Candidacy: District 1 San Miguel County Commissioner, Democrat, Incumbent
Education: B.F.A., Rhode Island School of Design
Occupation: County commissioner, artist
Family: Widowed; lives in Telluride
Government Experience: Three-term San Miguel County Commissioner, Mayor of Telluride, member of Telluride Town Council
District 1 incumbent candidate Elaine Fischer believes that, at this time in particular, having experience and knowledge of precedent in county government over the last 12 years has a huge bearing on how decisions will be made over the next four years, and that her experience makes her the best candidate to lead the county for the next four years.
“To be able to address the issues we will have to deal with, it is [essential] to have a solid base of knowledge,” Fischer said. “I have been actively involved and I have not just watched from the sidelines. This is a job that affects people’s lives and you’d better work damn hard for them. I have a deep devotion to the community; it’s not just a job to me. It’s a passion I have for serving the community.”
Undoubtedly, Fischer said, the biggest challenge facing the county over the next four years is a declining revenue stream generated by property tax assessments. On top of projected revenue declines, there is a big question as to how much the county will actually get from federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes monies.
“We don’t have an accurate crystal ball and we don’t have a good feel for some revenues in some cases like PILT. We just don’t know,” Fischer said. “That is our biggest challenge. We know what the communities want and what we want to provide, but if revenues are limited, we have to make some tough choices…we’ve already made a lot of those tough choices.”
During the economic downturn, Fischer believes the county has managed its revenues well. The county has always had a policy of keeping 50 percent or more of its operating expenses in reserves, and so far, its reserves have kept severe budget cuts at a minimum and employee layoffs nonexistent. While the reserves have supplemented the general fund to this point without dropping below that 50 percent mark, Fischer voiced the concern that further declines may force the county to go below that mark.
“That makes me feel uncomfortable,” she said. “In the 12 years I have worked for the county, we have never been in that position. That may mean we have to make choices we have never had to make.”
Those concerns, when added to her constituents’ concerns about the economy and employment, lead to the question: How can the county boost the economy in a down market? In reality, Fischer said, the county’s tools are limited. But the county can continue to build relationships with the private sector, and work with the private sector to ascertain what areas could be improved upon to improve the overall business environment.
“How might we encourage new business to either relocate here or be created with new advancements in technology? Are their new kinds of jobs that might not have been here in the past? What can we do to enhance those possibilities?” she asked.
Finding a way to boost the economy coincides with providing better services to the county’s working class. Fischer said there are a number of issues the county deals with on a consistent basis, and each of the commissioners focus on their individual passions. Her passion, she said, is social structure.
“I am very focused on early childhood education, housing and transportation,” Fischer said. “Those things are really important to the local and regional economy. I have been committed to them for many, many years. Obviously, without a reliable and dependable employee base, the economy can’t thrive.”
A good example of recent successes the current board commissioners has had with those issues is the Gold Run affordable housing community on the east end of Telluride and its daycare facility.
Fischer reiterated the notion that tough decisions lie ahead, and that right now, what the county needs is experience in moving toward those decisions.
“We have hard times ahead,” she said. “Without knowledge and information at your fingertips, you can’t make a good decision. You just can’t. I believe in the system and I believe we really serve our constituents well.”