Lake County voters will decide on two county commissioner seats in November’s election. Jeff Fiedler, Democrat, and Hanna Waugh, Libertarian, are running for Lake County Commissioner, District 3. Sarah Mudge, Democrat, and Ezekiah Lujan, Republican, are running for Lake County Commissioner, District 2.
Below are questions posed by the Herald Democrat and the candidates’ responses. Lujan declined to participate in the Q&A.
1. What do you see as the single biggest problem facing Lake County? How would you work to remedy it as a commissioner?
The single biggest problem for Lake County is the lack of year-round work opportunities in the county. Our county relies heavily on tourism and that isn’t changing soon so in order to address this problem we must incentivize year-round businesses to open in Lake County and hire residents; providing our workforce with local jobs and preventing daily travel to Chaffee, Eagle, and Summit counties. This creates a stronger community for Lake County when residents work and shop local. This creates a safer Lake County for residents and visitors by reducing traffic over Fremont Pass and Battle Mountain.
By expanding our business revenues through the increase of businesses in Lake County, we can also help reduce some of the tax burdens on citizens and other local employers. With more businesses providing a more stable tax base, we have the opportunity to plan for the future and be more proactive in our county planning, rather than reacting to the financial situations that occur. Bringing businesses local now will help the community soften the economic downturn for when Climax closes.
Incoming growth is the single biggest problem facing Lake County, threatening the community feel, affordable housing and open space of our high mountain county. At the same time, we cannot simply “pull up the drawbridge.” We need some growth to alleviate housing pressures and create a stable tax base and resilient local economy.
As commissioner I will seek a common-sense approach that balances the opportunities and challenges of growth, focusing on the following areas:
— Zoning/codes: The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) must steer growth through our zoning and codes that determine what can be built in different areas of the county and what we require of development. These must be fully aligned for our vision for what we want Lake County to look like in the future.
— Affordable housing: The county and city must be proactive and coordinate to address affordable housing, including through our zoning and codes, as well as more targeted efforts (covered in more detail below).
— Infrastructure: The BOCC must ensure that the county does not take on unnecessary and expensive new infrastructure costs or take on long-term maintenance liabilities. We must focus on maintaining what we have and ensuring that our public investment in infrastructure supports private investment and activity.
— Staff: The BOCC must evaluate the staffing capacity and expertise required in various departments to handle incoming growth.
— Coordination: The county must be an engaged partner with the city and other organizations and taxing districts to ensure we are on the same page regarding handling growth.
— Economic development and diversification: The BOCC and the Leadville/Lake County Economic Development Corporation should continue to support our current businesses and their growth opportunities, and attract right-sized new business to the county that results in a diverse and resilient tax base and a wide range of local employment opportunities.
It is difficult to answer this question. There are many challenges with the foundation on which we operate local government. It is great to see increased interest in the participation of local decision making. I implore anyone interested in serving on committees or boards to get involved in some way in order to understand more detail on the current structure in which we operate.
While Lake County will always be challenged with capacity, we are not short of healthy partnerships with agencies in the county, region and state. We must also see that the county’s institutional knowledge can not live with one or two elected officials that come and go. We must share roles and responsibilities and give county staff the support and inspiration that they need in order to continue to maintain big picture planning and long term ideas. This is easier said than done, and means that priorities need to be made on staffing, spending and investing. These priorities need to be understood and shared between elected officials.
The needs and expectations from the Lake County community only increases, but there is only so much that we can take on as we are prepared to do so, and there are places I believe we need to pivot and shift from where past planning may no longer be most relevant in a world of decreasing revenue and COVID-19. So while there are many physical challenges, or threats, facing the county such as forest health and aging infrastructure, there is also philosophical challenges of encouraging and empowering more people to work at and continue to participate as informed local decision makers.
2. Lake County could see a loss of revenue in 2021, due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. If budget cuts were a necessity, what parts of the county’s budget would you look at cutting? What parts of the budget would you shield from cuts?
Like many people in our community who are struggling with financial strain, our county’s finances are going to take a significant hit due to the impact of COVID-19. It is in our best interest to protect all community members and our government finances through what is sure to be a difficult fiscal year. We need to ensure that citizens have stable, year-round jobs. I will cut my own salary before I ever consider cutting jobs or salaries of other county employees.
Throughout my campaign I have been adamant about auditing our financial budget and taking a close look at where we are overspending. Until the audit has been completed, any answer to this question is speculation.
Based on what I can assume from our previous budgets, projects in the community will be delayed and spending will be limited. Holding off on minor equipment repair and reducing water usage for county parks are two small ways to help reallocate money. As for larger ways to cut spending, I would like to see a lease to own program enacted at Road & Bridge, instead of buying older machines that ultimately need more work. I would also like to see furlough days for employees who make over a certain salary, similar to what other counties are doing in Colorado. Instead of trying to incentivize new hires to help with the county workload, I would like to see if we can also bring on local, private contractors. This would allow for our employees to focus on their job duties without putting additional overtime and workload on them and be a way to reduce costs in the community.
If budget cuts are necessary, I would seek to avoid county staff furloughs or layoffs. Staff layoffs would have a direct and immediate negative impact on households in our own community and worsen the economic hit from COVID-19. In addition, staff furloughs or layoffs harm morale and could make it hard to hire back staff when budgets recover.
Rather, I would focus short-term cuts on capital expenditures (e.g., new equipment, infrastructure) and repairs that can be postponed. While deferring maintenance and upgrades for long periods of time is risky, I believe it is justified for one or two budget cycles to avoid short-term harmful cuts to services and staff. In the event of a severe budget downturn that requires some furloughs or layoffs, I would prioritize protecting staff and services that directly support COVID-19 recovery.
Lake County will see a loss of revenue in 2021 due to COVID-19 and a reduction in Climax mine production, among other impacts. Being a county that is heavily reliant on state grant funds, we also have yet to understand just how response and recovery through COVID-19 will leave the state financially. We must remember that some departments have different funding sources outside of the general fund, such as Road and Bridge and Human Services.
I will continue to prioritize smart investments in projects that will generate revenue long term to replace any loss we experience, such as the Candidates discuss affordable housing
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airport industrial park development. I will also continue to prioritize maintaining and increasing staff capacity and efficiencies. We need to be sure to do our best to support needs through COVID-19,and avoid other delays in services such as in building and land use projects. We need to continue to shift and offer greater access to services and information,and also reduce risks that we face in obsolete facilities such as the jail, while maintaining other facilities and infrastructure to an extent where they do not pass a point of disrepair, costing us more for replacement in the long run.
We continue to try and balance competitive wages to maintain and attract talent, while being sure that we keep up with demands across all departments and elected offices. We must be creative and brave when we look at how we might serve the community differently.
3. Do you believe Lake County Government has a role in creating affordable housing? If so, what does that role look like?
I believe that Lake County Government plays a role in creating affordable housing for the community. As one of the last affordable places in the mountains, Lake County is surrounded by more expensive communities where most of our community works.
I would like to see greater partnerships with developers to create more affordable housing options and look at what we can do to incentivize homeowners to create more long-term rentals. This means looking at the zoning and planning codes to see how we can maximize the land in Lake County without sacrificing our rural community and pristine landscapes. It also means learning more about the many residents who are struggling to find affordable housing and understanding how elected officials can help achieve affordable housing for the majority of the community, while at the same time recognizing our diverse population.
Lake County has an affordable housing issue as we face growth and insufficient long-term rental and sale properties. This affordability crisis hurts our community, especially our workforce, families and lower- and fixed-income households.
Lake County must coordinate with the City of Leadville and with neighboring counties given our interlinked workforce and housing issues.
County government should actively develop policies in the following areas:
— Preserve existing lower-income housing in manufactured homes and multi-family units, and protect tenant rights.
— Enact an inclusionary housing ordinance to require that larger developments provide a range of housing sizes and price ranges.
— Develop and enforce short-term rental policies to fairly tax, license and locate properties not available for local housing needs (balancing housing goals with the needs of our tourist and recreation economy).
— Review current zoning and building codes to identify where there are inadvertent barriers to more affordable housing (e.g., limits on density).
— Establish a housing authority that can pursue and administer Colorado Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and more generally run a county and city coordinated housing strategy.
— Consider whether there are suitable county lands that could be used for additional housing.
Lake County right now has many opportunities to support affordable/attainable housing, which do not yet include leading a public housing project. Through methods such as the Urban Renewal Authority, we can direct investment in residential development or create new programs to help homeowners with maintenance of homes. We are also working to develop plans to leverage county owned land to incentivize development for the benefit of the community, as well as exploring how to support the improvement of quality in rental housing. We will continue to improve land use policy clean up for clear and efficient process, and directing/incentivizing/supporting development in Parkville and Sanitation districts where infrastructure already exists. We also continue to work on the airport industrial park to create more appropriate commercial development that will not complete with potential residential locations. The county works with Summit County to continue to provide transportation to the north which is an ancillary service that supports living in Lake County.
4. The BOCC currently holds public meetings during the day. Do you agree with this concept? If not, what would you change?
No. With over 60% of our workforce traveling to other counties for work, there are many people who cannot attend public meetings and voice their opinions. Having consistent evening meetings will allow more of our citizens to be active participants in their government. For those that still cannot attend, it is up to the elected officials to find ways to hear, support and represent them. Many people struggle with language barriers, work conflicts and/or access to internet and it is our responsibility to ensure they are still heard and have access to the most up-to-date information.
I am open to holding public meetings in the evenings if that would increase public participation.
Equally important is making sure that the public is aware of issues being considered and decisions being made by the BOCC. I will seek ways to make meeting agendas, proposed action items and supporting explanation and documentation easily accessible. Accessibility can also be improved by making session recordings available online and addressing questions submitted in writing ahead of time. One example from school board meetings is that agendas clearly identify action items and contain a brief background memo on the topic.
I understand that it is difficult for many to attend meetings held during the day time. There is benefit to holding meetings during business hours, however there are also many evening meetings that the BOCC attends where we can connect with the community. I am open to holding evening meetings of BOCC and increasing the opportunity for public comment to and observation of the BOCC actions. We also aim to improve public communications outward on projects and considerations, record access and an internal structure where the BOCC can increase our public involvement and get out into the community.
5. Colorado voters will decide whether they want to repeal Gallagher Amendment this November. Will you vote “yes” or “no” on Amendment B? Please explain.
No, I will not be voting in favor of repealing the Gallagher Amendment. Whether you are for or against repealing the Gallagher Amendment, we can all agree that reducing spending is a better way to balance the budget than increasing taxes. I will be diligent in Lake County about auditing our budget and reducing the spending in our county.
While I support lowering tax burdens for businesses and commercial property owners, I am concerned for the amount of fixed-income homeowners who live in Lake County. If the Gallagher Amendment is repealed, homeowners will see an increase in their property taxes over the next few years. This will force many long-time residents to leave Lake County and take away from the culture of Lake County that we all love. I would like to seek other ways for our state to make up the difference without shifting the burden from one struggling group to another. In order to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, I would like to see other measures put into place to protect residential property owners.
I will vote “yes” on Amendment B to repeal the Gallagher Amendment and urge Lake County voters to do the same.
Gallagher locked in place the portions of taxable value coming from residential and commercial property. As residential property value has soared across Colorado, Gallagher has forced the state to lower residential property tax rates and has put a higher relative burden on commercial property (four times higher). Especially in less wealthy and rural areas like Lake County, without a large commercial tax base, this has crippled our local revenue for schools, fire and police, public health, and other necessary public services.
Amendment B will halt any further distortions that the Gallagher Amendment has imposed over the last four decades.
I will vote for specific intentional language to take the first steps at revising legislation to meet the current climate and reality in which we are living and trying to govern. Especially in light of a shifting approach to business operation with COVID-19, we may continue to see an imbalance of commercial and residential property development, especially in rural communities. Expectations of the community are not decreasing, and the cost of providing services are only increasing. Even to maintain and make small improvements in county operations, we must invest and spend. We must continue to be sure that our spending is wise and effective. This is where we need to communicate needs and challenges better to the public.