“I was here as a voter and a city councilor because I think it's important for me to know who I can work and collaborate with,” Montrose City Councilor Judy Ann Files said at the May 31 meeting.
It was the third forum for the Republican candidates, and many topics – including the securing of water rights in the West End – were discussed yet again, with a few new issues raised,concerning economic development, by audience questions.
Currently, Jim Haugsness is vying for the District 3 seat against incumbent David White, and incumbent Ron Henderson and Ed Ulibarri are vying for the District 1 seat.
Haugsness' stated desire for accountability, transparency and collaboration was apparent in his responses. To get the economy back on track, he said he'd like to see the county create an Urban Growth Authority, and work with Region 10 and Montrose Memorial Hospital, to secure an enterprise zone status to encourage tax-credited donations.
A county policy on assisting economic drivers, like what incentives should have been on the table, enticing 3M/Ross Reels to keep its Montrose base, should have already been in place, Haugsness said, adding he would create such a code, if elected.
Haugsness said he'd like to see a regional planning department – a collaborative effort between the city and county – so that planning and development can be streamlined for businesses interested in investing in the area.
He called Montrose a “county on the rise,” but said it needs a community vision and an investigation of whether Montrose is growing into a predominantly retirement, manufacturing, medical or tourism community.
White said he's done a fantastic job managing taxpayer money during his term in office, and that one goal, in a second term, would be to bring contention within the county to a stop – a position he said has popular support. “I hear it loud and clear from the citizens,” he said. He went on to defend the county's application for conditional water rights in the West End, saying it's his responsibility to protect Montrose County citizens' future, and that to do so, in this instance, the county had no choice but to move quickly.
White, whose district encompasses the West End, said job creation and economic development discussions should include the whole county. He agreed that the county made the right decision to support 3M/Ross Reels, in exchange for joint marketing efforts, adding that the move could set a trend, but one with jobs that will benefit the community, with more local dollars now staying in the area.
Ulibarri, a Montrose native, as is Henderson, his opponent, emphasized the importance of open communication with constituents. He said his strengths – honesty, dependability and an ability to negotiate – would be great assets to the county, and would have benefited the county recently, regarding water-rights negotiations in the West End.
Ulibarri said he understands the importance of water, and of securing future resources for the West End, but voiced concern that area landowners were not consulted in recent negotiations. He called for more regional collaboration and communication to advance economic development, as well.
“The economy is bigger than Montrose. We need to develop plans for the region,” he said. “We have to diversify the businesses coming in … and get regional grants to develop a regional transportation system.”
Regarding the county commissioners’ responsibility to appoint trustees to the Montrose Memorial Hospital board, Ulibarri expressed his hope that to-be-appointed trustees would show loyalty to the hospital first – before showing loyalty to the government that appointed them.
Like White, Henderson too emphasized county achievements over the course of his first term, including the remodel of Friendship Hall and hiring of a new county manager.
He defended the county's application for conditional water rights, dubbing the quick process permitting it “just the way it works,” his response as well upon being asked what section of government, in his opinion, interferes with business. In a county comprised of 70 percent federal lands, Henderson said, government has its hands tied. It is a double-sided sword and “just the way it is,” he said.
Henderson said he's seen much worse times in Montrose, and was optimistic about the county's economic future.
To get economic development back on track, he said, the county should continue to pay close attention to business. He pronounced its handling of 3M/Ross Reels a “good risk,” well worth taking to ensure the company knows Montrose wants it to stay. He added, however, that it was not necessarily handled correctly, and said he would like to see a development plan for addressing similar issues in the future.
As per the rules of League of Women Voters, only contested candidates could participate in the forum. Democratic candidates Kjersten Davis, vying for the District 3 seat, and Dennis Olmstead, vying for District 1, were both in the audience.
Davis and Olmstead will have a chance to voice their positions in a League of Women Voters' forum scheduled for October.
The Republican primary election takes place on June 26.
Kati O'Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org