Candidates for District 2 Delaware County Commissioner say that chances are slim that the roads around the Cleora area that lead to some of the most highly valued property and resorts on Grand Lake will be improved any time soon.
The candidates, Democrat David Poindexter and Republican Doug Smith, spoke out at a forum Saturday at The Coves sponsored by the Cleora Emergency Medical Services Trust. Frank Colburn, CEMSA Trust Chairman, moderated the event that was attended by about 30 residents.
Poindexter and Smith were provided with the questions prior to the forum so they could be prepared to answer the questions that would be asked at the event.
Both candidates said that lake access money that had been available to counties in previous years has been spent for other things including ice storm relief. The $2 million that is allocated every year throughout the state barely covers 20 miles of roads, according to Poindexter. Monies that the county has for roads barely covers equipment and maintenance operations, he said.
“The only way you are going to get some of that lake access money is to put your name in the hat again next year, after the new legislature comes in,” Poindexter said.
Smith told the group that they are not the only area in need of road improvement but he says there is a solution.
“The only way to increase your tax base without increasing taxes is economic development.” said Smith.
“We are a tourism community and that means we need to get people here and when they get here maintain it so they will stay or come back, there’s no other way.”
“Priority for roads,” Smith said, “is always safety first,” referring to school bus routes and high traffic areas.
Smith said that there would need to be some immediate short-term decisions to cut operating expenses in order to free up some funds for necessary road improvements.
Both candidates discussed the possibility of developing a road improvement district in a long range plan but said that implementation would require legislation to be enacted.
Regarding Rural EMS Funding both candidates were questioned about House Bill 1888 that requires county commissioners to have a plan for rural EMS funding and a cooperative with other area emergency medical services.
“This will be a priority and I will use all the assets I have and the experience I have to work together to increase the coverage, make your ambulance service better and cooperate with other counties.” Smith said.
Poindexter shared his personal story about his need for rural ambulance service during a hunting accident in western Kansas.
“It really opened my eyes on how critical rural ambulance is.” he said.
“You’ve got to put a priority about that with people, this is a retired area and it will be a priority here,” Poindexter said. “We need to work with the surrounding municipalities as well.”
The county commissioners have never had a legislative mandate to have a plan until HB 1888 which was co-authored by Rep. Doug Cox and approved by the House of Representatives last year.
Concerning the Green Box /Convenience Center Site in the Cleora area, the candidates were asked what their plans were to develop the previously promised full Convenience Center in the area for solid waste which includes recycling.
It was determined that a grant application submitted for the project through Congressman Dan Boren’s office was either never made or was faulty in some way, they said.
Poindexter explained Solid Water Authority does not have the funds to pursue the project at this time due to the expenditures but suggested that residents should separate their own recyclables and take it to the Convenience Center as one way to save money.
“As a commissioner, with a little rearranging of how they operate and some fuel savings — we’re going to have to get in more of a centralized area instead of darting around everywhere,” Poindexter said.
“Internally they need to do a more strict management,” he said.
Smith said that the Green Box program is one of the best things the county ever did. But there are issues such as recycling that could make the project profitable rather than an expense and Smith said he wants to investigate those possibilities.
“We could use private people to come in here, do the recycling and pay us a fee.” Smith said. “I guarantee you we would make more money because we’re not manning that thing,” he said.
The candidates said the solution for winter road maintenance should be preparation and priorities. Smith reiterated that the school bus routes are first priority but that if he is commissioner he will help make that a priority in the winter. Poindexter said he was frustrated that the roads were not plowed in a more timely manner in some areas but assured “it will be better addressed than it has in the past.”
While the county sheriff is not under the umbrella of the commissioners, the lack of law enforcement in that part of the county drew aggravated comments from several residents asking the candidates what can be done about it.
Colburn said that months go by without a sighting of Delaware County Sheriff patrol and that significant non-violent crimes go uninvestigated.
Smith said that in his experience, non-violent crimes are low priority and regular duties including writing reports keep deputies from having the time to patrol.
He said that there does need to be a plan in place for coverage of outlying areas.
“We are sitting over here with a large number of people on this side of the bridge,” Smith said, “There needs to be someone in charge of that area, not necessarily patrolling, they can be sitting at Bernice.”
Smith reminded the group that some of the Sheriff Deputy patrol vehicles they see in areas such as Bernice may actually be Reserve Deputies with limited hours they are allowed by law to work.
Both candidates said that they would need to work closely with the sheriff’s department and with the other commissioners.