County Beat: October 10, 2019

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RBC | Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney made his annual visit to the Rio Blanco County Commissioners meeting to discuss the budget for his office in the coming year.
“This year we have presented a budget of about $3.5 million to the three counties (Garfield, Rio Blanco and Pitkin),” Cheney told the board.
Rio Blanco County’s part of that is $257,940. Each county pays a portion that translates to its population and caseload.
The budget request is a 3.68% increase from 2019, due in large part to increases in information technology demands.
“The DA’s office in today’s era is digitized. Everything we receive from law enforcement now is via digital media.” Increased use of body cameras for law enforcement has led to significant increases in the amount of technology required.
Cheney said legislative changes to the criminal justice landscape coming from Denver may have a negative impact on county budgets, including decriminalization of certain drugs, changing possession of less than 4 grams to a misdemeanor.
“That’s going to increase our county court numbers, most likely,” Cheney said.
Rural DA’s have largely opposed a movement to provide advisements to arrested persons seven days a week, which would increase demands on county staff.
“It’s another Denver/Front Range thing they’re pushing throughout the state,” Cheney said.
Commission chair Jeff Rector said that legislative proposal has been opposed at Colorado Counties, Inc.
Commissioners asked about getting an assistant district attorney (ADA) in Rio Blanco County full-time.
“It hurts us not having someone here who knows the community,” said Commissioner Si Woodruff.
Paying an ADA what they’re worth is a challenge on a limited budget.
“It’s one of the inequitable parts of the justice system,” said County Attorney Todd Starr. “The public defender is state-funded, the prosecution is funded by the counties.”
White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts
White River district director Mark Etchart, Douglas Creek district director Terry Smalec, and executive director Callie Hendrickson met with the commissioners to discuss the 2020 budget. An error in property tax collection that came to light in 2016 resulted in reduced revenues for the districts by as much as 83%. Since then, the districts have been supported by county funding, grants and philanthropic donations from individuals and industry.
While the White River Conservation District has some reserves, without the county’s funding the Douglas Creek district would be forced to “either disband or incorporate with White River,” according to Smalec.
“We’ve got a mill levy discussion in place,” he said. “If we don’t get funding it’s going to be pretty tough for us. We really count on the county.”
Etchart said losing representation for both districts at the state level would not be advantageous, but the White River District can’t carry the Douglas Creek District indefinitely.
According to Hendrickson via email, “The Douglas Creek Board has been discussing moving forward with a mill levy increase but has not taken a vote to date. The White River Board does not have any plans to seek a mill levy increase at this time.”
Even if the mill levies for both districts were raised to the state maximums, it would only cover 60% of the budget.
During the regular meeting, the commissioners:
– Approved a change order in rebate amounts on three vehicles purchased from Northwest Auto.
– Appointed Jeff Rector to serve as representative to the CCI legislative committee on Oct. 11.
– Approved a comment letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife about the proposal to designate the Graham’s and White River Beardtongue plants as threatened species. The plants’ populations have increased by more than 100% since the last time it was proposed. Listing it would have negative impacts on grazing permittees. A previously approved plan was challenged in court and ruled null and void by a judge, necessitating a new comment period. See article above for more information.
– Approved a change order for Bolton Construction to make needed repairs to failed welding on the secondary broadband towers.
– Approved grants for the Meeker and Rangely airports.
– Approved a minor subdivision for Phil Brown across from the County Rd. 12 bridge upriver. Brown plans to subdivide approximately 25 acres into three lots.

By Niki Turner |