Commissioners Hear FEDC Request for Building Incentives

Representatives of Fremont Economic Development Corporation (FEDC) and the City of Cañon City urged the Fremont County Board of Commissioners at their November 10th meeting to join the City of Cañon City in adopting incentives to instill some life into a stagnant building construction industry.   FEDC Board member Dave Reynolds pointed to recent action by the Cañon City Council to waive water tap fees, building permit fees, and use taxes on building materials for new residential and commercial construction completed by November, 2016.

Commission Chairman Tim Payne said providing an incentive to forgive use taxes is not an option for Fremont County.   He said while Cañon City may be able to do that because they are a Home Rule city, the county cannot do so because of Colorado statutes and because of voter approved language in the sales and use tax resolution dating back to 1982.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden said that after meeting with the same group informally two weeks earlier the board asked Building Official Mike Cox to analyze the county’s building permit fees.   Norden said while the Commissioners were aware that the county’s permit fees were lower than Cañon City’s they were not aware of the extent.   He said the analysis shows that Fremont County’s building permit fees are 42% percent lower than Cañon City’s which is also lower than the standard fees used by many counties and municipalities that update bi-annually according to industry valuation tables.

Norden said the Commissioners believe they already have sufficient incentives in place for not only new construction but for all other contractors and homeowners who might be doing building additions and renovations.    He said the analysis shows the county’s current building permit fees have saved builders $318,000 in building permit fees on just new construction over the past six years compared to Cañon City’s fees and because taxes are calculated on lower building values it also saved builders $40,000 in use taxes.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said the county prefers to continue offering an incentive to new and existing businesses through business personal property tax.   Bell said a change in Colorado statutes several years ago now allows counties to offer up to 100% percent forgiveness on business personal property tax as an economic development incentive.   Bell said the county’s’ incentives will be similar to what was offered to Green Diamond Tire when that company was trying to start up locally.   She said the percentage of personal property tax forgiveness would be tied to the number of new permanent jobs created.

Reynolds said while he recognizes the county charges lower building permit fees it may not help entice new construction the way short term incentives would help get builders’ attention.   Commissioner Bell said she believes it’s not fair to the public to waive fees for a new $200,000 home but charge all the fees to someone building a $150,000 addition.

The Commissioners approved an amendment to the Fremont County Zoning Resolution at their November 10th meeting creating a new Airport Overlay Zone District.   The intent is to address land uses, densities, and avoiding hazards that might be created when building within a perimeter around the airport.   Commissioner Debbie Bell said she was concerned initially that the Airport Overlay Zone could negatively impact potential development nearby and that it was poorly timed.   But she noted the Overlay Zone has been in the works for literally a number of years.   Commissioner Ed Norden said adopting an Airport Overlay Zone was a priority listed in the recently updated Master Plan for the Fremont County Airport.   He said the Federal Aviation Administration urges airports to have such zoning in place.

There was no public comment as the Commissioners conducted a public hearing on the county’s 2015 proposed budget.   Finance and Budget Officer Sunny Bryant highlighted key points in the budget document which showed once again that the county will achieve a balanced budget in 2015 by drawing down its’ reserves in many of the county’s funds including the general fund.   Bryant said revenues may remain flat next year.   She said she is conservatively estimating a two percent growth in sales tax revenue next year but that will be offset by a $200,000 reduction in property taxes due to lower property valuations.

County Manager George Sugars said that for the first time in five years the Commissioners have tried to address some pay raises in the 2015 county budget.   Instead of percentage increases across the board the money earmarked for salary increases will follow the county’s salary plan intending to move along some employees on the pay scale that have lagged behind over the years.

Steve Holland, Director of the Upper Arkansas Area Agency on Aging detailed to the Commissioners the status of the nutrition program which provides both congregate and home delivered meals to senior citizens in Fremont County.   Holland said 600 people in Fremont County have been served this year at the congregate meal sites in Cañon City and Florence while another 800 seniors have benefitted from home delivered meals.   He said 15,828 meals were served in Fremont County in 2013.

Several months ago the nutrition program asked for a $3,000 supplemental budget request from the County Commissioners for 2015.  Holland said that money would be used to provide meals to the three staff members who work in the program.   He said the State of Colorado has disallowed reimbursement for those staff meals because they are under the age of 60.

In other business at the November 10th meeting the Board of Commissioners:

  • Adopted a resolution recognizing the contributions of veterans on Veterans Day;
  • Reappointed Samantha Faoro, Linda Valdez, and Greg VanRiper to the 4-H County Fair Sales Committee;
  • Approved payment of a $3,249 impact fee to the Cañon City Fire Protection District for renovation of the Garden Park building for the Public Health Department;
  • Approved a resolution supporting local businesses by designating Saturday, November 29th, as “Small Business Saturday”;
  • Scheduled a public hearing for November 25th to consider an amendment to the Fremont County Building Code to establish a program for licensing of building contractors;
  • Scheduled a special meeting at 9:00 a.m. Thursday, December 18th to adopt the 2015 Fremont County Budget and for certification of property tax mill levies.
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Last Minute Ballots Rolling In

Voters take the opportunity to cast their ballots in person in the Fremont County Administration Building late Monday afternoon.

Monday brought a marked increase in the number of last minute voters at the Fremont County Clerk’s Office.   There was a steady stream of voters dropping off ballots in the Clerk’s Office and more than 70 voters took the opportunity to vote in person on the second floor of the Fremont County Administration Building.   Any mail ballots still out there must be dropped off in person because they will not arrive in time from the post office if mailed.    Fremont County Clerk Katie Barr reminds residents that because of the last minute crush the Clerk’s Motor Vehicle Department will be closed on Election Day Tuesday to handle all of the last minute balloting.

Fremont County Clerk Katie Barr is pictured with co-workers who worked on Friday when the County Administration Building was open to accept drop off ballots and assist those who voted in person.

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Commissioners Table Bid Award for New Dispatch Area

The Fremont County Commissioners tabled action Monday on the award of a bid for renovation of space on the 4th floor of the county’s Judicial Building.   Half of the 4th floor is targeted for renovation to house the new Combined Regional Communications Center (CRCA).   Fremont County Manager George Sugars said seven bids were received for the project last Wednesday but they all came in over the design estimate.  Sugars said the bids ranged from a low of $807,700 to a high of $948,889.

Sugars said even the lowest of the seven bids is still some $200,000 over the budget set up by the entities who are parties to the intergovernmental agreement which created the CRCA.   They include Fremont County, the Cities of Cañon City and Florence, the Fremont E 9-1-1 Authority, and the Cañon City Area Fire Protection District.   Sugars said Reilly, Johnson, and Associates of Denver is now poring over the bid documents of the two lowest bidders to see where costs might be cut and lower prices negotiated.    The negotiations will be taking place between the two lowest bidders, Golden Triangle of Colorado Springs and H.W. Houston of Pueblo.

The CRCA governing board is expected to meet later this week to consider their options if prices cannot be brought back within the budget.   The Board of Commissioners tabled consideration of the bid award to their next regular meeting on Monday, November 10th (moved from Tuesday, November 11th due to the Veterans Day observance).

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Environmental Health Officer Warns of Illegal Tattooing

Reports of people in Fremont County getting tattoos and body art from unlicensed individuals have prompted a warning from Fremont County Environmental Health Officer Sid Darden.  Darden says if you’re getting a tattoo from someone in their basement, kitchen, bathroom, or garage you can bet with one hundred percent certainty that you’re getting an illegal tattoo.   Darden says he recently has received more reports of an individual doing tattoos by appointment in private homes.   Darden says that too is illegal and not just a violation of Fremont County health regulations but also a violation of state law.

Fremont County adopted rules and regulations governing body art facilities, locations that provide mainly tattoos and body piercings, on June 30, 2009.   Until then Fremont County did not have a body art regulation, but the State of Colorado had a set of statewide regulations that had been in place for a number of years.

Under Fremont County’s Body Art Regulations, the location where these procedures are performed is required to be inspected, approved, licensed, and meet a set of minimum standards.   The body artists who work in these facilities are required to meet minimum standards, including knowledge of universal precautions (a set of precautions designed to prevent the transmission of HIV, hepatitis c and other blood borne pathogens).    The physical location is inspected, approved and licensed.

Darden says in Colorado there’s no such thing as a licensed tattoo artist who’s licensed and approved to do tattoos in either his/her own private residence or at someone else’s private residence. These procedures are invasive to the human body and if done improperly, can lead to a long list of serious problems including hepatitis c and other serious infections.    In addition, he says there are stringent procedures for sterilizing reusable instruments, using single-use instruments that must be discarded after one use, sterilizing and sanitizing surfaces, and having access to hand washing facilities.

Darden says a monthly test must be performed to make sure there is proper sterilization of reusable instruments.   Records must be maintained of those tests and of the proper disposal of sharps and other items that have been contaminated with body fluids.    The body art facility is required to keep client records, including completing a client consent form for each client, which includes the name of the body artist, direction on when to consult a physician, detailed after-care instructions, possible side effects from the procedure and an explanation that the body art should be considered permanent.

Darden points out that there are currently only two licensed body art establishments operating in Fremont County; THE DUNGEON INC. and THE MANDALA PRIVATE ART STUDIO.   He says if you’re getting a body art procedure at any location, it’s illegal.     Darden says the lone exception is that locations which only offer piercing of the outer perimeter or lobe of the ear with a sterilized stud-and-clasp ear piercing system are not governed by these regulations.

If you have questions or if anyone is interested in opening an approved body art facility in Fremont County, they can contact Fremont County Environmental Health at 276-7460.

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Commissioners Hear Trash & Marijuana Complaints from Copper Gulch Residents

Saying that Fremont County should not be “the armpit of the world”, Copper Gulch residents southwest of Cañon City appeared before the Fremont County Board of Commissioners Tuesday demanding action is taken to clean up trashy properties in their area.   The complaints were punctuated by residents who said illegal marijuana growing has only added to their headaches.

Building Contractor John Garrou and his neighbors from the Glen Vista subdivision submitted photos showing ten locations with excessive trash including cars, truck, mobile homes, trailers, and other junk.    David Colwell appealed to the Commissioners for help from the county.   He said there are also many health code violations with no indoor plumbing and lots of outdoor toilets.   Ray Walter complained that the marijuana growers have showed up and made things worse.   One resident said he could show county officials 14 different sites of illegal marijuana grow operations.   Tea Party member Richard Hollabaugh pleaded for more enforcement saying the whole marijuana thing has been way too easy.   Hollabaugh said “There has to be some help somewhere”.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden noted that there have been trash problems for decades in the Copper Gulch but acknowledged they are being amplified by the marijuana growers.   Norden said “If they are growing illegal marijuana, we need to make it clear through the media that the neighbors are watching and you’re tired of it, and you’re writing down addresses and you are sharing addresses with sheriff’s deputies,” he said.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said the board recognizes there is work to be done.  She said the Commissioners recently met with state marijuana enforcement representatives, Sheriff Jim Beicker, Undersheriff Ty Martin and the district attorney about the illegal grow operations.

Sheriff Beicker was in the audience and reacted to the appeals for more enforcement.   He said his deputies recently met at a town hall meeting at the Deer Mountain Fire Station with about 70 residents.

He assured them Tuesday that all tips about the illegal grow operations are being looked into by narcotics investigators, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, he said not only is local law enforcement overwhelmed, state and federal agencies also are overextended.

He said law enforcement must abide by the state and federal constitutions, and narcotics investigations take a tremendous amount of time because they must be handled correctly to be effective and so there are no illegal search and seizures.    Regarding the trash situation Commissioner Norden said the Board will meet with Code Enforcement Officers to review the complaints and the status of enforcement efforts throughout the Copper Gulch area.

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting the Board of Commissioners:

  • Approved a 12 month extension for the contingency requirements on the Crossroads Business Center Zone Change on the southeast corner of Highways 50 and 115;
  • Approved the 2015 holiday calendars for both 8-hour and 10-hour work sites;
  • Amended the Fremont County personnel policy making minor language clarifications for on-duty injury leave and employees’ sick leave bank;
  • Announced that the deadline for letters of interest to apply for seats on the Fremont County Fair Board had been extended until 12 noon, Thursday, November 13th.
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BLM Seeks Input for Recreation Focus Groups

The Royal Gorge Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management is inviting area residents to share their views about recreation management.   The BLM wants to hear the public’s views on the places from Leadville to Westcliffe and from Salida to Canon City that matter most for recreational value so the BLM can better respond to the public’s desires and expectations for how these areas are managed.

Focus group sessions targeting area residents and businesses as well as visitors will be conducted in the area in the coming weeks.  They will be facilitated by Dr. Tim Casey, Professor of Political Science at the Natural Resource Center at Colorado Mesa University and will last approximately one and a half hours.

Two focus group sessions are scheduled for this Friday, October 31st.   The first will be in Cripple Creek at the Heritage Center from 10:00 – - 11:30 a.m.   The second will be Friday afternoon from 2:00 – - 3:30 p.m. at the Cañon City BLM Field Office at 3028 East Main Street.

A session for Custer County residents is scheduled for this Saturday, November 1st, from 10:00 – - 11:30 a.m. at the Cliff Lanes Family Entertainment Center Banquet Room.    Space is limited to 30 people in each session.

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Applications Sought for Fair Board Appointments

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners is extending the deadline for letters of interest to serve on the Fremont County Fair Board.   The deadline has been extended to November 13th.   The Fair Board is comprised of 15 to 20 members whose responsibilities include planning and conducting the annual Fremont County Fair.  The terms for five seats on the Fair Board expire on December 31st.   Each appointment to the Fair Board is for a three year term.

The Fremont County Fair Board meets the 2nd Tuesday evening of every month at 7:00 p.m.  Fair Board members also contribute many other hours of volunteer time and labor to organize, supervise, and work alongside other youth and adults in helping set up and conduct various county fair activities.

The Commissioners urge anyone with an interest in 4-H programs, agriculture, gardening, baking, floriculture, livestock, horses, crafts, photography, wildlife, or other interest that may be promoted as part of open class and 4-H programs at the county fair are urged to submit a letter of interest.

Letters of interest should be submitted by mail or in person to the County Administration Office in Room 106 of the Fremont County Administration Building.  The deadline to submit letters of interest to serve on the Fremont County Fair Board has been extended to 12 noon on Thursday, November 13th.

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Fremont 4-Her’s Celebrate 4-H Month

Fremont County 4-H members visited a number of businesses and local government offices during National 4-H Month in October. The 4-H youth showed their appreciation by delivering cookies to 4-H supporters. Shown above are 4-H youth delivering cookies to County Commissioners Ed Norden and Debbie Bell.

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Garden Park Fossil Area Secures Landmark Dedication

This Garden Park National Natural Landmark plaque has been placed at the Cleveland Quarry along Garden Park Road north of Canon City denoting the storied history of dinosaur fossils uncovered in the area.

The Garden Park area north of Cañon City has taken on renewed national significance.   As part of the Fremont County Heritage Commission’s recent Fall Heritage Festival a dedication ceremony took place on October 9th expanding the designated area of the Garden Park National Natural Landmark (NNL).

A steady rain hampered events for the day but a group of Harrison Elementary School students braved the elements to tour the Marsh Quarry and then joined dignitaries for a dedication ceremony at the Cleveland Quarry alongside Garden Park Road.

In April 2013, the National Park Service and BLM expanded the Garden Park NNL from a 40-acre designation to 3,208 acres.  The NNL area now includes all the major Garden Park quarries, two of which are easily visited from Garden Park Road.   The designation helps to preserve the history of the Garden Park Fossil Area, where 14 different Jurassic dinosaur species have been found.

Cañon City became a hotspot for paleontology beginning in the 1870s when prominent U.S. paleontologists Othniel C. Marsh and Edward D. Cope uncovered the first fossilized bones of many dinosaur species in that area.    Since their famous “Bone Wars,” during which the scientists raced to discover and name new dinosaur species, many paleontology digs in Garden Park have provided the scientific world with irreplaceable information about the anatomy of Jurassic-aged dinosaurs and the types of environments they lived and died.

BLM Geologist Melissa Smeins is joined by the Fremont County Commissioners at the October 9th National Landmark dedication of the Garden Park Fossil Area following the rainy morning ceremony.

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Commissioners Briefed on Fort Carson Helicopter Training

A Fort Carson helicopter crew demonstrated landings and low level maneuvers for the media on October 1st in one of the proposed landing zones in the Garden Park area north of Canon City. The BLM is conducting a National Environmental Analysis to determine if Fort Carson can get permission to use 45 different landing zones on BLM public lands in Fremont and Teller Counties for training purposes over the next 10 years.

Fort Carson and Bureau of Land Management officials briefed the Fremont County Commissioners Tuesday on the US Army’s desire to reach a long term agreement with the BLM for helicopter training on public lands in Fremont and Teller Counties.   The BLM and Fort Carson hosted a public meeting on October 7th to share details about the High Altitude Mountain Environment Training (HAMET) program which is designed to provide pilots experience flying and landing helicopters in high elevation, mountainous terrain.   Army Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Niles told the Commissioners that the terrain found in Fremont and Teller Counties is similar to conditions that helicopter pilots face in Afghanistan.

BLM Royal Gorge Field Office Manager Keith Berger said Fort Carson has been using BLM public lands in the area on an in-frequent casual basis since 2010 but now the Army wants a more formal permanent use.    Berger said the BLM is now conducting an environmental assessment that would pave the way for a 10 year right of way agreement.  The BLM is analyzing Fort Carson’s Plan of Development through an open public process.   Berger said the BLM wants to make sure county officials are involved in the planning process.

Niles and Berger shared maps with the Board of Commissioners showing 45 proposed landing sites on BLM lands in the two counties.   In Fremont County the landing zones are primarily in the Garden Park area north of Cañon City and in the area northwest of Parkdale near Highway 9.   Commissioner Ed Norden asked about the risk of pilots mistakenly landing on private property.   Niles said with the GPS guidance systems on today’s Army helicopters it’s almost impossible to make an error in landing zones.  He added that the helicopter training involves both day and night operations.

Berger said so far any concerns expressed to the BLM from neighbors in those areas deal with the impacts associated with noise.  He said the BLM’s environmental review would address a variety of issues including potential impacts to wildlife, cattle grazing, hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, and other recreational issues.

Among initial concerns voiced by the Board of Commissioners is that the BLM perhaps consider a public comment period longer than 30 days, to be vigilant in advising the public through news releases, and to keep the Board of Commissioners apprised of the status of the BLM’s review.

Berger said the BLM is currently in a public scoping period until November 1st which would be followed by a 30 day public comment period.   Berger said he anticipates a final decision on Fort Carson’s request by the spring of 2015.

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