The other three Republican candidates — incumbent Bucky Hall and challengers Bob Stevens and John Wetzel — have been invited to a forum on Monday. There are two seats open on the board.
Laursen, manager of the Heart Mountain Irrigation District, pitched the audience on his experience in agricultural and water issues. Livingston, a North Fork outfitter, highlighted his knowledge of public lands and wildlife issues.
Gisoldi, a retired Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force and former Park County Homeland Security Coordinator, noted he’s not originally from here and said he would bring passion and a new set of eyes.
Gaspers cited his diverse life experiences, which range from being a brand inspector to a road and bridge crew member, to a Northwest College instructor, to his design work today in Cody.
The candidates began things with the county budget, saying they expect it will have to shrink in coming years.
Gaspers said that, by letting departments spend out their budgets at the end of each year, “We’re sending out the wrong message.” Instead, he suggested the county consider offering bonuses to employees or departments if they save money.
“We got to get a change of mindset,” said Gaspers, who owns Mountain State Consulting.
Gisoldi echoed the idea of rewarding employees for cost-saving suggestions and further suggested the county consider sharing equipment with Powell, Cody and Meeteetse.
“Do we all need a front-end loader so we can put our logo on it?” he asked.
Gisoldi also said the county’s tax base needs to be diversified. He cited an interest in developing the county’s railroad spur and working to bring more companies to the county.
Livingston said government needs to be run like a business, using common sense and without spending money it doesn’t have.
“If I can find a way to do it less expensive, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said of running his business, Lee Livingston Outfitting.
Laursen said he learned about being frugal during his 22 years in farming.
While on public boards, including the Powell fire district, “My philosophy, I guess, was always, ‘Don’t increase unless there’s something absolutely needed.’ If they’re wanting some capital expenditure, you better have a doggone good reason for it, and you better look at it real close,” he said. Laursen said the county has done a good job with its budget.
When asked whether they would open up more federal land to oil and gas development, the four candidates generally expressed support for the industry if it’s responsible.
“Yes, but carefully,” said Gisoldi. On the one hand, “I don’t want what happened up here with you all,” he said, referring to a 2006 blowout at a Clark gas well that contaminated groundwater and blew toxic materials into the air.
“I want better planning,” he said.
On the other hand, Gisoldi said people died in the first Gulf War “because of oil” and said he wants to see America’s resources developed “wherever we can, and do it smartly.”
“If it’s done carefully, wisely,” said Livingston of opening up lands. He noted a rig on Pagoda Creek in the Shoshone National Forest that “luckily” didn’t hit anything decades ago.
“I shudder to think of a rig or a pump sitting up there in the middle of bighorn sheep, elk, deer habitat. That’s not the place for it,” Livingston said. “That doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice any of this low country, either, because it’s got some pretty neat stuff going on out there, but I am for responsible and prudent multiple use, including mineral extraction, on public land.”
Laursen said he doesn’t have a problem with the way things are now.
“There’s rules and regs out there, and I think we have competent federal people out there watching that,” he said. Laursen noted how important the industry is to the state.
Gaspers said his two key words were “responsible” and “accountable,” and as long as that’s the case, he’s all for domestic development to ease dependence on foreign oil.
The candidates disagreed with commissioners’ interest in seeing if they can cut the taxes collected by special districts in the county — like fire, cemetery and conservation districts.
“I think the special districts’ money is theirs,” Livingston said.
Laursen said in the past he’s asked, “don’t they (commissioners) have enough on their plate?”
“If they (a special district board members) are collecting too much money, and they have too much reserves and you feel that’s the case, then you folks elect a board member that will bring that mill levy down,” said Gaspers.
Some audience members and candidates mistakenly thought commissioners were proposing to “take” the districts’ money for county projects. In actuality, commissioners want the ability to force districts to collect fewer property taxes — that is, leaving the money in the hands of taxpayers.
Gaspers indicated he disagreed with commissioners’ 3-2 decision to give $750 to the Powell High School robotics club in April to help them get to a national competition.
“I don’t think they can take your tax dollars and give them away in that sense, that’s not what your tax dollars are collected for, folks,” he said.
Livingston cited the landfill as a big issue for the entire county.
“Park County doesn’t end at Cody city limits,” he said.
Noting that the Cody landfill is becoming the regional site for Park County, he said he wants to know how to make landfill services reasonable, equitable and fair for all the residents of Park County.
“And I will be the first to say I do not have the answer to that,” Livingston said.
During the forum, Gisoldi wondered if Park County could ship its garbage to Billings via railroad and save money.
The candidates all said they would represent everyone in the county.
The primary election is Aug. 21.