Commissioners continue to wrestle with 2021 county budget

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By NIKI TURNER | editor@ht1885.com

RBC | RBC Assessor Renae Neilson volunteered to serve as the voice of county employees during a work session Tuesday with the county commissioners as they consider where to make cuts in the 2021 budget with a projected deficit of $2.3 million. 

“I’m here today on behalf of my employees and maybe other employees. My idea is to let them have a say in what’s going to affect them down the road, whether it’s insurance or pay cuts or the different ideas you have at the end of the day,” Nielson said. “Then you guys would know what the majority of the people want.” 

In her own words, Neilson has been “preaching forever” that the county’s assessed value due to oil and gas wasn’t always going to prop up the county’s budget. “And here we are,” she said. I 

She offered some suggestions, from determining what it takes for a single person to live in Rio Blanco County for the low-end county salaries, and looking at higher-paid employees and seeing “what they’re willing to work for to have a job.”

Commission Chair Jeff Rector said, “Up to this point it’s just been conversations. With the preliminary budget we’ll have a better idea.”

Commissioner Gary Moyer said Lamar Community College is facing similar cuts and has asked employees to rank options to determine staff priorities. 

Commissioner Si Woodruff said he wants one spokesperson, not multiple voices. 

Moyer suggested one spokesperson under each elected office. “We need to hear where people’s priorities are, not that one department is more important than another,” he said. 

Addressing suggestions that the commissioners simply tap into the county’s reserves, Moyer said, “This is not a new crisis that just jumped up. I sense that people want us to take time to think this through. When Senate Bill 181 passed, we knew our tax base was going to take a hit. That’s why I don’t believe just using reserves to give us time to think about it will accomplish anything.” 

Also during work sessions, commissioners heard a report on the “aridification” of northwest Colorado from Alden Vanden Brink, director of the Colorado Water Conservancy District. The HT plans to follow up with Vanden Brink as part of an upcoming series on water issues in Rio Blanco County.

During the regular meeting, the board:

• Approved a final contract with Stripe-A-Lot not to exceed $3,465.

• Approved hiring a budgeted temporary public health RN to assist with immunizations. 

• Approved a safety plan for the Meeker Craft and Gift Show in November.

• Approved posting a job for a detention center deputy. The board changed the term from “hiring” to “posting” prior to the meeting. Sheriff Anthony Mazzola questioned if the agenda item created a conflict, because as an elected official, he’s responsible for hiring of staff for his department. County Attorney Todd Starr said by resolution, the commissioners approve the “posting” of jobs, but the sheriff controls the budget for his department and does the hiring. 

• Approved intergovernmental agreements with the South Routt School District and the Colorado River Conservation District to cooperate in a coordinated election on the November ballot. County Clerk Boots Campbell said there are six Rio Blanco County voters in the South Routt school district. The Colorado River Conservation District is seeking a mill levy increase on the ballot.

Updates:

Woodruff asked why work sessions aren’t recorded. RBC Attorney Todd Starr said, “The danger and harm far outweighs the benefits of recording them.”

Moyer said he felt like the idea to let the voters decide if they want to fund local dispatch got lost along the way and ended up being about a 1% sales tax. 

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