There aren’t many people around Salida who don’t know who Rusty Granzella is. His family name has a generations-long history in the Arkansas River Valley. His decision to run as the Republican candidate for Chaffee County commissioner, he says, is related to his professional experience in a community in which he has done business since 1982.
“I think my long experience in the area is one of my qualifications for the job,” said Granzella. “You have to know all the pieces to do the job, and understanding a place is one of them.”
He points out that being part of a family-run business – he worked with his two brothers, mother and father to run the Salida Motors dealership – takes cooperation. The family sold it to Town and Country in 2002 when his father was 76. Granzella, who has a bachelor’s in accounting, went from the dealership to banking. Knowing the people in the community as he did, he says, “built up a circle of a great clientele who appreciated our family’s service.”
“As a small business in Chaffee County, you have to be able to do a lot more than one thing. With that experience, that’s what the county commissioner does – he’s a whole service provider covering so many concerns.”
While Colorado state statutes define the county commissioner role in general terms, Granzella says the details are open for interpretation. According to Granzella, the county comprehensive plan should guide commissioners.
“Commissioners have to learn about variance requests, and construction, obviously there is fiscal responsibility. That’s the number-one statutory requirement – the ability to manage funds. I really think that is where my experience not just in private business but serving on the Salida School Board and on Salida City Council comes in. I know that for-profit businesses and public entities do different fund accounting, but it’s still budget work.
“There are fiscal responsibilities for 12 divisions, and we have to be part of the solution to solve the problems we have. I know the department heads who are part of the county. You can’t ask for better leadership as a team. I bring to this the ability from day one to be a team player.”
Granzella says that one of the biggest challenges facing the county is housing, and he wants to be part of the solution. “I want to call it workforce housing, I don’t like the term affordable housing. It shouldn’t be more than 30 percent of people’s income. These days, maybe 30 to 35 percent is what you can do to qualify for a mortgage. Workforce housing will solve two to three problems at a time. First, for businesses it addresses their employee issues. Second, it can provide housing for people with families – I’m talking about nurses, teachers, city employees, clerks in the tourist industry. There is a place for rental, not just purchasing a house. Read McCullough (Chaffee Housing Trust executive director) calls it the housing ladder – you crawl up one rung at at time.”
Granzella is a landlord. “We have 16 residential units here in Salida and a couple commercial units. We have several long-term renters longer than three years, two county employees and a couple of young people with me for five years who have just saved up enough to buy a piece of land. We’ve invested over time.
“When it comes to rental size, nobody wants big, 100-unit rental places. Now Salida Crossings will have a homeowners association to handle things. With a rental property, you need a good landlord and landlord experience. For this town, I think smaller projects – eight to 12 or so units – could fit some of the lots in this town. We could put it in (zoning areas) C1 (Commercial), R4 (Manufactured housing, residential) and R3 (High density residential) depending on the location. Maybe even R2 (Median density residential).”
Although the Comprehensive Plan says that density should be located around Salida, Buena Vista and Poncha Springs, says Granzella, it doesn’t say how that should be done. It doesn’t make annexation easy, he adds.
“In fact, annexation has to be asked for by the property owner. It has to be a team effort. You have to put yourself into the shoes of the constituent wanting to do something, (such as) encourage landowners to want to annex – a lot of them have owned land for a long while and are looking to do something with it. We have to understand what the goal of the cities are – all three – where they want to grow and how we can help create that density around municipalities. All these problems are interrelated – it takes teamwork to get it done.”
Granzella says the drought has brought out some concern for forest health and safety, and the county should probably look at mandating forest health mitigation and keeping first-responders trained and funded. “We’re going to get more tourism and people who don’t know how to behave in the recreational areas.”
He says inexpensive access to recreational activities and natural surroundings are part of affordable living in the county and part of the quality of life that residents enjoy. Regarding the state ballot initiatives, Granzella says he supports Initiative 110, the transportation bill with the sales tax, because it’s going to help county and city roads with a possibility of extending road shoulders and laying conduit for communications.
Granzella points to his long-term involvement in kids sports, T-ball and basketball, as his commitment to county families. “Being a native here, I want to keep the safe, neighborly community feeling we have throughout the county. These land issues, usage issues – we have to come together and learn to be neighbors – to at least understand each other and respect each other.”