Three Republican candidates are running for the District 1 seat of the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners.
Because no other candidate is running, the winner in the June 28 Republican primary election will be alone on the November ballot and serve a four-year term.
The candidates are incumbent Jim Candelaria and challengers Tim Lanier and Liz Tozer.
They presented some of their views during a forum hosted by the Montezuma County League of Women Voters June 9.
Candelaria, who has served as county commissioner since 2018, has worked in construction and as a firefighter in Cortez and Farmington, where he made the rank of battalion chief.
He pointed to his experience as a commissioner, including navigating the pandemic, implementing the land use code, broadcasting public meetings and informing the public via video presentations.
“There was no blueprint for the pandemic. We dealt with it, and the experience prepares the county for the next public emergency,” he said.
Speaking about other challenges, he said the drop in oil and gas revenue has contributed to a budget shortfall of $3 million. Staff retention is challenging because private industry pays more.
“We have to live within our means,” he said. “We have fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers and must work within our confines.”
He supports the Dolores River Valley land use code’s special restrictions to protect the county’s main water source.
The county does not have a sales tax. He supports asking the voters to approve a small one, but not this year because of high inflation and the struggling economy.
A sales tax is “equally distributed,” he said. Visitors would help fund county roads and law enforcement.
Affordable housing is another major problem that is linked to economic development.
“Without housing, workers and businesses will not come to your community,” he said. “Inventory is so low we are in a desperate situation.”
On collaboration with area towns, he said each commissioner is assigned to attend government meetings in Dolores, Cortez, and Mancos to stay informed. He attends Dolores Town Board meetings.
On the issue of mental health and drug abuse, he supported the county’s new Community Intervention Program, which pairs EMTs and social workers to respond to noncriminal emergencies.
On the economy, he pointed to the approval of two U.S. Department of Agriculture meatpacking plants in the county, the cleanup of the M&M truck stop for a new business, and support of outdoor recreation.
He helped improve parking at Sand Canyon and open public access to the Summit Ridge BLM land. He supports greenhouse development to extend the agriculture season.
Closing statement: “It has been a pleasure to serve as county commissioner. I have learned so much, and I have the knowledge, skills and ability to continue. I represent the county on a local, state and national level.”
Lanier is a lifetime resident of the county. He served 12 years on the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School Board, including four years as president. He served as a firefighter and EMT on the Pleasant View Fire Department, and currently serves on the board of Farmers Telecommunications.
“I have experience serving on boards, I’ve worked with different groups and individuals, and I’ve worked on budgets,” he said. “I listen well and communicate well.”
He said a major challenge is the high rate of suicide, including among youths.
“We need more support for our youth and need to stop the bullying. They are our future,” he said.
On wildfire mitigation, he wants to utilize the county GIS department to identify where buffer zones are needed around homes and towns.
“We need to promote cutting dead trees in the forest to help get rid of the fire danger,” he said.
While the county does not control water supply, he said adjustments in agriculture are needed to preserve water.
“We need to manage what we have. Before opening up for development, we need to make sure water sources are available,” he said.
He supports the special land use restrictions in Dolores Valley to protect the critical water resource.
“The Dolores River is the lifeblood of this county, and I think we need to protect it at all costs,” he said. “If it is contaminated upriver, it is contaminated for everybody downstream.”
He said he was undecided about putting a sales tax on the ballot.
“First thing we need to do is streamline the county and cut the budgets, then see what we can’t live without,” he said.
He said the economy needs a railroad.
“We are limited on what we can do because of transportation issues out here,” he said.
Attracting industries that don’t require a lot of water, like Osprey Packs, should be prioritized, he said.
Regarding the workforce, he wants to work with Pueblo Community College to create internships, so young people can develop the skills needed locally.
While the county does not manage schools, Lanier said he would support pushing the state Legislature to change lottery laws to earmark revenue for schools.
Closing statement: “I have deep roots and great love for this county and people. I want to make sure the county is viable and continues to grow and attract good people. I have had leadership roles and have the ability to lead.”
Tozer was born and raised in Cortez and is a farmer and rancher in McElmo Canyon. She has worked at the Cortez Livestock Sale Barn for 48 years, including the past 18 as manager.
“I’ve been involved in agriculture my entire life,” she said.
She served on the Montezuma County Fair board for six years and represented private landowners on a citizen advisory board that developed a management plan for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. She currently serves on the county social services citizen review board.
“I am very familiar with the rural county and people and would love the opportunity to serve everyone,” she said.
She said the economy is the county’s biggest challenge, in addition to drought and threat of wildfire.
The county should distribute information pamphlets to educate the public on wildfire mitigation, water conservation and other important issues, she said.
“I conserve water all the time, not just during drought. I’ve hauled water, and you learn to conserve,” she said.
She supports limiting development in Dolores River Valley because the river is a “lifeline.”
“We do not have a river in Cortez. If the Dolores River dries up, we will dry up too,” she said.
She is in favor of asking voters to approve a sales tax, but not while the economy struggles.
“The way I see it, with a sales tax, a lot of people who come through to shop would be helping to support the county. The tax revenues would not all have to come from property taxes,” she said.
She would look into incentive packages to attract companies such as reducing permit fees and other startup costs.
“A well-planned timber industry would be good,” she said. “There is a lot of timber around here, and a lot of it needs to be cleaned up. This area has people who have worked in the industry.”
She also supports creating a year-round indoor market that only sells goods produced in Montezuma County, “like a year-round farmer’s market.”
She also supports the county’s Community Intervention Program, a non-law-enforcement unit that responds to mental health and addiction emergency calls.
Closing statement: “I am not a politician, I am a concerned citizen who has lived here all my life. I have a lot to thank Montezuma County for and I want to see it prosper into the future. I am a good listener and will govern with common sense.”