Staff Report
Rifle, CO Colorado

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January 2, 2013
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2012: A look back on the Top 10 stories

Concerns and questions about the need for - and how to pay for - a new water treatment plant in Rifle were on the minds and voices of many residents in 2012.

Several open houses to explain the project and answer questions attracted overflow crowds.

By the end of the year, plans for the new plant were proceeding, voters approved a 3/4 of a cent sales and use tax hike in November to help pay for the plant, and a team of companies were hired to oversee the project.

The city obtained the money for the plant through a $25.5 million, low-interest loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

City officials have said the existing Graham Mesa plant is aging, undersized to serve projected population growth and unable to meet possible tougher federal water quality standards in the future.

The tax hike took effect on Jan. 1 and increased the city's sales and use tax rate from 3.5 cents to 4.25 cents. It is expected to raise an estimated $1.65 million a year.

Repayment of the loan led to sharply higher water rates in September that more than doubled some customers' water bills, payable in October. City Council last month reduced those rates due to passage of the sales and use tax measure.

After 22 years as police chief and 39 years of service with the Rifle Police Department, Daryl Meisner retired in September and handed the reins of the department to John Dyer.

The 54-year-old Dyer brought 28 years of police experience to the post, most recently as a patrol commander for the Oak Harbor, Wash., Police Department. Dyer's starting salary was $89,000 a year.

After Meisner announced earlier in the year he would be retiring, the city conducted an extensive recruitment effort to find his replacement. Dyer was selected from among seven finalists out of 78 applicants for the position and was one of two finalists from outside Colorado.

Dyer and the other finalists met with department staff, attended a community reception in June, and were interviewed by the City Council, City Manager John Hier and the city's executive staff. Dyer's appointment to replace Meisner was unanimously approved by City Council in July.

Dyer's first major change was to shift officers' work schedules from 10 hours a day for four days to 12 hours a day for three days, with teams of officers and sergeants on rotating schedules so the city has more consistent and efficient police coverage every hour of every day of the year. That change took effect on Jan. 1.

The local economy started strong but stumbled in 2012, beginning the year with an 11 percent increase in Rifle sales tax collections through the first four months, and a 5 percent increase through the second quarter.

That trend lost steam as the months went by, though. In September, sales tax collections were down 15 percent compared to the same month of 2011, and October's numbers were 9 percent lower than October 2011.

The trend was different in 2011, when the city's sales tax revenue of $6.5 million was 11 percent higher than 2010's $5.8 million. The 2011 numbers were a bit higher than 2009's revenue total of $6.4 million, but still considerably lower than the city's record high revenues of $8.4 million in 2008.

Decreases in 2012 sales tax collections were found in about half the categories the city tracks, such as food, retail, liquor stores and motels. Categories that showed some increase were bars and restaurants, car parts and sales, hardware, and oil and gas.

The economic conditions played a role in the closure of some longtime, well-known businesses, such as the Rusty Cannon Motel, and the relocation of others, such as TWI Oil Field Services, to other communities.

But on the plus side, Timberline Sporting Goods relocated from their longtime location at Third Street and Railroad Avenue to a larger downtown building on Second Street, with plans to expand.

And Columbine Ford was sold to a Front Range automobile dealer and Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. The new owners planned to expand the numbers of vehicles for sale at the Rifle dealership.

A former movie theater in downtown Rifle took some big steps forward in its future use as an events center, with Rifle City Council's unanimous approval of the use of $714,000 in city funds from various departments to complete the renovation and remodeling of the New Ute Events Center.

The city plans to use $1.24 million from the capital reserve fund, federal mineral leasing funds, a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, $228,000 in other grants, $13,766 from the city visitor improvement fund, $10,000 from the Downtown Development Authority budget and $200,000 from the information center budget to finish the $1.9 million renovation and remodeling of the center.

The New Ute Theatre Society, or NUTS, a nonprofit group, would oversee the center. The group plans to use a $35,000 private donation, annual $10,000 contributions from both the city's visitor information fund and Rifle information center, and eventually hold an average of 204 events a year to generate ticket revenue to help cover operations and maintenance costs. A consultant earlier said similar events centers in Colorado require a subsidy of around $300,000 a year to stay open.

Other funding sources to help cover operational costs include rentals and an audience base predicted to grow over the years, along with membership dues.

The fall gridiron season at Rifle High School will go down as one of the most memorable, even if the Bears fell one game short of a state title.

The Bears lost the Class 3A state championship game, 32-15, to Silver Creek at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.

But they finished the season 13-1, running the table on their regular-season schedule and winning the 3A Western Slope League championship a second straight year.

They were ranked No. 1 in most of the state's prep football polls most of the season, thanks in part to a powerful running game that ranked first in the classification and second to Pueblo West statewide. They also set a school record for wins, eclipsing the previous high of 11 set in the 2011 season.

Running back and safety Ryan Moeller, who drew collegiate interest from schools such as Colorado Mesa and Colorado State universities, rushed for 3,002 yards. He finished with 3,211 yards of total offense and, along with 57 tackles, eight interceptions and four interception returns for scores, tallied 50 touchdowns. Only nine high school players in the nation, according to, found the end zone more. Overall, Moeller finished with 5,471 rushing yards during his final two years of high school.

Rifle's defense also proved to be one of the state's best, recording six shutouts and, even after allowing 30-plus points to Silver Creek and Roosevelt in the 3A playoffs, allowed an average of 7.64 points per game.

Students from New Castle to Parachute and Battlement Mesa started this school year knowing they would have three-day weekends all year long.

Both the Garfield School District Re-2 and School District 16 adopted four-day school week calendars as budget-cutting measures. Friday was the day off for students in Re-2, while School District 16 students were given Mondays off.

Eliminating a day of school - with slightly longer school days on the four days classes are held - helps the districts save money in costs for student transportation, food services, substitute teachers and utilities and by a reduction in hours for non-teaching staff.

In Parachute and Battlement Mesa, the switch also included the adoption of a plan to allow many teachers to educate the same children for two years instead of just one, with an increased emphasis put on students themselves to learn.

By consolidating facilities, the L.W. St. John Elementary School provided learning activities for all students every Monday, as well as served as a community center during the rest of the week.

And School District 16 was able to stop leasing school buses from a company in Grand Junction. Instead, the district purchased four used buses and added two new buses through a lease-purchase agreement, at a cost savings compared to the previous leasing arrangement. The district then contracted with Re-2 for bus maintenance service.

A compost operation designed to reduce the amount of trash taken to the landfill, and save the City of Rifle some money on getting rid of its sewer plant septage, caused a stink when months of odor complaints from West Rifle residents led the city to shut it down.

Odors and flies buzzing around their homes and businesses brought residents to several City Council meetings to complain about the West Rifle Composting operation, next to the city's regional wastewater treatment plant off U.S. Highway 6.

The city contracted with Jim Duke of Caca Loco Composting in the spring of 2011 to operate the site.

A certificate of designation defined the operation of the 10-acre site. It could accept up to 11,000 cubic yards of biosolids from the city's sewer plant, septage, animal bedding and manure, portable toilet wastes, wood and yard wastes, paper, cardboard and food wastes.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found several concerns with Duke's operation during a compliance assistance inspection in April. Some had to do with paperwork, but inspectors noted odor complaints were not adequately addressed within seven days, as the certificate requires. Other concerns focused on stormwater drainage and pad liner permeability to protect groundwater sources.

Adding to Duke's problems were warmer than normal temperatures and wind directions. The city issued a notice to quit to Duke in June and hauled the compost piles to the Garfield County landfill.

A retired police officer who had chickens and geese in her backyard to help her get over the death of her 25-year-old daughter in March, and to help keep bugs and insects out of an organic garden, was arrested on May 31 for violating the city of Rifle's zoning code.

Jo Ann Dodea's case was dismissed, though, in June. And Rifle City Council adopted a new ordinance that removes zoning and replaces it with a conditional use permit process. It also increased the allowed number of female chickens and ducks combined to 10.

Dodea, 55, worked for more than 20 years for the Carbondale Police Department and Pitkin County Sheriffs Department.

Her ordeal began on May 21, when a citizen complained about 22 chickens and several geese on her property.

Dodea initially claimed five officers were present when she was arrested and filed a complaint with the police department on June 4. However, she later said there were more likely three, plus a supervising sergeant, who visited briefly during her arrest.

All charges against Dodea were dismissed by municipal court Judge Victor Zerbi on June 13. Prosecuting attorney Angela Roff said Dodea was never charged with having the chickens. Her five offenses were for five geese that were in her yard on the night of her arrest, Roff said. Since Dodea's boyfriend, Antonio Torres, said the geese belonged to him and paid his fine, the case was dismissed, Roff explained.

A Rifle Village South homeowner who's watched her back yard slowly sink into the ground due to soil erosion seemed to get the attention of Garfield County Commissioners.

In November, after many meetings, phone calls and public appeals, Janet Ketelsleger was told the county will look into an unclear property ownership issue in the subdivision and could add a small section of land to the county road system.

That would allow the county to address problems with unstable soils along a drainage ditch that Ketelsleger said had caused a sinkhole to swallow up part of her backyard over the last several years.

Rifle Village South was originally developed by Larry Bradley in the 1960s, and a local improvement district was formed to pay for streets when homes were finally built in the 1980s and '90s.

However, the common areas of the subdivision have since disappeared from the county's tax rolls, and the ownership is unclear.

Ketelsleger pointed to a letter sent by county officials to subdivision residents in 1987, indicating they knew of the unstable soils in the area that could lead to sinkholes.

In 1997, Ketelsleger said, the county approved the addition of several homes, including the one she bought in 2003, before the sinkholes appeared.

The Grand River Hospital District celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing quality health care to western Garfield County residents, but mostly in a low key manner.

Health care officially began in Rifle, for most people, on Dec. 16, 1962. That was when Clagett Memorial Hospital opened its doors to those who needed care.

The story of how the hospital came to be, and what's happened in local health care since then, was preserved by the district in "Grand River Hospital District: 50 Years of Miracles."

The 48-minute-long documentary tells how the very first hospital, a ramshackle building donated by the United Vanadium Corp., now known as UMETCO, opened in 1953 at what is now Metro Park.

Then Clagett Memorial Hospital, named after pioneering Rifle Dr. O.F. Clagett, who championed the need for a local hospital but passed away before he could see his dream come true, was built.

The story, told through interviews of 44 past and current hospital employees, staff, administrators and board members, continues through the building and opening of the Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in 2003 and the addition in 2009.

The district also held a summer picnic, with food and games for young and old, at Rifle's Centennial Park, along with a gala celebration for past and current district employees, staff, doctors and nurses in October.

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 2, 2013 05:07PM Published Jan 2, 2013 04:57PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.