Community gathers to hear local infrastructure needs

Listen to this post

MEEKER — Almost 100 people attended a community meeting last Wednesday to hear about infrastructure needs in the eastern end of Rio Blanco County. Representatives from Rio Blanco County, the Town of Meeker, the Meeker RE-1 School Disctrict and Pioneers Medical Center have been meeting to discuss the capital needs of the four entities.
Pat Hooker, Rio Blanco County administrator, Sharon Day, Town of Meeker administrator, Dan Evig, superintendent of schools and Bob Omer, CEO of Pioneers Medical Center, began meeting last fall.
“The school district was looking at a new school, the county was looking at a new justice center, the town owns the land the elementary school is on and the hospital has an old facility, so we got together to see how to best address these needs,” Hooker said after the meeting. “We started meeting and quickly realized there where other needs in the community that needed to be considered and prioritized.”
The group surveyed the 12 taxing entities in the eastern end of the county, including the Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River Water Conservancy Distrcit, Meeker Cemetery District, Meeker Sanitation District, Piceance Creek Pest Control District, the Meeker Library District (the only district to not return a survey) the Fire and Ambulance District and the Meeker Recreational District, along with the original four.
Margie Joy facilitated the community meeting last Wednesday in the Fairfield Center and presented the survey results after dinner, which was prepared and served by Day, compliments of the Town of Meeker.
Results showed the school district taking steps to survey the community about the district’s needs and how to fund improvements. The elementary school is more than 70 years old and a feasibility study showed upgrading the current building would cost almost as much as building a new school. The high school is also in need of major renovations.
RBC is currently doing some needs assessments, according to Hooker, and may be looking to purchase land in the next 12 months for the new county jail and justice center. They are also looking at a new radio system, other county building improvements and road needs.
The Town of Meeker will have a ballot question in the April 1 municipal election, asking voters to permit the town to collect and retain all property tax revenues, which they will use for capital projects, public safety and street maintenance. Mayor Steve Loshbaugh discussed the ballot issue and said the “time is now to get involved.” The Town of Meeker has also applied for a grant to add curbs and sidewalks to Market Street.
Pioneers Medical Center is currently analyzing its needs and looking at replacement of its facility in the next three to five years and will possibly be looking for land within the next two years.
The Meeker Sanitation District is also looking at purchasing land to expand the plant and looking at sewer line replacement and equipment in the next 12 months.
Several other entities have capital improvement plans in the next three to five years.
RBC Commissioner Ken Parsons, applauded by the crowd for his work on Federal Mineral Lease and severance tax legislation to help fund the county’s needed improvements, said “There are some great opportunities but some concerns too.” Parsons said the Department of Local Affairs is considering offering larger grants (between $20 million-$30 million) next year and they would be looking for partnerships.
“We ought to really consider this and come together because the competition for these funds will be tough,” Parsons said.
Suggestions were made to use the Herald Times to better inform the public about what the entities’ needs are, use the same assumptions and all speak from the same page, work with lobbyists and possibly look into hiring a lobbyist, diversify businesses for better stability when the oil and gas industry leaves, extend the water infrastructure for new places to build, host bond workshops, streamline local politics to unify the community, look for natural alliances and think out of the box regarding funding.
Questionnaires were placed on all the tables and Hooker said they would be reviewed to help figure out the next step of designing a process to move forward.
Hooker said he was also working with Rangely Mayor Ann Brady gather the community on the western end of the county.
“We need to all pull together and show a collaborative effort to leverage funding and do what’s best for both ends of the county,” Hooker said.