Candidacy: District 1 San Miguel County Commissioner, Republican
Education: B.A. International Relations, University of Southern California, 1973
Occupation: Co-owner of Needle Rock Fiber Arts
Family: Married; lives in Telluride
Government Experience: Two terms on Telluride Town Council; former member of Regional Airport Authority and Telluride Regional Housing Authority
When Steve Kennedy was nominated by the San Miguel County Republican Party last February to run for the District 1 seat, he examined the county’s budget and decided there was a “significant disconnect” between the county government and the county residents.
“It’s very obvious that there is a budget problem,” Kennedy said. “The county has passed deficit budgets, the last of which being in 2012, and all of which was covered by the county’s reserves. The county is running with a deficit, and with dropping property values, that deficit will only increase.”
Kennedy believes the current board of commissioners was behind in their budget reduction planning, so that now services and employees are at a minimum; he further contends that the board has pushed off dealing with budget problems as long as possible, but that soon tough decisions are going to have to be made.
“The budget reduction plan should have been started in 2008, not 2012,” Kennedy said. “The county is two years behind, and they have used these big reserves to continue to have deficit budgets.”
At first glance, he said, the county doesn’t have many areas of operations that are overfunded, and does a good job, with employees who are dedicated and hardworking. But while the county provides sufficient services, he believes the commissioners haven’t done enough to boost revenues in the general fund, which are mainly tied to property taxes.
“One area that is obviously lacking is any economic development plan,” Kennedy says. “There is no climate of economic encouragement for entrepreneurs or innovators to come here and subsequently boost taxes. A concerted and longterm economic development plan needs to be made by the county and updated regularly. We need an attitude that tries to encourage the growth of existing businesses.”
Kennedy says the county is lacking in promotion, and unlike the town, which through its summer festivals and winter events is always looking to bring more people to town, does not focus on tourism. Kennedy said he fears that no efforts are being made to improve county revenues, and that when the county is forced to cut employees and county services, its economy will take an even bigger hit.
“I don’t think that just making budget cuts is going to help the economy or grow the economy. The scope of the problem is extraordinarily underestimated,” Kennedy said. For example, transportation and housing programs are two critical components of making sure high-paying local jobs are held by residents who live in the county. “The creation of a regional transportation authority and the continued efforts to create affordable housing are critical to the economic development effort,” he said, “but right now, with budget cuts, housing and transportation are going to be on the chopping block. That’s not going to help the economy.”
Kennedy says a new reality must be put into place when it comes to the county budget, and that while he will work to not cut county services or employees in the future, it’s important that the county does not rely on surpluses to balance its budget each year. With the proper foresight and management, Kennedy believes the budget can be balanced, although if tough cuts are inevitable, that fact must be acknowledged well ahead of time, so that the county can work to minimize those cuts’ impact on residents.
“If you have proper management and proper planning, you will know what it takes to provide a minimal amount of services,” he said. “You may have to say that this year we won’t be able to fully fund a housing project, and then you could possibly start a collaboration with other local governments to fill in those gaps. When you budget well, it will reveal areas that may require additional funding, and then the county may be able to go after that money right away. Everybody will know in advance that perhaps something is going to be underfunded and you can plan for it.”
If elected, Kennedy says one of his main roles will be to encourage growth that will eventually boost county revenues.
“My role is to make sure there is an environment of encouragement, of local innovation and one that encourages the growth of existing businesses,” he says. “The county needs to have an economic development plan that is comprehensive and one that is frequently reviewed and available for everyone to see.”