The Sopris Sun

Candidates talk budget, development, Home Rule

One GarCo commission seat up for grabs

John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of the Sopris Sun’s coverage of the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, Dist. 1 election campaign for 2014. The first installment can be found in the Oct. 2 edition of the paper, either online at the website (www.soprissun.com) or by picking up a print copy at the Sopris Sun office in the Third Street Center in Carbondale).

In the contest to become the next Garfield County commissioner for District 1, incumbent Tom Jankovsky and his challenger, Michael Sullivan, both are essentially running on Jankovsky’s record.

The difference is that Jankovsky feels his record has been exemplary and justifies keeping him in office, while Sullivan feels Jankovsky has not represented his constituents in District 1 and should be kicked out of office.

District 1 encompasses the Garfield County portion of the Roaring Fork River Valley, including the Town of Carbondale and most of Glenwood Springs.

Jankovsky, 65, is a Republican, and is running for his second term in office, having ousted the two-term former incumbent, Democrat Trési Houpt, four years ago. He moved here from Stirling, Colo., 29 years ago to take the job as general manager and part owner of the Sunlight Mountain Ski Area, a position he held until being elected to the county board. He is married and has five grown children.

Sullivan, 60, is a Democrat. He moved to the valley 25 years ago and has worked in various media-related positions and other jobs, including a stint as director of marketing and public relations at Sunlight Mountain Resort. He has served on the county’s planning and zoning commission for six years.

Each of the candidates sat down with The Sopris Sun this week to discuss their positions on a variety of issues.

The budget

One area of growth that the candidates differ over is the county’s budget, which last year was projected at revenues of more than $100 million and expenses of more than $125 million. Some 80 percent of the county’s property tax revenues, which make up more than half the county’s overall income, comes from property taxes paid by oil and gas companies.

Jankovsky noted that the county has consistently balanced its budget over the years, and that recently, when oil and gas revenues dropped, the county cut its expenditures by seven percent to match a seven-percent revenue decline. And in 2010, he said, the county axed about 40 employees due to revenue instability, staffing cuts that he reported have been maintained.

Sullivan, on the other hand, maintained the county is stuck in a rut of overspending, thanks to the high revenues from oil and gas activities, and that the county is not as transparent as it should be in how it spends the money.

He maintained that the county relies too heavily on “supplemental appropriations,” in which the commissioners approve unexpected or unpredicted expenditures in one or another county department late in the year. Sullivan estimated that there were perhaps 10 such supplemental budget requests in the past year, for significant amounts of money, although he was unsure exactly what the total amount was.

“We spend a lot of money, and for Tom (Jankovsky) to say he’s a fiscal conservative, I have serious questions about how fiscally conservative he really is,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan claimed he would be more fiscally conservative than Jankovsky has been, and would watch the county’s budgets more closely and with a more critical eye.

Jankovsky and Sullivan agreed that the county would do well to diversify its economic base, to “break from that boom and bust cycle” that comes from over-dependence on one big business, such as the oil and gas industry, in Sullivan’s words.

But, Jankovsky asserted, “We’ve been blessed during this recession to have oil and gas revenues coming to the county.”

Still, Jankovsky conceded, “Is it (big oil and gas revenue) going to be there forever? No.”

And when the oil and gas industry goes into decline locally, Jankovsky further admitted, it will have a drastic effect on not just the county’s annual income, but that of a myriad of “special districts” including everything from school districts to fire departments.

“But that’s still 40 to 100 years away,” he maintained, a development that can only be dealt with when it occurs. And, he said, the county is not the agency that should be driving economic development alternatives, it should be left to the towns and the business community.

Economic development

Sullivan stressed the need to get away from the boom and bust cycle as quickly as possible.

“We need long-term and sustainable economics in Garfield County,” he stated.

And District 1, which includes the lower stretch of the Roaring Fork Valley, already is poised to focus on economic diversification. He cited the valley’s primary economic drivers as tourism and recreation, which together can attract businesses looking to expand or relocate.

“We seriously need an economic development director” on the county payroll, Sullivan said, adding, “I’m going to be a one-man cheerleader for tourism, for recreation, for trails and for changes and improvements especially in the technological infrastructure” that he feels might encourage new businesses to come to the county.

For example, he said, he would like to push for the creation of regional businesses that would cultivate, harvest and process hemp, the variant of marijuana that does not make you high but that has a wide range of industrial applications. Hemp, as an industrial product, recently was legalized in Colorado by a statewide vote and is rapidly gaining greater acceptance nationwide.

“Hemp would be a great boom to our economy and our agricultural sector,” he said, also mentioning solar power, organic farming and other non-traditional businesses as possibilities for diversification.

Jankovsky noted that while the county commissioners talked about hiring an ED director recently, they concluded it was not the best use of county resources, and that such matters were best left to the private sector and the towns.

Anyway, he said, a state demographer recently told the commissioners that “our economy is fairly diverse” as it stands, with several different types of commercial and economic activity that each represent up to 10 percent of the regional economy, including tourism and agriculture.

Home Rule

The two men were diametrically opposed when it came to the idea of making changes to the political structure of Garfield County.

Sullivan believes the county should embrace Home Rule and expand the board of county commissioners to five, from its current complement of three, and he believes the commissioners should each be elected strictly by the voters in his or her particular district, rather than the “at-large” election system now in place.

Jankovsky rejects both ideas as unnecessary and, probably, not supported by the county’s electorate. He said that in the mid-1990s he served on a committee that investigated both ideas and decided against pursuing them. The reason for the decision, he said, was due to the need to hold two different elections (one to set up a Home-Rule commission, the other to seek voter approval for the changes), and the cost of those elections.

“We did not have the money,” he said of that committee’s conclusions.

And now?

“I have no comment on that one,” he said.