Volume 8, Number 19 - August 7, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Candidate forum discusses issues
Almost 30 citizens were present for the Wyoming Conservation Voters Education Fund’s State legislative and county commission candidate forum Monday at the Sublette County Library in Pinedale.
Matt David hosted the non-partisan forum that granted citizens an opportunity to present questions to candidate who were allowed 80 seconds to respond. Five County Commissioner candidates, republicans David Smith and Cat Urbigkit, and democrats Courtney Skinner and Susan Kramer, and republican incumbent John Linn started the forum.
All the candidates agreed that the Forest Service (FS) should allow more firewood harvesting.
“It’s irritating to see (the wood) all go up in smoke,” Skinner said referring to the New Fork Lake fire. “In some cases (the FS) would rather let it burn than be cut out.”
Commissioner Linn said the FS should allow for more local timber use adding it’s ridiculous that he uses wood products from Canada considering how much wood grows in the county.
The next question was about the county’s gas severance tax.
Linn explained that in Colorado and Utah, 50 percent of the tax goes into the county while in Wyoming the money goes directly to the state.
Smith felt it was the county’s responsibility to monitor gas output flows, while Skinner wanted a better statewide monitoring system.
The candidates were asked about expanding the commissioners from three to five.
Urbigkit was the only candidate that opposed the idea saying it was hard enough getting three qualified candidates.
Kramer took a more tentative approach.
“It would be worth a try,” she said. “If it didn’t work, you could go back (to three commissioners.”
Skinner said building a college, providing Alaskan-style rebate checks, and creating a five-commissioner county government were central to his campaign.
Smith felt a five-commissioner system should be introduced with a safety net saying that when the economic boom is over, the commission should have a mechanism to switch back to three.
“Once you get five in there, it’s going to be a struggle to get them out,” he said. “Politicians don’t like to give up power.”
The candidates were asked if longterm residents should be entitled to special treatment.
Commissioner Linn partially agreed.
“I would be in favor for treating longer term old-timers to tax relief,” he said. “But other than that, I don’t think we should treat anybody different.”
The rest of the candidates agreed with Linn to offer tax relief.
If there was an 800 pound gorilla in the room, it was the air and water quality issue.
Smith said air pollution will sort itself out, but he was dedicated to an aggressive approach on water quality. He advocated a law-enforcement-equipped county monitoring group saying if the DEA or DEQ didn’t like it, they could file suit. “I think we need to be more aggressive with our land and water because the BLM isn’t giving us any help,” he said. “With industry funded monitoring, you’re asking a crap dealer to make a ham sandwich.”
Urbigkit stressed the need for better regional coordination regarding air pollution. For water, she supported Conservation District Monitoring.
Calling herself an environmentalist tree-hugger and saying she felt we need to do right by the earth, Kramer called for less studying and more action, She said the county must make sure the gas companies are “doing it the right way.”
“Unfortunately there’re federal regulations that say you can pollute which is why we have a hard time with the BLM,” she said adding the county needs “stringent laws and fines for people who are polluting the air and water.”
Linn expressed his support for Conservation District Monitoring of surface and ground water.
Linn also felt the air pollution would work itself out saying the commission put $2 million in reserve for more air monitoring.
“We need more air monitoring stations and that is certainly the plan,” he said. Skinner disagreed that the air will take care of itself.
“That ozone layer has been sneaking up to us from Antarctica,” he said while calling the county’s water “our ace in the whole,” and our “most devastating issue.”
The state-wide candidates had a different tone.
Republican newspaper owner Dan Dockstader who is running unopposed for Senate District 16 talked about his work on child protection bills during his tenure as the District 21 Representative, but two issues became the forum’s focus for the three House District 22 candidates.
The 2012 reapportionment, and Sublette County’s erupting property values were hot topics for republicans Charles Stough, Don Wooden, and Democrat Jim Roscoe.
All the candidates supported reapportionment that would provide each county with a senator and at least one representative. Currently the districts require candidates from Alpine to campaign in from Alpine Junction, to Wilson, to Pinedale in a geographical algorithm that is difficult to understand.
On the topic of property values and property taxes, the candidates were on the same side of the divide.
Alpine Junction real estate broker and postal contractor Don Wooden said property value problems in the western half of the state aren’t important issues to the eastern half.
“The rest of the state isn’t bothered by an escalation in taxes and they don’t have sympathy for us,” he said. “I’ve known personally three different people who had to sell their houses because the property values have skyrocketed.”
Wilson construction company owner Jim Roscoe didn’t understand why the rest of the state doesn’t want to help. “The tax system is broken in this district. We need to take the bull by the horn,” he said adding it might require a constitutional amendment.
Pinedale small business owner Charles Stough said he fundamentally believes property taxes are immoral. “If you’re paying somebody to live in your home, you don’t truly own your home,” he explained. “I’m realistic enough to know that they exist and I do think we can do a better job in handling them.”
Stough said Wyoming traditionally had low property taxes because it had low property value, but in the boom towns that has changed and it requires western representatives to rally representatives from the rest of the state to solve the problem.
The forum closed with Dockstader holding a large binder in his left hand and a thick stack of papers in his right hand. The papers were property-tax-relief legislation that died in committee.
“We’re going to keep working on it,” he said. “I’m going to keep working on it, butwe need 23 counties supporting it and it’s got to come from grassroots.”
Wyoming’s primary election isAug. 19.
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