Commissioner District 1 candidates – Richard D. Cimino

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Richard D. Cimino
Richard D. Cimino

Week 1, candidates were asked: Please introduce yourself to the community in 250 words or less and explain why you are running for this position.

Born in 1971, I grew up in the small town of Raton New Mexico.

I played football, basketball and baseball in school, but grades were my number one focus. I was admitted to the Air Force Academy in 1990. My first visit to Grand County was a 1991 squadron ski trip. While standing on a balcony in Meadow Ridge overlooking Winter Park, I told my classmates I would live here someday. I met Nicole Doucette of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1993 and we fell in love and got married in 1994 right after my Academy graduation.

I served over 20 years as an Intelligence Officer and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. Nicki and I moved 10 times through my many assignments. We have three children, two are Middle Park High graduates attending college in Colorado, and our youngest is a Junior at Middle Park High School.

My Air Force duties included reporting on enemy Air Forces, operating satellites, building global communication networks, and teaching at the National Intelligence University in Washington DC. I earned three college degrees during my career. In 2004 I deployed to the Middle East for U.S. Central Command delivering maps and Imagery to combat forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, and the United Arab Emirates. I retired from the Military in 2015. I maintain the military core values of Integrity First and Service Before Self.

I ran for County Commissioner in 2016, and was blessed to be chosen to represent the people of Grand County.
I want to serve as the District 1 Commissioner to continue my life of public service, give back to the community, and build on our accomplishments.

Four years ago the county budget was in bad shape, the finance director resigned in protest. The county budget is now healthy.

Four years ago, investment in roads had been neglected, we boosted the road budget in 2017 and every year since. Red Dirt Hill safety improvements are underway.

Four years ago we paid the highest health insurance rates in the state, we have cut those rates nearly 40% in the individual marketplace and brought in new health insurance companies to improve market competition.
For public transportation we tripled bus funding and provided land for the Winter Park bus barn and brought the first Bustang route into Grand County.

We raised 90% of the money to complete the Windy Gap connector to improve the Colorado River. Additionally, Grand Lake clarity has improved.

I want to convert the County Housing Authority into a Regional Housing Authority which will better address affordable housing countywide.

I’m proud of the Grand County workforce and wish to continue serving with them for the residents and guests of Grand County.


Week 2: Many people don’t understand the job of county commissioner. How do you see the job’s responsibilities and what are your qualifications for the office?  

The roles and responsibilities for County Commissioner are laid out in State Statute and in fact Counties are an arm of the State. Counties administer human services, public health, law enforcement and judicial services for the State. The County Commissioners decide the District Attorney’s budget and staff size. The BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) exercise 1041 powers which affect water rights. We are responsible for roads, land use, zoning, motor vehicles, elections, all land recordings and any public document recordings, property assessments, child services, ambulance service, search and rescue, and the list goes on and on. A singular focus on one item like affordable housing or water or transportation is a luxury Commissioners don’t have. We are responsible for many, many aspects of our quality of life in Grand County.

My qualifications include 25 years in the Air Force and my 4 years serving as County Commissioner. I have learned many aspects of the work the Grand County employees do to serve the residents and guests of Grand County. I scrutinize the county budget, and seek savings wherever I can find them. I think every County Commissioner has two basic responsibilities: #1 earn and keep the public’s trust, #2 become an expert in public policy. To earn the public’s trust I am transparent and welcome public input, I include my personal cell phone and email on my postcards and they are (970) 531-8812 and [email protected]

I explain all my votes. I listen. I analyze. I evaluate. I forecast the public policy outcomes. I am willing to change positions if the data support that. To become an expert in public policy, I earned one Bachelor’s Degree and 2 Master’s Degrees and I was admitted into the PhD Program for Public Policy at George Mason University. While an unexpected Air Force assignment prevented me from finishing my PhD, I dove deep into Public Policy and I am prepared to understand the complex woven fabric of our society. I will never be done honing my public policy understanding. I will forever ask questions and keep trying to make things a little better. Public policy and local government are a passion and love of mine. I appreciate the ability to serve y’all.


Week 3: 1. Campaigns often promise change. What changes would you want to see in the next 4 years if elected?

I led many changes in my first 4 years. We have responded to COVID-19, and will continue this response through most of 2021. Major progress has been made on health care, individual marketplace health insurance costs in Grand County have been cut in half in the last 3 years. Short term rentals (Airbnb, etc.) are much more regulated at the local level. We eliminated the wait list for child care support, all families who qualify get help. We increased road funding, sometimes double the previous amount. In 2018 we finally (at my urging) asked voters to repeal Senate Bill 152, which was a telecoms sponsored 2005 law that prohibited local governments from Internet investments for their communities. The voters said YES and that restriction was removed. In the next four years I want to see (#1) more public/private partnerships to improve Internet access and speed. I will (#2) insist on major safety improvements on Red Dirt Hill. We will (#3) make progress on the Fraser Valley Parkway and we can (#4) better design affordable housing solutions county wide. My details are below.

2. How would you prioritize the budget dollars and work with your fellow commissioners to make these a reality?

These changes cost money. I will be specific about actual dollars. County budgets should maintain a 20% surplus of the operational budget to be safe from recession. The operations budget is approximately $20 Million. 20% of $20 million is $4 Million. Remember, 20% is the minimum to be safe, it is very dangerous to dip below 20% surplus ($4 million). The county currently has approximately $7 million in surplus, $3 Million above 20%. I am against major cuts to our $20 Million operational budget, therefore of the approximate $3 Million surplus above 20%, I recommend no more than $1 Million be considered for changes as the question asks. I do not want to get any closer to that 20% minimum.

For change #1: improve Internet access and speed, I would investigate public/private partnerships and consider approximately $100,000 for actual build-out of towers and networks. Internet projects can cost millions, so the vast majority of funding will have to come from private investors or federal grants.

For change #2 Red Dirt Hill safety improvements, I seek a complete end to end study of Red Dirt Hill to identify how every intersection can be improved. We need to widen the road, add turn lanes, improve signs, and add guard rails. The total improvements may cost over $10 Million, CDOT estimated $7.1 Million in a preliminary study (per our request), but that study missed some intersections I want to add. A complete engineering study may cost about $500,000. I know people think the government does too many studies. But when an engineering study is complete for road projects, it is much easier to get CDOT to fund the actual projects. When it comes to roads, studies are worth it!

For change #3, the Fraser Valley Parkway, we need to finalize the route of this new road, and then verify that traffic studies show it will work. We are not going to build a new road if the result will be two roads with backups on Sunday afternoons. This may cost approximately $400,000 for this final design and traffic analysis and for cultural analysis required by the Army Corps of Engineers. Final amounts can vary considerably, this is my estimate.

For change #4 affordable housing, if the citizens want significant investment in affordable housing, new revenue is required and we would have to ask the voters for that. We need a regional housing authority that helps the towns and county cooperate rather than compete with each other.

I’ve identified $1,000,000 in potential investments. Change takes years and it would be unwise to blow the county surplus in one year. Invest for change, but do it at a sustainable pace. There will be additional funds needed in 2022, and 2023, and so on. There are many facility needs on the horizon. COVID is another unknown, it is likely some of our surplus will be spent addressing the public health and economic effects of COVID. There are many opportunities for positive change, but there needs to be a balance with our multitude of responsibilities.


Week 4: 1. How will you balance the needs and wants of county departments while working with a finite budget?

After the county finance director resigned in protest in 2016, there were some significant budget cuts made, and county departments have not grown appreciably since then. Therefore, I do not think there are many departments that can absorb further budget cuts, my position is the county needs to continue to provide all current services. Basically, we are funding the department needs, and not funding the wants. The budget is finite. When there is any additional budget room, we have made the strategic decision to invest in vehicles and capital (including buildings).

2. What criteria will you prioritize needs and wants?

The county government provides a broad range of services to our residents and guests, and we will maintain those services. Priorities include safety and security, public health, human services, transportation infrastructure (roads), economic development, affordable housing, sustainable land use, property rights, water quality and quantity, and many, many more things. The basic criteria I try to apply to budget trade-offs is “What will provide the most long term benefit to our residents and guests, and how will this affect our quality of life?”

3. If new resources were available, what one area of county services would you feel most need additional resources?

At this time, roads are critical should additional resources be available. There are serious safety and capacity issues that must be addressed ASAP. The two road issues that are top priority are Red Dirt Hill safety improvements, and building the Fraser Valley Parkway. Both are partially budgeted for in the draft 2021 budget.

For other county services, if we are smart, they can grow without tax increases. For example, we are currently in negotiations with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) developer to grant additional tax savings for the developer in return for investment in the County Housing Authority, and that private investment will be used to attract future affordable housing projects. Another area where we are growing resources smartly is the additional resources for water improvements that will occur in the future when the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement reaches new milestones.

Fortunately, Colorado has the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in our State Constitution, and therefore only the voters will decide if the County ever gets more resources to do anything. If sometime in the future the voters decide it’s time for more resources, fine. But in the meantime, the County will keep our budgets tight (annual revenue slightly more than expenditures), and only grow smartly in ways that pay for themselves.

4. Should any parts of the county budget be shielded from cuts? If so, which area?

Currently, all departments are shielded from significant cuts. To ensure we are lean, we asked all departments for a small 5% cut to their budgets for next year because of the likely economic damage from COVID. If there were an extreme budget situation, I think the last thing we would ever cut significantly would be our first responders. We must maintain our first responders.

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Week 5 – 1. Grand County has not updated its land use and zoning codes to deal effectively with current development pressures. Do you have a plan
to accomplish this task?

Yes, upon reelection I will make a motion to schedule an update of the County Master Plan, which was last published in 2013. The results of that Master Plan will inform a significant re-write of the County land use and zoning codes. The new County Master Plan must take into consideration
all of the town Master Plans and coordinate with and support them. Some immediate steps we could take to land use and zoning would be to reduce or eliminate some building fees if the home you plan to build is intended to be an affordable house.

While I support changes, I wish to highlight that the Grand County Land Use and zoning codes have actually performed better over the last 50 years than comparable ski resort counties in Colorado. Good luck finding an empty lot in the Counties of Pitkin, Summit, Eagle, and Routt. Development pressures in these other ski counties has thankfully far exceeded development in Grand. In those counties the saying is you have to buy and scrape, because nearly all the lots have been built on and if you want to build a house, you’re best option is to buy an older house and demolish it and then build your new house. Grand County still has a relatively large number of empty lots available, which is one reason we are seeing increased construction. Also, I wish to note that single family house new construction is actually down in unincorporated Grand County, the massive building you are observing is largely within town limits, and County Government does not oversee that.

2. Should Grand County taxpayers continue to fund the Windy Gap bypass project in view of the fact this Colorado River issue was created by eastern slope water users?

It is true Front Range and Eastern Slope water users, in cooperation with the Federal Government/Department of Reclamation basically bought and built the systems that divert significant water out of Grand County. It is a shame and I wish they would pay for 100% of the repairs to our rivers and streams. And for the record they have contributed significant funds for the Windy Gap Connector (It is not a bypass). But Grand County taxpayers have also contributed significant funding to this project. The Windy Gap connector will go a long way to healing the Colorado River, and many of the donations place a deadline when the project has to be complete. I am not going to wait around for lawsuits or legislative action to solve this. We are under a deadline and our rivers can’t wait. I will do whatever it takes to finish the Windy Gap Connector!

3. Is it the role of the Commissioners to help encourage development and building? If so, what measures can the county do to help development and building?

I support government policies that encourage a healthy growing economy. However, it is not the Commissioner’s job to favor one developer over another, we must treat them all equally. It is not wise to allow out of control development and have no safety policies or revenue to pay for roads and infrastructure and police and EMS that must respond to these new buildings. The County Commissioners make sure the developers pay the school impact fees that support our School Districts. I favor policies that support sustainable safe development and building. If an adjustment is needed, we should implement policies that make smaller affordable houses pay lower government fees than large mansions. Why should someone
who wants to build a 1,500 sq ft house with 3 bedrooms 2 bathrooms pay the same fees as someone who builds an 8,000 sq ft house with 7 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms? They shouldn’t, and I am researching policies that support the construction of more affordable houses.

4. When managing public agencies, is it better to have more employees at a modest wage or few employees at a wage high enough to attract quality applicants?

Currently, Grand County employees are extremely high quality and I am proud of them all. Grand County over the years has actually tried to have both as few employees as possible at as modest a wage as possible. It is remarkable we have the quality of workers we do, and we are thankful. Our workforce is lean because of it and we have been thrifty over the years. We recognize this cannot persist. Recently the number of applicants for empty positions has dropped, and many jobs go unfilled for months. This cannot continue.

In 2018 Grand County implemented pay raises for all positions, adding $1 Million to the County budget. In 2019 and 2020 Grand County has kept its promise of keeping salaries in line with inflation, with 2.5% pay increases each year as the Colorado Consumer Price Index shows. We have budgeted for an outside company to perform a salary survey in 2021, to see where we still lag behind in comparable wages in our area. The County Government is on a path to maintain a relatively low number of employees, but at a higher wage. Our employees have been and are high quality. That high quality will continue and our new wages will attract high quality new applicants.

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