County Beat: April 30, 2020

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RBC | Commissioners discussed budget issues with Finance Director Janae Stanworth Tuesday and scheduled workshops with both school districts in May to discuss funding.

While currently the county is close to a balanced budget, uncertainty about the future looms.

“We could see major hits. This county could look totally different in a few years,” said Commissioner Gary Moyer.

It will take months and possibly years to fully calculate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Rio Blanco County, but county leaders were already examining the effect of a shrinking fossil fuel industry will have on a county heavily dependent on energy extraction.

RBC Public Health Director Alice Harvey had some good news for the commissioners: “We’re finally getting test kits from the state and have received some private testing kits,” she said. This news comes after weeks of fighting for tests. The additional tests will allow public health to increase its testing capacity. Discussion of drive-through testing at Public Health for symptomatic individuals who call ahead is underway. “We’re not at the point we can do surveillance testing yet,” Harvey said.

Increasing testing capacity has been listed as one of the most important components of being able to move forward in the fight against COVID-19.

Harvey updated the board on the switch to “safer-at-home” public health orders from the state, the next phase of quarantine directions.

“We need to proceed with caution as we reopen,” Harvey said.

The state officially released the new orders this week, but the variability of reopening for different industries, and no clear guidelines for enforcement, have led to some confusion for business owners.

“We’re trying to support our businesses right now. The timelines vary depending on which regulatory agency you answer to,” Harvey said. “The most recent recommendations are on our public health website. We are definitely not rejecting the state recommendations in pursuing our own local plan.”

Harvey said the goal is to stop the spread of the virus, avoid new cases, and have “success” in May by adhering to the newest recommendations. “By June we hope to work with people on a case by case basis so we can have modified activities,” she said, noting that public health’s recommendations mirror that of the state.

Speaking to enforcement, the commissioners urged “personal responsibility” and adherence to medical recommendations, while acknowledging a “blanket policy” doesn’t work for the entire state.

Most industries are regulated by a government agency and those agencies have the capacity to enforce violations of state orders. As far as the county, RBC, like most counties across the state, does not intend to enforce the public health orders. In an earlier meeting, RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola said he sees his department’s role as one of education, not enforcement.

Harvey said she hopes people fully understand the possible consequences of their choices, whether it’s having a prom party for a high school student or reopening a business without a plan for meeting state guidelines.

Harvey said Public Health is more than willing to work with businesses and individuals to recommend specific suggestions and to review best practices. She intends to continue updating the commissioners every two weeks and will have her video update on Friday on the county’s website.

In regular business:

The commissioners ratified a letter to Gov. Polis requesting that Rio Blanco County be allowed to implement its own reopening plan.

Awarded a bid to CKC Field Services for the county’s crackfill project.

Approved an agreement with Mammoth for broadband internet.

Approved for equipment maintenance contracts of approximately $1,000 each for internet tower sites.

Approved contract modifications that will move the start dates for the CR 8 resurfacing project to May 14 and the county’s chip seal project to May 18.

Awarded a bid for the Lower White Pest Control project to Rocky Mountain Weed Management and Elder Weed Spraying for $6,000 each.

By NIKI TURNER | editor@ht1885.com

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated the commissioners implemented a ban on open fires in response to state guidelines. Here is our correction: https://www.theheraldtimes.com/correction-no-fire-ban-in-place-for-rbc-except-on-forest-service-lands/rio-blanco-county/?fbclid=IwAR0Bcs-kCWGgt6xMKBQ76KCeytIycuU5aC83-sRQ3Q63bec000jWM4ZYUlU

We regret the error.