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Oil, Gas and Land Use Dominant Issues In Garfield County Race

Marci Krivonen

In one of the only contested Garfield County races, two candidates with different viewpoints are running for county commissioner. Incumbent republican Tom Jankovsky is seeking a second four-year term. He’s being challenged by Michael Sullivan, a democrat, who says he’d represent a voice that’s going unheard. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

District One in Garfield County covers Carbondale and parts of Glenwood Springs. Candidate Michael Sullivan says he typifies the values and concerns in this area.

"The voice that I represent is large and I see it everywhere. I see it in packed meeting halls for the Thompson Divide and other issues. There are a lot of us out there and our voice is not being heard," he says.

Sullivan has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for two decades and works in the hospitality industry. He serves on the county’s planning and zoning commission. It’s there where he noticed change was needed.

"For the last six years I’ve been on the planning and zoning commission and I’ve watched as my opponent, Mr Jankovsky, has slowly but surely given away all of our tools and opened up the county to an avalanche of deregulation."

The county’s comprehensive plan lost its teeth, says Sullivan, when commissioners dropped it from county code enforcement.  It became simply an advisory document. It gives direction on county land use planning.

"The board of county commissioners felt that the comprehensive plan was best as an advisory document," says incumbent Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.

He spent his first term with an all-republican three member board. He says making the comprehensive plan part of county code would have been a disservice.

"When you make it a mandatory document, it goes from being a tool to being a regulation or a rule. And, to some extent can become a blockade in the application process."

Jankovsky is a former general manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort and was elected to the board during the “heart of the recession.”

He proudly points to Garfield’s improving economy and says credit goes to a more thoughtful way of spending dollars from the oil and gas industry.

"Those dollars have been used in Carbondale for the roundabout and the entrance to Carbondale, for the Seventh Street improvements in Glenwood Springs, in New Castle, they’re being used for the pedestrian bridge and Main Street improvements in Silt."

Garfield County’s coffers are full. The projected budget in 2015 is $128 million. Much of that comes from the oil and gas industry.

Candidate Michael Sullivan says more emphasis should be paid to growing the county’s tourism industry.  If elected one of his first tasks would be to create an economic development committee.

"We need to get out of that boom and bust cycle. We need economic drivers that are going to be long-term and clean," he says.

Jankovsky, who famously goes through the county budget line-by-line, dismisses the idea of downplaying natural gas revenue.

"Seventy percent of our property taxes come from the oil and gas industry and then when you get into Western Garfield County, the fire, hospital and school districts are receiving 85 to 95 percent of their revenues from oil and gas," he says.

When it comes to regulating drilling, Sullivan wants more local county control. Jankovsky admits the county has relied heavily on the state to make the rules but, the county has created other layers of oversight like an energy advisory board.

The Glenwood Springs Post Independent endorsed Jankovsky, calling him a “moderating and influential voice.” In a column in the same newspaper, Carbondale Town Trustee Allyn Harvey backed Sullivan saying he’d do a better job of tackling issues like land use and health and human services.

Even though the men will represent just one district, the entire county electorate will vote in this race. The majority of active voters in Garfield County are registered as unaffiliated, followed by republicans and then democrats.

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