Candidates tackle budget, zoning issues at forum

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By Sandy Barnes

State and Jeffco candidates expressed widely varying views about spending for schools and health care during a forum at the Evergreen Lake House on Oct. 4 sponsored by Evergreen Newspapers.

Lorna Idol, the Democratic challenger in state House District 25, emphasized the need for additional funds for schools in Colorado, which she said is in the bottom tier nationally for educational spending.

“I believe we need to spend more on education through property taxes,” said Idol, a retired education professional.

HD 25 incumbent Cheri Gerou, a Republican, replied that Colorado is actually in the mid-range regarding its national status in educational spending, and that other state programs have been cut to fund K-12 education.

“We care about our students,” said, Gerou, who is seeking a third term in the state House. “We’ve actually given more money because we care.”

Gerou also challenged Idol’s suggestion that the state should reduce incarceration costs by reducing the number of people sent to prison in order to free up funds for education.

“We’ve closed a prison, and have less prisoners than 10 years ago,” Gerou said.

Two parents who participated in the forum also offered their views on the 3A and 3B ballot measures on which Jeffco residents will vote next month.

“In Jeffco, we need to take care of our own,” said Evergreen resident Byron Gale. “We support 3A and 3B for what it will do for our schools and communities.”

Calling the mill-levy increase and bond measure “a bridge to a better economy,” Gale said the two proposals would offset $40 million in budget cuts for schools and would allow staff retention.

“So far, opponents haven’t given us a reason to vote no,” Gale said.

The net impact of the measures will be a $3 per month increase in property taxes for a home valued at $250,000, said Gale.

If approved, 3A would generate an additional $39 million for Jeffco schools’ operating budget. Voter approval of 3B would permit the district to borrow $99 million for building maintenance.

“As I have come to understand the dynamics, I don’t believe more money is going to automatically fix the problem,” parent Preston Branaugh said while commenting on the measures. “We’re going to make a permanent tax increase.”

Branaugh, an unsuccessful candidate for school board in 2011, also said that while state funding for education is down, federal funding has increased.

Jeffco planning issues

Republican John Odom, the county commissioner in District 2, and Democratic challenger Casey Tighe fielded questions about planning and development at the forum.

“I believe the planning and completion of the beltway is the single most important thing we can do to improve property values,” said Odom, referring to the Jefferson Parkway. “We have a lot of support, with the exception of Golden.”

“The current plan doesn’t connect at the top and bottom in Golden and Broomfield,” countered Tighe. “We don’t need to continue dividing our communities.”

Tighe also said that the county needs to have a good long-range plan to decide how it should grow — figuring in benefits and costs.

“At the end of the day, you have to make a decision based on community values,” he remarked.

“Some of the hardest decisions we make are planning and zoning,” said Odom.

Of all the cases that have come before the county commissioners, Odom said that he has made the best decisions possible, while respecting the rights of individual property owners.

“I stand behind all my decisions,” said Odom.

While discussing representation of unincorporated Jeffco, Odom said the commissioners act as city council and budget committee for those areas.

“I promise you I will be talking to people,” said Tighe. “Some issues are the same, some are different” for unincorporated Jeffco.

Tighe and Odom both also said that serving as county commissioner is a full time-job to which they would give full attention.

Medicaid funding

Responding to a question about the state opting out of Medicaid expansion, Gerou said that under former Gov. Bill Ritter, Colorado previously expanded the program more than any state in the country.

“One out of every three babies is a Medicaid baby,” said Gerou. “We have expanded Medicaid for children.”

Health-care assistance for children of financially challenged families is necessary, Idol said. “It’s very important that we be healthy.”

Medicaid services are primarily for people with developmental disabilities, Idol added.

“Opt out? No, absolutely not,” said Idol.

While discussing the role of social workers in working with families and children, Idol said that in high poverty areas, the ratio between the workers and those they are helping needs to be lower.

“What is acceptable is that we are documenting that we are making a difference,” remarked Idol.

“What we need to do more is in human services at the county level,” said Gerou. “We also need to take care of the elderly.”

No to marijuana

Gerou and Idol both said they oppose Amendment 64, the ballot issue legalizing the use of marijuana in Colorado.

“We know from research it causes psychological and physical damage,” said Idol. “We will have more traffic accidents,” Idol added.

“Law enforcement officials are opposed, and I’m opposed,” said Gerou.

Evergreen Newspapers editor Doug Bell moderated the forum; former state representative Rob Witwer and Mountain Area Democrats member Sylvia Robertson posed questions to the candidates.

Contact reporter Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-250-1042.