An ongoing dispute with ExxonMobil over the county’s application of its use tax, could be settled soon as the state’s highest court will hear oral arguments in the case Tuesday.
Rio Blanco County will be represented by attorney Malcolm Murray of Denver, who has been handling the case for the county.
“It’s an hour oral argument,” Murray said of the session before the Colorado Supreme Court. “Each side has 30 minutes. I go first, since we’re asking them to overturn the court of appeals decision. I’ll probably use 20 minutes of the 30 minutes allotted. Then I’ll sit down and reserve the balance of the time for rebuttal. During the course of the 20 minutes, the (seven justices) can and will ask questions.
“They actually have a timer that counts down how much time you have,” Murray said. “I prepare as if nobody is going to ask questions. Then you have to sort of adjust on the fly, to address all of the points you had intended on covering.”
After Murray takes his turn, then the other side will make its argument.
“The attorney for ExxonMobil will use his 30 minutes. Then I get the chance to respond to what he has to say and make any other points I want to make,” Murray said.
The dispute is over the county applying the use tax to construction and building materials. And there’s a lot riding on the outcome. If the supreme court affirms a decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals in favor of ExxonMobil’s position, it could impact county coffers by “a rough estimate” of $12.5 million.
“It all depends upon how the court will come up with their decision, and how far back we may or may not have to go considering repayment,” County Administrator Pat Hooker said last October, when the county asked the state’s highest court to hear the case.
Murray has argued cases before the supreme court before, so it’s nothing new for him, but it’s still a big deal.
“I’ve done this before several times, so eventually you get to the point where you’re not particularly nervous,” he said. “But you still get psyched for it.”
A tough line of questioning by the justices isn’t necessarily indicative of which way they may be leaning. In fact, it may be a good sign.
“They will ask probing and difficult questions even though they may be sympathetic to your argument,” Murray said. “It’s not unusual to have them ask the hardest questions of the side they are leaning toward. You may feel like you’re being raked over the coals, but, in fact, they are wanting to make sure there are no holes in the side they are favoring. All they’re doing is making sure where the weaknesses are in a particular argument, so in the course of their opinion, they can address those issues.”
At the conclusion of the oral arguments, Murray said, “(The justices) will say thank you very much. We’ll take it under advisement.”
Murray said the court will then issue a written decision in the case.
“We’ll hear from them certainly by the end of the year,” he said.
While the county has lost in previous rounds of its legal fight over the use tax, Murray feels confident in the county’s position going into Tuesday’s supreme court session.
“I’m certainly optimistic,” Murray said. “We’ve got a very persuasive argument. If they were to rule against us, they would have to come up with some rationale we haven’t addressed thus far. I’ve had enough experience where you just can’t predict how (a case) will come out, but I feel very comfortable about it.”
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After being closed for about six months, due to a fire in May, Meeker Drug is poised to reopen.
“We’re ready to go. Everything is in place. We’re just waiting on the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) registration. We can’t process any claims and can’t order any drugs without it. So we have to be patient,” said Diana Jones, who, along with her husband, Mike, is taking over the business from Linda Blagg.
“I’m just leasing the building from Linda,” said Diana, who is Mike Blagg’s daughter. “She still owns the building, so we set up a new corporation.”
Diana had hoped to open Oct. 19.
“We thought about doing a two-phase opening with the retail side first and then the pharmacy, but it seemed smarter on a business level to do it all at the same time,” Diana said. “‘We’re hoping to open sometime this month, if not, by Nov. 1.”
As far as the satellite location in Rangely, which was closed after the fire at Meeker Drug, Diana said it won’t be reopened.
Diana’ step-sister, Dawn Eichman, will manage the retail side of Meeker Drug. Diana also announced the return of Jan Oldland as a pharmacist.
“She used to work for my grandpa,” Diana said. “I’ve rehired her, so she will be back in the store. And Melvin Sullivan will be back as the pharmacy manager.”
Diana represents the third generation to take over the family business. Her grandfather, Herb Blagg, opened the Meeker pharmacy in 1962. Linda Blagg purchased it in 2004.
“My big focus is getting Meeker taken care of, like my grandpa took care of them,” Diana said, adding her grandfather recently renewed his pharmacy license, which he does every year.
“This year, he has been registered for 50 years as a pharmacist in Colorado,” Diana said proudly.
Eventually, Diana said she and husband Mike and their two daughters — ages 12 and 9 — plan to move to Meeker from the Denver suburb of Castle Rock, where they currently live.
“Right now, I’ll be commuting to Meeker every other week, but the long-term plan is to move there and get out of the hustle and bustle of the city,” Diana said.
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School board elections on both ends of the county are less than three weeks away.
In Meeker, there are five candidates — incumbents Iris Franklin, Ben Rogers, Paul Neilson and Jerry Oldland and challenger Bill de Vergie — who are vying for four positions. In Rangely, there are three candidates — incumbent Adair Norman and challengers Connie Mick and Rebecca Rector — running for two seats on the school board. Rangely School Board President Matt Scoggins is term-limited and can’t run again.
Rio Blanco County Clerk Nancy Amick said mail-in ballots went out Tuesday and will need to be returned by Nov. 3, Election Day.
“Of course, we would encourage voters to return them earlier,” Amick said.
• • • • •
Peggy Rector of Rangely received word this week her granddaughter, Kasey, was wounded in Iraq.
“We received the call (Sunday),” Rector said. “She called her mom from the hospital in Iraq to let her know she had been hurt. Her Humvee hit a land mine. Kasey took a lot of shrapnel to her whole left side. However, the good news is she is alive. She was able to talk with her mother; however, she was on pain medication. She just wanted to let us know that she is alive.”
Rector said the incident was reported on national TV.
“They just said it was on the border of Iraq and eight were injured and 12 killed,” she said.
Not many other details are known at this time.
“Right now, we just know she is alive,” Rector said. “We will wait to hear more from the Army, or hopefully we will hear more from Kasey, we hope soon.”
To write to Kasey, her address is:
PV2 Huff, Kasey M.
HHC 4-1 BSTB
• • • • •
Kimball Rasmussen, president and CEO of Deseret Generation and Transmission Cooperative, will be the guest speaker Oct. 27 at the next Community Networking Group meeting in Rangely.
The program starts at noon at the Weiss Activity Center on the Colorado Northwestern Community College campus.
Rasmussen’s presentation is titled: “Climate Change Legislation and You — an Overview and Analysis of the Costs and Benefits.”
RSVPs are requested by 5 p.m. Tuesday to Becky Dubbert at CNCC: 675-3301 or [email protected]
• • • • •
My sincere apologies to Meeker homecoming attendant Timbre Shriver for misidentifying her in a photo caption in last week’s paper.
• • • • •
The courthouse lawn in Meeker will turn orange Saturday.
A pumpkin patch, sponsored by Homemaker Furnishings, with help from White River Electric Association, Meeker Realty and the Meeker Chamber of Commerce, will be held for children preschool age through fifth grade.
“It’s a community thing for the little ones to come and pick out a pumpkin,” said Valerie Sullivan of Homemaker Furnishings.
The pumpkin patch starts at 9 a.m. and will run “until they last,” Sullivan said.
• • • • •
I still get comments from people who are surprised when they see me not wearing shorts. In fact, the way temperatures warmed up this week, I could have started wearing shorts again.
People became so accustomed to me wearing shorts, I had a woman tell me last week, “I didn’t recognize you with pants on.”
Immediately after the words came out of her mouth, she said, “That didn’t come out right, did it?”
I guess I should break out the shorts again.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.