protect the water we drink, the air we breathe and the mountain environment that sustains us.
Q. Do you believe the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and state regulations are sufficient for protecting the health, safety and environment in Routt County?
A. These regulations might be adequate if they included water quality pretesting and monitoring programs. However, the enforcement of those regulations and the manpower needed to enforce the regulations is substantially lacking. Within the last year, the commissioners held informational hearings with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and a hearing with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The consensus opinion of most who attended those hearings was the concern that both entities are understaffed and underfunded and thus the industry is under-regulated and therefore basically self-regulated. I would rather Routt County not be involved in inspecting and enforcing oil and gas regulations, but if necessary I will go the course to protect our health, safety and welfare. If we do get a substantial amount of oil and gas activity, I would also support a contract with the COGCC to fund a county inspection program in partnership with the COGCC.
Q. Name your top three priorities if elected to the Board of Commissioners and how you would accomplish them.
A. 1) Budget: I will continue to implement a county budget that reflects our values and shows fiscal responsibility. I will support our current budget, which plans for pre-funding of capital assets, and I will support budgets that spend within our means. I will consistently look for programs to streamline governmental spending.
2) Interaction with state and federal entities: I will continue to regularly lobby on behalf of Routt County through such entities as Colorado Counties Inc. and Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado — entities in which I have obtained leadership status. We must maintain a close relationship with our federal and state elected officials regardless of political affiliation.
3) Open community communication: As always, I am eager to hear and respond to citizens’ opinions and concerns. I will continue to promote joint meetings between the commissioners and municipal boards and to host meetings with all schools and colleges in Routt County.
Q. What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent?
A. Among the numerous differences between us, one is my 11 years of experience as your county commissioner and public servant. My opponent lacks any experience as a governmental decision maker or public servant. The second is our knowledge and participation in the community. While I embody a lifetime of county involvement and local perspective, my opponent has little history of participation in the Routt County community. Lastly, we have distinctly different perspectives regarding regulations. While I believe Routt County has achieved a healthy balance in regulatory discretion and would resist further regulations, my opponent has in various venues indicated her desire to reduce county regulatory oversight. We don’t know the extent of those proposed reductions in regulations or which protections might be reduced. I fear that under her leadership, our balance in building codes, land use and environmental health might all be at risk.
Q. Would you make it a priority to restore employee pay to pre-recession levels and to provide annual pay increases? If so, how would you pay for it?
A. The current commission’s goal for 2013 is to restore to our employees the 5 percent pay cut from 2009. I fully expect to achieve this, and I am also working toward a 2012 bonus of $1,000 for each employee, as we did during 2011, to remediate the pay cut of 2009. Without additional revenue sources, any further cost-of-living or pay-grade increases will not be achievable. From a 2011 salary survey, our pay ranges average 10 percent below other similar entities. Five percent should be returned during the 2013 budget; the other 5 percent should continue to be a county priority. We simply cannot balance the county budget on the backs of our employees. If revenues increase some, I would also support reinstating the years-in-service pay plan for all our employees.
Q. Routt County was scheduled to spend up to $767,840 this summer to put asphalt patches on a county road system that is deteriorating. However, with little help coming from the state, and the assessed valuation of the county declining, projections show the Road and Bridge Department fund balance will continue to decline. What, if anything, can be done to shore up funding and do more to improve Routt county’s roads?
A. First off, as I described above, I believe that assessed valuations have leveled, and we are in step for recovery with home values. My biggest concern is the risk of losing payment in lieu of taxes and federal mineral lease monies totaling almost $2 million, which we normally receive from the federal government. With the federal budget deficit, I believe our federal receipts are greatly at risk. If those receipts were to be reduced, we would absolutely need to cut levels of service in the road department. I do support the asphalt patch and the chip-and-seal programs. While they are not as good as asphalt overlays, the results are sufficient to protect a hard surface during budget shortfalls. If reduced levels of service are not acceptable to the community, a tax increase will be required. The voters would decide the level of service they desire.
Q. Someday, the national and local economy will recover and Routt County’s population will grow, as will the need for workforce housing. Do you think county planning initiatives have adequately prepared us to manage that growth in the best interests of existing residents and communities across the county? What steps would you take?
A. I believe that the county planning is totally adequate if growth returns to the valley. These planning tools have been achieved through compromise during the past 40 years and represent the values of our community. The tools are based on the concepts of preserving working landscapes, minimizing urban sprawl, and one building unit per 35 acres. With those guiding factors and working with the municipalities on establishing urban growth boundaries, we ensure that the county grows as we desire. Also with community support, the county will continue with incentive-based preservation of working landscapes through the Purchase of Development Rights Program. As for workforce housing, I will continue to work with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to provide affordable housing. Both for the convenience of our workers and to minimize infrastructure costs, it is best to keep housing as close as possible to the urban centers.