Sheriff’s Deputy Levels Pay Accusations against Commissioners

Acknowledging that he appreciated a pay raise of 33 percent after voters approved a one cent sales tax increase for the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department, Deputy C.J. Youngs said the Fremont County Commissioners acted unethically by adopting a pay plan that was contrary to what Youngs claimed was previously promised.   Youngs argued in an appearance before the Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting that he should have gotten another raise for his 10 year anniversary last March but did not because the Board of Commissioners adopted an alternate pay plan to give pay step increases after 4, 8, and 12 years of service instead of increases at 4, 7, 10, 15, and 20 years of service.

Commission Chairman Ed Norden told Youngs that when the Board adopts a pay plan it is for all county employees.   Norden said the county is not about to set up a different pay plan for the Sheriff’s Department or any other county department.   He said a county pay plan will treat all employees the same.   Youngs accused the Commissioners of lying to the Sheriff, deputies, and the voters.   He said it was unethical in his view for the Board to start charging the Sheriff for his own utilities and redistributing that money among other departments for personnel costs.  By doing so Youngs charged that the Commissioners removed the Sheriff’s pay scale and balanced the budget on the backs of deputies.

Those allegations brought a quick retort from Commissioner Norden who explained to Youngs that if he had done his research he would have found that for many years the county’s General Fund had paid the costs of the Sheriff’s utilities, maintenance, and supplies.   Norden said there were several years when the Sheriff operated with budget shortfalls and it was a case of the Commissioners either budgeting to pay the Sheriff’s utility and maintenance costs each year or having to cover those budget shortfalls from the General Fund at year’s end.

Norden continued to point out to Youngs that the 4-8-12 years of service pay plan the Board adopted was done so because “this Board of Commissioners acted responsibly to the voters by looking into the future and the county did not have the dollars to support the pay plan Youngs claimed was promised to deputies”.   Norden said those benchmarks were established for all employees and by not singling out one group of employees versus another.  Norden concluded, “We have a fiduciary responsibility to every employee and every taxpayer in this county as to how we handle those dollars”.

District 2 Commissioner Bell took particular exception to the allegations charged by Youngs.  Bell told Youngs, “I do not appreciate the opinion that we lied to anyone or that we lack transparency.  I believe this Board has been more transparent, more honest, and more open with the public and our employees than any other board in recent history.”

Russ Hickman, Regional President of the Fraternal Order of Police, spoke in support of Youngs’ issue saying he represents several deputies who share the same concerns about the county’s pay plan for deputies.   Hickman said whatever the Commissioners did to hold back pay from the deputies should be discussed with them.   Commissioner Norden told Hickman that protocol would require him to first address his concerns with Sheriff Beicker regarding pay and personnel and then if the Sheriff shares those concerns he could bring them to the Board.  Hickman said he wants to see what the Commissioners are going to do before deciding if he wants to pursue the issue from a legal point of view.

Reacting to Hickman’s allegation that the Board of Commissioners are holding back a pay increase for the Sheriff’s deputies, Commissioner Bell told Hickman, “I would submit that giving anyone a 33 percent pay increase, we are not holding anything back”.

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BLM Seeking Comment on Bark Beetle Treatment in Fremont County

Mountain Bark Beetles have devastated thousands of acres of timber across Colorado and the mountain west. The beetle is beginning to make stronger inroads into western Fremont County

The Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office is seeking public comment on an environmental assessment for a forestry project to treat bark beetle infested areas in Fremont County.

BLM Field Manager Keith Berger said the purpose of the project is to reduce the threat to public safety and infrastructure posed by beetle-killed trees in travel corridors and other high-risk areas as well as provide for resilient forests and diverse wildlife habitats.  Berger said. “The project will also help us reduce the risk of severe wildfires and subsequent erosion and watershed damage.”

The Northwest Fremont Bark Beetle Salvage project is scheduled to take place on approximately 2,900 acres in northwestern Fremont County near Stoney Face, Waugh, and Jack Hall mountains. The environmental assessment analyzes three alternatives in detail that span from the effect of taking no action to salvaging dead and dying spruce trees to additional removal of green spruce at risk of beetle infestation. Activities under consideration include commercial timber harvest, non-commercial timber management and prescribed fire.

The preliminary environmental assessment and maps of the project area are posted on the BLM’s website at www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/rgfo/planning/rgfo_bark_beetle_project.html.  Comments on the project can be sent to the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office, Attn: Ken Reed, 3028 East Main Street, Canon City, CO 81212, or email: rgfo_comments@blm.gov with “Spruce Beetle EA” in the subject line.   The BLM requests that comments be submitted by August 31st.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—will be publicly available at any time.  While you can request in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, the BLM cannot guarantee that they will be able to do so.

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Plague Confirmed in Prairie Dog Die Off Near Florence

Sudden inactivity in a prairie dog colony near the Colorado State Veterans Home south of Florence raised concerns of a die off due to plague.

The presence of plague has been confirmed in Fremont County following a die off of a prairie dog colony on the south edge of Florence.  The Fremont County Board of Health (County Commissioners) was informed Monday that Environmental Health Officer Sid Darden was called to investigate last week after people along Moore Drive south of Florence noticed inactivity in a normally busy prairie dog colony.   Suspecting a potential die-off possibly due to the plague, Darden investigated and collected fleas from prairie dog holes and dead animals.   All fleas collected tested positive for the plague.

This is the first time in several years that Fremont County has had confirmed plague. At this time there are no reported domestic animal or human cases.

Fremont County Department of Public Health & Environment has these suggestions to keep yourself safe:

•           As plague is transmitted by fleas, protect pets with flea powder and keep pets on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats.

•           Stay out of areas that rodents inhabit such as prairie dog colonies. If you enter areas with rodents, wear insect repellent and tuck pant cuffs into socks to prevent flea bites.

•           Keep outside trash cans tightly covered.

•           Do not touch or pick up sick, dead or dying animals.

•           Prevent rodent infestations around your house: clear brush, rock piles, cluttered firewood and other materials away from outside walls, restrict rodent access to food items such as dog or cat food.

•           Be watchful for any unusual rodent die-off in your area.

•           Do not attempt to catch, feed, handle or exterminate prairie dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits or other wild animals.

Symptoms of plague infection in humans include a high fever, chills, headache, extreme fatigue and tender or swollen lymph glands. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor at once.

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Commissioners Set Hearing Date for Dinosaur Center

A commercial development plan for a new tourist attraction on 8-mile hill west of Cañon City has been set for a public hearing by the Fremont County Board of Commissioners.    Plans for the Dinosaur Center proposed by Dave and Zach Reynolds secured a recommendation of approval from the Fremont County Planning Commission on July 7th.   On Tuesday the Board of Commissioners announced that a public hearing on the development plan for the new attraction will take place at the Board’s regular meeting on August 11th at 10 a.m.    Also set for public hearing on August 11th is a zone change request from Business Zone to Agricultural Estates on a parcel of property along Copper Gulch Road in the Colorado Acres area.   Jaime Kelly and Craig Scheer want the simple zone change so they can build a house on the property.

Following a public hearing at Tuesday’s regular board meeting the Commissioners voted to approve a conditional use permit (CUP) for Vaughn Byrd doing business as B & B Septage Treatment.   The permit is for renewal of an existing CUP for Byrd to treat septic waste in a tank and once treated the septage is spread on the prairie across the 40 acre site.   Dr. Angela Bellantoni of Environmental Alternatives assured the commissioners that following treatment of the sewage there is no concern regarding oversaturation of the soils on site.   With that assurance the commissioners agreed to replace Byrd’s existing 10 year permit with a “life of the use” permit.

Dr. John Kearney gave a presentation to the Board on the Colorado Mission of Mercy (COMOM) dental charity event scheduled in Cañon City at the Harrison School on Friday and Saturday, August 14th and 15th.   COMOM began in Colorado in 2007 and once a year some 200 dentists from across Colorado gather to offer free dental care services to patients who otherwise cannot afford a dentist or have neglected dental care.    The dentists will see some 1,500 patients over the two days at the event which will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.   Dr. Kearney said a massive number of volunteers from the community are needed to help pull off the event.   If you’re interested in helping you should visit the event website at www.comom.org.

In other business at the July 14th meeting the commissioners:

  • Agreed to support the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments’ housing rehabilitation program for low and moderate income families in the county by reducing building permit fees by $100 on each permit;
  • Approved the hotel and restaurant liquor license renewal for Crossroads Bar & Grill at Highways 50 & 115 at Penrose.   The owner has the property for sale but wants to keep the liquor license active;
  • Voted to abandon a water tap behind the county’s Garden Park Building since the city took over the water tap to be used to water the new green area on Macon Avenue by the Fine Arts Center;
  • Reappointed Michael Pullen to the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustment;
  • Approved a subdivision variance for Dale Boysen on his property along County Road 3A on the way to the Royal Gorge.  The variance allows Boysen to take ownership of a small triangular outlot that adjoins his curio shop as long as it continues to be used only for parking and signage.
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Colorado DOLA Director Visits Dispatch Center

Colorado Deparment of Local Affairs Executive Director Irv Halter (second from right) listens to Canon City Fire Chief Dave Delvecchio detail the effort that has gone into getting the new 9-1-1 dispatch center open. Joining the tour (to Halter's left) were Dispatch Supervisor Kris Meredith and Undersheriff Ty Martin.

Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Executive Director Irv Halter toured Fremont County’s new combined regional dispatch center as part of a visit with local officials in Cañon City on July 16th.    Halter and DOLA Regional Director Christy Culp joined the monthly luncheon meeting of local governmental managers for a discussion on a variety of issues impacting government and the economy in Fremont County and southern Colorado.

Following the meeting Halter and Culp toured the new 9-1-1 regional communications center which initiated operations on July 7th on the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Center.   Halter said projects like the dispatch center which will enhance public safety for Fremont County citizens is a prime example of how Colorado’s oil and gas severance tax revenues can be used along with local matching dollars to accomplish such significant projects.   Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker, one of five members of the governing board for the dispatch center, said the project could have never gotten off the ground without the financial assistance from DOLA.

The dispatch center went “live” in the early morning hours of July 7th when Florence Police dispatchers transferred to the new center.   Fremont County Undersheriff Ty Martin, who supervised construction of the new center, said many of the hardware and software problems that emerged on June 16th when the center was originally scheduled to start operating had been resolved.

Communications Center Supervisor Kris Meredith said Cañon City Police Dispatchers are scheduled to transition into the new center on July 28th.   He said Cañon City dispatchers will start training in the coming days to begin familiarizing themselves with entirely new software for computer aided dispatching.  Cañon City Fire Chief Dave Delvecchio, another member of the governing board, said the plan is for all dispatchers to officially become employees of the Combined Regional Communications Authority on August 1st.

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Planning Commission to Consider Adoption of Master Plan Update

A multi-year effort by members of the Fremont County Planning Commission to update the Fremont County Master Plan could reach a conclusion this week.   The Planning Commission will consider formal adoption of the updated Fremont County Master Plan at their July 7th monthly meeting.    The process to review the Master Plan dates back more than five years and got started when Dean Sandoval still chaired the Commission.   It was a process that was done in-house through a series of Planning Commission workshops as opposed to hiring the services of an outside consultant.    The rewrite was performed by County Planner Marshall Butler with the Planning Commission inviting public comment on the project along the way.   A draft copy of the Master Plan that the Commission will consider for adoption can be reviewed on the county’s web site at www.fremontco.com, and then by searching the menu under the Planning and Zoning Department.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday will also consider a Commercial Development Plan for the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Center, a new tourist attraction proposed at the top of eight mile hill west of Cañon City.   Zach Reynolds of Reynolds Construction is proposing the dinosaur attraction to be located on 36 acres on the north side of US Highway 50, 1,000 feet east of the junction of Highway 50 and County Road 3A.  The development plan calls for dinosaur exhibits, climbing attractions, and retail sales.

The only other agenda item for the Planning Commission is consideration of a zone change for Jamie Kelly and Craig Scheer for a parcel of property on the east side of Copper Gulch Road in the Colorado Acres subdivision.   Kelly and Scheer are seeking a zone change from Business Zone District to Agricultural Estates Zoning in order to allow for future construction of a residence.

The Planning Commission meets at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7th, in the Commissioners’ meeting room on the lower level of the Fremont County Administration Building.

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County Road Crews Busy with Paving & Chip Seal Work

Penrose residents who frequently travel 3rd Street west of Highway 115 are enjoying 1.7 miles of new pavement. The road deteriorated greatly over the years due to a lot of truck traffic.

Road crews with the Fremont County Department of Transportation have initiated their busy summer schedule of paving and chip seal projects.    Crews have spent the last two weeks applying new asphalt pavement to 3rd Street in Penrose.   3 inches of new asphalt was applied to 1.7 miles of 3rd Street.     The project extended west from the Brush Hollow Reservoir turnoff on Colorado Highway 115.

With that project completed Fremont County road crews will now begin chip and seal road projects.  Chip seal work will be performed on County Road 12 north from Cotopaxi the week of July 6th.   During the week of July 13th crews will be chip sealing a portion of County Road 28 in the Copper Gulch area.   Ash Street south of Cañon City will see some chip seal work during the week of July 20th.

Later this summer crews will also be laying down new asphalt on Elm Avenue between 9th Street and County Road 143 which is the Oak Creek Grade Road.      The county was hoping to pave Oak Creek Grade itself south from that intersection, but that project will be delayed until next year.

A portion of County Road 1A south of Cotopaxi gets some asphalt along portions of the road's shoulder which has crumbled away over the years.

The other major paving work this summer is Phase 2 of the regional road project south of Florence.   Fremont County secured another $351,000 in Energy and Mineral Impact grant funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to deal with impacts from oil field truck traffic.   After paving was completed a year ago in the Coal Creek area, Phase 2 work this summer will include a 3-inch asphalt overlay of one mile of North and South Frazier Avenue on the west side of Florence.   Phase 2 also includes 3 inches of new asphalt over a distance of 1.85 miles of County and Coal Creek Roads 13, 13A, and 84A.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell notes the regional road project is to be completed in phases over five years through 2018 improving over 21 ½ miles of roads in the Florence, Coal Creek, Williamsburg, and Rockvale areas relying in large part on energy impact grants.  All of the communities and Fremont County also provide matching dollars, equipment, and manpower.

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Commissioners Hear Update on Dispatch Center

Fremont County Undersheriff Ty Martin explains high tech equipment and radios housed in a special room of the new dispatch center on the 4th floor of the county's Judicial Center.

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners spent a little more than 20 minutes disposing of business from a very brief agenda for their regular meeting on June 23rd.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden reported that the new Combined Regional Dispatch Center should be fully operational by mid to late July as both Cañon City and Florence Police Dispatch Centers prepare to shut down and shift all operations to the new, modern center on the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Center.

Norden said there were some coordination issues with vendors in relation to the technical equipment for the connectivity of the E 9-1-1 system in the new center.   Florence dispatchers were tentatively scheduled to transition to the new center during the early morning hours of June 16th but when it became apparent that there were lingering technical issues that plan was quickly abandoned.    Norden said the E 9-1-1 Board of Directors have been assured that all technical problems will be resolved for a new target date of July 7th for Florence dispatchers to make the move.   Cañon City dispatchers will then work towards completing their training so they can transition into the new dispatch center by late July.

In the only business for the commissioners, the board approved an Optional Premise – Modification request for the hotel-restaurant liquor license for the Quality Inn & Suites at the east edge of Cañon City.  Manager Boone Berry said he hopes to expand alcohol service to the hotel’s lobby and outdoor pool deck areas in order to better cater to customers’ desires.

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Near Record River Crest Floods Rainbow Park

High runoff on the Arkansas River east of Florence has sent flood water across the county road in several spots near the Rainbow Park Dairy.

Residents in Rainbow Park along County Road 119 east of Florence are no strangers to flood waters from the Arkansas River, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with near record levels of flooding.  Flood waters from the Arkansas have covered hay fields and corrals around the Rainbow Park Dairy and several homeowners report their crawl spaces are filling with water from rising groundwater tables.

Minor flooding occurs on the Arkansas in the Cañon City and Florence areas when the river gauge reaches a ten foot level.   The National Weather Service in Pueblo reports the peak on the runoff through Cañon City was reached last Saturday afternoon at a level of 10.14 feet.   According to historical records, that river height would rank it second on the list of historical river crests exceeded only by a level of 10.9 feet on June 18, 1995.

Tom & Linda Miller managed to get their hay cut in Rainbow Park in between rain storms only to have flood waters from the Arkansas River ruin this first cutting of hay.

There is very little that homeowners and farmers can do but to wait for the water to recede.   The National Weather Service is predicting a very slow drop in river levels over the next five days.   But the river is expected to drop by only about six inches by Friday afternoon.

Residents of the area are particularly watching the skies for any threat of thunderstorms.   Additional heavy rain dumping into the river would only add to the flooding headaches.

There is a foot of water in the crawl space of this Rainbow Park residence east of Florence which sits on the banks of the flooding Arkansas River. It's estimated the river was running at 5,600 cubic feet per second when this picture was taken the afternoon of June 16th.

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BLM Schedules Open Houses for Resource Advisory Plans

The Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office is seeking public input to help guide its Resource Management Plan Revision for 668,000 acres of BLM lands along Colorado’s Front Range. The revision will combine the 1996 Royal Gorge Resource Management Plan and the 1986 Northeast Resource Management Plan, to create the new Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan. The revision will also include a Master Leasing Plan for South Park.

“It’s very important to hear from the public before we begin drafting the plan revision,” said BLM Royal Gorge Field Manager Keith Berger. “This scoping period gives the public a great opportunity to become involved early in the process. We want to address public concerns in the revision from the outset, and we want to ensure we have the most complete information.”

The BLM will accept public scoping comments through July 31, 2015. The scoping period gives the public the opportunity to identify issues to be addressed in the plan revision. The BLM will closely consider public comments in drafting a range of management alternatives for the planning area.

The BLM has scheduled seven public scoping meetings across Colorado this month including meetings in  Cañon City and Salida.   The public is encouraged to stop by one of the open house meetings anytime between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to talk to BLM specialists, learn more about the revision and provide comments. An informal presentation will be given at 6:30 p.m. each night.    Open house meetings in the region include will be held in:

•         June 23 – Salida, Salida High School, 26 Jones Ave

•         June 24 – Fairplay, Fairplay Community Center, 880 Bogue St (fairgrounds)

•         June 29 – Cañon City, The Abbey, Benedict Rm, 2951 E Highway 50

Attendance at these open houses is not required to submit scoping comments to the BLM.  For further information about this plan revision and how to provide scoping comments, visit http://on.doi.gov/1HVULcA, or contact John Smeins, RMP Project Manager, at (719) 269-8581.

Scoping comments may be mailed to BLM ECRMP, 3028 E. Main Street, Cañon City, CO 81212; faxed to 719-269-8599; or e-mailed to ECRMP.Comments@blm.gov. Scoping comments will be most helpful if they are specific and received by BLM before July 31, 2015.

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