Candidates consider economic issues at forum

Although it remains unclear how Jesus — or the Archuleta County electorate — might vote in the 2008 commissioner’s race, attendees at Tuesday’s League of Women Voters forum heard commissioner candidates speak on a variety of issues, including economic growth, impact fees, financial experience and employee morale, and hopefully left the event with the ability to make an informed decision when going to the polls.

But what does Jesus have to do with the commissioner’s race?

That may have been what many in the audience were asking when, during closing remarks, Republican District 2 candidate Ray Keyawa asked attendees, “What would Jesus do?”

By the looks of befuddlement on many attendees’ faces, it appeared they weren’t sure how the Jewish carpenter factored into the voting equation, or what to make of Keyawa.

Although the comment may have been an effort to strike a chord with Pagosa Springs’ Christian contingent, Keyawa received no applause or cheers, and throughout the evening religious affiliation played no part, with most attendees focused on questions of finance, the local economy, and each candidate’s financial savvy.

While District 1 Republican John Ranson and District 2 unaffiliated candidate Marion Francis touted years of finance and banking experience, other candidates said their experiences in a variety of fields made them solid, well-rounded contenders for the job.

In District 1, Democrat Ron Chacey worked to establish himself as a promoter of economic diversity and growth, but not at the expense of deregulation or unmitigated impact on local amenities such as open space and infrastructure.

“Growth is not the only part of our economy. Impact fees pay for infrastructure. Impact fees did not cause our economic downturn,” Chacey said.

By contrast, Ranson has long championed reducing impact fees, and working toward creating a “more business friendly” environment in the county. He described the Pagosa Springs area as not having a “pro business environment.”

With questions of economics taking center stage throughout much of the evening, District 2 candidates also strove to distance themselves from their challengers.

Francis, for example, outlined a program to create an economic development task force to attract companies that pay 1.5 times the average Pagosa Springs area wage, and said impact fees are having a “large negative impact on the local economy.”

Keyawa said an economic slump marks the prime time to invest, and added that he was not afraid to borrow money or push a bond issue to help revitalize county coffers. Keyawa said impact fees, the media and a poor quality employee pool have made Pagosa Springs a difficult place for businesses to succeed. “Pagosa is very anti-people and anti-growth,” Keyawa said.

District 2 Democrat Clifford Lucero rattled off a shopping list of economic tasks such as internal controls, checks and balances, a zero-based budget approach and holding department heads accountable — many of which are already in place under the tutelage and leadership of Archuleta County Finance Director Don Warn, administrator Greg Schulte and with help from the Citizen’s Financial Advisory Task Force.

Unaffiliated District 2 candidate Natalie Carpenter said she would push for a zero-based budget approach, and described the business environment in Pagosa Springs as “stagnant, not necessarily anti-growth.” Carpenter also called for a careful approach to business recruitment and cautioned against waiving impact fees as a method to attract businesses to the area.

On Oct. 20, voters will have an opportunity to hear the candidates speak at a 6:30 p.m. in the Pagosa Springs Community Center during the Southwest Organization for Sustainability candidate forum.

And although Jesus won’t be casting his ballot, voters will make their choices for commissioner Nov. 4.