Task force works to prioritize public services

RBC — While funding required to maintain the levels of service provided by local governments may be decreasing, the needs aren’t.
That’s why taxing entities in Rio Blanco County are working together to identify and prioritize those community needs and to look for ways to fund them.
The Community Planning Task Force — represented by various taxing entities in Rio Blanco County — heard about possible funding options during a presentation last week in Meeker by Jack Kirtland of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
In these economic times, working together is important, said Peter Brixius, Rangely town manager, who attended the Feb. 2 meeting via videoconference.
“The task force meetings are working to create an era of cooperation that will require the participation of special districts, municipalities and the county to accomplish many of the goals,” Brixius said. “I believe that the discussions are beginning to develop traction concerning topics related to countywide needs and the development of fair and equitable criteria to be used in the prioritization of capital projects.”
While there is no shortage of needs throughout the county, Brixius said the task force can play an important role in moving projects forward.
“As we manage what could be an extended contraction of the economy, this forum is a model that will be very beneficial to Rio Blanco County,” Brixius said.
Cooperation between taxing entities will be key, said Scott Pierson, director of the Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District.
“I think many times groups are formed with great intentions; however, if people don’t have a common goal, things sometimes fall by the wayside,” Pierson said.
As an example, Pierson said he recently met with representatives of Pioneers Medical Center to discuss cooperative efforts.
“I think there are great opportunities, including grants, for working together with other entities,” Pierson said. “I can see creating great synergies with the hospital, the town of Meeker and the school district, among others. We’re moving forward, and that is encouraging.”
Margie Joy, president of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce, said there are plenty of needs to go around.
“The challenge we are trying to address is that there are many significant capital improvement projects, and current revenue levels cannot cover the costs,” Joy said.
So, not only identifying the needs, but ranking them is important, Joy said.
“Rio Blanco County, the towns of Rangely and Meeker and the special districts are trying to build a prioritized list of capital improvement needs,” Joy said.
One of those priorities is the development of affordable housing throughout the county. On Feb. 1, both towns, the county and the Community Planning Task Force applied for a $49,500 DOLA grant to pay for a housing needs assessment study.
“We are hopeful that we will receive the grant and then begin work and have the results and recommendations in early August,” Joy said.
While waiting on whether its application is accepted, County Commissioner Ken Parsons of Rangely said it is important the task force keep moving forward.
“Now that the grant application for the housing study is in, there may be a bit of down time for the committee, until the grant is funded and things get rolling again,” Parsons said. “I think that the economic downturn may give us a bit of breathing room to get both the housing study and the (county’s) master plan going.”
The county is in the process of updating its master plan and recently sent out a survey asking for feedback from residents. The last update of the master plan was in 1999.
“I still think compiling a master list of infrastructure needs and projects is important for the county,” Parsons said. “It will help us appreciate each district’s needs and priorities.”
But money may be scarce for funding projects to meet the county’s infrastructure needs.
“I’m familiar with DOLA options on funding, and there isn’t too much there for us,” Parsons said. “None of their funding options include both county and municipal areas; they are mutually exclusive. I suppose we could ask the voters to set up a housing authority, but we will still have the problem of how to fund it. I’m hoping there may be something in the federal stimulus package, which would give us some grant opportunities too.”
With the impact of the oil and gas industry on the county, infrastructure needs have increased dramatically in recent years.
“Jack (Kirtland) gave us more insight into the DOLA process for the Tier III mineral and energy impact grants,” Joy said. “He recommends the use of Intergovernmental Agreements to illustrate collaborations and commitment when applying for for the Tier III grants. It’s never a given you’ll receive DOLA funds, but we have to continue to show how Rio Blanco County is impacted by oil and gas. We need to make a strong case for why that money should come back here.”
Sharon Day, Meeker town administrator, said the task force is making progress.
“We have the first steps begun, but need to do more,” Day said. “I am excited about the group, and I think we are getting close to having a more definitive product very soon. Jack commended the group for their efforts and said that this type of collaboration will be required to be successful receiving Tier III energy impact funds. I am happy about how many taxing entities have come together in this process.”
Ann Brady, mayor for the town of Rangely, said taxing entities on both ends of the county will need to join forces.
“It is so important for all of us to work together in the best interests of our towns and the county,” Brady said. “Times are going to be tough for a while. In these economic times, it will be critical for all of us to find ways to meet the needs of our communities at the most affordable means.”