Statewide Issues on Conference Agenda for Commissioners

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners and County Administrators will be among 350 attendees anticipated to attend the three day winter conference of Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) in Colorado Springs November 30th through December 2nd.   Sponsored by the CCI Foundation the conference will focus on topics of statewide and local concern including water resources, transportation funding, and the extension of broadband services to the rural areas of Colorado.

State Demographer Elizabeth Gardner and El Paso County Commissioner and National Association of Counties (NACo) President Sallie Clark are the keynote speakers for the conference.   In addition, educational workshop topics for the conference include historic preservation, cybersecurity threats, erosion control, child protection, and emergency management strategies.

Road and Bridge supervisors from across Colorado will also convene at the CCI Conference to discuss a myriad of topics dealing with road construction and maintenance.

Commissioners Debbie Bell, Ed Norden, and Tim Payne will take part in the conference sessions as well as County Manager George Sugars and Assistant Manager-Finance Officer Sunny Bryant.

CCI is a non-profit, membership association whose purpose is to offer assistance to county commissioners and to encourage counties to work together on common issues.    CCI works to present a united voice to the Colorado General Assembly on issues important to commissioners from both rural and urban counties.

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Tourism Council Secures State Tourism Grant

The Colorado Tourism Office has announced that the Fremont County Tourism Council has secured another $25,000 tourism promotion grant under the state’s 2016 Marketing Matching Grant Program.   The state tourism grant dollars have been integral to the Tourism Council’s efforts to market the Royal Gorge Region across Colorado and a multi-state region.

Tourism Council members had expressed concern in recent weeks that their marketing plans in 2016 could be seriously impacted if the matching grant was not received.    After completion of the necessary paperwork the Tourism Council should have the $25,000 in hand by the end of the year which will allow the Council to firm up next year’s marketing efforts.    Those efforts included annual publication of the Royal Gorge Region Visitors Guide as well as extensive web site and social media marketing.

News of the matching grant award comes on the heels of the good news the Tourism Council got earlier this month after Fremont County voters permanently approved the on-going collection of the county’s two percent lodging tax for tourism promotion.   75% of Fremont County voters said “Yes” to the lodging tax.   A ten year sunset on the tax would have ended at the close of 2016.

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2016 County Budget Previewed at Public Hearing

Fremont County’s 2016 proposed budget was highlighted at the November 10th meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.   Finance Officer and Assistant County Manager Sunny Bryant presented a power point explaining that even with projected growth next year for both property tax and sales tax revenue, Fremont County will still draw down fund balances for 2016 spending.   With 2015 having been a property reassessment year, Bryant’s report estimates that Fremont County’s share of property taxes will increase by $135,000 to $5.3 million.

After a steep decline in sales tax revenue in the recession year of 2009, Fremont County has seen a gradual but steady recovery in sales tax collections.   Bryant is conservatively estimating sales tax growth for the 2016 budget at three percent with collections targeted at $4.25 million representing estimated sales tax growth next year of $298,000 for the county’s General Fund.

Despite the revenue growth, the budget projects the General Fund spending will still draw down the fund balance by $747,000.   The Sheriff’s Fund will also draw down reserve funds by $2.32 million but that is because of capital projects that will be undertaken in 2016.   The biggest and most costly of those projects is one which Sheriff Beicker listed as a critical need when voters approved his one percent sales tax two years ago.   That is the renovation of the kitchen and laundry area in the Fremont County jail which has been in a sorry state for the past five years.   The challenge the Sheriff faces is also finding a way to prepare meals and handle inmate laundry while those areas are being renovated.   It will also add to the daily cost of inmate care in 2016.

Commission Chairman Ed Norden said that during the recession the county relied on the $1 million in PILT money (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) which comes from the federal government to offset the loss of local property taxes because of BLM and Forest Service lands within the county boundaries.   Norden said with revenues finally improving the commissioners have looked at possibly shifting so much reliance on PILT dollars in the General Fund to allow some of that money to be used elsewhere.   Norden said because some money was taken away from the Road and Bridge Fund during the recession to cut spending, the commissioners decided in 2016 to direct $250,000 from the PILT Fund into the Road and Bridge Fund.

Norden said $50,000 in PILT money will also be set aside in a capital replacement fund for bridges.   While $50,000 certainly won’t pay for a bridge he said it’s important that the county start setting aside some money every year to provide matching funds for a future federal bridge grant.

Norden added that the Sheriff’s Fund reflects a commitment by the Board of Commissioners to the Sheriff and the voters to maintain a funding level of $3.9 million from the General Fund to the Sheriff’s Fund.   Norden said that level of commitment has remained the same even after voters approved the one cent Sheriff’s sales tax.   Norden did note that with some of the proceeds from that sales tax the Sheriff has also met his commitment to reimburse the county’s Self-Funded Health Insurance Fund.   That was for money that was transferred to the Sheriff during the recessionary years when cash was needed to cover the Sheriff’s budget shortfalls.   Norden noted that the Self-Funded Insurance Fund directly affects all employees by helping keep health insurance premiums in check.   In 2015 the Sheriff transferred $200,000 to the Self-Funded Insurance Fund and will make a final transfer of $183,000 to Self-Funded Insurance in 2016.

In other business at the November 10th Board meeting the commissioners:

  • Adopted a proclamation recognizing local veterans on Veterans Day;
  • Adopted a Fremont County Continuity Plan prepared by Emergency Management Director Steve Morrisey that outlines how county services would be delivered if there was an emergency that disrupted operations in any of the county buildings;
  • Approved a 50% refund of $950 to the Deer Mountain Fire District for the application fee the District paid for a recent Special Review Use Permit to expand facilities on their property;
  • Re-appointed Larry Brown to the Fremont County Planning Commission for another three year term;
  • Re-appointed Jim Javernick to the Fremont County Board of Zoning Adjustment for another three year term;
  • Appointed Michael Pullen to the Fremont County Board of Zoning Adjustment for a three year term;
  • Approved an “Adopt-a-Park” policy encouraging groups to adopt local parks for maintenance and clean-up of trash;
  • Approved the vacation of a public right of way at the southwest corner of Florence for Gary McWilliams who wants to build a house on the property where a street and alleyway were platted but were never developed;
  • Scheduled a public hearing for 10 a.m. November 24th on a proposed amendment to the county’s Zoning Resolution that would allow adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) through an overlay zone district for lots that are a minimum of one acre in size.
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Phantom Canyon Road Reconstruction Begins

This site in Phantom Canyon took the brunt of last summer's flash flooding. It is located about a mile above the first tunnel in Phantom Canyon. County Road crews will have to haul hundreds of yards of material just to repair this washout.

Reconstruction of County Road 67 through Phantom Canyon which was heavily damaged in last summer’s flash flooding will get underway Monday (November 16).    Fremont County Department of Transportation Director Tony Adamic said road crews have finished work on their final major paving project south of Florence which will allow them to now focus their efforts on Phantom Canyon.    Damage from the flash flooding was originally estimated at over $600,000 but a recent assessment by an official from the Federal Highway Administration placed the damage estimate at about $350,000.

Adamic said that estimate is contingent upon the material that is needed to fill the washouts being available nearby in Phantom Canyon.   Adamic previously secured permission from the Bureau of Land Management to obtain those materials from public lands that border the county road.   The Federal Highway Administration will pick up at least 75 percent of the reconstruction cost with Fremont County paying the balance.

Although many motorists have been traveling Phantom Canyon at their own risk and maneuvering past the washouts since the flash flood, that will not be the case during reconstruction.   Because the county will have heavy equipment working on the narrow roadway, travel through Phantom Canyon will be prohibited from 6 a.m. Monday mornings until 5 p.m. Thursday evenings over the next several weeks until construction is completed.  Travel through Phantom Canyon on weekends outside of the construction periods will be at your own risk.

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7th Annual Recycled Art Show

The 7th Annual Recycled Art Show will run from Friday, November 6th through Saturday, November 21st. The show highlights both amateur and professional artists of all ages and every entry has a minimum of 80% recycled content. The public is invited to see how art and inspiration can bring new life to “trash”.

This year’s show will be hosted by Solvista Health in their new satellite office, 701 S. 9th Street, Canon City. Solvista Health has “recycled” the old Daily Record Building, so this is a great chance to come and see the new home of their business offices!

The show will open with an Artist’s Reception, Friday, November 6th, from 6p-8p. Winners of the show will be announced at 7p, and light refreshments will be served. This is an alcohol-free event. Features of the 7th Annual Show include a tribute to Cara Fisher and her work with Recycled Art.

As always, admission to the show is free, but donations are cheerfully accepted.

An example of reycled art from past years' entries.

Hours for the Art Show after the opening reception are: Fridays, 5:30p-8:30p; Saturdays, 10a-6p; Sundays, 10a-5p. The 2015 Recycled Art show is proudly sponsored by Upper Arkansas Recycling, Howard Disposal and Recycling, UAACOG, Fremont County Recycles, and Solvista Health. For more information, please contact Beth with Upper Arkansas Recycling, 719.275-1675, #119 or

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Residents Demand Building Code Enforcement

Shoddy construction and abandoned housing projects were among complaints residents voiced to the Board of Commissioners. Pictured here was a cabin put under violation in 2009. After the property owner ignored court orders and fines it took five years before a tax sale certificate could be redeemed for a deed. The new owner agreed to clean up the mess after the county agreed to lift the lien on the property.

Two residents of the Copper Gulch area and a Penrose woman sounded off Tuesday to the Board of County Commissioners demanding more code enforcement to force neighbors to clean up their properties.   John Garrou, who lives in the Copper Gulch area, denounced the fact that some people have illegally set up living quarters on their property in fifth wheel trailers and are preparing them for the winter ahead.    Garrou said “People are living there with no porta-potties or requirements for a source of water.”  Garrou also complained that Fremont County needs a time limit on building permits.

County Building Official Mike Cox noted that a one year limit already exists with property owners allowed to seek another one year extension.   Garrou said Fremont County needs to take a harder line with trashy properties.   He says Teller County is now giving people 60 days to clean up their property “or else”.

Commission Chairman Ed Norden said the Board of Commissioners and county officials are equally frustrated over dilapidated properties.   Norden said if property owners recognize a problem and are willing to cooperate the county’s Code Enforcement officers can provide dumpsters to help people come into compliance.    But Norden said “Like it or not, these people have personal property rights and if they refuse to clean up, the county’s effort to force a cleanup is not an overnight process.”

Chyriese Marentette said she is frustrated that formal complaints she has filed in the past have not been addressed.   Marentette said she previously submitted five or six complaints on specific properties but to her knowledge none of them have been dealt with.   The Commissioners asked Marentette to meet with Planning Director Matt Koch to review the status of each complaint.   Tina Heffner of Penrose echoed the concerns saying the problems are the same in Penrose where one person lives in a camp trailer and has 11 horses on his property.  Heffner said the man uses a porta-potty and after documented complaints for over a year she has no confidence anything will be done.

The Board of Commissioners approved a Special Review Use Permit for the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District as the district prepares to expand their facilities.   Deer Mountain Fire District Board Member Karen McKee said the primary need is for a new building to house fire trucks.   She said the district currently parks seven vehicles outdoors and during freezing weather those vehicles have to be taken out of service.   Along with a new building, a new heli-pad has been built across the road.

The Board of Commissioners approved the annual agreement with the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) to participate in the regional recycling program.   Commission Chairman Ed Norden used the occasion to announce that because of increased revenues from solid waste collection fees the Commissioners have earmarked $7,500 in the county’s 2016 budget to assist with electronic recycling days.   Norden said the $7,500 should help in reducing the amount UAACOG will have to charge to recycle computer equipment and television sets.   He said in turn perhaps people will quit using TV sets for target practice or dump them in roadside ditches.

In other business at the October 27th meeting the Commissioners:

  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Florence to exchange the value of two parcels of property deeded to Florence in exchange for a reduced price for a pair of water taps at Pathfinder Regional Park;
  • Approved a proclamation declaring November 20th as National Adoption Day in Fremont County.   On that day formal adoptions will be finalized in Fremont County court for eight children;
  • Approved a six month extension for a Special Review Use Permit for Play Dirty ATV Tours to come into compliance for a new site operation west of Texas Creek;
  • Approved a transfer of ownership of name change for a Conditional Use Permit for the Cooper gravel pit along Iron Mountain Road to Rocky Mountain Excavating;
  • Announced that a public hearing on Fremont County’s 2016 proposed budget will be conducted at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 10th.
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Planning Commission to again discuss Accessory Dwelling Unit Zoning

The Fremont County Planning Commission will again take up discussion on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) at their monthly meeting on November 4th.   The proposed 9th Amendment to the Fremont County Zoning Resolution allowing overlay zones for ADU’s was tabled by the Commission at their October 6th meeting.   The proposal stirred some controversy among Commission members which prompted the decision to table the item for further consideration.

The original amendment would have required a minimum of a half acre of property within ADU overlay zones.   Since then the Board of County Commissioners conducted a workshop and is now proposing a minimum lot size of one acre for ADU’s.   An ADU overlay zone would permit a total of two residences on a single parcel of property as long as the parcel is at least one acre in size or larger.   The second dwelling would be considered accessory to the primary residence.  Accessory Dwelling Units would not be allowed to be sold separately or subdivided from the parcel or primary residence.   The ADU’s could be supported by utilities that serve the primary residence.

If an overlay zone is proposed in a particular neighborhood or a portion of rural Fremont County it would still have to undergo separate review by the Planning Commission and a public hearing before the Board of Commissioners.

Approval of the amendment would not create an overlay zone across the entire county.   The Accessory Dwelling Units would be allowed only in those specific areas where the overlay zones are approved.

The ADU overlay zone is the only item of business on the agenda for the Planning Commission.   The Commission meets at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 4th, in the Commissioners Board Room on the lower level of the Fremont County Administration Building.

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Commissioners Oppose Housing Guantanamo Prisoners in Fremont County

The Administrative Maximum Security federal prison south of Florence, also known as SuperMax, was one of the prisons visited recently by a team from the Pentagon. The Pentagon team is reviewing facilities for possibly housing military combatant detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has made their position known regarding the possibility of Guantanamo Bay terror suspects being housed in prisons in Fremont County; they oppose the idea.   When the Commissioners met on October 12th for a quarterly luncheon with the Florence and Cañon City Councils, Florence City Manager Mike Patterson urged local officials to join the opposition to such a proposal by the Obama Administration.

With Pentagon Officials visiting the Federal Prison Complex south of Florence and the empty CSP II state penitentiary on the East Canon Correctional Complex last week the Board of Commissioners reacted quickly signing a letter of opposition at their October 13th regular board meeting.   The letter was sent to the President and Colorado’s entire congressional delegation.   In the letter penned by District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell the Commissioners acknowledge that the Bureau of Prisons staff can handle the additional 114 prisoners behind the walls of the SuperMax prison.  But the letter warns, “These individuals intensify the threat level to an unacceptable point because of the inherent dangers posed by their associates on the outside. Just imagine all of the creative ways these terrorists could wreck chaos and destruction on our homeland.”

Commission Chairman Ed Norden noted that Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker previously expressed concerns about terrorists already housed at the Federal Prison Complex and noted that based on intelligence from the FBI, Beicker has been told that terrorist groups already have accumulated a lot of information about Fremont County.   Norden expressed appreciation for the opposition already being voiced against such a move by Colorado Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennett.

The Commissioners approved a Special Review Use Permit for Acord Trucking at their October 13th meeting.   Acord plans to set up a truck terminal on a four acre lot along Skyland Drive in the Fremont County Airport Industrial Park where a maximum of 20 trucks would be parked overnight and on weekends.   Dr. Angela Bellantoni explained the site will mainly be a dispatching center for trucks to haul propane between wholesale and retail facilities.  The site will provide the opportunity for truckers to park their rigs between loads.   She said the propane tanks will be empty when parked.

Addressing a concern at the public hearing regarding the risk of hazardous materials on site, Acord Site Manager Matt Hobby said propane is the only material the trucks would be hauling and if any residual propane would leak from the tanks it would turn to gas and vaporize.   He said there is very minimal potential for any explosion because there would be no source for a fire.

A requirement to address impacts to traffic on Highways 50 and 67 from the truck traffic was dropped from the permit conditions.     Traffic counts conducted for both incoming and departing traffic indicated that existing businesses that generate traffic onto the state highways have a far greater impact than the additional truck traffic that would be created by the truck terminal.

The Board of Commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) with the Cañon City Recreation and Park District that will lead to reconstruction of a flood levee where the Arkansas Riverwalk trail was washed out during high river flows last May and June.   The Recreation District was making preparations to rebuild a flood retaining wall on the levee when a review of historical documents revealed that the now defunct Fremont Flood Control Conservancy District turned over all ownership and responsibilities of its flood control levees to the County of Fremont.

The MOA calls for Fremont County to apply for emergency assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in efforts to secure 75 percent of the funding necessary for the river bank stabilization project at an estimated cost of $200,000.   The county will have to pay the 25 percent local share.   The MOA also states that the Recreation District’s contribution will be the $11,170 they have already spent on engineering the river bank repairs.    Work on the river bank stabilization will not be able to start until mid or late November.

The Board of Commissioners approved a resolution modifying the service fee schedule for solid waste disposal charges paid by the two commercial trash haulers in Fremont County; Twin Landfill and Howard Disposal.    The fee schedule change will now charge on the basis of $1.67 per ton of solid waste instead of a previous rate of 50 cents per cubic yard.   The State of Colorado has already switched to tracking solid waste disposal by tonnage instead of cubic yards.

During a third public hearing at their September 13th meeting the Commissioners approved an 8th Amendment to the Fremont County Zoning Resolution.   The amendment made three changes to the zoning resolution.   The amendment expands the size of a recreational cabin footprint to 600 square feet.   Echo Canyon Campground owner Andy Neinas requested the change to 600 square feet saying that is an industry standard in order to allow space for steps into a loft for the cabins.   The other two changes adds “rafting” to allowed uses in the county’s Business Zone District and places an Airport Overlay Zone District into its own zoning section in the resolution.

In other business the Board of Commissioners:

  • Reappointed John Marietta and newly appointed Bruce Claremont to the Fremont County Airport Advisory Committee;
  • Approved a Special Events Liquor License for the Fremont Community Foundation’s Halloween event;
  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement for the Colorado Coroners’ and Medical Examiners’ Association in event of a need to respond to mass casualty incidents in neighboring counties;
  • Scheduled two public hearings.   One at 10 a.m. on October 27th will deal with a Special Review Use Permit for the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District to allow an expansion of facilities at the Deer Mountain Fire Station.   The other public hearing was set for 10 a.m. November 10th on a request by Gary McWilliams to vacate a street and alley that was platted back in 1900 but were never developed for public use.
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BLM plans prescribed burn in Trail Gulch

The Bureau of Land Management is preparing to conduct a prescribed burn in the Trail Gulch area, approximately 15 miles northwest of Cañon City between Shelf Road and High Park Road in northern Fremont County.

Depending on weather and fuel moisture conditions, the prescribed burn could begin any day extending into mid-October.  Approximately 385 acres of BLM land will be subject to burning in order to reduce accumulated hazardous fuel and improve wildlife habitat.  Targeted fuels include ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, juniper and residual slash from previous thinning treatments.

The project will create a mosaic of burned and unburned areas intended to reduce conifer encroachment in grass parks while improving forage for wildlife and domestic livestock.  Prescribed fire also helps to create various stages of plant succession, which is critical to the health of fire-adapted ecosystems.

Smoke from the prescribed burn will be visible throughout the day of the burn, mostly during the warmest part of the day.  With cooler temperatures in the evening, smoke may linger and accumulate in low lying areas.

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Commissioners OK Extension for Ark River Ambulance Station

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has authorized one more extension to Ark River EMS to complete requirements for their ambulance station near Texas Creek while warning the Ark River Board Chairman that their patience is growing thin.   Ark River was granted a Special Review Use Permit in September, 2013, to build an ambulance station along US Highway 50 west of Texas Creek.  Since then the ambulance company that serves western Fremont County sought and secured a 12 month extension and another six month extension as they deal with complying with state electrical and plumbing as well as county building code requirements.

At the Commissioners’ meeting on September 22nd, Ark River Board President Jay DeMay said the Board of Directors had been waiting for two years for the District Court to rule on a lawsuit brought by members of the Howard Volunteer Fire Department over changes in the organizations by-laws and election of board directors.   DeMay said while fundraising efforts were accomplished, they did not want to spend money on the building until a court decision was made on what he called “the frivolous lawsuit”.

Commission Chairman Ed Norden expressed concern to DeMay that Ark River went ahead and staffed the facility allowing ambulance personnel to live in the building despite the fact that a certificate of occupancy still has not been issued.   The Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to approve another six month extension to allow Ark River to come into compliance with the SRU permit and building regulations.   Commissioner Norden voted ‘No’.   District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell added her own reservations saying she would not be interested in granting another extension beyond the six months just approved.

The Board of Commissioners also approved the transfer of a Special Review Use permit issued in 2007 to Northwest Fremont EMS for an ambulance garage located along County Road 2 (Tallahassee Road).   The permit was transferred to the Tallahassee Volunteer Fire Department which eventually hopes to take over emergency EMS ambulance service in that area.  Greg Cook of the Tallahassee Volunteers said the former Northwest EMS garage will be used to house a first responder first aid truck, a fire brush truck, and a water tanker.    Cook said the department has also brought the building into compliance with building codes.

In the only other business at the September 22nd meeting the Board of Commissioners approved the 2016 calendars for holiday observances for county buildings.   The action involved adoption of two holiday calendars, one for the buildings with eight hour work days and one for the County Administration and Garden Park buildings with ten hour work days.

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