Next month, Al White and his fellow members of the state’s Joint Budget Committee, will start work on the 2010-11 budget.
It’s not an enviable task.
“There are no easy deals now,” said White, Republican senator from Hayden, whose 8th District includes Rio Blanco County. “We just have to tighten our belts and get through.”
White spoke Tuesday in Rangely on the campus of Colorado Northwestern Community College.
The state’s budget picture is not a pretty one.
“We’re $240 million out of balance, based on the most recent revenue projections,” White said. “That’s on top of the $320 million we had to cut in July.”
Within about a week of legislators finishing work last April on the 2009-10 budget, fourth-quarter revenue projections came in $250 million short of what was budgeted for 2008-09.
So, in order to balance the budget, as mandated by the state constitution, transfers were made from the 2009-10 budget, thus creating a $320 million imbalance in the 2009-10 budget the Legislature had just passed.
“A year ago September, we were projecting a budget that would allow for a 6 percent increase,” White said. “By December, that 6 percent increase had turned into a $400 million decrease.”
Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul.
And now the governor is calling for more cuts, including an $80 million reduction in state funding for higher education. That’s on top of the $150 million cut from higher ed in the 2009-10 budget.
“That will be backfilled with federal stimulus dollars,” White said. “But that poses a huge problem when the federal stimulus dollars run out. When those to start go away in 2010-11, we won’t have the wherewithal to recreate the funding. Even if (state) revenue comes roaring back, and I don’t see it, with all the cuts we’ve made in various programs, I don’t know how higher ed gets made whole. I’m very concerned about higher ed.”
Not that other entities in Rio Blanco County won’t also suffer.
“In my district, we’re seeing transfers out of the mineral severance tax funds,” White said. “All of the cities and counties in my district … have been benefitting from those grants (from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs) for the last several years. Those grants will be severely reduced in dollars and scope. That’s one of the cuts northwest Colorado is going to have to suffer. We reduced the grant-making ability of DOLA by 30 percent, by way of money transfers. By the end of the day, it will be reduced by about 50 percent, if not more.”
This will be White’s fourth year as a member of the JBC, which puts him at the center of the state’s challenging budget process.
“It was very difficult (last session), no question,” White said. “The nature of the things we had to cut, it was really hard, and we have more of those difficult decisions to make. Nobody wants their programs cut. Everybody is like, just don’t cut us, cut somebody else. That, honestly, doesn’t work. You have to cut everywhere. There are too many hungry mouths to feed, and too few resources.”
Even with the serious economic challenges facing the state, White does see reason for optimism.
“The unemployment seems to be slowing. We actually gained jobs in Colorado last month,” White said. “It does appear that Colorado is turning the corner more quickly in this economic situation than the rest of the country. That’s not to say we don’t have some difficult times in front of us yet. But there is light at the end of the tunnel for us.”
• • • • •
Response to the second Smoking River Pow Wow, held the last weekend of September at Meeker’s Ute Park, was good, said Lynn Lockwood, one of the event’s organizers.
“Actually, from everybody, it has been overwhelmingly positive,” Lockwood said.
One difference this year was the timing of the powwow was changed from July to September.
“I had mixed feelings about that,” Lockwood said. “Another date we’ve talked about is June, but it’s not that much warmer (than September). And in July, we had the problem of conflicting with the sun dance. So I’m not sure what we’ll do about the date.
“(The September) date is not firm. There are a lot of things we need to talk about, and the date is one of them,” Lockwood added. “Friday night (at the powwow) was pretty chilly. It was worse for the spectators. Randy Ridgeway brought some heaters over and that helped out quite a bit, and the recreation district gave us some fire pits to use, which was nice.”
Another new twist to this year’s powwow was the veterans honor dance on Saturday afternoon, recognizing all military veterans.
“I was very happy with the veterans dance and the participation we got there,” Lockwood said. “Some of those tough old guys were misty eyed.”
The buffalo feast — courtesy of the Northern Ute Tribe — was another new feature to the powwow.
“I don’t know how many people we fed, but I’m guessing, more than 600,” Lockwood said.
Where the event goes from here is still to be decided, but indications are, people want the powwow to continue.
“I hope so,” Lockwood said. “The feedback I’ve got from the dancers and participants is they want it to be an annual event. And we had such a broad spectrum of contributors, either volunteering or donating, which brings something to the event. It makes me very happy to see everybody out there. I thought it was a beautiful event. I hope we find a way to make it continue.”
• • • • •
Bill Wille has been on many safaris, but as a guide.
So, when he shot a leopard in the African country of Namibia, it was a first.
“I’ve shot a lot of leopards that (hunters) had wounded, because I guide people,” said Wille, owner of Antler Taxidermy and Professionals of Africa in Meeker. “But they always go to the client. One of these years, I kept thinking, I should apply for an extra tag, and since (Namibia) had the additional permits available, I took the chance. Since then, they have shut down Namibia (for hunting leopards) for two years.”
On day eight of a 14-day hunt in June, Wille’s client shot a leopard.
“That left me six days to hunt,” Wille said. “I got mine four days later. I was thrilled.”
At first, Wille thought he had blown his chance.
“I was convinced I had missed,” said Wille, who described the area he was hunting in as a deep canyon, similar to the Piceance Basin. “I shot him as he was walking toward the bait. But I didn’t hear the bullet hit. I didn’t hear (the leopard) roar. I thought I had missed the thing. I went back to the camp so disgusted with myself. I kept tellin’ myself, I shot too quick.”
Shooting a leopard is a challenge, Wille said.
“A leopard is the most cunning animal you can hunt in all of Africa,” Wille said. “He is so smart and cunning.”
However, when Wille went back the next day, he found the leopard “laying there, stone-cold dead, no more than 15 yards away” from where he had shot the animal.
“The landowner said that is the best ‘missed’ shot he had ever seen,” Wille said. “It was my once-in-a-lifetime leopard. I have 206 animals I have pulled the trigger on, and of all of my favorite trophies, the leopard is one of my favorites.”
• • • • •
Dave Scherbarth of Meeker, who won the toy assembly challenge for the second year in a row at Mountain Valley Bank’s Fall Festival, the last weekend of September, gave credit where credit was due.
“You want to know the secret of my success? I had a good partner,” Scherbarth said of wife Sandy, who assisted him.
By winning the timed event, the Scherbarths were recipients of an electronics package, which included a Sony digital video camera/recorder, an iPod Nano docking station and iTunes card, and a Garmin GPS navigation unit.
“And it’s my 45th birthday,” Dave said after winning the grand prize … again.
• • • • •
Money raised from the pie and salsa auctions at the Fall Festival — sponsored by Meeker attorney Trina Zagar Brown — actually was closer to $900, which was about $300 more than the initial estimate.
“That’s even better than we thought,” Trina said.
As a judge for the pie and salsa contests, I can vouch for the quality of the entries.
• • • • •
I attended the blessing of the animals at Rangely’s St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, to take photos. In retrospect, I should have taken along my dog. Maybe that would have helped with her obedience training.
• • • • •
Meeker veterinarian Stacy Hudelson is looking for a home. Not for her, but for some motherless kittens that were left at the vet clinic.
Of the six kittens left at the clinic, five have survived, and homes have been found for two of the kittens. But Stacy is looking for homes for the others, once they are weaned, which will be in about a week.
“They’re so cute,” Stacy said.
Another abandoned cat, a full-grown female, was left at somebody’s house up on the Mesa and brought to the vet clinic. She took over duties as mother to the kittens.
“She didn’t love ’em at first,” Stacy said. “But she loved ’em within a day, which is all we needed.”
Stacy is also looking for a home for the adult cat, once she weans the kittens.
“She’s a sweetie,” Stacy said of the surrogate momma cat.
• • • • •
Congratulations to Ellen Harris on her 80th birthday. It was obvious from the turnout Sunday at her surprise party at Betty’s Cafe in Rangely, she is fortunate to have an abundance of friends.
• • • • •
Good luck to the CNCC flight team, competing this week at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, as part of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association competition.
• • • • •
The Meeker Lions Club’s bingo night started this week, held the first and third Wednesdays at the exhibit hall at Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds. Dinner starts at 6, followed by “progressive” bingo, with a jackpot starting at $1,771, at 6:30. Proceeds from the food and bingo benefit school scholarships and the Barone Middle School’s eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.
• • • • •
I got my seasonal flu shot Monday at the Fairfield Center in Meeker. Kim Long, public health director, did the honors.
“I haven’t written anything bad about you, have I?” I asked Kim, before she administered the shot.
“No,” she said with a sly smile, before sticking me.
My arm is still sore.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.