Regardless of one’s political affiliation, all Park County voters probably agree that elections do matter. So do the candidates themselves, and so does our responsibility to make informed, educated decisions as voters.
Against the backdrop of those seemingly inarguable facts, we are fortunate to have a pair of candidates for the Park County Commissioners (Precinct 3) race who are willing to discuss their platforms and viewpoints in detail, and who readily agreed to exclusive interviews with The Flume specifically for that purpose.
Correspondents Lori Bennett and Marianne Mogon were asked to assemble a list of questions pertaining to topics they believed were important to Park County voters, and to pose those questions to each candidate for publication.
Hopefully readers will find the questions posed to be timely, relevant and helpful in getting to know the candidates better, and ultimately, in determining which candidate will best serve Park County and its residents if elected in November.
The Flume would like to thank both candidates, Dave Wissel, Republican, and Ashley Girodo, Democrat, for taking the time to provide detailed answers to the questions that were presented.
What is your personal philosophy regarding taxes (property and sales)?
Wissel: I am highly concerned about the county budget; that’s my primary focus. I am against all new taxes. Now is not the time to raise taxes. We have a decreasing GDP, doubling interest rates, rising prices due to inflation and everyone is struggling to keep their head above water.
The county must learn to use our limited funds wisely. I want to enlist citizen volunteers into our county budget; have a citizen budget advisory committee.
The county has had an infusion of millions of dollars of federal funds since 2020. Where did that money go? The published budget shows that the county has 3.5 million dollars in their reserves that has not been appropriated or expended.
The county received 3.2 million dollars from 2020 from the CARES act. The latest federal Recovery Act brought 3.6 million dollars into the county. This money has conditions, but some uses are not delineated in the county’s 2022 budget.
I think every county employee should be paid appropriately, not just one department over another, such as the Sheriff’s office. For example, the Commissioners just awarded a 4.5% COLA adjustment for all employees. Where did that money come from?
Girodo: For counties, property taxes are the main source of income and Park County is no different. At this time, there are no other taxes besides property taxes that pay into the general fund; this means that all services, except Road and Bridge, are paid for by property taxes and Federal and State matching programs.
Currently, voters in Park County have authorized the collection of up to 24 mills, but TABOR puts restrictions on how Park County is authorized to collects mills on property tax, so only 19 mills are able to be collected.
These types of nuances with property taxes must be discussed and addressed at local and state levels to ensure maximized funding for the general fund in the county.
How do you propose that we support our local schools in providing Park County students with the best education possible?
Wissel: Like everyone, I want the best education for our students and support for our schools. Our education system is run by a combination of local, state and federal departments and our individual school districts.
The county and county commissioners can only support county functions (roads, Sheriff’s office, etc.). The school districts do not fall under the authority of the county government.
The individual school districts have school boards and handle their budgets and business according to their local districts.
Last year the South Park school district increased their mill levy and the taxpayers voted for more financial support for the school.
Platte Canyon is planning to propose a milly level for a 72 million dollar project that they are planning.
Girodo: The lack of affordable workforce housing makes it increasingly difficult for schools and local businesses to find enough staff. This is very evident is in our public schools. When speaking with Delia Rollow, the President of the South Park Educators Association, she shared, “hiring educators is a challenge because when the school district finds a teacher to fill an open position, many of those individuals accept the job, but cannot find housing, so they have to rescind their acceptance of the position.” Affordable housing is a serious concern.
Even though the county government is limited in what it can do directly for school districts, it can help by making sure that critical Federal Government funds, through the Secure Rural Schools Program, are maximized. These funds go to stabilizing and securing school budgets. As an educator myself, I know that to maintain the highest level of education for the children of Park County, we need affordable workforce housing options to ensure the hiring and long-term retention of quality educators, as well as staff for all our local businesses.
What issues or problems can you identify regarding housing in Park County, and what solutions do you propose?
Wissel: Our rent rates are equal to Denver. We must get the private sector to step up and make partnerships. In Buena Vista, they are manufacturing modular homes for housing in Summit County. I want to see their experience and how we can leverage this to our benefit. I am also interested in tiny home villages.
But, the government has no business being in the housing business. Government should get out of the way. Also, there are rules on the Land Use Code books, but we don’t enforce them, so why don’t we enforce them? I would like to modify them. They should be “zone-specific,” not one size fits all.
For example, all of Guffey is in the Arkansas Basin River zone and all our rules are made as if they are in the South Platte Basin. It makes sense to have a Guffey Zone for Four Mile and Currant Creek, their own zone, since they are in the Arkansas Basin with different rules. It’s also challenging with long waiting lists for building permits. We need to use technology to serve the public. In 1998, I launched Park County’s first government website to make public service available day or night.
Girodo: One of the biggest issues Park County is currently facing is its lack of affordable workforce housing. Park County no longer has as robust an inventory of affordable workforce housing as it did when we purchased our home. The average value of homes in Park County has increased by an astonishing 81% in the past five years. If elected commissioner, I would engage with local stakeholders to develop a roadmap for long term housing solutions.
These local stakeholders include residents, mayors and town councils, as well as developers and landowners in incorporated and unincorporated parts of our county. The mechanisms the county can use to encourage affordable or workforce housing, such as land use regulations, simply do not go far enough. For us to solve this crisis, we’re going to need community partnerships as well as local and state level government action.
Habitat for Humanity is currently developing one project in Fairplay that will provide eight affordable workforce housing units, and I believe they are in the beginning stages of another, even larger, project in Fairplay. Also, there is going to be a question on the ballot regarding an additional two percent sales tax on short-term rentals, with a percentage of that increase earmarked for affordable workforce housing. These are examples of two practical ways I believe we can start addressing Park County’s lack of affordable workforce housing.
What is your opinion regarding difficulties/challenges associated with short-term rentals, and what solutions do you propose?
Wissel: The county does not have a good handle on what they are trying to regulate. There are 350 units that are licensed and speculation is that there are up to 1500 to 3000 units countywide. How do we regulate these when we don’t even know where they are?
The county did not bring the industry representatives (owners and managers) into the process. We need to get the industry into the discussion. I have talked to people who clean STRs. There are STRs where effluent waste is running over onto the property of a neighbor and the weekly STR owner doesn’t fix the waste drainage.
The county has regulated the STRs with an initial inspection of the septic system, but is there any follow up? We don’t have central municipal utilities like resort areas. There is a proposed two percent sales tax for STRs, but what are residents going to get out of this tax? This tax is not proposed to help law enforcement or health needs, but is designated for affordable housing.
What are we getting out of a STR tax and how will it benefit the community and keep health and safety first? Let’s think creatively. One idea could be that if the county collects money from STRs, that money could then be used to offset property taxes for everyone in the county.
Girodo: The dramatic increase over the past three years of short-term rentals has impacted residents’ quality of life, available housing inventory, and put a strain on county services. As high as 25% of the calls received by emergency services are for short-term rentals.
As commissioner, I would strive to better implement the current Ordinance 20-03 put into effect in January 2021, which regulates short-term rentals. My first task would be to work with HOA boards to determine the impact of short-term rentals in their area.
Then I would partner with law enforcement to enforce short-term licenses and ensure properties are following license agreements as outlined in the ordinance. Property owners have the right to rent out their homes on a short-term basis, as long as they follow the county regulations set in place. The reality is that short-term rental issues are not just impacting Park County, but rather the entire state. That is why there is discussion about changing how short-term rentals are treated concerning property taxes at the state level.
I believe short-term rentals, when effectively regulated, can be a positive revenue source for the Park County economy. Furthermore, the increased number of short-term rentals has put a strain on our underfunded Sheriff’s Department. The passing of the Public Safety Initiative, on the ballot this November, would provide additional sales tax revenue, which would allow the Sheriff’s department to have adequate coverage for the entire county.”
What are your thoughts pertaining to county road concerns in all seasons, and what solutions do you propose?
Wissel: Everything revolves around the budget. We are currently understaffed in the road and bridge department.
We are not paying people commensurate with their CDL license. For example, we are paying 17 dollars an hour and someone with a CDL license can drive a Coleman truck for a starting wage of 30 dollars an hour. We have young people who train with the county, get experience and then move onto higher paying jobs.
In the past the county has used private contractors for back-up. The county receives six million dollars to manage 1600 miles of road systems in the county and this is probably inadequate for our terrain and elevation. This money comes from the Highway User Trust Fund, which is made up of automobile registration fees, gasoline taxes and other fees.
The governor of Colorado passed an 18 cent per gallon tax, but it has been deferred until 2023. The county is limited in what it can do, but we can come up with some options, with input from the citizens on how to do it better. We must all work together on these because we all share these roads.
Girodo: The safety of our roads also depends on well-funded law enforcement and can further be improved by the development of new revenue sources to better fund Public Works. Public Works receives on average $15.00 from each piece of property in the county to provide maintenance for roads across all seasons and the rest from Highway User Tax Funds. The topic of roads is a top concern for residents across Park County, from potholes that break axles, to the increased time it takes EMS to get to a call.
As commissioner, I would seek out ways that we can increase revenue in Park County to make much needed improvements to the infrastructure that so critically needs it. I would begin by looking to bring new businesses to the county and create systematic ways to apply the increase of revenue to support the limited budget that the county is provided by the state each year; this is the foundation to improving our roads and making traveling across the 1,600 plus miles Park County covers safer and timelier.
Road maintenance, and roads in general, have always been an issue in Park County. The county’s 1,600 miles of roads is maintained with just a $5.8 million budget. Besides the limited funding for maintenance, the county also has difficulty retaining an adequate workforce because of the lack of affordable workforce housing and the county wages being too low compared to CDOT or the private sector. One way to help alleviate the issue is to once again focus on and prioritize affordable workforce housing to help retain county employees that will then work to maintain our roads throughout all seasons.”