Commissioners Refer Tabor de-Brucing Ballot Issue

The Fremont County Commissioners will go to the voters in November and ask for approval to lift Tabor revenue limits as the county continues to recover from the recession.    The ballot proposal comes with one year remaining on the eight year “Tabor Time-out” which Fremont County voters approved in 2007.  The 2007 ballot question gave Fremont County the authority to keep any property tax revenues in excess of Tabor growth and inflation calculations.    The question that the Commissioners referred to the ballot this November would remove Tabor revenue limits on both property taxes and sales taxes.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden said a fiscal analysis prepared by Finance and Budget Director Sunny Bryant shows that the county reaped the benefits of excess property taxes in only the first four years of the eight year Tabor timeout.   Since 2012 the county has seen no excess property tax revenue because the recession that hit in 2010 resulted in a significant drop in property values in the 2011 revaluation year.   The net effect over the first seven years of the Tabor timeout is a decrease of $456,000 in property tax revenues below the Tabor refund trigger point.

Norden said those numbers make it particularly tough as the county is just beginning to climb out of the recession at the same time the Tabor timeout will be ending.    He said that’s because under the Tabor amendment when revenues decline it establishes a new revenue base that the county has to work from the next year.   That means when Tabor allows the county to collect additional revenues based on population growth and inflation that revenue growth calculation is figured against that new lower revenue base amount.    Norden said the proof is in the property tax collection numbers.

He said the county collected $5.28 million in property taxes in 2008, the first year of the Tabor timeout.   Yet six years later in 2014 the county’s property tax collection this year totaled $5.32 million.   That’s an increase of just $46,000 in property tax revenue while the costs of delivering county services continue to escalate including fuel costs for road maintenance and Sheriff’s patrols and particularly the medical costs to operate the county jail.

Norden said voters already approved the de-Brucing of revenues for the Sheriff’s one percent sales tax approved last November.   Norden said he doubts the county will see a big jump in any excess property tax revenues that the county could keep in the next several years, but with sales tax revenues recovering there is hope that the county might make some revenue gains with the Royal Gorge Bridge reopening and with Christo’s Over the River art project coming in a couple of years.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said it’s important to note that the ballot language specifically states that the de-Brucing would not increase anyone’s taxes.   Bell said the first line of the ballot language clearly states, “With No Increase in the Current Tax Rate or Mill Levy Rate, Shall the County of Fremont be Authorized in 2015 and in Each Subsequent Year, to Retain, and Spend All Revenues….not Withstanding Limitations on Spending and Revenue in Applicable State Statutes”.     That means even if voters approve the measure Fremont County’s property tax mill levy will remain unchanged at 12.294 mills and the county’s sales tax will be unchanged at 2.5 percent.

The ballot language further calls out the intention to spend any excess revenues in particular on road maintenance as well as maintenance of all county facilities.

At Tuesday’s regular board meeting the Commissioners also approved an amendment to the Conditional Use Permit for the Holcim Corporation’s Coaldale Gypsum Quarry.   The amendment allows Holcim to expand trucking hours by an additional four hours.   Quarry trucking hours have been from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.   The new trucking hours will be from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m.   The number of daily truck trips will also be expanded from 20 trips per day to 32 truck trips daily.   Commissioner Norden remarked that the absence of any protests from neighbors in Coaldale to the expanded trucking hours is indicative of the work Holcim has done in cultivating good relations with the neighborhood in Coaldale.

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Regional Dispatch Center Secures Key Grant Funding

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) has announced that the Combined Regional Communications Authority (CRCA) that local governments in Fremont County formed to consolidate dispatch operations has been awarded an Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance grant in the amount of $830,045.   The announcement was made by DOLA’s Executive Director Reeves Brown who indicated that the new public safety dispatch center was awarded the full amount of grant funding requested by the CRCA governing board.

Cañon City District Fire Chief Dave DelVecchio, the Chairman of the CRCA Board, said the $830,045 grant represents half of the cost of budget to develop the center with the other 50 percent coming from a cash match put together by the local entities.    The entities which make up the Communications Authority are the Fremont County E 9-1-1 Board, the City of Florence, the City of Cañon City, the Cañon City Fire Protection District, and Fremont County.

DelVecchio said the grant award puts CRCA in the best possible position to now accomplish the project with the primary goal to increase the level of public safety across Fremont County.   He said a single combined communications center will allow the agencies to implement the latest technology to assure quicker and more reliable response times to medical, fire, and law enforcement emergencies.

DelVecchio said the target date for getting the center operational on the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Center is the spring of 2015.    He said architectural design and bid packages should be ready in early October with a 14-16 week construction period taking place later this fall.

DelVecchio said that some of the partners in the dispatch center will see operational costs decrease and others will see their costs increase but the primary beneficiaries will remain the citizens of Fremont County through the heightened emphasis on public safety and the safety of emergency responders.

Chief DelVecchio, Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker, and Fremont County Commissioner Ed Norden traveled to Durango on July 22nd to make a presentation to DOLA’s Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Advisory Committee in support of the grant application.   The $830,045 grant award comes from Colorado’s severance tax and mineral lease revenues.

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Monday Storm Pounds County Roads

Heavy rains and large hail poured across the foothills south of Canon City Monday afternoon. The rains caused heavy damage to Oak Creek Grade Road (CR 143) and on Evelyn Drive east of Dawson Ranch.

This photo was taken looking north on Oak Creek Grade where the pavement begins. The storm dumped tons of mud and debris on the county road. The flash flooding also left many private driveways and culverts damaged on Oak Creek Grade and Evelyn Drive. Fremont County Transportation Director Tony Adamic indicated it may take a week to make all the necessary repairs barring any more flooding.

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Colorado Springs-Fremont Tourism Connection Detailed

As a Fremont County rafting outfitter prepares to take over the reigns as President of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCCVB), the Board of Commissioners were told of the importance of tourism ties across the region.    CCCVB Chief Executive Officer Doug Price gave a report at Tuesday’s Commissioners’ meeting.    Price used the occasion to announce that Andy Neinas, owner of Echo Canyon Rafting and 8-Mile Bar and Grill west of Cañon City, is the new incoming President of the CCCVB.

Neinas told the commissioners that it’s an imaginary line between Colorado Springs and Fremont County.   Neinas said “These things all work in harmony; we’re all part of something larger”.   Price said the Convention and Visitors Bureau considers Fremont County a very important part of a unique experience.    Price said CCCVB has 25 Fremont County members as marketing partners in the 2014 Visitors Guide for Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region.    Price added that the impacts caused by the Waldo Canyon, Black Forest, and Royal Gorge wildfires the previous two years strengthened the regional relationship as tourist attractions and tourism related businesses recognize even more how much they depend on each other.

District 3 County Commissioner Ed Norden provided an update at Tuesday’s meeting on the July 22nd grant application hearing in Durango for the proposed new regional dispatch center.   Norden said that he, Sheriff Jim Beicker, and Cañon City District Fire Chief Dave DelVecchio presented the application for an $830,000 Energy and Mineral Impact Grant to a Department of Local Affairs grants committee.   Norden said it’s important to note that in the days and hours leading up to the grant hearing the grant budget was amended to make sure enough money was available to renovate 4th floor space at the county’s Judicial Center and equip it with the most current technology.

Norden said as a result, the Board of Commissioners agreed to commit another $100,000 cash from the county’s recent Certificates of Participation financing beyond the $225,000 that the county previously committed.   Norden said the architects had adjusted some costs upward and money was added for contingency in the budget.    Norden said the county’s additional $100,000 kept the grant application at a 50 percent local match meaning another $100,000 was added to the grant application.    Norden said the Board of Commissioners do expect the $100,000 to be reimbursed once the dispatch center starts operating because the county had previously committed that money to be spent on other capitol needs.

Norden said the grant hearing presentation went very well and he’s confident that the grant will be awarded.

In other business Tuesday the Board of Commissioners:

  • Conducted a public hearing on the performance of the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Government’s (UAACOG) Housing Rehabilitation Program.   Program coordinator Erlin Trekell reported that 19 housing rehabilitation jobs had been performed under the low interest loan program with $179,370 spent on those housing projects.  Trekell said most of those program projects took place in Fremont and Teller Counties.  Trekell said the housing program will be operating again through the coming year;
  • Approved a Temporary Use Permit for the Penrose VFW to conduct a chili cook-off and bazaar on August 23rd utilizing the street frontage at 402 Broadway in front of the Penrose VFW Hall;
  • Approved a Conditional Use Permit for Bill Tezak of Colorado Quarries to operate a stockpile area and loadout facility associated with his mica white mine at Wellsville near the junction of County Roads 45 and 47.
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Airport Advisory Committee Vacancy

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners is accepting letters of interest from citizens willing to serve on the Fremont County Airport Advisory Committee.    The terms for three of the seven seats on the advisory committee expire on October 1st.    Those seats are now held by James Woolworth, Greg Tabuteau, and Jay Seavy.    All three are eligible for reappointment however Seavy indicated previously that he would not seek reappointment.    Each is for a three year term.

The Airport Advisory Committee reviews rules, regulations, and operating procedures at the airport,      serving in an advisory capacity to the airport manager and the Board of County Commissioners.

Anyone interested in serving on the Airport Advisory Committee should submit a letter explaining your interest in aviation, familiarity with operations and issues at the Fremont County Airport, and any other details on your background.    All letters should be mailed, e-mailed, or submitted in person no later than 4:00 p.m. Thursday, September 11th, to the Fremont County Commissioners Office, Room #106, 615 Macon Avenue in Cañon City.

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Applications Sought for Tourism Council Vacancy

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners is seeking letters of interest from Fremont County residents to fill a vacancy on the Fremont County Tourism Council (FCTC).   The Tourism Council develops and administers a Tourism Marketing Plan for Fremont County utilizing the proceeds from the Fremont County Lodging Tax.

Lloyd Harwood, a representative of the hotel industry, resigned from the board because he no longer works with a qualifying tourism business. His replacement will fulfill the term through January 1, 2017, and then will be eligible for reappointment to a three year term.

Employment or ownership in a local tourism-related business will be a determining factor in the appointment by the Commissioners. In particular, the Commissioners are seeking a representative of either the hotel or rafting industries, but all letters of interest are welcome.   Because Harwood represented the lodging business sector, letters of interest are particularly encouraged from motel, hotel, or campground operators.

FCTC members are required to attend monthly meetings as well as any special meetings as voted upon by the council.   Periodic attendance at other community meetings pertaining to tourism issues may also be necessary.    The position involves voluntary service with no compensation.

Letters of interest should include the applicant’s qualifications and should be addressed to the Fremont County Board of Commissioners, Room 105, Fremont County Administration Building, 615 Macon Avenue, Cañon City, CO 81212.   The deadline for letters is 4 p.m. Thursday, August 21st.

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Downpour Over Burn Scar Floods County Roads

Muddy ash from the Eight Mile wildfire burn scar pours across Fremont County Road 132 northeast of the Fremont County Airport on the evening of July 29th

A late afternoon downpour in the Penrose area also hit the burn scar of the Eight Mile wildfire that burnt over 500 acres in June. Black ash from the burn scar seven miles north into Phantom Canyon is seen flooding its way across Eight Mile Creek. County road crews spent the next couple of days repairing flash flood damage on CR 132

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Commissioners Pursue Grant for Pathfinder Design

The original master plan in 2005 depicted the suggested layout of structures on county property at Pathfinder Regional Park. The design grant being sought by the Commissioners will start work on specific designs for an Events Center and County Fair livestock facilities.

The Fremont County Commissioners are seeking grant funding to help finance final design work for several buildings at Pathfinder Regional Park that would eventually lead to the park serving as the location for the Fremont County Fair.   The Board of Commissioners approved an application to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs at their July 22nd meeting for a $43,250 Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance grant.   The grant amount represents 50 percent of the total cost of $86,497 for T.A. Duke & Associates of Colorado Springs to perform the design work.

After a request for proposals was circulated T.A. Duke came in with the lowest price to design the project.  Commission Chairman Tim Payne said the county is looking towards the day when all 4-H County Fair Buildings will be located at Pathfinder Park.    He said this design work is the first step in the process.  A community events center will be a key part of the project which is expected to attract year round use.

The county’s half of the design cost will come from the Conservation Trust Fund (lottery money).   The design work is only for the county’s portion of Pathfinder Park which is that property on the east side of the entryway.   The Pathfinder design work follows on the heels of expenditure by the Board of Commissioners in late June for a flood elevation engineering study.   The Board contracted with Atkins Engineering of Denver to conduct a hydrologic analysis and floodplain mapping service on the county property at Pathfinder Park near the confluence of Chandler Creek with the Arkansas River.   The county is spending $73,690 for the floodplain study.   The floodplain elevations must be confirmed before any buildings can actually be constructed under the new design plan.

Also at their July 22nd meeting the Commissioners approved a final plat for a three lot subdivision on vacant land next to the Canon Creek subdivision along Grandview Avenue.   The approval actually creates only one new lot with the three lots now comprised of 36.1 acres, 54.2 acres, and 13.4 acres.   Bill Balhiser explained that the owners are not developers.   He said “We’re just trying to get back some of the money we loaned on the Canon Creek project to begin with.”   Balhiser said dividing the property into three lots would make them easier to sell.   The Commissioners’ approval included a waiver for a turnaround at the end of Long’s Peak Street.   Balhiser said the neighbors didn’t want a turnaround there either.

In other business at the July 22nd meeting the Commissioners:

  • Voted to accept the annual audit report from John Cutler Associates.   County Finance Officer Sunny Bryant said the county received an unqualified report that everything in the county’s books is in good financial shape;
  • Approved a new hotel and restaurant liquor license for the Crossroads Bar & Grill at Crossroads indoor arena at Penrose.   Owner William Peetz will be able to serve once a food service license is also issued.   No scheduled opening date has been announced;
  • Approved the reappointments of Dan Brixey and Larry Brown to the Fremont County Building Code Board of Appeals.
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Flash Flood Damages County Roads

Several areas along Road Gulch (CR 28) were washed out in the heavy rains that fell Saturday afternoon

Heavy rains that hit Saturday afternoon and evening caused flash flooding in the Copper Gulch area southwest of Cañon City.    The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning Saturday afternoon after reports were received that over an inch of rain have fallen in a short period of time across Copper Gulch and the Royal Gorge area.

Fremont County Department of Transportation Director Anthony Adamic said barricades and cones were put in place Saturday evening along Road Gulch to warn motorists of the damage.   Adamic said Road Gulch, which is the western end of County Road 28, sustained the heaviest flood damage.   Adamic said there was also some flood damage and debris that washed across County Road 69 just west of Cañon City.    CR 69 is the first county road that turns off of US Highway 50 about a half mile west of Skyline Drive.    Flood repairs began Monday morning to those areas most seriously affected by washouts.

Road crews were anticipating having to deal with even more flood damaged roads following word late Monday afternoon that over an inch of rain had fallen in central Fremont County in the Texas Creek, Tallahassee Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Currant Creek drainages.

Part of the asphalt section of Road Gulch also sustained heavy damage in Saturday's flash flood

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Commissioners Adopt Medical Marijuana Regulations

In Colorado's medical marijuana grow operations every plant must be tied directly to a patient holding a medical marijuana card. Sales of medical marijuana in Colorado continue to outstrip sales of recreational pot through the first six months.

The Fremont Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt regulations governing medical marijuana (MMJ) establishments in the county including MMJ storefronts, cultivation, manufacturing, and processing.    The regulations also set up licensing procedures with fees for the initial applications and fees for the annual licenses.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said the Commissioners did not make many significant changes from the regulations that were being considered at the June 26th public hearing.   County Attorney Brenda Jackson said among the changes was the addition of language regulating signage for MMJ storefronts, adding manufacturing to the language as to when water providers would be consulted, and clarifying that multiple state licenses at a single location would require only one license from Fremont County.

Jim Bensberg, a spokesman for the marijuana cultivation business in the former Apple Valley greenhouses in Penrose, put forth a last minute proposition in hopes of expanding cultivation facilities to include recreational pot.   Bensberg’s proposal urged the Board of Commissioners to remove the ban on recreational marijuana cultivation and allow only those facilities now growing medical marijuana to transition into recreational marijuana as well.

Commissioners Ed Norden and Tim Payne emphasized that even if that suggestion was considered it was not going to take place as part of the adoption of the regulations for medical marijuana.    MMJ owner Tim Brown said they offered the amendment because it is a life and death matter now for their business.   That prompted Commissioner Payne to reply, “But you knew that going in, when you came into this county….you were rolling the dice”.    Commissioner Bell said many of the Penrose area opponents have also risked their life savings in their property that may be diminished by nearby marijuana operations.   Bell added, “I don’t think the state is doing its’ job in regulating marijuana….and I only regret that we didn’t do this sooner”.

With adoption of the resolution and the regulations, the county’s Planning Department will soon being accepting applications for MMJ licenses.   The moratorium on any new medical marijuana businesses is set to expire August 1st because those businesses will now have to go through the license application process.

The Commissioners on Tuesday also voted to approve a Special Review Use permit for the Penrose Water District to construct a pipeline from groundwater wells along the Arkansas River to the Penrose area to serve their water customers.    Board member Charlotte Norman said the pipeline and associated pump station will finally allow the Penrose Water District to access the water rights the district secured when they purchased the water rights from the Goodwin Ranch at Howard in 2005.    Engineer Tom McClernan of GMS Consulting Engineers said the district plans to drill six well sites to serve as the diversion for water from the river.   McClernan said contrary to rumors the district will not build a diversion dam on the Arkansas River.

The water would be pumped initially to a holding tank.   A booster pump station would then pump the water through a 12-inch pipeline north to Brush Hollow Reservoir.    Depending on money available and bids received for construction, the district will also consider another 7,000 foot pipeline that could pump the water directly to the water treatment plant’s holding ponds.

Commissioner Debbie Bell commended the Penrose Water District Board for pursuing the project and for the long hours of work it took to accomplish.   Commissioner Ed Norden added that while it’s always disappointing to see more water taken out of agricultural uses on farms and ranches in the county, at least in this case the water will remain in Fremont County to benefit local citizens.

The Board of Commissioners Tuesday also voted to authorize the Chairman to sign a contract with Reilly-Johnson Architecture of Denver for architectural and engineering services to renovate the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Building for the new communications center.   Since the building is county owned, the Board of Commissioners is serving as the lead agency for the project design and construction instead of relegating that task to the joint governing board.   The Reilly-Johnson contract approved by the Commissioners is for a fee of $82,960.

Without casting a formal vote, all three Commissioners Tuesday gave consensus approval to move ahead with developing an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) that could lead to creation of a regional building authority thus combining the services now delivered through the County, the City of Cañon City, and the City of Florence.   Cañon City Council members have also given informal approval to move ahead with an IGA to develop the concept.    Commissioner Debbie Bell, who has served on the regional planning committee, said the group now has a business plan developed which members believe will enable to bring the proposal to reality.    Commissioner Ed Norden said he’s on board with the plan on the condition that it does not cost the taxpayers of Fremont County any additional money than what the county now pays to supplement the County Building Department’s annual budget.

In other business Tuesday the Commissioners:

  • Approved a liquor license for TZ Liquor which will reopen in the former Ak & Zaks store on Forge Road just west of Oak Creek Grade.   Dina Tezak said for now she will only operate a liquor store with no immediate plans to reopen the convenience store and gas station;
  • Appointed County Finance and Budget Officer Sunny Bryant to serve as the Fremont County representative to the Southern Colorado Economic Development District Board;
  • Authorized an expenditure of $7,523 to Mountain Masonry to do brick work on the War Memorial Wall at the airport.  The work will be done so the 103 names of 12th Tactical Fighter Wing veterans can be grouped again in a separate and distinct area.
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