COUNTY BEAT: APRIL 28, 2022

Rio Blanco County Commissioners heard updates from multiple departments this week including the Clerk and Recorder, Treasurer and Assessor. 

DEPARTMENT UPDATES

RBC Clerk and Recorder Boots Campbell said her department was collecting ballots for the recall election and preparing for upcoming primaries. 617 ballots had been turned in by Tuesday morning. Voting centers are open in both Rangely and Meeker through May 10. Campbell said preliminary/unofficial results will be released that evening.

Following the resignation of Jeff Rector from the board of commissioners, the county Republican party’s vacancy committee chose Jennifer O’Hearon as a temporary replacement to serve until January when a new commissioner is sworn in. Campbell said due to the timing of the resignation, the seat has opened up to a non-partisan race, which means the Democratic party will be able to designate someone for the primary ballot in June.

Assessor Renae Nielson cited both increases and decreases in assessed value throughout the county, noting a large decrease in the Weber Sand Unit, formerly owned by Chevron. Despite this Nielson noted an increase in value on production of gas. She also pointed out how recent legislative changes were still causing problems with her office, and said additional proposed legislation will add more workload.

Treasurer Rhonna Waldref said tax collection is “on target” for the year at 51.75% though some larger companies had still not paid their taxes, including over $6 million from Enterprise. KT Resources (formerly 31 group) will not pay until August due to lack of production/revenue, according to Waldref. Basic Energy also owes money to the county which cannot be collected since the company is currently in bankruptcy.

Weed and Pest Director Jane Turnburke said chemical sales are picking up, with the first official public sales starting next Thursday. She also said a lack of bids means there will be no helicopter spraying this year.

RIDGE ESTATES REQUEST

Meeker resident Sherry Halandras asked the board to consider plowing the road used to access Ridge Estates, since it has four entrances that all connect to County Road 13. She noted that subdivisions nearby had access points to state highways which are plowed regularly. The Ridge Estates subdivision has 35 total lots, most of which are sold. Only “11 people” are living there currently but more growth is expected. Halandras also listed other roads leading to one or two homes that also get plowed by the county.

RBC Road and Bridge Director Scott Marsh said he agreed that the road should be plowed, but noted that other subdivisions had made similar requests and stated, “If we do much more, you’re actually looking at having to get another motor grader and another operator.” 

Citing budget concerns, Commissioner Moyer expressed concern over setting a precedent. The request comes amidst ongoing efforts to map existing county roads and potentially add/remove roads which are “not needed.” The board will likely discuss the issue further in future work sessions and meetings.

LAND USE PLAN

RBC Conservation District Executive Director Callie Hendrickson presented the updated Land Use Plan to commissioners, who said they would review it by the end of the week. Following their review, the plan will go up on the Conservation District’s website for a two week public comment period. Commissioner Moyer repeatedly highlighted the LUP’s benefit as “the best tool in the toolbox” for counties to engage with the federal government on federal land/NEPA related issues.

Hendrickson also said the district was awarded a $200K Restore Grant from the National Federation of Wildlife. Funds will be used for “coordinated resource management plans” working with individual permittees, including the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Forest Service, and other NGOs that private landowners want to work with in developing long-term plans to “Improve resources across boundaries.” Other potential grant-funded projects funded include Tamarisk removal on Yellow Creek by River’s Edge West and other brush management and water projects in the Piceance Basin.

Referencing the ongoing White River Integrated Water Initiative process, Hendrickson said conversations in the lower part of the river reach revolved around forest/range/fire management, and sedimentation. The district has been offering stipends for pond cleaning of stock ponds, and still has some money left to distribute.

SLFRF

Budget and Finance Director Janae Stanworth will finalize spending reports for more than $725K of federal recovery funds after confirming specific projects with the board Tuesday. The funding, which comes from $1 million awarded to the county from “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund” will pay for various capital items including:

• Road and Bridge sand shed

• Backup generator for the Fairfield Complex

• Road and Bridge HVAC replacement (in Rangely and Meeker)

SLFRF Funds will also go towards three years worth of payments on various software upgrades, including shifting to a cloud-based accounting system, software for road and bridge cameras, and GIS software. After three years, the county will have to budget for any increased yearly costs as a result of new software/tech maintenance. The board still has around $288K to allocate from SLFRF funds, which must be used for specific purposes. Stanworth suggested the need for potential cybersecurity upgrades. For now, the funding will remain unallocated until further discussion.

REGULAR MEETING

During their regular meeting the board appointed Christina Stephens to the Fair Board, granted a liquor license renewal to Ripple Creek Lodge, and approved various MOUs including:

• Teepee Park Tower site lease agreement renewal with Gayle R. Crawford

• Amendment with T-O engineers revising scope of work for the Rangely Airport fence project, not to exceed $9,957

• agreement for CDOT’s Division of Aeronautics to install weather cameras at the Rangely and Meeker airports.

The board also granted a $669K bid award to Custom Fence Co. for the wildlife fence at Rangely airport, of which the FAA will pay 90%. The state and Rio Blanco County will both pay for 5% of the total cost.

To conclude their regular meeting, the board went into executive session “for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions” and to discuss personnel matters among other listed reasons.

The Rio Blanco County Republican Party’s vacancy committee appointed Jennifer O’Hearon (right) of Rangely to fill former Commissioner Jeff Rector’s seat. O’Hearon was sworn in on Wednesday, April 27 by RBC Clerk and Recorder Boots Campbell. Three other District 2 candidates were considered for the appointment: former CNCC President Ron Granger, Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Park and Recreation Director Tim Webber, and former Rangely Town Trustee Luke Geer. O’Hearon has most recently been a special education teacher in the Rangely School District and before that was the Director of Human Services for Rio Blanco County until 2017. | NIKI TURNER PHOTO


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com