County: housing, repair costs, sales tax & code enforcement

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RBC | In work sessions Tuesday, May 11, the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners heard from Margie Joy, Western Slope Outreach Director for the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). Joy explained how CHFA’s self-funded programs could benefit Rio Blanco County economically by providing additional financing options for prospective homeowners, financing for affordable rental housing, and business lending. The program, established in 1973, works with local lenders and community partners to invest in affordable housing and community development.

While the definition of “affordable housing” is relative, Joy said the economy and the housing market are reaching a point where the need for truly affordable housing — 30% or less of a household’s monthly income going toward housing expenses — is going to begin hitting critical infrastructure employees like teachers and law enforcement.

“Right now the average cost across Colorado for a two-bedroom apartment, you must make $26 an hour,” Joy said. “It’s a growing challenge. We have less housing inventory and higher housing prices.”

The board also heard from Facilities Project Coordinator Eric Jaquez about the need for repairs and renovations at Columbine Park in Rangely, specifically to the bucking and roping chutes, primarily used by CNCC’s rodeo program. Jaquez said “significant work” will be needed. Just to upgrade would be more than $50,000. Complete replacement with a new system would be approximately $298,000. There are some cheaper options.

“We have $5,000 total budgeted for supplies at Columbine Park through the end of the year,” Jaquez said. The county spends about a week making necessary repairs every year at the request of the college.

“This is a bit of an economic driver to have a decent facility,” said Commissioner Gary Moyer, asking if there are other options for funding, as the cost for replacement is not in the budget.

Commissioner Rector suggested hiring local welders to make the needed repairs and said he would like to get some cost estimates before making a decision.

IT Director Trevor Nielsen told the commissioners that backup batteries that “make up the gap” between the time of a power outage and the emergency generators coming on are out of warranty. Replacing them is expected to cost about $12,000. The board discussed testing the batteries to see if they are beginning to fail, and starting to plan ahead for replacement during budget discussions.

Sales and Use Tax Administrator Deb Morlan presented 2020 numbers for sales and use tax revenue, saying both towns saw an increase in revenue — 20% for Meeker and 11% for Rangely.

In the first four months of 2021, the Town of Meeker is over the same time last year by about 13%, and the Town of Rangely is up about 12%.

“The towns are doing pretty good,” Morlan said, adding she’s beginning to see a slight downward trend she attributes to people shopping out of town again.

“Rio Blanco County has been pretty much flat,” she said. The towns’ sales and use tax dollars are based primarily on retail, while the county’s revenue is based on products and equipment purchased by industry or other industries.

A project at Deserado Mine, plus some new construction permits, resulted in an increase in construction materials use tax.

Motor vehicle use is up in the first four months compared to last year by 19-20%.

Countywide, revenues are up by about 22% compared to last year.

Vendors have until July 1 to comply with the Colorado Department of Revenue’s new GIS system. The new system will make sure sales tax is allocated to appropriate jurisdictions.

“Last year transfers [from the towns to the county] were about $325,000. That’s the money I retrieved for the county you wouldn’t get if I wasn’t here,” Morlan said.

“I think you’ll see that sales tax roll come up more as that GIS system gets implemented,” said Commissioner Rector.

Code Enforcement

A complaint about code violations from John and Connie Kelly about neighbor Chris Corbin was heard by the board, with County Planner Leif Joy asking for direction on how to proceed with individual complaints. Commissioner Rector, who is a neighbor to both parties, recused himself. The Kellys complained about abandoned vehicles, wood piles, bones and weeds, prompting a discussion about personal property rights and the county’s role in enforcement.

“We’re not asking you to change the law, we’re asking you to enforce it,” Connie Kelly said. No decisions were made in the work session.

In the regular meeting, the board:

  • Approved a proclamation declaring May 2021 as “Older Americans Month.”
  • Approved annual audit forms for both county airports to be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Approved $144,806 in Title III funds to update the community wildfire protection plan, cover training costs and purchase new equipment for search and rescue. Commissioner Ty Gates said the wildfire protection plan is from 2012 and needs updated. Sheriff Mazzola said some of the old equipment from search and rescue will be repurposed if the funding allows.
  • Tabled decisions to fund the 2021 emergency grant application for WRBM for the 4th of July fireworks show and Septemberfest events until June 8. Commissioner Rector explained that the funds in question were set aside for “emergencies only.”

“Fireworks may not be an emergency right now,” Rector said.

  • Approved a permission letter to the Town of Meeker for alcohol to be served at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation banquet on June 12 by the Meeker Lions Club. The event will be held at the Fairgrounds 4-H building.
  • Paul Miller will prepare the solid waste disposal report for the county.
  • Approved the Colorado Courthouse Security Grant application.
  • Approved an advertisement to hire a “building official.” The position requires more qualifications than a building inspector and will be a department head.
  • Approved airport improvement grant agreements with the FAA for both airports.
  • Approved the 2021 cattle guards and wings bid to Skyline Steel, in an amount not to exceed $43,645.
  • Approved increasing the First Amendment to the AAA Grant Award #21-11-16 from $61,867.74 to $86,867.74.

The board also approved three resolutions:

  • Approved the use of federal Title I money for the county’s school districts.
  • Approved a resolution from the board regarding management of wild and free roaming horses within Rio Blanco County.
  • Approved a resolution concerning Constitutional Rights and Protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Colorado. “I think this is broad enough in general that we can get behind it,” Moyer commented. “We’re trying to minimize any unintended consequences but at the same time it really makes a statement that we support the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Rio Blanco County.”

You can read the full text of both resolutions at ht1885.com.

After commissioner updates, the board went into executive session with Todd Starr regarding pending or threatening litigation.

In the afternoon, the board had a second work session with Budget and Finance Director Janae Stanworth to review budget expenditures thus far in 2021.

The county is now streaming public meetings to the county’s YouTube channel for viewing.