by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — While tourists may enjoy the scenic ride from Alamosa to La Veta on the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, the train line and its parent company are seen by the county treasurer and commissioners as a huge revenue loss due to unpaid taxes.
During the regular meeting Tuesday of the Huerfano County Commissioners, Huerfano Treasurer Debra Reynolds reported on uncollectable taxes the county will have to write off for the past year. The amount approved as write-offs for uncollectable taxes was $7,685, but that is not the entire story.
Reynolds reported the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, currently owned by Iowa Pacific Railroad, owes Huerfano County $571,575.49 in unpaid back taxes. Reynolds told the World Journal the amount has an effect on the taxable contributions to such local entities as the school district in La Veta, the hospital district and others.
She said the last time the tourist railroad paid taxes was in 2012 on a tax bill from the prior year, based on assessments made in 2010. The amount paid by Permian Basin Railways in 2013 was $45,240.84. Since then, there have been no taxes paid by the railroad or its parent company to Huerfano County.
The commissioners directed Huerfano Administrator John Galusha to sit down with county attorney Garrett Sheldon and work up a letter to the railroad and parent company seeking information on the long-time overdue tax payments.
During the regular meeting, the commissioners approved the semi-annual and annual report from the treasurer.
The commissioners this week also voted to ask Third Judicial District Attorney Henry Solano to prepare and present a line-item budget for operations of the district attorney’s office in and for Huerfano County. “Then, once that is done, we can determine if there is a need to increase our baseline budget to the DA,” said commissioner Max Vezzani. A line-item budget from the district attorney is something the commissioners have not received in years from previous prosecution office holders. Galusha will forward the commissioner’s request to Solano. The commissioner’s also requested Galusha prepare a list of those individuals whose terms are expiring this year who serve on various county boards and commissioners. The commissioners voted to accept the resignation of Cathy Mullens from the Huerfano County Board of Adjustments due to her relocation to Pueblo County. The board thanked Ms. Mullens for her service. The commissioners unanimously passed Resolution 18-06 governing the collection, administration and enforcement of Huerfano County’s marijuana excise tax. The resolution applies to legal commercial growers. Currently there are eight legal commercial marijuana growing operations in the county.
In other marijuana related business, this time dealing with illegal growing operations, the county has received a $19,927 grant from the Department of Local Affairs under the Grey and Black Market Marijuana Enforcement Grant Program. The letter said, in part, “After verification of actual expenses related to investigations prosecutions of unlicensed marijuana cultivation or distribution operations during calendar year 2016 through June 30, 2017, program staff has recommended an award of grant funds.” Galusha said the county would be applying for a larger grant, also to deal with illegal grows, from this program in October. The commissioners voted 3-0 to cancel the Acme Hemp conditional use permit with the receipt of a letter from Alaine Byers, indicating Keith Bouchard and Acme Hemp are in breach of their tenancy contract with Byers and Rick Holzhauer concerning property at 3328 CR 450 in La Veta. The letter said the lease was written for a three-year period, but it will not be renewed by the property owners.
In other business:
• The commissioners proclaimed January 14, 2018 as Victor Sanchez Day in Huerfano County in recognition of his naval service as a Petty Officer 3rd Class in the USN. Sanchez served in Texas, California, North Carolina and Japan and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal. The proclamation was made in Resolution 18-5.
• The board proclaimed the week of Jan. 21 – 27 as School Choice Week in Huerfano County through Resolution 18-1.
• Approved a fee waiver request for use of the Raymond Aguirre Community Center in Gardner for yoga classes offered by Margaret Hecht. The request was approved on the condition the classes remain free to the public.