Natrona County's growth over the foreseeable future stands as the top issue for the commissioners who take the oath of office in January, nine candidates said Monday.

That growth in population, business and demands for government services hinges on how well the county maintains its approximately 800 miles of designated county roads, they said at a forum for the Republican and Democratic primary candidates at the Natrona County Public Library.

"Growth and roads go hand in hand," Democrat Mike Gilmore said. "Continued maintenance of county roads is never-ending."

Republican Ellen Young agreed. "They are the life-blood of this state."

Republican Jacquie Anderson agreed, but unquestioning support isn't enough, she said.

Anderson and Republican Paul Paad said the current commission has not listened to the concerns of many county residents, including some who do not believe a legal process was followed when it voted to change the zoning in a subdivision to allow light industrial development on Salt Creek Highway.

Citing her experience on Casper City Council a decade ago, she said the county needs to conduct traffic assessments before allowing development to proceed. "'Build now, think later' -- we need to get out of that mentality."

Other candidates in attendance shared the same views on growth, roads and better communication: Republicans Brian DeVault, Rob Hendry, John Lawson and Steve Schlager, and Democrat Terry Wingerter. GOP primary candidates Todd Murphy and Janel Moore did not attend the forum, which had a crowd of about 65 in the library's Crawford Room.

The level of maintenance depends on the passage of the optional one-percent sales tax that is up for its once-every-four-year renewal on the Nov. 4 ballot, they added.

The loss of a potential $3.7 million to $3.9 million a year from one-cent revenues for the county's current $53 million budget would affect the county's ability to maintain roads and pay for capital projects such as the purchase of vehicles and machinery, Hendry said

Capital projects, upkeep at county facilities such as the Bridle Trail and the cross-country trails, and yes again, roads, help make Natrona County an attractive place to live, Gilmore said. "That's part of our quality of life."

Its defeat would devastate the abilities of small municipalities such as Edgerton to keep their doors open, Wingerter said. "If it doesn't pass, we're going to be in a world of hurt."

Schlager said failure to renew would cause a huge shortfall and may mean raising property taxes to cover costs.

DeVault said defeat may mean across-the-board cuts to the budge.

However, some decisions about roads, growth, parks and other county responsibilities will hinge on the long-term land use plan under development -- and the citizens' involvement, they said.

"It has to be an inclusive process," Lawson said.

The Republican and Democratic primaries will be held Aug. 19. The top three Republicans and the only two Democrats will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. They, independent candidate Keith Goodenough and Constitution Party candidate Linda Bergeron -- both attended the forum but are not competing in the primary -- will compete for the three open positions on the five-member commission.