Medical Marijuana Licensing Reviews Set

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has set the first round of meetings to deal with medical marijuana licensing (MMJ) in Fremont County after the application process began late last summer.   Among the public hearings set was one for January 13th at 10 a.m. on an Optional Premises Cultivation License for medical marijuana proposed as an indoor greenhouse grow at 1508 Fremont Street in Penrose.   The location is the former Apple Shed business.

At the December 9th regular meeting of the Commissioners the Board also voted to schedule a special meeting at 9:30 a.m., January 5th for the purpose of reviewing four applications for county MMJ licenses.   The four sites already have existing state licenses to grow medical marijuana.   The sites include JMC Enterprises (dba) Fremont Cannabis at 1505 Elm Avenue in Cañon City;  Today’s Health Care at 1934 ‘C’ Street in Penrose; High Mountain Medz (dba) Levity Wellness at 3000 County Road 103 ‘B’ south of Florence; and The Organic Seed (dba) Cannasseur at 1785 Kit Carson Trail in the Copper Gulch area southwest of Cañon City.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden noted that there is a distinct difference the way the applications will be administered.    He said because the Apple Shed location is for a newly proposed MMJ operation the applicant will have to go through a full public hearing process.   Because the other four applications set for review at the January 5th special meeting already have their state MMJ licenses, they will not be subject to a public hearing but will appear for a detailed review before the Board of Commissioners.   Norden said however that written comment from citizens is welcome for the four existing MMJ operations.   Letters or e-mails should be sent to the Fremont County Planning and Zoning Department at 615 Macon Avenue, Cañon City, CO  81212.   The e-mail address is planning@fremontco.com.

Fremont County Budget and Finance Officer Sunny Bryant shared some revenue numbers regarding marijuana which had been requested at the previous meeting.   Bryant said in 2013 medical marijuana sales taxes resulted in revenues of $39,960 and that so far in 2014 the MMJ sales taxes have yielded $55,819.   She said in 2015 the county is anticipating combined revenues of $276,000 from MMJ sales tax collections and the county permit fees.

During the open public comment portion of the December 9th meeting the Board heard more citizen concerns about marijuana.   Rich Bandlow who lives at Cotopaxi said marijuana is out of control in Fremont County and that people have lost all confidence in local government.   He said the rule of law is under attack with two forces at work.   He said those include licensed marijuana growers and those who are growing marijuana illegally.   Bandlow said the county needs to look at local inspection and enforcement.    Becky Girdler complained again about marijuana growers in the Copper Gulch area saying she believes the water haulers to marijuana grows need to be examined.

In other business at the December 9th Commissioners meeting the Board:

  • Appointed Heidi Anderson of Royal Gorge Rafting as a new member of the Fremont County Tourism Council;
  • Approved a resolution reappointing Matt Koch as the County Surveyor for the next four years since Koch did not place his name onto the November election ballot;
  • Honored Deputy County Assessor Marty Keen as the Employee of the Year;
  • Honored outgoing County Treasurer Pat McFarland for her 21 years of service to the county including the past eight years as the elected County Treasurer;
  • Approved adoption of a new county logo and seal that offers a historical depiction of John C. Fremont surveying the Royal Gorge, Arkansas River, and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains;
  • Awarded a bid to H.W. Houston Construction for renovation of the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Building into space for the new Combined Regional Communications Dispatch Center.   The renovation bid price is $649,943;
  • Heard a citizen complaint from Terry Beragree against the recent Board decision to license building contractors.  Beragree said it amounts to too much government and that the county should look at the quality of their construction not how much they know;
  • Set a public hearing on January 13th at 10 a.m. for a zone change from Ag Rural Zone to Ag Suburban Zone for Bill Kerr and Tim Ritter properties just east of the intersection of Elm Avenue and Willow Street in Lincoln Park;
  • Set another public hearing on January 13th at 10 a.m. for the Royal Gorge Paintball facility.   Michael Pond wants to operate the paintball recreational facility next to his Royal Gorge heli-pad sightseeing helicopter business on Eight Mile Hill west of Cañon City.
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Deadline Approaching for Tourism Council Grant Applications

Only a few days remain for community groups to submit applications for 2015 community promotional grants from the Fremont County Tourism Council.    The Tourism Council is accepting applications from community organizations for tourism funding allocations.

Community organizations and non-profit groups that conduct special events which attract tourists and visitors to the area are invited to submit applications for funding assistance.   The Tourism Council by-laws require that at least five percent of Fremont County lodging tax revenues each year be distributed to community groups to support their special events.  The total amount of money to be distributed will be determined by the Tourism Council as part of their 2015 budget adoption in December 2014.

Application forms are available at the Fremont County Commissioners Office at 615 Macon Ave., Room 106, in Cañon City, at the Cañon City Chamber of Commerce office, 403 Royal Gorge Boulevard, or go on-line to the county’s web site at www.fremontco.com.    Click on the funding application link found on the main page.    The application deadline for the 2015 tourism funding allocations is 4:30 p.m. Monday, December 15th at the County Commissioners Office.   The Tourism Council will not hear oral presentations for funding request.     Applicants will be notified no later than January 15th as to the distribution of funds.

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Deputy Assessor Honored as Employee of the Year

Deputy Assessor Marty Keen is congratulated by Commissioners Ed Norden, Debbie Bell, and Tim Payne Tuesday after she was named "Employee of the Year" for 2014. (photo courtesy: Carie Canterbury--Daily Record)

The Fremont County Commissioners on Tuesday honored Fremont County Deputy Assessor Marty Keen as the county’s Employee of the Year.    The honor is voted upon annually by all of the Fremont County elected officials.    Keen was one of eight employees who were nominated for the honor by fellow employees.   Keen received several letters of nomination.

The nomination letters for Keen stated her “pride in Fremont County shows” and “her years of loyal service are commendable.”

Keen has worked for the county eight years and previously worked for the county seven years.    She said she has been nominated for Employee of the Year several times, but being selected for the honor left her speechless.

“We have an awesome, awesome group here, and I do love my boss (Stacey Seifert) truly,” she said. “It’s wonderful to get up each morning and like going to work — that’s a true blessing.”

The other seven employees nominated for Employee of the Year included Aaron Broaddus—Facilities Department; Lysa Collins— Department of Human Services; David Gall—Facilities Department; Linda Leggitt—Fremont County Public Health Department; Francie Mattson—Payroll Director; Carla Roybal— Department of Human Services; and Amber Warman, Clerk & Recorders Office.

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Oil & Gas, Marijuana, Focus of Colorado Commissioners Conference

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper addressed the opening session December 2nd of Colorado Counties Winter Conference in Colorado Springs.

(Colorado Springs)—The Fremont County Commissioners along with commissioners from 59 other Colorado counties and other county officials gathered in Colorado Springs, December 1st –3rd, to attend intensive discussion panels concerning pressing issues.   The three day winter conference of the Colorado Counties Foundation featured meetings on many issues affecting Colorado counties including child welfare, transportation funding, oil & gas, marijuana regulation, TABOR and government transparency.    County officials also heard from Governor John Hickenlooper who stressed all parties working together after a difficult election.

Fremont County Commissioners Tim Payne, Debbie Bell, and Ed Norden were particularly interested in an opening session discussion amongst commissioners regarding state marijuana regulations and common problems being experienced by counties throughout the state in dealing with marijuana issues.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace shared information regarding preliminary discussion about possible legislation to be introduced in the 2015 legislative session.    Pace said of particular concern is the lack of registration of caregivers for medical marijuana patients.   He said legislation would hope to address a limit on the number of marijuana plants that a caregiver could cultivate for each patient.

The conference also saw heightened interest on both sides of the oil and gas regulatory debate as the Governor’s Oil & Gas Task Force prepares to issue its’ proposed regulations for the industry in early 2015.

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Commissioners Approve Plan to License Building Contractors

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has taken action to put into place a program to license building contractors in Fremont County to help offer a layer of protection to consumers looking to hire contractors for their home or business.   County Building Official Mike Cox said his office surveyed contractors about five years ago and they remain overwhelmingly in favor of licensing.   Cox said the licensing regulations he drafted are patterned after contractors licensing programs for Cañon City, the Pueblo County Regional Department, and the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.

Cox said the licensing fees are lower than other programs in the region.   He said the fees to be charged are intended to only reflect the department’s actual expenses of running the licensing program.   As an example he said the annual licensing fee for general contractors in Fremont County will be $75 compared to $225 now charged by Pikes Peak and $100 charged by the City of Cañon City.    Cox said the contractor licensing program will start on January 1st and will allow a six month grace period to allow contractors to become licensed no later than July 1st if they want to perform work in Fremont County.

County Attorney Brenda Jackson noted that consumers in Fremont County could still hire an unlicensed contractor but the licensing program allows consumers to recognize who is properly licensed and familiar with the county’s building code.    The contractor licensing program will not include mechanical contractors because Fremont County has never adopted a mechanical code.   Jackson said the county would have to adopt the uniform mechanical code before those contractors would have to be licensed.

Cox said once the program is up and running a comprehensive list of licensed building contractors will be available for consumers to review on the county’s web site under the office link for the County Building Department.

The November 25th meeting of the Board of Commissioners also saw the Board renew its’ annual agreement with the Upper Arkansas Recycling Program.  Once again the county will subsidize the recycling program through the UAA Council of Governments at an annual cost not to exceed $1.30 per person.   The large pale yellow recycling bins for newsprint, steel & aluminum cans, plus clear and brown glass that are located throughout eastern Fremont County are part of the UAACOG recycling program.

Also at the November 25th meeting the Commissioners approved an Energy and Mineral Impact Grant application to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to help fund Phase 2 of improving roads southwest of Florence impacted by oil and gas drilling in recent years.   The application seeks $354,750 in grant funds for the project which is projected to cost $702,699.   The county’s matching share is the use of manpower and equipment to do the road work.

Fremont County Department of Transportation Director Tony Adamic said Phase 2 of the project in 2015 will cover 2.85 miles of roadway.   The work includes 2.3 miles of paving on county roads, and just over a half mile of paving in Coal Creek and Florence.

In other business at the November 25th Commissioners’ meeting the Board:

  • Approved a road maintenance agreement with the Bureau of Land Management providing that the BLM will take over maintenance of about 2,700 feet of County Road 127 northwest of Penrose that is an important access to the Penrose Commons OHV area;
  • Approved a two year extension of the 89 lot preliminary plan for the Mesas of Sunrise Ridge development that was initially approved in 2006 but has never been developed;
  • Reappointed J.R. Phillips to the Fremont County Weed Advisory Board;
  • Ratified approval of a signed agreement with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for the Fremont County Pathfinder Park design grant.
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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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