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Commissioners apprise CCT council of county priorities

by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO — The county commissioners rolled out their list of priorities at the City-County-Town (CCT) meeting on March 7 and asked the representatives of the City of Walsenburg and Town of La Veta for input. Commissioner Art Bobian told the group, “We’re looking for feedback.”
That list, developed from public input, included better communication with the public and holding certain meetings, perhaps quarterly, at varied locations around the county. County administrator John Galusha said some of the meetings may be in the evening and could include listening sessions for public input. Commissioner Max Vezzani said, “We want to involve as many people as possible.”
Galusha said a new ambulance building is also a priority, and the county has already secured a $160,000 energy impact grant to put toward the estimated $950,000 project, which originally included a Council of Governments (COG) barn. However, the ambulance revenues and existing fund balance will not support the payments on a loan of that size, so the COG barn will likely be removed from the design for a new estimated project size of about $800,000.
The county will be doing an inventory of county-owned lands to determine what might be turned over to other organizations versus what might be sold to get it back on the tax rolls immediately and producing property taxes.
“We need water for roads,” Galusha told the Walsenburg representatives. The county has 600 miles of roads and has contracted for one acre-foot of Huerfano River water, through the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District, for dust abatement on road projects. In an agreement with Cucharas Sanitation and Water District, there is another acre-foot of water available, but it must be used in the area around Blue Lake. Also regarding Road & Bridge, the commissioners plan to stockpile crushed material in multiple sites around the county, so it doesn’t have to be hauled a long way when it’s needed. Huerfano Road, the road to Lily Lake, is expected to be a $300,000 project, with $125,000 allocated to crush rock in-place for a distance of eight miles.
The land use guide is being updated. Because half of the update is funded by a grant that expires at the end of summer, Galusha said the update will be completed by September 1.
The county has issued a request for proposals for operation of the waste transfer station and integration of recycling at the station. Galusha reported that a grant application was submitted last week for equipment for the recycling operation. A reduction of the waste stream by 75% is the goal. He said one interested company plans to use teenagers for labor and provide on-the-job training for them.
Huerfano County has been cooperating with two other municipalities, one in southern Colorado and one in New Mexico, on economic development strategy and policy. The three are investigating similar industries in which they can cooperate rather than compete. They are also trying to identify the businesses or opportunities that might grow their economies. Huerfano County will be putting together a business continuity plan. The county will also be conducting an operational needs assessment to determine, in Galusha’s words, “Are we efficient and effective in getting services out to taxpayers?”
Some potential projects don’t have a funding source at present, so they are listed as medium priorities. One is securing broadband access and better wireless service throughout much of Huerfano County. Galusha pointed out that there are currently antennas that make wi-fi available through the web site of the Tourist & Resort Bureau. This was set up to accommodate tourists visiting the area. The group discussed possible wi-fi locations in La Veta.
The county has a potential advisory group in Gardner for decisions on the Gardner Community Center and Fiesta Park. The commissioners welcome their input and Vezzani said they really want a local group to be responsible for Fiesta Park and the community center. He said, “We’re looking forward to making improvements at both of those facilities. We have people in that area that can advise us. Hopefully we can bring those ideas together.” Fiesta Park is high on the priority list, and Galusha said the new equipment for the park is in and ready to install.
The commissioners are considering a government campus which would house city, county and court offices, the health department, COG, and perhaps even San Isabel Electric.
Vezzani said the commissioners are also interested in putting together an emergency responder council. “We have three fire districts, and what we need is to make sure [response] is very well coordinated. If we have an asteroid hit, are we really prepared?” He added, “We’re not as coordinated as we should be if we have a huge fire, for instance.” Vezzani said the commissioners would like to bring the heads of the fire districts and other community members together to make sure there aren’t gaps. “We’d like to be well coordinated and well prepared for a huge disaster.” La Veta Mayor Jerry Fitzgerald told the group, “We all appreciate what the commissioners are attempting to do. Certainly the more cooperation the better.”
The CCT council was originally organized a few years ago to address the pressing issue of 911 emergency services in Huerfano County. Since that need has been addressed, Bobian asked if the CCT group would like to continue to meet regularly. Walsenburg Mayor Larry Patrick answered, “The CCT is a great forum for us to be able to work together on funding sources that can help us down the line. I think it’s important.” La Veta Trustee Bill Stark added, “The more collaboration you have the easier it is for the money to flow. It turns the spigot much easier.”
La Veta Trustee Dave Molyneaux commented, “Each of us have different things.” He mentioned the Walsenburg headgate outside La Veta and La Veta’s need for road base. He also mentioned the “bridge thing,” revamping a one-lane bridge that, Molyneaux said, “would help both La Veta and Cuchara.” La Veta Trustee Dale Davis told the group the bridge project cost estimate has risen from an original estimate of $350,000 to over $700,000. But La Veta Trustee Nancy Dick said of the bridge project, “The La Veta Town Board has not voted to take a position on it. It’s on the horizon.”
La Veta Trustee Ken Sajdak addressed the group concerning oil and gas development. “There’s a whole gamut of feelings about this. We all drink water; we all breathe air; we all see beauty. I would like to urge the county commissioners to protect that.” Regarding activities of Shell Oil, Sajdak said, “It bears scrutiny and vigilance. Help us all by not taking the word of people who stand to make money.” Vezzani replied, “We’re working very hard … We just met with Representative Vigil and pointed out that oil and gas is very divisive in Huerfano County. We asked him to keep an eye out for us at the state level. We are getting a legal opinion about what things are pre-empted regarding regulations. We will compare that to what we have and what we might look at.” Vezzani said he has heard from both environmentalists and ranchers, “Don’t let them screw up the water.” He said, “We have some tools in our toolbox that we can use. But we can’t afford to spend $250,000 to say that we don’t want oil and gas development. We want responsible development.” Sajdak reiterated, “As much as you have the ability to do, be vigilant.”
Vezzani told the group, “We’re trying to figure out what is reasonable. There are 800 families in Huerfano County, nearly a third of all families, on food stamps. Somehow we have to get some economic development going in this community. We have to balance a whole bunch of things. How can we best do that?” The question hung in the air and is sure to be a topic that will be revisited in the future.
Walsenburg Police Chief Jim Chamberlain reported to the group on the VINE program – Victim Information and Notification Everyday. Huerfano County is getting signed up and will be online in April. VINE is a nationwide program that gives information on incarcerated persons and their status, ie. when they are released. Chamberlain said the program will be at no charge to Huerfano County. Municipal officials will have an opportunity to meet with the VINE program manager at the end of March to learn more about the program.