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Elected officials, business leaders meet to discuss legislative agenda

by Bill Knowles

TRINIDAD — Local elected officials, the area’s business leaders, elected state officials, and representatives from Colorado’s delegation to Washington D.C. met at the Pioneer Room on the TSJC campus to discuss the needs of Las Animas County and the upcoming legislative agendas.

The two-hour meeting covered many areas of concern highlighted by local officials and business leaders.

Among the many concerns voiced were regulations that hampered the growth, both financial and physical, of local businesses; the homeless; and the opioid epidemic.

Scott Zimmerman, the chief operations officer for Timber Creek Energy, had concerns over the regulatory environment in the energy extraction business, saying the price of regulatory compliance would cost his company around $1 million over the course of the year.

Jason Shirling, owner of a marijuana grow and retail business in Trinidad, told the state representatives, including Speaker of the House Chrisanta Duran, that producers and sellers in the southern Colorado area were being excluded from the rule making process for the industry. Rules are made in Denver and the cannabis industry in northern Colorado was well represented in the process, but the industry in southern Colorado needs stronger representation.

Another problem facing the cannabis industry is the issue of banking. Federal law prevents the cannabis industry from using many banking services because of the scheduling of cannabis, a schedule one drug, meaning it has no known medical value and is highly addictive (much like heroin). Banks that are FDIC insured are handcuffed from providing services to the industry because that is interpreted to be a type of money laundering. Representatives from Senator Michael Bennett’s office, Senator Cory Gardener’s office, and from Representative Ken Buck’s office were on hand to take note of the concerns.

The DA’s office, local police, and EMS services looked at the area’s opioid crisis. Larry Martinez, investigator from the DA’s office, and Trinidad Police Chief Charles Gloriosio addressed the issue.

Gloriosio looked at three possible solutions to the problem, stating that the area needed a medical detox program. Medicaid reimbursement was the second item answering how to pay for the services, and continued interdiction by police and medical provider.

From 2014 to mid 2017, over $8,000 has been spent on Narcan, highlighting increased police interdiction on the problem.

Another issue is the problem of the closure of rural hospitals. Senator Larry Crowder, who represents the 35th District that

Much of the difficulty is the depressed economies of the rural areas in Colorado. People just can’t afford healthcare until an illness or injury pushes them to a hospital. Payment for the services is not completely covered by either Medicare or Medicaid, and the patient may not have enough in savings or income to cover the difference. Many hospitals in the rural areas are struggling with overdue bills and late payments.

Crowder said he wouldn’t stand by and let any one of the hospitals in his district close.

The issue of conservation easements and state land board purchases of land, nearly 50,000 acres, was addressed by both Las Animas County Commissioner Mack Louden and state representative Kimmi Lewis. Louden noted that as the state land board makes those purchases, it removes the property from the county’s tax rolls and reduces the amount of revenues the county can make.

Conservation easements are defined by the Colorado Open Lands as a “…voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government entity which contains permanent restrictions on the use or development of land in order to protect certain values of that particular property.”

“The conservation easement is recorded in the county records and binds all current and future owners of the land.”

Conservation easements gives property owners a way to fulfill their intentions to protect their property by donating a right, such as the right to subdivide and the right to commercially develop.

The landowners receive some tax benefits recognizing the donation. Colorado Open Lands “holds” the conservation easement, but does not own the property or get involved in day-to-day management.

The majority of conservation easements that Colorado Open Lands holds protect working farms and ranches, wildlife habitat, and scenic views from public roads or nearby public land.  A conservation easement does not allow the public to access your land (unless you want to allow access). A conservation easement does not prevent you from mortgaging, leasing, selling, or passing on your land, subject to the restrictions of the conservation easement.

According to Lewis, there are 5,400 conservation easements in the state.

Both Lewis and Louden voiced concern that the patchwork of conservation easements in the county prevents development, such as a more efficient way to establish power transmission through the area.

Another concern voiced is the lack of high speed Internet in southern Colorado. The lack of service is acknowledged as one of the main reasons economic development is lagging in the region.

The meeting lasted about two and a half hours, with 90 people participating.

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