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City council hears 2017 department reports

Sets special meeting to select  city clerk for 5 pm tonight

by Eric Mullens

WALSENBURG — Once again with only five members present, the Walsenburg City Council met in regular session Tuesday and worked to meet pending deadlines regarding selection of a city clerk and completion of an agreement concerning water storage partners for City Lake Dam.

On a motion by councilman Greg Daniels, council voted unanimously to accept a past-deadline application from Victoria Vigil for the open position of city clerk. Daniels’ motion, at the suggestion of city attorney Dan Hyatt, also included wording that no other late applications would be accepted. The council voted unanimously to meet in a special session tonight at 5 pm to make a selection for the clerk position. Following the general election in November 2017, where no one ran for the position, Mayor Jim Eccher had urged unsuccessful council candidate, Brian Lelander, to apply for the clerk’s open position. After researching what the duties of the clerk entailed, Lelander did apply, but council ignored the application and for the second time since the general election, re-advertized for applicants.

The latest deadline, Friday, Jan. 12 came and went without any other clerk applicants, that is until Tuesday, Jan. 16. Vigil’s application was delivered to city hall on the morning of this week’s council meeting. Deputy city clerk Wanda Britt worked Wednesday to verify if Vigil was a qualified city elector, i.e. city resident, and was eligible to be appointed to the office. If she is found to meet the eligibility requirements, she and Lelander will be considered for appointment tonight at the special meeting.

The special meeting is necessary to meet a state deadline for filling the office that falls before the next regular city council meeting. If city elected officials fail to meet that deadline the city will be forced to hold a special election for the clerk’s position, the same position no one in the city ran for in the 2017 general election.

Another important deadline facing the city concerns getting an Intergovernmental Agreement in place between Walsenburg and other identified water storage users interested in storing water in City Lake Dam once, the state-mandated rehabilitation of the lake is accomplished. Council voted unanimously to direct the city’s water attorney’s, Richard Mehren, to continue negotiations with the prospective collaborative partners to get the IGA finalized so officials may vote on that issue prior to a March 2018 deadline. If that deadline is not met the city’s $800,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to be used to pay for the capacity increase at City Lake will be in jeopardy. During the regular session the council recorded an official 5-0 vote to appoint Joel Shults as municipal judge. Council selected Shults at their last regular meeting after a long executive session.

During the work session this week, council discussed two water/sewer tap separation projects that are coming up; one for Gordon Kelly involving properties on Main and Seventh Streets and the other involving Community Banks.

Council also discussed acquisition of the Spanish Peaks Gathering System, an approximately 22 mile long natural gas pipeline offered to the city by Petroglyph. City gas department director Art Ortiz, briefed council on the cost of testing and marking the system and the approximate costs of actually bringing the abandoned gas pipeline back into service. During the Leslie Klusmire administration, the city council had tentatively agreed to acquire the pipeline, at no cost, once all of the rights-of-way agreements had been reviewed and approved by the city attorney. Ortiz suggested the city council appoint members of the council to a committee which would include Ortiz to keep on top of the issue. New council member Don Martinez and Mayor Eccher volunteered to serve on that committee.

In a conference call Tuesday night with Tim Uhrik, a civil engineer for O’Reilly Auto Parks, council learned the company and the Colorado Department of Transportation are close to working out ingress /egress issues concerning the firm’s proposed Seventh Street building site. Once that is approved, Uhrik told the council, bid notifications for construction should be going out and construction of the business could begin as soon as this summer. He said construction usually takes about three months, and a grand opening of the auto parts store should happen around September 1, 2018.

Annual reports: Walsenburg Public Works Director David Harriman reported 2017 statistics to the city council which included 2,234 water/sewer department calls responded to in 2017; 234 in the streets and alley department; 1,248 calls for service responded to by the gas department and 110 miscellaneous calls for service. The service calls reflected in the report did not include ordinary meter reading duties performed by department staff.

Huerfano Sheriff Bruce Newman briefed city council on some 2016 to 2017 law enforcement action comparisons as the first year of the sheriff’s office taking over city law enforcement has drawn to a close.

Newman reported an approximate 15 to 20 % drop in the local crime rate, as opposed to an approximate 3 % increase statewide. He said in 2016, there were 402 arrests and 470 in 2017. In 2016, city police had a 25 % clearance rate for criminal cases and that figure was 45 % in 2017. Newman explained the numbers come from the national reporting system used by law enforcement. There were 9,974 dispatched calls for service in 2016 and 8,437 in 2017. Not all of these were criminal cases, but calls dispatched to officers for some kind of service.

Newman reported since the sheriff’s office took over the law enforcement contract, approved by voters in 2016, he had hired 13 deputies and six have since left the department for various reasons. He said one deputy remains on medical leave, so the sheriff’s office is currently short of a full compliment of law enforcement officers.

He reported cases filed locally into municipal court are down, but said with the arrival of municipal code material that should increase this year. He said traffic control has been an issue since most of the radar guns used to track speeders have not been re-certified and some deputies still need certification to ‘ run radar’.

On a brighter note, Newman said following discussions between county and city administration and the mayor, it appears the sheriff’s office will be able to field a code enforcement officer to assist both in the county and the city this year. He said the new addition will not cost the city any money and should be able to be funded through a Colorado Grey and Black Market Marijuana grant program aimed at identifying and eradicating unlicensed marijuana growing operations.

City council voted to go into executive session for general personnel issue discussions at 7:05 pm and the closed-door session ended at approximately 9:15 pm with no vote announced.

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