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Commissioners hold 2018 budget hearing

New planner hired and offer made for building inspector

by Eric Mullens

Vicki Koepsel is the new Huerfano County Planner and will be working out of the office located at the Depot adjacent to Heritage Park in Walsenburg.
Photo by Eric Mullens

WALSENBURG — The Huerfano County Commissioners held their annual budget hearing Tuesday and reviewed a conservative budget during the regular session.

Within the budget process there are what was described as ‘great unknows’ facing final adoption, including what loss of property tax revenue the county will face in light of the Gallagher Amendment, how much federal PILT (payments in lieu of taxes) funds will be available next year and total funding costs for two shared budget items. Those two funds, shared with Las Animas County, concern local contributions to the Las Animas/Huerfano Public Health Department and the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

The Huerfano Commissioners will be meeting next Monday at 10 am in Trinidad with Las Animas Commissioners to discuss those two items. Results from that meeting will be discussed at next week’s commission session on Tuesday. Commissioner Max Vezzani described the proposed 2018 budget as “a good, sustainable’ one and he, along with Commission Chairman Ray Garcia and Commissioner Gerald Cisneros agreed in lieu of employee pay raises, bonuses for employees were an important addition to the budget.

The Gallagher Amendment, passed in 1982, was designed to maintain a constant ratio between the property tax revenue that comes from residential property and from business property. To simplify a set of complex formulas, the effect of Gallagher was to reduce the assessment rate (the percent of property value that is subject to taxation) whenever statewide total residential property values increased faster than business property values. As a result of the Gallagher Amendment, the assessment rate for residential property has declined by more than two-thirds over the years because of Colorado’s population growth and because of increases in residential real estate values. The net effect has been a marked decline in revenues collected from property tax.

The commissioners also conducted the E911 budget hearing this week and discussed the plans to upgrade the phone system at the emergency dispatch center in Walsenburg. The cost of the upgrade is anticipated to be $103,265.

The 2018 General Fund balance is estimated at $5.923 million revenues versus $4.870 million in expenses; an estimated drop of some $300,000 from the current 2017 General Fund revenues of $6.128 million versus $4.745 million.

The commissioners also discussed the future of 2018 county business and beyond. A major topic being the proposed development of a new Judicial Center complex and how the multi-million dollar facility will be financed. Employee salary increases, extremely important in retention of quality staff, is another topic the commissioners have identified as a high priority for the coming years.

The commissioners this week did approve a $400 bonus for full time staff and a $100 bonus for part time staff. The bonuses will be paid to employees in their mid-December payroll checks.

During the meeting this week, new county planning director Vicki Koepsel was introduced. Koepsel has 27 years in planning and comes to Huerfano County from Wichita, Kansas. She has also worked in Colorado and Washington state. The commissioners also voted unanimously to offer the position of chief building inspector to Terry Sandoval at an annual salary of $45,000.

In other business:

• The commissioners approved Resolution 2017-126 to certify delinquent consumer accounts in the Gardner Water and Sanitation Public Improvement District. The resolution identified three delinquent accounts in the amounts of $477.90, $1,222.10, and $217.50.

• Commissioners approved a letter requesting Extension of HMGP (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program) funding.

• Heard from CSU County Extension Agent Carl Beeman who reported the county fair and sale went well this year with a number of local youth’s projects qualifying for the state fair. He said 19 Huerfano County 4-H projects qualified and several placed and won awards at the state fair. Elections for the County Fair Board were held last week and the board members are; President Rachel Rheuby; Vice President Josh Watson; Secretary Jennifer Cordova; Treasurer Cindy Johnson, and Members Joe Faris, Rebecca Mitchell, Jason McGraw, Jayme McGraw, Brent Sudderth and Steven Ames. Beeman said the board has enough funds to replace the big sliding door on the 4-H barn and are currently in the process of trying to find the best contractor for the job. The Extension Office’s move to the basement of the courthouse has been completed.

• Approved a mutual aid and assistance agreement with a state agency regarding the Gardner GID; approved a $4,540 expenditure with Maniscalco Bros. & Sons for pipe purchases to be used in cattle guard construction; approved a $5,238 expenditure for electric work from Sage Electric for the Day Lodge building at Cuchara Mountain Park; voted to approve a contract not to exceed $40,000 with SE Group for planning services for Cuchara Mountain Park (CMP). This firm was the one recommended following proposal reviews by the CMP Advisory Board; approved the $10,769 expenditure for the sheriff’s office body camera tower server; approved the coverage subscription and 125 flexible benefit insurance plan from American Fidelity for county employees (note Huerfano County contributes 85% of employee insurance costs; one of the highest county contributions in the state); approved a letter to the U.S. Forest Service requesting the USFS consider taking the necessary steps to restore public access to the forest at the end of Huerfano County Road 340.1.

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