By Francie Jacober, chair of Pitkin County Commissioners
For this debut issue of Pitkin County Press, I first want to recognize the people who work to ensure this Valley continues to provide us with a sense of place, a commitment to natural beauty, and adequate resources to promote health and wellbeing. Our 390 Pitkin County employees diligently work on jobs big and small. We depend on the people at Public Works for their excellence in keeping our roads maintained and plowed and our bridges safe. The people at Human Services provide resources to help with economic assistance, senior services, and child protection. Our Public Health team provides resources on disease prevention and hope and resilience for those struggling with mental health problems or substance use. Our landfill managers are always looking for ways to improve our ability to divert trash. They divert 47% of everything that comes into the landfill through repurposing, composting, and recycling – the highest rate for a county in the state.
The staff at Healthy Rivers and Streams and Open Space and Trails help maintain the rural quality of our Valley and breathtaking beauty of our open spaces and riparian areas. In addition, they protect our remaining agricultural lands. In fact, Open Space acquired about 1,000 acres in conservation easements last year alone. Dispatch and the Sheriff’s Office keep us safe and they provide the often-taken-for-granted fabric on which we build our families.
In short, the employees of Pitkin County – from the Library to Animal Safety to Community Development – are the backbone of our daily lives. Thank you to each of them for the work they do to keep our foundations solid.
In addition, within Pitkin County we have 15 volunteer boards with over 80 people serving the people of our county. The BoCC wishes to thank all of these volunteers who contribute time, intelligent problem solving, and lots of energy to helping us preserve the quality of life we enjoy.
Big issues in 2023
The BoCC is acutely aware of many issues facing the county. First there is, of course, the existential question of how we forestall climate change by updating and adhering to our Climate Action Plan. As we move forward, all of our decisions consider the effects our actions will have on our environment. We track our emissions and set policy to reduce them wherever possible. We have progressive and demanding building codes which are evolving to reduce the impacts from our built community. We assess the effects of traffic and air travel on our environment. It is through the lens of protecting our wildlands, the health of our citizens, and addressing climate change that we make decisions.
Also looming is the challenging housing situation. Like our partners throughout the Valley – Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs – we recognize that to maintain a robust workforce and reduce the impacts of commuting both for our workers and the environment, we must provide affordable housing near where people work. The BoCC recently earmarked $5,000,000 as a first step in our commitment to provide affordable housing to our community and our workforce. In addition, Pitkin County joined with other jurisdictions to form the West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition so that we can all work together to create beautiful, affordable, and sustainable housing for our communities. At our Board Retreat last month, the commissioners unanimously agreed to commit to the task of providing additional affordable housing, in part through working with other entities to secure funding and locations.
The flip side of the housing question is growth. We have considered the impacts of growth, short term rentals, transferable development rights, house size, and development in inappropriate areas, such as rural and remote. Our volunteer Community Growth Advisory Committee, composed of 26 volunteers from many sectors of our community – architects, contractors, environmental scientists, builders, ranchers, realtors, teachers – is working to help us develop plans to deal with the ramifications of growth and how it affects our climate and quality of life. We need to ask, “Where do we want to be in ten years, twenty years, a hundred years?” Working with this group, and in discussion with the community in public meetings, we aim to adjust our county codes and policies, as well as our assumptions, to meet the needs of our community today.
The BoCC is also committed to easing the shortage of available child care. We have committed to providing stipends to educators at licensed child care providers in the county. This is an effort to stabilize the child care workforce as we look toward future solutions. You can read more about it in this newsletter.
Jail and justice center
In addition, we strive to find a solution to our aging jail and work to create a justice center that meets the needs of all of those who find themselves in custody. It is our goal to offer different pathways for those who may battle addiction or mental health problems and those who truly need incarceration. We have a task force (Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee) developing a compilation of the attributes which we strive to incorporate, whether it be in a re-developed center at the current location or a new site somewhere else. Most importantly, we want a solution which safeguards the incarcerated, their loved ones, our jail deputies, and Pitkin County at large.
The Airport Advisory Board continues to meet regularly and to develop technical advisory teams as we work towards plans for a safer airport and a new terminal. We are in the process of selecting the appropriate FBO – Fixed Base Operator – and working with the FAA in order to move forward.
In short, the major projects for the Board of County Commissioners this year are:
· Affordable housing
· Growth management
· Child care
· Justice center/jail solutions
· Progress on airport needs – runway, tower, terminal, emissions, etc.
In addition, we are always working to protect our waterways (including seeking Wild and Scenic Designation for the Crystal River), conserving agricultural and wildlife lands, ensuring readiness for emergencies – including wildfires, accidents, health risks - and making sure we are making progress with equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Pitkin County Board of Commissioners