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County faces tough decisions

by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG — The Huerfano County Commissioners have some tough decisions to make regarding the budget for 2014, and many will deal with staffing. The commissioners have asked each county department to cut their budgets by 17% to reflect the drop in expected revenues. The issue came up again after discussions with the assistant DA Andrew Hall. He expressed concerns for the understaffing of his department and that of the sheriff’s office and was unaware of the commissioner’s budget cut requests.
Commissioner Max Vezzani asked County Administrator John Galusha to give the commissioners some choices on how to handle budget considerations prior to presenting the budget discussions. Commissioners said they preferred furloughing of employees or cutback in hours worked as opposed to layoffs, if necessary. Galusha said that furloughs don’t work under current county structure since all employees are salaried as opposed to hourly. Vezzani said there are tough decisions to be made and commissioners want to be as fair as possible.
Galusha said the county is a service industry and doesn’t produce anything, so that means a large portion of its budget is salaries. In responding to Hall’s concerns about understaffing, Vezzani said Huerfano County has lost 1,800 people since the 2010 census and revenues are down which forces the county to dip into its reserves. Vezzani says lack of jobs is the main problem although there are bright spots ahead on that issue in Walsenburg and the county.
The commissioners will begin discussing the budget in October.
In talking about economic development for Huerfano County, a Stronger Economies Together (SET) meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6 pm at the Huerfano County Community Center. The Raton Basin Regional Economic Development Plan will be discussed to launch economic development ideas for our area taking in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties in Colorado and Colfax County is New Mexico.
Commissioners briefly discussed the news release from Mark Udall who serves on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee about the U.S. Army having no plans, funding and no Congressional authority to expand in the Pinon Canyon area. The Army is expected to withdraw its land acquisition waiver which has been a concern to farmers and ranchers in this area for years.
Commissioners continue to explore the possibility of vacating the historical Huerfano County Courthouse. Money is a main factor. Commissioner Vezzani suggested holding a media day tour to show what is wrong with the courthouse and why it is less viable as a facility to housing county government and courts and their needs of today. The Huerfano County and Archuleta County courthouses are considered the top two distressed courthouse facilities in the state. Vezzani says the commissioners want to be upfront and forthcoming with the public about the problems they face in continuing to work out of the 1904 building. No date has been set for a media day at this time.

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