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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Commissioners Impose Fire Ban at Sheriff’s Request

Hot and dry conditions which have contributed to the Hayden Pass wildfire at Coaldale have now prompted the Fremont County Board of Commissioners to impose a fire ban at the request of Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker.   A resolution to impose a fire ban was added to the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting agenda Tuesday morning.    Sheriff Beicker told the commissioners that in light of the Hayden Pass wildfire he has become more aware of low moisture content in wildfire fuels across the county.    Beicker told the Board, “We don’t need another fire event and the long range forecast shows very little moisture”.

Beicker said he intends to have further conversations with the local fire districts and the Bureau of Land Management in an effort to make sure everyone is on the same page.   Beicker said he is initially imposing Stage 1 fire restrictions which prohibits all agricultural burning, all fireworks and explosives.  Campfires are only permitted within developed campgrounds.   Use of charcoal grills are prohibited in undeveloped areas and use of gas grills are allowed only in areas free of flammable vegetation.   Stage One first restrictions also prohibit outdoor smoking and discarding of cigarette butts from any vehicle is also strictly prohibited.   The restrictions apply to all unincorporated areas of Fremont County and went into effect immediately.

County commissioners in Park and Teller County imposed fire bans yesterday and the Custer County Board of Commissioners is also expected to consider imposing a fire ban this week.   A detailed list of what’s prohibited and what’s allowed under Stage 1 fire restrictions can be reviewed on the home page of Fremont County’s web site at www.fremontco.com.

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Commissioners OK Hayden Pass Wildfire Disaster Declaration

The Hayden Pass wildfire had already consumed nearly 14,000 acres by late Monday evening when this photo was taken. At times it appeared as if the intense cloud of heat and smoke was generating its own weather

In an effort to prepare for the worst but hoping for the best, the Fremont County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution at Tuesday morning’s regular meeting declaring a local disaster in the wake of the Hayden Park wildfire.    The disaster declaration makes note of the fact that as of the time the resolution was adopted over 14,000 acres of Sangre De Cristo wilderness in western Fremont County had already burnt.

The resolution also notes that the wildfire is not yet contained and continues to pose a threat to at least 206 structures in the vicinity in and around the Coaldale area.   The intent behind adoption of the disaster declaration is to better position Fremont County to tap into federal emergency disaster assistance should conditions worsen.

Just prior to Tuesday morning’s regular meeting the Board of Commissioners had a briefing on the wildfire from Christy Coleman of the Colorado Office of Homeland Security, Fremont County Emergency Management Director Steve Morrisey, and Sheriff Jim Beicker.   Coleman indicated that having an emergency disaster declaration in place would help expedite paperwork if federal disaster assistance is needed.

Sheriff Beicker told the commissioners that several people in the Fox Creek subdivision refused to evacuate Monday afternoon.   He said 47 large animals plus a number of goats and chickens have been evacuated to the Chaffee County Fairgrounds near Poncha Springs.   Beicker said an area he is particularly concerned about is the Eagle Peaks subdivision south of Cotopaxi which could be threatened if the wildfire continues to push southeastward towards Custer County.

Beicker said the Rocky Mountain Type 2 Fire Management Team will continue to be in charge of managing the fire.   The team is headquartered at the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station just east of Salida.    It’s expected at some point the management team will conduct a community meeting for residents in the Coaldale and Howard area.

With such a large fire, steep terrain, and difficult weather conditions, one of the fire team leaders told all the cooperating agencies at Monday evening’s initial briefing, “Be patient, it’s going to be a long process”.

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County Petitions Cañon City to Annex Part of Dozier Avenue

As construction gets underway on a roundabout and realignment of Dozier Avenue with US Highway 50 at the east edge of Cañon City, the Fremont County Commissioners approved a petition at their June 28th meeting to annex part of Dozier Avenue into Cañon City-city limits.    While Fremont County is petitioning for the annexation the City of Cañon City actually requested the annexation in order to secure the necessary grant funding for the project.

Since the City of Cañon City applied for the grant the Colorado Department of Transportation requires that the project area be under the jurisdiction of the City.    The annexation of Dozier Avenue from Highway 50 north to the intersection with Glenmoor Road enables the City to meet that requirement.  The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the petition to the City of Cañon City requesting the annexation.  Construction of the roundabout began Tuesday with traffic flow from Dozier Avenue eventually to be directed eastward to a new intersection aligning with Steinmeier Avenue on the south side of the highway.

In the only other business to come before the commissioners at their June 28th regular meeting the Board received a petition from Four Mile area resident Joseph DeCook urging the county and City of Cañon City to make safety improvements to the intersection of East Main and Rhodes Avenue.   DeCook’s petition carried the names of 64 residents in the area of Sierra Court, Countryside Court, White Pine Court, and Sparton Drive.    DeCook said 98 percent of the people he contacted enthusiastically signed the petition.

The petition points out that Cañon City and Fremont County have been aware of the safety hazard at East Main and Rhodes Avenue for over ten years and that nothing has been done to solve the problem.   The petition demands that the problem be solved now.

The commissioners told DeCook that money is the biggest obstacle to improving the intersection because it is much more complicated than a simple fix by widening.   Those complications include securing private property on the southwest corner, a railroad crossing that sits a few feet away that cannot be moved, and the biggest issue is that of the existing irrigation ditch and stormwater drainage.    City Engineer Adam Lancaster told the commissioners previously that the Oil Creek Ditch Company may balk at any drainage improvements affecting their ditch water.    Lancaster said improving the intersection would also require dealing with stormwater that crosses under Highway 50 and will have to drain to the river.

The commissioners told DeCook they will continue to explore options for improving the intersection but without securing a grant the project could be cost prohibitive.

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June News by Views

Commission Chairman Ed Norden presents the $5,000 check to kick off the COSI Scholarship funding to Fremont County Foundation members (left to right:) John Marietta, Pam Marietta, and Dan Brown

Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden presented a $5,000 check to the Fremont Community Foundation to initiate fundraising for the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) in Fremont County.   The Colorado Department of Higher Education has made $50,000 available to Fremont County through a 1:1 match for every dollar raised locally.   The COSI scholarships will be made available to qualifying low income students in the county.   If you’d like to contribute to the COSI scholarship fund and have every dollar of your donation matched 1:1, mail your contribution to the Fremont Community Foundation at 901 Main Street, Cañon City.    For more information contact County Commissioner Ed Norden.

Linda Leggitt prepares to cut a cake on her last day of work at Fremont County Public Health after 26 years of service to the county.

The Board of County Commissioners and co-workers honored Linda Leggitt with a reception on June 16th.   Linda retired from her position as Office Manager at Fremont County Public Health Department.    Linda served for 26 years with Fremont County Public Health.

Fremont County Airport personnel refuel the skycrane helicopter that spent a night at the airport before heading north

A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter overnighted at the Fremont County Airport on June 23rd.   The large wildland firefighting apparatus was enroute to the Black Hills to help fight a large wildfire near Spearfish, South Dakota.  The Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane is an American twin-engine heavy-lift helicopter that drafts water from streams and lakes into its’ large tank.

Colorado Civil Air Patrol Operations Section Chief Major Von Campbell details training missions to Fremont County officials last Sunday

Volunteers with the Colorado Civil Air Patrol (CAP) were at the Fremont County Airport June 25th and 26th conducting operational training missions.   The CAP has a complete operations center in a modular unit at the Fremont County Airport that was installed several years ago for the StarFire Squadron of the CAP.   Fremont County is one of only two sites in Colorado where a permanent CAP operational center is located.    Fremont County Commissioners Debbie Bell and Ed Norden along with County Emergency Management Director Steve Morrisey visited during the training session on Sunday.

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Summer Paving & Chip Seal Work Underway

Crews worked through the searing heat during early June on Oak Creek Grade south of Canon City

Crews with the Fremont County Department of Transportation are spending a full month’s time this summer performing asphalt paving and chip seal projects on various county roads.    Work started the first full week in June paving nearly 1 ½ miles of road on Oak Creek Grade and Forge Road south of Cañon City.   Crews then laid asphalt on ¾ mile of roadway on Ute Street and Rhodes Avenue at the east edge of Cañon City.    Because of budget limitations those are the only roads getting new asphalt overlays in 2016.

Much of the summer road construction work deals with chip and seal projects.   During the last week of June crews put down a new coat of chip seal on County Road 28 which is also known as Road Gulch in the Copper Gulch area.    Chip seal operations will be conducted on County Road 1A south of Cotopaxi during early July.     If weather cooperates the crews will perform chip seal on North and South Broadway through Penrose on July 13th and 14th.

Residents along Oak Creek Grade and in the Dawson Ranch and Wolf Park subdivisions south of Canon City are enjoying new pavement on Oak Creek Grade and Forge Road courtesy of the Fremont County Road Department

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