Assessor’s Property Values in Compliance

An annual property assessment study of values and procedures used in the Fremont County Assessor’s Office has resulted in another report showing that Fremont County is in compliance with Colorado law in analyzing property values.   The report issued by the auditing firm of Wildrose Appraisal determined that Fremont County Assessor Stacey Seifert and her staff met the standards of both a procedural and statistical analysis.

The property assessment study covered the 18 month assessment period from January of 2013 through June of 2014.    The study examined procedures the Assessor’s Office used in classifying and valuing commercial property, residential property, agricultural land, vacant land, personal property, and natural resources.   In all categories the audit report found the Fremont County Assessor’s Office to be substantially compliant.    The audit report found compliance in analyzing values of the 784 qualified residential properties sold during that 18 month period, the 35 commercial and industrial sales, and the 117 qualified sales of vacant land.

The assessment study said that Fremont County was tested for the equal treatment of sold and unsold properties to ensure that “sales chasing” had not occurred.    After the auditor used three methods to test those values the report concluded that Fremont County is reasonably treating its’ sold and unsold properties in the same manner.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden said it’s important that the citizens of Fremont County recognize that not only does the audit report reflect the fact that Seifert’s Office is complying with state law, but is applying equal and fair treatment to their property values across the county.

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Commissioners Seek to Resolve west Fremont Ambulance Dispute

A dispute among ambulance providers in western Fremont County that lingered in the courts the last two years took center stage before the Fremont County Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.   Ambulances from both Deer Mountain Fire District and Arkansas Valley Ambulance (AVA) have been jointly dispatched to the same calls over the past five months after the two agencies could not settle their territorial differences.   That resulted in ambulances racing to calls thereby jeopardizing patients and crews.

Following a 2 ½ hour public hearing on whether to amend, suspend, or revoke the licenses for both agencies the Board of Commissioners sought to strike a compromise.   The commissioners voted to adopted a map proposed by Deer Mountain that would have the Deer Mountain ambulance respond to all calls within its’ district along with everything north of Cotopaxi off of County Road 12 and everything east into the Texas Creek area.    After listening to officials from AVA describe their struggles to recover financially, Commission Chairman Ed Norden said the boundaries will allow time for AVA to rebuild their operation, recover financially, and train more EMT’s to respond to calls.   Norden said if AVA is able to train more EMT’s to raise their level of service from Basic Life Support (BLS) to Advanced Life Support (ALS) then AVA could make a pitch at license renewal time next April to adjust the boundaries.

The boundaries that were adopted basically gives AVA a service area through the Howard and Coaldale areas to the western edge of the Deer Mountain Fire District.   Norden said after hearing from so many Howard and Coaldale residents that they did want Jay DeMay answering their calls for an ambulance the boundaries set out by the commissioners will assure them that AVA will respond to their calls.    DeMay formerly operated with AVA and was a former board member who now serves with Deer Mountain as Assistant Fire Chief.

As part of the motion to adopt designated response areas the commissioners also stated that it comes with the expectation that Deer Mountain will continue to staff their Cotopaxi location with medical personnel every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; that both AVA and Deer Mountain notify dispatch if they are out of service or report whether they are responding as BLS or ALS; that AVA come current on delinquent bills for dispatching fees, a license fee, and medical director’s fees; and that if AVA seeks to secure another medical director that they provide notice to the Board of Commissioners as well as written authorization from a new medical director.

Commissioner Norden said that given the decades of challenges to operate ambulance service in western Fremont County he is glad to finally hear that part of the discussion taking place in the Howard and Coaldale area is pursuit of a long range solution through creation of a taxpayer supported ambulance district.   District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell concluded by making it clear that “professionalism amongst every single one of you, every single minute, of every single day” is the expectation of the Board of Commissioners.

Also at the marathon commissioners’ meeting the Board issued its’ findings in adopting a resolution denying a modification of premises for Today’s Health Care which operates a medical marijuana facility at 934 ‘C’ Street in Penrose.   Total Health Care sought to add another five greenhouses to their existing three greenhouse cultivation.   Among the findings adopted in the resolution, the Board found that the applicant’s claim that they do not plan to increase the number of plants being grown was not credible.   The Board also found that while the applicant claimed the five new greenhouses would employ the latest odor control technology, they in fact would rely on the same odor control system now in place.

In other business Tuesday the commissioners:

  • Approved a Special Events Liquor License for Equine Lameness Prevention Inc. which would operate a beer garden at the Penrose Park on Apple Day October 1st on behalf of the Penrose Park and Recreation District;
  • Re-appointed Marvin Dornhecker as an alternate to the county Board of Building Code Appeals for another three-year term;
  • Approved a 12-month extension for submittal of contingency items for the Mountaindale Campground zone change;
  • Approved another minor language change to a paragraph in the intergovernmental agreement for the Combined Regional Dispatch Center dealing with repayment of funds to Fremont County for money spent to build and equip the center.
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Electronics Recycling in Cañon City

Upper Arkansas Recycling, your regional recycling program, is partnering with Fremont County to host a special recycling collection event in Cañon City on September 17, 2016. During the event, Fremont County residents will be able to recycle a wide variety of electronics-from televisions and stereos to computers, for a fee.

Prices vary, but on average it will cost about $5 to recycle any “desk top” item (printers, cpu, laptop, vacuums). Monitors will average $15. Televisions will be recycled at this event; the cost is $1 per inch-(measured diagonally). This is a SUBSTANTIAL discount for television recycling-(normal cost would be over $2.00/inch). All hard drives recycled will be shredded to ensure the privacy of residents who participate and we have taken the necessary steps to insure that the electronics will be recycled in a responsible manner.

The event will be held in the parking lot of Bank of the San Juans Depot Office, 816 Royal Gorge Boulevard (corner of 9th and Highway 50), in Cañon City and will run from 10:00 a.m. through 2:00 p.m. For more information, please contact Beth with Upper Arkansas Recycling, 719.275-1675. You can also find more information on the Upper Arkansas Recycling Facebook Page.

Because consumers have to pay often steep prices to recycle TV’s and computer equipment, the Board of Commissioners decided to budget $7,500 in 2016 to help subsidize the consumer cost of electronic recycling.    $2,500 was spent in April on a similar electronics recycling event in Florence where 10,560 pounds of electronic equipment was collected.   Over half of it—6,254 pounds were old television sets.     The other $5,000 in budgeted county funds are being used for the September 17th electronics recycling 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.   The Tourism Council develops and administers a Tourism Marketing Plan for Fremont County utilizing the proceeds from the Fremont County Lodging Tax.

Heidi Anderson, currently employed by Royal Gorge Rafting and Zip Line Tours, is leaving the board before her term expires. The term runs through Jan. 1, 2018.

Employment or ownership in a local tourism-related business will be a determining factor in the appointment by the Commissioners.

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 contact information. They 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 12 noon Thursday, Sept. 22.

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Commissioners Deny Penrose Marijuana Expansion

The Fremont County Commissioners voted at their August 23rd regular meeting to deny an application for expansion of a medical marijuana cultivation facility in Penrose.   Today’s Health Care at 934 C Street in Penrose was seeking to build another five greenhouses in addition to the three existing greenhouses on the site.  Facility Manager Kyle Wendland told the commissioners the request for five additional greenhouses on the site was not an effort to increase plant count, but rather to make operations more efficient and provide more odor mitigation.   Wendland said they are trying to add a lot more plants, but trying to spread them out and have less concentration in the greenhouses so odor mitigation will be more effective.    Wendland said Today’s Health Care currently cultivates 2,000 marijuana plants for 33 patients.

Several Penrose residents spoke in opposition to the expansion complaining about marijuana odors from the operation and trash and debris piling up against neighboring properties.   Barb Elliott told the commissioners, “I don’t buy their plant count story.”   District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell made the motion to deny the expansion saying that she believes Penrose residents have already absorbed enough from medical marijuana grow operations.   Today’s Health attorney Dennis Linden argued that the greenhouse expansion is a permitted use in the agricultural zone and noted that code enforcement officers have never cited the operation for odor violations.  The commissioner’s motion to deny indicated that findings on the action would be stated at the board’s September 13th meeting.

The commissioners also voted at the August 23rd meeting to renew a Temporary Use Permit for Diana’s Pumpkin Patch at 1649 Poplar Avenue which will operate from September 17th through October 31st.    Sue Madone again addressed concerns from neighbors about parking along the narrow streets in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.   Madone said with the off street parking they have created plus parking on the right of way along their property they have 225 parking spaces available.   The fall festival event has grown annually and the parking problems have prompted some neighbors to repeatedly call the Sheriff.    Madone said the event is hugely popular for kids and families.   She noted that this year their corn maze is one of 19 corn mazes across the nation to have corporate sponsorship from Culver’s Restaurants.   It is the only site in Colorado being sponsored by Culver’s this year.

The commissioners also reviewed the 2015 county audit report with auditor John Cutler of Cutler and Associates.    Cutler addressed with the commissioners an issue raised again in the auditor’s management letter in which he noted that the County Treasurer’s Office continues to manually perform several bank reconciliations outside of the County’s financial software system.    He said they also urged that the Treasurer consult with the financial system consultant to correct the clerical error that is causing system cash reconciliation error.

The commissioners addressed the matter with County Treasurer Kathy Elliott during the meeting and noted that this is the second consecutive year that the auditor has called out the reconciliation error.   Board Chairman Ed Norden said the commissioners would expect that the error be corrected for the current year and that the Treasurer’s Office undertake the necessary training to reconcile county cash transactions within the software system.

In other business at the August 23rd meeting the commissioners:

  • Set a formal hearing for 10 a.m. on September 13th to review performance under the ambulance licenses held by Deer Mountain Fire District and Arkansas Valley Ambulance and discuss ongoing conflicts between the two agencies;
  • Gave final second reading approval to an ordinance amending certain provisions that regulate cultivation of marijuana by property owners and caregivers.   Among the amendments, in order for a property owner to be allowed to grow up to 99 marijuana plants on ten or more acres they must be at least a 50 percent owner of the property in question;
  • Voted to suspend fire restrictions upon recommendation of the Sheriff due to recent rainfall;
  • Awarded a bid to Maxwell Asphalt of Salt Lake City to perform work on the Fremont County Airport runway maintenance project.   The total project cost is $312,353.   The Federal Aviation Administration pays 90 percent of the cost;
  • Awarded a bid to Patch Construction in the amount of $24,561 to hook up utilities at the Fremont County Airport for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention’s new offices;
  • Approved a lease agreement with the City of Florence for $750 a month for temporary use of commercial kitchen facilities at Florence City Hall while the Sheriff’s jail laundry and kitchen renovation project is underway;
  • Ratified a vote of approval to sign the contract with Nunn Construction in the amount of $2,591,000 for the jail renovation;
  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Cañon City which will allow the city to erect communications equipment on the roof of the Fremont County Judicial Building which is part of the city’s electronic monitoring of utility systems.
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DA’s Office Seeks Mid-Year Budget Hike of $100,000

11th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Molly Chilson made a public plea for mid-year budget help to the Fremont County Board of Commissioners at their August 9th meeting.   Commission Chairman Ed Norden noted that Chilson and District Attorney Thom LeDoux had asked for another $100,000 over three months ago in order to hire another Assistant District Attorney.    Norden said the county commissioners in the four counties of Fremont, Park, Chaffee, and Custer did not appear inclined to consider such a request in the middle of the budget year and would rather discuss the request as part of the DA’S 2017 budget.   Norden said no formal budget hearing was necessary to consider the request but since Chilson had sought a public audience before the board, the commissioners wanted to afford her that opportunity.

Chilson explained that the $100,000 supplemental budget was important at mid-year to address a pending cold case murder investigation in Chaffee County.   Chilson said another attorney is needed to handle the investigation of the cold case of Salida resident Beverly England who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1980.    Chilson said the intent was to empanel a grand jury.   Chilson also cited statistics of the increased number of cases the DA’s office is faced with prosecuting across the four counties.   She said the DA’s Office has seen an 84 percent increase in prosecution of felony crimes since 2010.   She noted that the legislature has increased funding to the Colorado Public Defender’s Office by 54 percent in recent years while funding for the DA has remained flat.

Chairman Norden noted that commissioners in the four counties gave the DA’s Office a nine percent budgetary increase for the current budget year.   Norden later told a reporter “We gave them a nine percent increase, they ask for another $100,000, and now they say they will face a $100,000 revenue loss in 2017 because they won’t collect fees for providing evidentiary documents to others.”   Norden said with Fremont County picking up 55 percent of the DA’s Office total budget a $200,000 request in 2017 would cost Fremont County $110,000.    Norden said there is no way the county could shift $110,000 to the District Attorney without it impacting other county departments.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell told Chilson that given the age of the cold case she didn’t feel the investigation could be harmed by waiting until the four counties discussed the 2017 budget this fall.   But Chilson said if they cannot pursue prosecution of the cold case now it will not be fruitful next year.   Chilson said however that because of the integrity of the investigation she could not publicly discussed the reasons why.

Also at the August 9th board meeting the commissioners approved an ordinance amending certain parts of an ordinance approved two months ago regulating the cultivation of marijuana by individuals and medical marijuana caregivers.   County Attorney Brenda Jackson explained that one amendment removes a restriction on property owners.   She said the original ordinance allowed caregivers to grow on a patient’s property but prohibited the patient from growing themselves.   That restriction was removed.   The original ordinance also allowed the cultivation of 99 medical marijuana plants if a person was growing on parcels of more than 10 acres and is also the owner of the property.    The amendment clarifies that ownership must be at least 50 percent majority ownership.

The commissioners also adopted a proclamation for the Fremont Fall Heritage Festival with events to be observed from September 10th through October 15th.    Mary Chamberlain of the Fremont County Heritage Commission reported that the Heritage Commission is also planning to print an Agricultural Heritage Guide for the county along with an Agri-Tourism Directory in the spring of 2017.  She said that the Fremont County Heritage website (www.fremontheritage.com) continues to be popular with over 7,000 visits this year to date.

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Commissioners Award Bid for Jail Renovation

The long awaited renovation of kitchen and laundry facilities at the Fremont County Jail will begin August 29th after a construction bid was awarded at a special meeting.     The Fremont County Board of Commissioners met in special session on August 4th and awarded a bid of $2,592,288 to Nunn Construction of Colorado Springs.   Fremont County Manager Sunny Bryant said Nunn was one of two contractors that bid on the project and their original bid of $2.64 million was the low bid.    Bryant said that after interviews with both contractors by the architect, the Sheriff, and other county officials some items were eliminated and other prices negotiated to settle on the final bid price.

The jail renovation is no small undertaking since food and laundry service for the jail inmates must continue while the kitchen and laundry areas are being renovated.    Sheriff Jim Beicker said he has worked out an arrangement with the Department of Corrections to handle inmate laundry.   Beicker said a lease has also been arranged with the City of Florence for the jail’s food service contractor to temporarily relocate to the full commercial kitchen facilities in the basement of the Florence Municipal Building.   Those commercial kitchen facilities were part of the former St. Joseph’s Hospital.

There will some other costs associated with the jail renovation.   The county will have to buy a truck for transporting inmate meals from Florence to the jail three times every day.   Undersheriff Ty Martin estimates there will also be some extra security costs associated with keeping the construction area inside the jail secure during the estimated four month construction period.

Renovation of the jail’s kitchen and laundry facilities was among the capital improvement priorities outlined by the Sheriff when he asked voters to approve a one cent sales tax increase three years ago.

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Commissioners Approve Amended Dispatch Agreement

In a brief regular meeting for the Fremont County Board of Commissioners on July 26th the Board approved an amended intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for operation of the FreCom Joint Dispatch Center.   The countywide E 9-1-1 dispatch center opened on the fourth floor of the Fremont County Judicial Center one year ago.   County Attorney Brenda Jackson said the original IGA was the basis for getting all of the governmental entities together to get the dispatch center operational.    Jackson said it was always the intent to revisit the IGA once the center was operational and fine tune some of the language in the agreement.

The five entities that partnered to form the dispatch center IGA are Fremont County, the City of Cañon City, the City of Florence, the Cañon City Area Fire Protection District, and the Fremont County E 9-1-1 Authority.   Jackson said the only significant changes to the IGA are dates.   She said the agreement didn’t shift any sharing of the financial obligations and that the method to determine percentages for cost sharing will remain the obligation of the five member joint governing board.   After a full year of operation she said it will now be easier for the governing board to look at real data and determine the distribution of calls for service between the users of the dispatch center.

Smaller fire districts and other first responders who are not party to the IGA are billed quarterly for dispatching based on the number of calls for service.   The City of Florence, Cañon City Fire District, and the E 9-1-1 Authority have also approved the amended IGA.   The Cañon City Council must still take action to also approve the agreement.

In other business at the July 26th meeting the Board of Commissioners:

  • Adopted a resolution expressing appreciation for support shown by Chaffee County officials and citizens in offering aid to Fremont County residents impacted by the Hayden Pass wildfire.   Animals displaced by the wildfire were transported to temporary holding pens at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds at Poncha Springs;
  • Reappointed Byron Alsup to another three year term on the Fremont County Planning Commission;
  • Reappointed Brian Rupp to the Fremont County Board of Building Code Appeals for another three year term.
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Commissioners Support “Raise the Bar” Amendment

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has gone on record in support of an amendment to make it more difficult to amend Colorado’s constitution.   A petition drive was launched this summer by a group of government and civic leaders to place a question on Colorado’s November ballot.  “Raise the Bar—Protect Our Constitution” would raise the threshold for voter approval of a constitutional amendment from the current 50 percent plus one vote to 55 percent.

In addition, those who want a constitutional amendment would have to obtain at least 2 percent of the signatures from residents in every one of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts. Currently, both statutory and constitutional amendments can get on the ballot with 5 percent of signatures that can be fully collected along the state’s populous Front Range. That leaves out the voices of people on the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains.

Several supporters note that the U.S. Constitution has just 27 amendments. But the Colorado constitution now has 150, dealing with issues that can and do change.   County Commission Chairman Ed Norden concurred with that view questioning why Colorado voters put such amendments in the Constitution that ban large hog farms and spring bear hunts.

Supporters also point out that trouble occurs when the Constitution gets cluttered with conflicting amendments that, once approved, cannot be readily changed. The most notorious example of this is the constitutional and budgetary clash between the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits Colorado’s revenue and Amendment 23, which requires increased investment in K-12 education. These and other constitutional prescriptions have made a mess of Colorado’s budget and hamstrung lawmakers’ efforts to fulfill their obligations.

In the resolution adopted at their July 12th regular meeting the commissioners noted that there is no incentive to seek a statutory change as opposed to a constitutional amendment since the standard to change both is the same.   The resolution also points out that the ease of amending Colorado’s constitution leaves the state vulnerable to out of state special interest groups.   The commissioners adopted the resolution in support of “Raise the Bar” by a unanimous vote.

The Board of Commissioners also approved ratification of their signatures on a letter of support for the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District which is pursuing state grant funding to conduct a Phase 2 water study in the Upper Arkansas River drainage basin.   Phase one of the project was initiated several years ago to study the Salida and Buena Vista region.    Phase Two of the water study will focus on Custer and Fremont Counties.   District 1 Commissioner Tim Payne said one of the key pieces in the Phase 2 study will be to examine the possibility of underground water storage by pumping surface water into underground cavities.

In other business at the July 12th meeting the Board of Commissioners:

  • Approved the change of operator and change of name for three quarries in Fremont County operating under conditional use permits.   Martin-Marietta is the new operator of the three quarries which include the Red Canyon Quarry near the Fremont-El Paso County line, the Rocky Mountain Materials Penrose Pit along Highway 120 two miles east of the junction with Highway 115, and the Rocky Mountain Materials Coyote Ridge Quarry along Highway 67 just south of County Road 100;
  • Appointed Bill McDowell of Atmos Energy to the Southern Colorado Economic Development District;
  • Heard an annual report on activities at the John C. Fremont Library in Florence.
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DHS Food Assistance Staff Honored for Proficiency

Fremont DHS SNAP Program employees were celebrated Tuesday with this award for their efficiency in meeting timely delivery of SNAP services and benefits

Fremont County Department of Human Services employees who work in the Food Assistance Department were presented with a timeliness award by state officials on Tuesday.   Colorado SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Program Specialist Carol Spink and two other program specialists from the Colorado Department of Human Services traveled to Cañon City to present the award in person.

Spink saluted the Fremont County SNAP (previously known as Food Stamps) program staff for their proficiency in meeting federal and state standards in timely delivery of benefits.   Spink said that from May, 2015 through May, 2016 the Fremont SNAP Department met or exceeded the 95% compliance rate in timeliness of services.

Colorado State SNAP Program Specialist Carol Spink (left) presents the timeliness award Tuesday to Fremont County's SNAP Program Supervisor Wanda Embry and County DHS Director Steve Clifton

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