Study: Population to surge, but funds fall short by $1.4B

RBC — Commissioner Ken Parsons spent a lot of time in Denver this winter fighting for the interests of Northwestern Colorado as state lawmakers attempt to pass spending measures that could funnel oil and gas tax revenue out of Northwest Colorado.
The release of a socioeconomic study compiled by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado that outlines projected growth and capital demands related to energy development underlines what local government officials have been saying all along: demands on infrastructure directly related to energy development heavily outweigh available capital funding.
In short, the study reveals an anticipated $1.4 billion shortfall for sustaining the projected population’s infrastructure needs.
Addressing socioeconomic needs for Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, the study forecasts the total population in said counties doubling within the next 30 years. That would bring Rio Blanco County’s population up from 6,073 in 2005, to 13,055 in 2020, to 18,624 in 2035. Rio Blanco County is expected to have the highest annual growth rate at 3.8 percent, followed by Garfield County with 3.4 percent.
Successful development of commercial oil shale, currently in the research and development phase, would more than double the projected population for RBC.
The study was originally intended to be a response to the BLM’s environmental impact statement on oil shale, Parsons said in the press release.
“As it turned out, the baseline economic conditions that BBC (the research and consulting firm) defined as part of developing and understanding of the potential effects of oil shale development, ended up being rather shocking in and of themselves.”
Parsons is the vice chairperson of AGNC and a member of the task force which backed the study. The complete study is available for download on the AGNC Web site at www.agnc.org.
Parsons and Meeker Town Manager Sharon Day discussed their concerns about proposed House Bill 218, which would, according to Parsons, “siphon off any new money for higher education, leaving nothing to local governments, K-12 or water conservation boards.”
Both Parsons and Day expressed concern about the state’s intent to change the way mineral severance and lease tax dollars are returned to the impacted counties and municipalities.
In other business, the commissioners heard a request from Day to waive landfill fees for two days to provide free clean-up days for the community. The commissioners expressed favor for the free days, and will coordinate with the towns on a choice of dates in late May or early June.
The board approved ambulance licenses for the towns of Meeker and Rangley. The county approved a contract with Caremark PSC Health to provide prescription discount cards to residents who lack other forms of health care coverage. The county anticipates issuing the cards, once they are received, through county health and social services.
“The two counties I’ve talked to have had only positive feedback,” said county attorney Kent Borchard.
Road and Bridge Department Director Dave Morlan said the county is still plowing snow, has repaired a sinkhole on County Road 5 and are prepping for application of mag chloride in both districts. Road restrictions on heavy loads are still in place for the foreseeable future, Morlan said. The crack fill project began Monday, April 14.