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A matter of public safety and don’t call it rain

Las Animas County Commissioners cover jail safety, taxes, and roads and bridges

by Bill Knowles

TRINIDAD — During their regular meeting, the Board of Las Animas County Commissioners heard from the sheriff’s department concerning several purchases needed by the department, including attic security upgrades and an inventorying evidence program.

Since the incident at the Las Animas County Jail last year, issues of jail safety, and ultimately public safety, have been a concern with both the county commissioners and the sheriff’s department.

Both the attic safety upgrades and the inventorying evidence program are two of the items necessary for the safe operation of the jail and the preservation of trial evidence.

The current systems failed in May 2017 when several inmates accessed the attic and made their way to an evidence locker. After entering it they were able to take a weapon and several bags of evidence that would be used against them during trials. The weapon was found in the attic crawlspace and the evidence was flushed down the jail’s toilets, where it clogged the sewer lines.

The evidence was recovered and will still be used in court, but in a degraded condition.

The FBI investigation report is finished, but has not been released to either the public or the county commissioners for review. The commission voted 2-0, with commissioner Dean Moltrer absent from the meeting, to table both requested purchases. However, the commissioners met with undersheriff Derek Navarette to discuss the issues and look at the budget to find funds to do the work and purchase the program.

Public comment on tax fees

Ellie Vigil addressed her concerns about a fee attached to tax bills that fall under $10 during the regular Las Animas County Commission on Feb. 6, 2018. Photo by Bill Knowles.

During the public comment space of the meeting, Ellie Vigil and Linda Thompson both addressed the commissioners with their concerns about a five-dollar administrative fee the county treasurer is attaching to tax bills of less than $10.

The fee is authorized in C.R.S. 30-1-102 as an action that Colorado County Treasurers may take so the counties might be able to make back some of the funds spent in preparing the tax bills, printing them, and mailing them out. The fee doesn’t have to be established by the passage of a county resolution.

Their concerns arise from the advice given to them about making payment on several years worth of future taxes in an effort to forego the five-dollar fee. When paid in advance, the fee will still appear on each tax bill because the computer program used by the county remains once the fee is established in the software.

In addressing the issue, Vigil estimated that around 3,000 Las Animas County taxpayers could be charged the fee. “For some taxpayers this raises their tax bill by around 745%,” Vigil said. “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

Road and bridge inventory

In other business the commission approved the purchase of 8,000 gallons of unleaded fuel for the road and bridge department from Alta fuel, with a 2-0 vote.

The meeting then moved to the consideration of a submittal of a road inventory to CDOT by the road and bridge department. The funding R and B receives from the state is based on the inventory and the work needed to keep the roads in good repair. The Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF) comprises about 80% of the budget for R and B, with other funds coming from the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) fund and severance taxes. They receive no operational funding from the county’s general fund.

The commissioners approved the inventory submittal to CDOT with a 2-0 vote.

The commission went into executive session at 11:17 am and exited the session at 12:15 pm. They took a vote to table the purchase of the safety items for the sheriff’s department pending a further study of the situation at the jail.