Candidates for La Plata County commissioner and the state Senate squared off Friday in back-to-back debates that hit on economic development, government oversight, tax incentives and high heels.
The debates were sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado and took place at the Strater Hotel in Durango. About 40 people attended. The forums were moderated by Ted Holteen, arts and entertainment editor at The Durango Herald, and Gina Antrillo, news director at Four Corners Broadcasting.
Candidates for county commissioner found common ground on most issues, including the need to create a new land-use code, create private-sector jobs and improve the process by which developers and new businesses seek approval.
They differed on whether medical marijuana should be taxed, whether the county should provide tax incentives to new businesses and whether affordable housing should be a requirement of new development.
Bobby Lieb, a Republican, said the county needs to establish a business friendly environment because for the last decade, the message has been business not welcome. The county needs to adopt a predictable and fair land-use code, and after that, get out of the way, he said.
Lieb said he supports program housing for those in dire need of shelter but not affordable housing requirements. He opposes regulations that drive up housing costs.
You homebuilders, you know that Im the business-friendly guy in here. Lieb said.
He asked that builders also adhere to high-quality construction standards.
Bruce Baizel, a Democrat, said given the tight budget, it will be difficult for the county to offer financial incentives to foster economic development. Tax rebates often cost governments more than they benefit, he said.
The county should create or coordinate a one-stop shop for small businesses seeking assistance or information about permit requirements, Baizel said.
Lieb said the countys property taxes are so low that tax abatements have little benefit to businesses. The county needs to be more creative in finding ways to help, he said.
Scott Graham, a Democrat, said the county should throw its support behind buy-local programs.
It seems mushy-feely or whatever, but it is, in fact, incredibly effective if you get a community that is all behind your buy local program.
Graham said La Plata County is changing, but some parts remain the same and it is important to protect those areas that contribute to quality of life.
Unaffiliated candidate Ken Root said the land-use code needs to be simplified. It costs too much for developers and businesses to go through the application process.
All four candidates opposed county sales-tax increases, new taxes on energy and property tax increases. But when it came to fees or taxes on medical marijuana and alcohol, Baizel and Root said they supported such a fee or tax, while Lieb didnt. Graham said he might support a fee or tax on medical marijuana.
The winner of the Democratic primary Aug. 10 between Baizel and Graham will run against Lieb and Root in November.
In the state Senate race, all three candidates opposed amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 each of which will appear on Novembers general election ballot.
The candidates Ellen Roberts, a Republican; Dean Boehler, a Republican; and incumbent Bruce Whitehead, a Democrat each said the amendments and proposition would have a crippling affect on state and local governments.
Proposition 101 repeals or reduces state revenue streams, including ownership taxes on cars, state income tax and telecommunication fees. Amendment 60 would make changes to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights Amendment and have a significant impact on the state budget. Amendment 61 also changes the TABOR Amendment to ban all government entities from borrowing and limits voter-approved borrowing to 10 years.
When asked what strengths each candidate brings to the table that their opponents dont, Roberts ended with a joke: Im the only one that can wear this color of pink and get away with it, referring to her shirt.
Boehler responded: But Bruce and I dont wear high heels, either, a reference to a commercial by Colorado GOP U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, who is running against Jane Norton.
In the commercial, Buck says people should vote for him because I dont wear high heels.
Whitehead had the last word: Im not going to comment.