By Lisa Young
Wendell Koontz (R), former Hotchkiss trustee and mayor, is running for Delta County Commissioner District 3 at the encouragement of outgoing Commissioner Mark Roeber. He will square off against businessman Jere Lowe (I) this Nov. 3.
Koontz said when it comes to leading Delta County, he has a unique blend of both public and private experiences. A mine geologist for nearly 40 years, the Hotchkiss resident currently works for Wolverine Fuels and before that was employed with the West Elk Mine.
During his tenure on the Hotchkiss town council, Koontz led the town on zoning, a water protection plan, public works upgrades and a budget that eventually led to having four officers in the public safety department.
“Through a lot of leadership from existing employees our budgeting process was always very frugal and we always came out in the black at the end of year and as a public entity that was very important to me,” he said.
A high priority for Koontz, if elected, will be the health, safety and welfare of Delta County citizens. He mentioned the large budget of the county including public safety, health and human services, clerk and recorder’s office, road and bridge, overall infrastructure.
“It’s much broader but a very similar scope of what a municipality is,” he said, adding, “That’s what prompted me to run and when Mark Roeber said he was term limited, he encouraged me to apply for the position.”
Koontz, leaning heavily on his prior experience as a town mayor, said leadership is about the whole community.
“Working as a mayor you soon realize that you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the whole community ... and this community can be very diverse so you’ve got to take in what’s best for the whole community not just sub-sectors and that’s not always an easy decision.”
When it comes to solving problems, the former geologist said his experience with gathering the data and making the best decision makes him qualified for the position.
Koontz addressed a number of current issues facing Delta County. Top on the list is the county’s land use code.
On the subject of changing the land use code to allow farmers to grow commercial marijuana, Koontz is taking a conservative approach while respecting the decisions made by individual municipalities.
Both Cedaredge and Paonia have ballot measures in place that will allow the sale of both medical and retail marijuana if passed this November. On the controversial issue, Koontz said “citizens have a right to make their own choice on that.”
“Because it’s still federally restricted, I have a real issue with that (commercial growing),” he said, adding that he’s not in favor of marijuana use in general.
However, if one or both ballot measures pass, Koontz said he will listen to all sides, adding, ”the facts also include the legal issues and the social issues surrounding it.”
Another land use code topic is the county’s attempt to expand the right-to-farm statute to include future farming operations.
“I think the county has thought this through, is there some tweaking to be done, probably,” he said, without providing additional comment.
Koontz has first-hand experience with the land use code planning having served on the oil and gas committee for a number of months. He said he trusts the county’s past decision to “do away with their oil and gas regulations until the state actually figures out what we’re doing.”
Overall Koontz is in favor of the land use code as a way to bring certainty to the process as the county moves away from specific development.
“There was a lot of uncertainty on how it worked and how it applied, there was a one size fits all. This gives businesses, land owners and ag some real guidelines they can count on and plan for the future.”
On the economy and COVID-19, Koontz said he’s been an advocate for getting the county fully open and back to school since July, and he fully supports the efforts of the county and the EOC.
While advocating for opening the county up, Koontz also stressed the need to protect the more vulnerable population.
“If it’s mask wearing, social distancing, be smart we don’t have to be crazy about this,” he said, adding the county will also need to be on watch with the upcoming flu season.
Returning to the economy, Koontz said he will work to find work opportunities for the people who live and work in the county with an emphasis on youth while supporting the county’s latest efforts to bring in economic growth.
“One Delta County is something we need to be behind one-hundred percent and sustain one-hundred percent, not just a flash in the pan. We need to research value added agriculture and continue to work on that, we are an ag community ... and getting this land use plan so our citizens and businesses have some long term stability in what the planning is.”
Back-the-Badge will be on the ballot again and the measure has Koontz’s full support after considering recent crime statistics from Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor.
“We need to step up and support our citizens and also support those who are protecting us. These guys are professional, and they care about us and our communities. I don’t like new taxes, but this one has a Sunset provision, if things change, we can do something different in the future.”
Having served on the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, Koontz supports the mill levy increase proposed by the Colorado River District saying he believes in keeping Western Slope water on the Western Slope.
If elected, Koontz plans to work part-time or on consultant status but promised that his primary focus will be on his county commissioner duties.
“Because I believe in Delta County and I believe in the people that work here and live here I want to be of service to them because it’s treated me so well. I think our strengths are the communities that make up this county and if, when I am elected I will serve us all, I won’t be looking just to serve Hotchkiss or Cedaredge. I’ll be commissioner for all,” said Koontz.
In a follow-up email question, Koontz said he’s financed a large part of his campaign as well as taken donations. His campaign can be reached at ElectKoontz@gmail.com