Q&A with Beth Melton, Democrat candidate for Routt County commissioner
Bio: Beth Melton grew up in a working class family on an alfalfa farm in Walla Walla, Washington. She met her husband — a Routt County native — in college, and they knew that Routt County was where they wanted to raise their child. Melton’s work in educational leadership gave them the opportunity to come back to Routt County when she was hired by Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services — BOCES. In this work, she has managed millions of state, federal and local dollars, and she works in partnership with school leaders across four counties to implement innovative solutions to the challenges of rural education. Previously, Melton’s work with BOCES focused on early literacy and resulted in some of the largest achievement gains for special education students in the state. Melton has also served, by invitation, on multiple state committees focused on improving literacy in Colorado. Through her work, Northwest Colorado has become a model for others across the state. In 2017, Melton co-founded a small business in Steamboat Springs that provides support for struggling readers and their families. She also serves as a leader/officer in many community organizations including the Young Professionals Network, Steamboat Springs Chamber and First Impressions Early Childhood Council.
Q. Why are you running for county commissioner?
A. As I’ve talked to people across our county, I hear about three things: housing, child care and the future of our environment. Not one of these three issues is addressed in our current board of commissioners’ strategic plan. I also talk to people every day who don’t have any idea what the role of our county commissioners is. I seek to change this. We need the priorities of our community to be reflected in the planning and actions of our elected officials. We need leadership that is proactive and engaged with the community so that we all understand their responsibilities and the potential of this office. I am running because I know that it’s time for all of our county commissioners to work hard and to work for us. I will bring my commitment to addressing the needs of families, seniors and the workforce of this community and ensuring that we see real, measurable results in our everyday lives.
Q. Does Routt County have a role to play in meeting demand for workforce or attainable housing? If so, what are some of the measures the county should be taking to spur development of that kind of housing?
A. Absolutely. Our housing shortage is affecting people across our county, and the county should proactively lead in addressing it. When the Yampa Valley Housing Authority completed their community housing plan, they asked the county to do several things: First, participating in identifying a dedicated funding source. Secondly, funding and constructing infrastructure to support development in our existing growth centers. Finally, reviewing processes and codes to help facilitate more housing supply, empowering staff to support increased housing supply as a goal, and investing in transportation.
I am proud to have been one of the leaders on the 5A for HOMES initiative, which resulted in a dedicated funding source for the Housing Authority. This funding has since been leveraged to bring $13 million into the community and build 72 more units for low and moderate income families.
The Board of County Commissioners have not prioritized any of the other requests on this list because the county has not made housing a priority. As county commissioner, I will dedicate existing and future resources to partnerships with the municipalities across the county to facilitate the development of affordable housing that actually increases the supply available for the working people of Routt County.
Q. With the cost of housing in Steamboat Springs continuing to rise, more and more people are moving to Hayden, Oak Creek and Phippsburg where home prices are lower. With sprawl comes the need for transportation, would you support the creation of a transit authority? And what role should the county play in its creation?
A. With growth comes a need for transportation planning, and we must consider both roadway improvements and multimodal options including public transit. Additionally, we need to support the economic development of the municipalities outside of Steamboat so that more people have the freedom to live near where they work. We should support economic development that supports thriving towns across the county. This is not the same as sprawl — it is dense development that is connected by open lands. There will always be people who commute as well. Public transit is an important part of reducing traffic, ensuring everyone can get to work, and protecting our air. There will come a time when regional bussing is the right plan for Routt County. I don’t know if that time will come in five years or in 50 years, but once the population distribution in the county is conducive to a regional transit system, I will be in support. A transit authority requires voter approval. Therefore, the county’s role should be assessing and supporting the design of a plan that meets the community’s need.
Q. As a commissioner, what would you do to support economic development in Routt County?
A. In order to thrive as a community, we must work together with state and local partners to ensure that we have a strong workforce and that we attract and retain businesses that pay these workers a living wage. Economic development efforts must consist of activities, programs, and policies that increase the economic vitality and quality of life in Routt County. There is a role for county government across all of these types of efforts. We know that over 90 percent of economic growth comes from existing businesses.
So, while efforts to attract new businesses are flashy, we also need to invest in efforts to support the businesses we already have. What would it take for them to hire one more employee? How can we make this community a desirable and livable place for the workers they need? This is the foundation of economic development for our county. We all know what brings people here — it’s our quality of life, the quality of our schools, our landscape and environment. If these people are going to stay and be a part of our workforce, then they need high-paying jobs, a place to live that they can afford, and child care.
Q. Would you support lifting the moratorium on marijuana grow operations and/or retail marijuana businesses in unincorporated Routt County? Why or why not?
A. We should treat marijuana like any other agricultural product in Routt County. This means that it should fall within the zoning regulations of the county regarding industrial buildings and agricultural operations, and should be allowed when it falls within the bounds of these rules which are designed to protect our open lands and the rural character of our county. The agricultural heritage of Routt County provides so much to this county. It gives us the unique character that our tourism thrives on, and the continuation of agricultural use in the county preserves the landscape that we all cherish.
Q. How do you propose to strike the proper balance between the needs of residents living in the county’s outlying areas with the population density surrounding Steamboat?
A. As an education leader in our region, I work with each of the schools in our county. What I have found is that what is happening in the schools really mirrors what is happening in a community. In addition, I have lived in South Routt, Hayden, and now, Steamboat. As a result, I have developed a nuanced understanding of what is happening in each of the communities within our county. Our county is made up of many distinct communities, and there are many things that bind us together as well. We can strike a balance by ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard through collaboration that brings all stakeholders to the table. By doing this, we can work together across the county to identify those things that are good for all while respecting the unique perspectives of residents in each of our communities.
Q. What guides you when it comes to land use planning?
A. The Routt County Master Plan and its accompanying documents. The Master Plan was developed with a great deal of community input, and it still articulates the vision for this community — concentrated development and open lands in between. The Master Plan has contributed immeasurably to Routt County’s economic success. Our landscape is preserved through this plan, and it is this landscape that differentiates us from other mountain communities and helps to maintain our tourism base. We have preserved open lands and agriculture through many successful initiatives, including the Purchase of Development Rights program. This program has resulted in the preservation of our agricultural heritage and the maintenance of open lands for conservation purposes. I believe that the Master Plan is still the vision of this community.
Q. Would you support a county-wide parks and recreation district? Why or why not?
A. If the taxpayers of Routt County want a parks and rec district and are willing to pay for it, then I am very open to considering it. Currently, each of our municipalities handles their own parks and recreation and are doing this well. I will not propose a top-down approach to parks and recreation. Instead, I will bring people together and lead the county to work in collaboration with the municipalities to determine whether a countywide parks and recreation district meets their needs and the needs of the citizens across the county.
Q. What’s one thing you would do to ensure the future viability of our water supply?
A. Water is incredibly complicated, and so it is difficult to choose just one thing. The single most important thing that I can do as a commissioner is to be a strong voice at the state and federal levels for the protection of water on the Western Slope. There are many who would like to have what we have, and it is critical that we have county commissioners who are willing to advocate on behalf of keeping our water here. In addition, I will bring an appreciation of the vital connection between water quality and water quantity. We have to join together with the stakeholders across the county and commit to doing everything we can to protect the future of our water by protecting the Yampa in addition to all of the other pieces of our watershed.
Q. What are the two most significant issues facing the county today and how would you propose to address them?
A. 1. Housing is a countywide issue. As a county leader, I will be proactive in identifying the ways in which we can make a dent in housing affordability for the people of our community. Housing development in Routt County should happen in partnership with our municipalities in order to ensure we don’t create sprawling subdivisions. Suburbs do not create affordable housing. As Commissioner, I will dedicate existing and future resources to partner with our municipalities and facilitate the development of housing that the people who work in this community can afford.
2. Child care has reached a crisis level in Routt County. We only have licensed care for 15 percent of the infants and toddlers who need it. We on the First Impressions Council have been working over the past six months to develop an early childhood community plan that outlines several possible next steps for solutions. As commissioner, I will provide the political will needed to implement these solutions. Some important solutions identified through this process include public-private partnerships with large employers to create new child care centers, training programs to grow our own early childhood workforce and a community-wide initiative to support family-friendly workplace policies.
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