Voters to Consider Removing Sunset on Lodging Tax

With Fremont County’s two percent lodging tax facing a December, 2016 sunset, the Board of Commissioners Tuesday voted to place a question on the November ballot asking voters to permanently approve the tax on lodging.   The lodging tax was originally approved by voters in 2001 with a five year sunset and was then renewed in 2006 with a ten year sunset.   After 14 years of proven experience and reliance on the lodging tax to promote the Royal Gorge region the Board of Commissioners decided it is time to ask the voters to make the tax permanent.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said it’s important to remember that it’s not Fremont County residents who pay the tax.  She said “It’s the people who stay in hotels, motels, campgrounds, vacation rental properties, and anyplace where people pay money to spend the night.”   Commission Chairman Ed Norden said if Fremont County did not have the revenues for marketing promotion from the lodging tax in the aftermath of the Royal Gorge wildfire two years ago the recovery of Fremont County’s tourism industry would have looked markedly different.

The Royal Gorge Park is pictured undergoing reconstruction following the June, 2013 wildfire. Lodging Tax revenues along with tourism grants were vital in marketing the tourism message that Fremont County was still open for business

The ballot question that Fremont County voters will consider in November reads:  “Without raising additional taxes, shall the existing 2 percent County Lodging Tax, which is imposed only on hotel, motel, guest ranch, campground and other similar overnight accommodations, be extended from its current expiration of Dec. 31, 2016, for an indefinite term, which constitutes no other changes to the voter-approved lodging tax; the proceeds from which are used solely for tourism promotion, marketing and related activities in Fremont County, Colorado?”   Yes or No.

There was other good news regarding the county lodging tax that was shared with the Board of Commissioners Tuesday.   Budget and Finance Officer Sunny Bryant reported that the county collected $51,021 in lodging tax revenues for the second quarter of 2015.   She said that is one of the highest second quarter collections registered in Fremont County for lodging tax.   Those lodging tax revenues seem to run parallel with tourism visits to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.  Park Manager Mike Bandera reports that it was one of the all time best months of July for visitors ever recorded at the Royal Gorge.

The Board of Commissioners Tuesday also approved revisions to Fremont County’s precinct election maps.   Fremont County Clerk’s Office Elections Clerk Jami Goff said in order to maintain balance for the number of voters in each precinct the changes will move over 500 voters from precinct 19 in northwest Cañon City to precinct 18.   About 700 voters in precinct 11 will be moved into precinct 12.   Goff said voters affected by the changes will receive notices in the mail   But the changes will mean little to voters.   Goff says voters no longer go to vote at specific precinct locations but either vote by mail or at joint precinct voting centers.

The commissioners adopted a proclamation designating September as Kinship Care Month in Fremont County.   Carrie Porter of the Department of Human Services reported that 79 families were involved in kinship care in Fremont County last year.   She said in most cases kids are placed with either grandparents or other relatives.

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Council of Governments Director Honored by Boys & Girls Club

Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments Executive Director Judy Lohnes (pictured far right) accepts the Boys and Girls Club Distinguished Service Award last Saturday. Making the presentation is Board Chairman Terry Hamilton. Also pictured are Jason Messer and Gail McDermott.

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners joins in congratulating Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments Executive Director Judy Lohnes for being honored with the Gail McDermott Distinguished Service Award by the Boys and Girls Club of Fremont County.    The award was presented at last Saturday’s 5th annual Bids & BBQ Fundraiser at the Harrison School in Cañon City.

Lohnes was among the original organizers of the Boys and Girls Club in Cañon City and continues to serve on the Board of Directors.

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Fremont County Hosts State Weed Tour

Fremont County Weed Coordinator Jana Rapetti (left center) explains this summer's efforts to control elongated mustard weed in this area near Wellsville in western Fremont County. A state weed crew along with crews from Fremont and Chaffee Counties backpacked weed spray onto the steep cliffs to reach the noxious weed which has now infested approximately 2,000 acres in the area.

Fremont County hosted this summer’s annual weed tour by the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Advisory Committee on Thursday, August 21st.   Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden is a member of the Committee and offered the invitation to give members of the statewide group an opportunity to see first-hand the noxious weed control efforts underway locally.

Fremont County Weed Coordinator Jana Rapetti aided in putting together much of the tour which began with a power point presentation that included video of aerial spraying in July by helicopter of an infestation of elongated mustard in the Wellsville area of western Fremont County.   The tour group then caravanned to the site near Wellsville where Rapetti and Chaffee County Weed Coordinator Larry Walker detailed efforts to control the spread of the mustard weed across an approximate 2,000 acre area.

The site in Fremont and Chaffee Counties is the only area in Colorado where elongated mustard has spread.    Walker said it’s believed the weed arrived years ago from Nevada as trucks and heavy equipment working on power lines carried the seeds into Colorado.    There were efforts again in June to spray the mustard plants by backpacking into the area of rocky, steep cliffs.   A state grant was secured to use the helicopter to spot spray the elongated mustard in areas that could not be accessed on foot.

The tour continued into Thursday afternoon at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park where District Conservationist Rick Romano of the Natural Resource Conservation District Office in Cañon City explained the work that went into the reclamation and seeding efforts in the aftermath of the June, 2013 wildfire at the Royal Gorge.  Tour participants viewed a vibrant ecosystem of grasses and wildflowers from seed specifically chosen for that area and now is exhibiting strong growth following the rains this spring and summer.

The group also traveled over Skyline Drive to view how the release of insects in Fremont County has led to effective biological control of tamarisk (salt cedar trees).   Tour participants eyed a long stretch of dead and dying tamarisk in the creek bottom below that parallels US Highway 50.

Members of the Colorado Noxious Weed Advisory Committee then gathered on Friday at Fremont County’s Garden Park Conference Room to conduct their quarterly meeting.

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Commissioners OK Dinosaur Center Attraction

A tourist attraction that would be similar to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Center in Woodland Park has been given the green light by the Fremont County Board of Commissioners to be developed on eight mile hill west of Cañon City.   Dave and Zach Reynolds detailed their plans for the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Center to the commissioners at the August 11th board meeting.   The dinosaur attraction would feature animated dinosaurs, climbing attractions for kids, educational exhibits, a natural walking trail, ropes course, and retail sales. The 36 ½ acre site proposed for the new attraction is located along the north side of US Highway 50 just east of the turnoff to the Royal Gorge.

At the public hearing Zach Reynolds said the business plan is still being developed but that it’s intended to create new tourism jobs and give visitors another reason to stay longer in the Royal Gorge region.  The commissioners asked Reynolds about his plans for water for domestic consumption and for a fire system. He said he plans to use hauled water as other established businesses in that area do, and a 53,000-gallon water cistern will be on site, along with two hydrants, for fire protection.  Reynolds said they are targeting an opening date in spring 2016, depending on the delivery of building materials.

There was no citizen input offered at the public hearing.   The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Commercial Development Plan for the attraction.

The commissioners also heard no public comment during a hearing on a zone change request for Jaime Kelly and Craig Scheer.   The commissioners approved a zone change from Business Zoning to Agricultural Estates for a parcel of property in the Colorado Acres area of Copper Gulch where they hope to build a new residence along County Road 27A.

In other business at the August 11th board meeting the commissioners:

  • Voted to accept the Fremont County Master Plan which was updated over the last several years and formally adopted recently by the County Planning Commission;
  • Approved a land lease for Hanger #8 at the Fremont County Airport to Mat Clark doing business as Superior Systems L.L.C.;
  • Took note of a Proclamation from Governor John Hickenlooper declaring August as “Child Support Services Month” in Colorado.
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Senator Cory Gardner Views Royal Gorge Recovery

Colorado US Senator Cory Gardner included a visit to the Royal Gorge Bridge Tuesday morning as part of his tour across southern Colorado. Gardner heard details about the strong recovery underway at the Royal Gorge following the wildfire that roared through the park two years ago. Gardner was told that the Royal Gorge Bridge experienced one of their best July’s on record for attendance. Pictured from left to right: Florence City Manager Mike Patterson, Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden, Senator Gardner, Florence Mayor Keith Ore, Royal Gorge Bridge Manager Mike Bandera, and District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell

Senator Gardner spent much of his visit to the Royal Gorge acting as a tourist snapping photos of the spectacular canyon and bridge views in Fremont County

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Heavy Rain in Park County Floods Badger Creek in Fremont

This was the windshield view for a Fremont County Sheriff's deputy when he encountered flash flooding across County Road 2 (Tallahassee Road) northwest of Canon City Tuesday afternoon. The water quickly receded and road crews had the road reopened at 10 a.m. Wednesday

Heavy rains in Park County Tuesday afternoon created flash flooding across southern Park County and into Fremont County with flood waters pouring over the tops of a pair of small conservation dams on two ranches in Park County.  The flash flooding washed out a section of Fremont County Road 2 known as Tallahassee Road at the juncture with Badger Creek.

An assessment report on the status of the dams following the flash flood emphasized that neither of the dams failed.   In a report to Fremont County Emergency Management Director Steve Morrisey, Dam Safety Engineer John Hunyadi of the Colorado Division of Water Resources said neither dam was breached in the flash flood.   He said there was a misunderstanding about the status of the flooding when it was first reported in Park County.  Hunyaki’s report said one of the ranchers reported a heavy rainstorm at 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon and that by 3:30 the flood waters were running about four feet over the top of his dam.

Hunyaki said in the case of the Upper Dam in Park County the property owner was working to clear out a culvert pipe to allow backed up water to drain.   In the case of the lower dam an overflow pipe was cleaned out to also improve drainage.   Hunyaki said there was some minor damage to the lower dam but that it does not pose any safety concerns.   The engineer’s report said that at capacity the two conservation dams would retain about 9 ½ acre feet of water.

Fremont County Department of Transportation crews responded quickly to the washout the next morning and had CR2 reopened by 10 a.m. Wednesday.   Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden praised the quick response Tuesday afternoon by Morrisey’s Emergency Management Office, Sheriff’s deputies, and County Transportation Director Tony Adamic.  Norden noted that as the flash flood waters poured down Badger Creek and into the Arkansas River, by late Wednesday night the Cañon City river gauge on the Arkansas River showed a spike in flow to 1,750 cubic feet per second which was about a 1,000 c.f.s. increase over river flows earlier Tuesday afternoon.

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Commissioners OK Permit for Lincoln Park Pumpkin Patch

Diana's Pumpkin Patch at 1649 Poplar will operate again this fall with a permit from Fremont County

Complaints from neighbors along Poplar and Locust Avenues in Lincoln Park last year prompted Fremont County Officials to consider permit requirements for a popular autumn farm attraction.   Diana’s Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze has been operated by Sue and Tim Madone on their property at 1649 Poplar.   Fremont County Code Enforcement Officers and Sheriff’s deputies fielded complaints last year about traffic congestion, parking, and private property trespass issues from several neighbors.   Because of the growing popularity that was attracting large crowds the County Planning and Zoning Department decided that a permit review would be needed.

The Board of Commissioners approved a temporary use permit for Diana’s Pumpkin Patch at their July 28th board meeting after the Madones detailed plans of how they intend to deal with the crush of crowds and traffic.   The event will run September 19th to October 31st.   It will include pumpkin picking, a corn maze, hayrides, a hay slide, a grain barn, and a snack bar.  Sue Madone said they intend to have young men working as parking attendants and have arranged to have several off-street parking locations nearby.  Those steps are being taken to address complaints by several neighbors who said people were parking on private property, blocking driveways, and urinating in people’s front yards.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said the Pumpkin Patch idea is a great attraction for the Lincoln Park and trusts that the Madones can address the neighbors’ concerns.   Commission Chairman Ed Norden encouraged the Madones to improve signage throughout the Lincoln Park neighborhood to direct motorists to parking areas and to alleviate traffic congestion.   The Commissioners were also told by Sheriff Jim Beicker that he intends to increase patrols by deputies on the busy weekends around the Pumpkin Patch this fall.

In other routine business at the July  28th meeting the Commissioners:

  • Approved abandonment of a water tap at 201 North 6th Street that was still associated with the Garden Park Building but is no longer in use;
  • Reappointed Mike Pullen and Francis Williams to the Building Code Board of Appeals;
  • Conducted a public hearing and then voted to adopt the January, 2015 Fremont County Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan assembled by County Emergency Management Director Steve Morrisey;
  • Heard a brief presentation and voted to accept the 2014 county audit report.
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Road & Bridge Crews Compete in County Fair Road-e-o

Hair pin maneuvers with an excavator was part of the scoring in the 5th annual Road-e-o sponsored by the Fremont County Department of Transportation at the 2015 Fremont County Fair.

44 competitors from six counties plus the City of Cañon City took part in the 5th annual Road-e-o competition at the 2015 Fremont County Fair sponsored by the Fremont County Department of Transportation.  The public works employees again took the opportunity to test their skills on heavy equipment with others in the region.  Each of the 44 participants competed against the clock and various obstacles to earn points in three categories; road graders, front end loaders, and excavators.

In addition to local competitors from Fremont County and Cañon City others traveled to compete in the contest from Custer, Summit, Teller, Pueblo, and Chaffee Counties.  Top honors for the overall best score in all three events this year went to Tony Swango of Summit County.  Second place went to Bryan Boyer of Pueblo County.

Winners in the individual events included Swango and Boyer who also took first and second places in the excavator category.  Dave Van Winkle of Fremont County took first place in the loader competition while Tony Fabrizio of the City of Cañon City and Chance Harmon of Chaffee County tied for second.  First place in the grader competition went to Mark Stacy of Chaffee County with Swango of Summit County taking second.

The 5th annual Road-e-o was sponsored by John Deere’s southern Colorado dealer in Pueblo, 4-Rivers Equipment.  4-Rivers and several other vendors provided a number of prizes for the competitors.

The 44 competitors, judges, sponsors, and volunteers line up for a photo following the 2015 Road-e-o heavy equipment competition on July30th at the Fremont County Fair

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Sheriff’s Deputy Levels Pay Accusations against Commissioners

Acknowledging that he appreciated a pay raise of 33 percent after voters approved a one cent sales tax increase for the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department, Deputy C.J. Youngs said the Fremont County Commissioners acted unethically by adopting a pay plan that was contrary to what Youngs claimed was previously promised.   Youngs argued in an appearance before the Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting that he should have gotten another raise for his 10 year anniversary last March but did not because the Board of Commissioners adopted an alternate pay plan to give pay step increases after 4, 8, and 12 years of service instead of increases at 4, 7, 10, 15, and 20 years of service.

Commission Chairman Ed Norden told Youngs that when the Board adopts a pay plan it is for all county employees.   Norden said the county is not about to set up a different pay plan for the Sheriff’s Department or any other county department.   He said a county pay plan will treat all employees the same.   Youngs accused the Commissioners of lying to the Sheriff, deputies, and the voters.   He said it was unethical in his view for the Board to start charging the Sheriff for his own utilities and redistributing that money among other departments for personnel costs.  By doing so Youngs charged that the Commissioners removed the Sheriff’s pay scale and balanced the budget on the backs of deputies.

Those allegations brought a quick retort from Commissioner Norden who explained to Youngs that if he had done his research he would have found that for many years the county’s General Fund had paid the costs of the Sheriff’s utilities, maintenance, and supplies.   Norden said there were several years when the Sheriff operated with budget shortfalls and it was a case of the Commissioners either budgeting to pay the Sheriff’s utility and maintenance costs each year or having to cover those budget shortfalls from the General Fund at year’s end.

Norden continued to point out to Youngs that the 4-8-12 years of service pay plan the Board adopted was done so because “this Board of Commissioners acted responsibly to the voters by looking into the future and the county did not have the dollars to support the pay plan Youngs claimed was promised to deputies”.   Norden said those benchmarks were established for all employees and by not singling out one group of employees versus another.  Norden concluded, “We have a fiduciary responsibility to every employee and every taxpayer in this county as to how we handle those dollars”.

District 2 Commissioner Bell took particular exception to the allegations charged by Youngs.  Bell told Youngs, “I do not appreciate the opinion that we lied to anyone or that we lack transparency.  I believe this Board has been more transparent, more honest, and more open with the public and our employees than any other board in recent history.”

Russ Hickman, Regional President of the Fraternal Order of Police, spoke in support of Youngs’ issue saying he represents several deputies who share the same concerns about the county’s pay plan for deputies.   Hickman said whatever the Commissioners did to hold back pay from the deputies should be discussed with them.   Commissioner Norden told Hickman that protocol would require him to first address his concerns with Sheriff Beicker regarding pay and personnel and then if the Sheriff shares those concerns he could bring them to the Board.  Hickman said he wants to see what the Commissioners are going to do before deciding if he wants to pursue the issue from a legal point of view.

Reacting to Hickman’s allegation that the Board of Commissioners are holding back a pay increase for the Sheriff’s deputies, Commissioner Bell told Hickman, “I would submit that giving anyone a 33 percent pay increase, we are not holding anything back”.

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BLM Seeking Comment on Bark Beetle Treatment in Fremont County

Mountain Bark Beetles have devastated thousands of acres of timber across Colorado and the mountain west. The beetle is beginning to make stronger inroads into western Fremont County

The Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office is seeking public comment on an environmental assessment for a forestry project to treat bark beetle infested areas in Fremont County.

BLM Field Manager Keith Berger said the purpose of the project is to reduce the threat to public safety and infrastructure posed by beetle-killed trees in travel corridors and other high-risk areas as well as provide for resilient forests and diverse wildlife habitats.  Berger said. “The project will also help us reduce the risk of severe wildfires and subsequent erosion and watershed damage.”

The Northwest Fremont Bark Beetle Salvage project is scheduled to take place on approximately 2,900 acres in northwestern Fremont County near Stoney Face, Waugh, and Jack Hall mountains. The environmental assessment analyzes three alternatives in detail that span from the effect of taking no action to salvaging dead and dying spruce trees to additional removal of green spruce at risk of beetle infestation. Activities under consideration include commercial timber harvest, non-commercial timber management and prescribed fire.

The preliminary environmental assessment and maps of the project area are posted on the BLM’s website at www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/rgfo/planning/rgfo_bark_beetle_project.html.  Comments on the project can be sent to the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office, Attn: Ken Reed, 3028 East Main Street, Canon City, CO 81212, or email: rgfo_comments@blm.gov with “Spruce Beetle EA” in the subject line.   The BLM requests that comments be submitted by August 31st.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—will be publicly available at any time.  While you can request in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, the BLM cannot guarantee that they will be able to do so.

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