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Mystery surplus found in Garfield Re-2 School District audit

A routine audit by the Garfield Re-2 School District found a surprise surplus of  over $4 million in the district’s fund balance last month.

But the unexpected funds are not exactly good news.

Proper funding for capital projects and what the district can do around staff salaries, benefits and one-time expenditures hinges upon knowing what is in the bank account.

Officials are looking at the are positives; that there is no indication that there was any criminal activity, which can potentially arise when unallocated money is lying around. There is no police involvement around embezzlement or stealing of funds, or any of that kind of thing.

“If it was a $4 million deficit, it is a whole different kind of conversation,” District Director of Communication Theresa Hamilton said. “The No. 1 thing on the mind of the administration, the school board is they want to be confident in the numbers that are in the accounts.”

According to Hamilton, the overage was identified when the board received a copy of the draft audit from McMahan and Associates during a work session in January. 

“While the budget projections and the 2019-20 budget indicated positive changes in the fund balance, none of those documents projected a $4 million overage. Without quarterly reports to the Board, it was not possible to gauge the status of accounts,” Hamilton said.

Re-2 School Board President Anne Guettler said she received an email in October from the auditors about concerns with the financial reporting that needed to be addressed.

“So that’s when we started peeling the onion to see where they were,” Guettler said.

The audit process typically begins in early October for the previous fiscal year. 

McMahan and Associates, which audits the district’s books, sends a team of accountants on site for 3-4 days, and also works remotely throughout the process.  

Audits are due to the Colorado Department of Education by the end of December unless an extension is granted. After inaccuracies were found Garfield Re-2 applied and received an extension for the 2018-19 audit.

In the original 2018-19 budget the district anticipated a deficit of $221,754. Initial results from the audit showed a surplus of $4,067,837, which was shrunk to $3,812,856 after reconciliation.

The reconciliation process required the district to correct several inaccuracies found during the initial audit. Timely and proper reconciliation of cash and investment balances is critical to safeguarding assets and ensuring accurate financial reporting.

Auditors found several material weaknesses, or problem areas, including deficiency in internal control and misstatements of the financial statements.

Although the audit indicates a significant increase to the fund balance, Hamilton said they are not certain those dollars are coded to the proper funds.

“That is why we have a certified public accountant assisting with account reconciliation. Until we complete that process, we are not confident that those dollars remain unencumbered.”

With several accounts as required by the state, Hamiltom said since the accounts weren’t reconciled, the district won’t know until all the accounts have been checked where the money belongs or if it might not have been allocated to another fund. 

Guettler said CPA Paul Backes told the board that when material weaknesses such as those found in the 2018-19 audit do emerge, many times the organization has experienced turnover in the finance department, much as Garfield Re-2 has experienced over the last 18-months.

According to a news release last week from the school district, the material weaknesses indicated in the audit were related to a lack of practices and procedures to ensure that the district follows Governmental Accounting Standards Board accounting requirements.

After the district was made aware of the issues they hired an outside accountant to complete the reconciliation.

The district hired CPA Christine Stouder, who is currently going through the cash accounts of the district. 

“Our CPA who came in to do cash reconciliations said that our accounts had not been balanced since July of 2018,” Guettler said. “The good news is we are very confident that nothing happened with that money, but there were many transactions worth millions of dollars that were not posted. And that’s substantiated in the audit.”

According to Guettler, long-time Director of Finance Christy Hamrick left the district in July 2018, not long after the district’s accountant.

Hamrick had been with the district for 17 years.

“So suddenly we had a transition, and we didn’t have a lot of time for training,” Guettler said.

“We brought someone new in and they didn’t know the systems we had in place, we have very complex software.”

Mike Rynkiewicz, who replaced Hamrick as chief financial officer, retired at the beginning of February.

Backes told the board the district’s reconciliations were not prepared in a timely manner or accurately. Backes said the district’s primary operating account was not reconciled throughout the year and the June reconciliations were not prepared by the date of the audit fieldwork, and when the reconciliation was provided, it was inaccurate.

MILL LEVY MONEY ACCOUNTED FOR

Hamilton said all funds collected through the mill levy is accounted for by Re-2.

The levy, which voters passed in 2018, helped the district bring the wages and benefits of district employees up to the standards on neighboring communities to help retention.

“When we went for a mill levy we went from a pretty archaic salary schedule to what’s called a steps and lanes schedule. That honors years of service as well as education,” Hamilton said.

“We had a good idea of what it would take to move everybody from the old system to the new system as a one-time shot, but then you also have to build in some sustainability. As people stay in the system, that’s the whole idea, is that you want them to stay.”

More than $4 million of the $4.7 million collected last year was used for salaries retroactively to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

Hamilton said that $691,000 was left in reserve and put back into the general fund.

 WHERE THE DISTRICT GOES FROM HERE

The district is currently looking to fill three positions to help make sure a similar situation doesn’t happen again. 

“We are talking about adding an accountant, a controller or senior accountant, in addition to the director of finance just so we have more sustainability over time,” Guettler said.

“Finance is one of those things that touches every department in a school district. Without a director of finance it makes it impossible to plan for the future. Those are things we need to be working on right now.”

The board of directors agreed to work with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to find a temporary chief financial officer to assist with budgeting for the 2020-21 school year.

“We don’t have financials from this year, so we don’t really know where we are at. We do have a couple supplemental budgets that we have done,” Guettler said.

“We are also trying to solve the long term problem, but in the short term we have Ms. Stouder coming in and balancing the accounts.”

District officials aren’t sure what would happen if problems with  accounts persist, but Guettler said she heard it could affect accreditation.

“We can’t fix what happened in the past, we can only really fix what we do processes and procedures-wise and staffing-wise moving forward,” Hamilton said. “The No. 1 thing on the mind of the administration, the school board is they want to be confident in the numbers that are in the accounts.”

The district is transitioning a payroll specialist to an accounting position to work directly with Stouder over the next four months.

The board is still looking to the future with the search for the new superintendent underway. They initially hoped the new superintendent could hire a new finance person but the board realizes they cannot wait and need to fill that position immediately.

“You need to have a finance director that can tell you every minute of the day how much money you have in place, and when you don’t know that you have to be very cautious in your spending,” Guettler said. “Everybody is working together to at least keep the ship afloat, but we really need to get a director of finance in as soon as possible.”

The district believes it will take some time to fix the mistakes that were made.

“This is not an easy fix, (Stouder) is good and has found a lot of stuff, but she is still reconciling cash, and we have a lot of other funds that need a lot of attention as well,” Guettler said.

TERMINATION OF BRENT CURTICE

Guettler said she could not comment on the termination of the former superintendent Brent Curtice because it is a personnel issue.

Curtice was terminated during the board’s meeting last week at Cactus Valley Elementary in Silt.

Assistant Superintendent Heather Grumley was named interim superintendent.

Grumley has been with the district for many years, starting as a teacher before moving up to the principal ranks.

“We have absolute confidence in Heather Gromly and her leadership team,” Guettler said.

“I have a brand new board, four new people, and they have put in the time and the work to learn the process. They are fully engaged and determined to help right this ship and make sure we do the best for our community, tax payers and students and our families.”

kmills@postindependent.com

Bond refinance for Roaring Fork Schools would save taxpayers about $1.6 million

Roaring Fork School District taxpayers could see an annual savings of $260,000 over the next six years with the district’s latest plan to refinance debt from previous facility bond issues.

The Roaring Fork school board last week unanimously agreed to authorize district finance officials to pursue a refinancing deal for about $27.7 million in bonds.

Those bonds were reissued in 2011 and 2012 as part of a refinancing package relating back to an $86 million bond issue approved by district voters in 2004. The bonds went to pay for the new addition and renovations at Glenwood Springs High School, the new Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale and buildout of Carbondale’s Crystal River Elementary School, among other projects.

“Periodically, market conditions allow us to refund (refinance) a portion of our general obligation bonds due to lower interest rates, resulting in savings to our taxpayers,” Shannon Pelland, chief financial officer for the district, and Finance Director Nathan Markham explained in a memo to the board.

Taking advantage of that opportunity now is projected to save about $1.6 million in bond payments over the next six years, they said. 

Public entities can only refinance their bonded debt a certain number of times from the original bond issue for tax reasons, Pelland explained in a follow-up interview.

“As soon as bonds are eligible to be refinanced, we have our bond underwriters take a look to see if it makes sense,” she said. “If interest rates are dropping and it gets to be about 3% or more in savings, it’s worth doing.”

Bond consultants from the firm Piper/Sandler conducted an evaluation and came up with the estimated savings if the district were to refinance at this time.

Added Markham, “it’s all based on estimates, so we will continue to monitor until the date of execution, and then seek final authorization from the board to proceed.”

That decision is likely to come by early April, he said.

Even then, the district retains the right to back out of the transaction up until closing, “in the unlikely event that the refunding no longer makes sense as a result of market conditions,” according to the board memo.

The most recent Roaring Fork Schools bond issue involved $122 million in bonded debt approved by voters in 2015. That package included the new K-8 Riverview School outside Glenwood Springs, the new addition and renovations at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, a new mid-valley student transportation facility, and $25 million in funding for the district employee housing program.

Pelland said those bonds are not likely to be considered for refinancing until the call date in 2025.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Personal Finance column: Retirement — five elements of financially flourishing

You have crossed over the proverbial finish line of retirement, and you are doing it in the Roaring Fork Valley. You set your financial goals, and your advisor says you have the resources to sustain your income needs. You are unpacking the new attire of retirement, but something is ruffled. The days fly by, you feel busy, yet you are restless, maybe even a bit depressed at times. You are functioning as planned, but not flourishing in your potential.

To expand from functioning to flourishing, you need to step out of your comfort zone and re-script the narrative of retirement past. It will change the way you employ your time, money and skills.

The work of Martin Seligman, Ph.D. in the area of positive psychology and well-being theory disrupts the status quo around retirement mindsets. His work has profound impacts on the financial decisions you make in order to support and sustain well-being in your life as you age.

Well-being theory incorporates five key elements: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. When your financial decisions align with these areas, you will experience deeper fulfillment in life.

The quest of traditional retirement primarily had you focus on goals and time utilization that elicit positive emotions (nothing wrong, just lacking in a vacuum). What will bring you pleasure, happiness, comfort and joy now and down the road? This is the easiest bucket of well-being to fill, as our brains are wired to seek pleasure and the most touted by the media. Over time this bucket becomes diluted and fails to quench.

Thinking that more money will lead to a flourishing life is an illusion. Optimizing how you use the financial and character wherewithal you have accumulated over time wisely and utilizing the clocks waning years will. When you have reached a place of financial functioning, you have the opportunity to fully flourish.

Like a glorious sunset, rich hues of color melded together, you will find that these five components of well-being many times overlay and enrich each other as you live your version of true prosperity. Based on the constructs of your unique financial and life situation, here are some examples in using your dollars to flourish:

Relationships: Use your money to build on or grow with the people you care about. Attend a workshop or retreat to learn new relational or communication skills. Create or facilitate experiences with the people you enjoy being with. Giving gifts may be an appropriate way to flourish in your relationships. We have a growing epidemic of isolation among people of means. Don’t let monetary angst get in the way of important relationships. Who can you reach out to today?

Meaning: You have an opportunity to be part of something larger than yourself. Create a giving plan that allows you to share your financial resources with humanitarian, religious, cultural, environmental, political or other special interest organizations. Utilize creative giving strategies such as the Donor Advised Funds, Charitable Remainder/Lead Trusts or beneficiary designations to maximize your opportunities. Look at how you are “spending” your time. What will it take to balance your vocations with vacations?

Positive emotions: Use your money to fulfill your “soul needs.” Turn off the noise that sucks you in to the “ego desires” vortex. What makes you giggle, brings you peace, fills you with deep satisfaction? It is subjective for everyone and reflects your evaluation of past, present and future. If you spend your money on things that elicit positive emotions, and embrace gratitude for what you have, you will end up needing less and feeling better about life.

Engagement: What activity so captivates you, that you lose track of time and sense of self? Utilize your money to facilitate immersion into those hobbies or activities. Don’t look at what others or what the media says you “should” be doing. How can you stay engaged in life in a way that ignites that spark in your heart? Can you share that spark with others?

Accomplishments: Use your financial resources and aspire to “mastery.” Don’t stop learning. What educational endeavors, professional development, sports pursuits or hobbies do you want to become the best at? Take a class, a course or create a curriculum to teach others.

Opening up the door to flourishing in retirement means becoming vulnerable, taking risks and embracing failure as step on the journey. It involves conversations as couples, space for individuality and freedom within boundaries. It will involve making financial choices — sometimes difficult ones, maybe scary ones. Make sure you have the right professional guidance to optimize your financial tools as you unpack life potential. The place to start is: Am I good with simply functioning or do I want to truly flourish?

Danielle Howard is a CFP® and CKA® with Wealth By Design LLC in Basalt. Check out her retirement podcasts and blogs at daniellehoward4u.com.

VisitGlenwood.com implements new search for foodie travel

VisitGlenwood.com is the official travel website representing the community of Glenwood Springs. This website functions as both a promotional tool and as a source for visitor information about attractions, lodging, the history of our town, news and more. While this website is geared toward helping visitors plan their vacations and promote our local tourism businesses, we find that locals also enjoy and frequently use visitglenwood.com.

DINING FACET SEARCH TO REPRESENT GLENWOOD SPRINGS’ OUTSTANDING DINING SCENE

Glenwood Springs offers an outstanding and diverse dining scene. We decided that highlighting each restaurant with their own landing page on visitglenwood.com is a great way to support our restaurants. This was a labor-intensive but crucial step to elevate the search rankings for Glenwood Springs’ restaurants and to enhance the visitor experience.

The local, official Google Partner and WordPress web design company BlizzardPress worked with us on the implementation of a nifty facet search to enhance the website experience. Visitors can now search by criteria such as time of day, type of food, and amenities like outside seating, vegetarian-friendly, serves alcohol, etc.

The dining search uses Google Maps APIs, so filtered restaurant results can be displayed on a map. As visitglenwood.com is mobile-friendly, you can now stand anywhere in Glenwood Springs and find the closest option of whatever restaurant satisfies your hunger. We will go ahead and claim that this local tool can do more for you than Yelp, as we do our best to include every dining option without offering sponsored listings to give a fairer representation of our communities’ food options.

In addition, we create blog posts, with help from our local contractor Resort Trends. These blogs offer dining recommendations based on specific needs that help us highlight our dining options on social media and other outlets.

FOODIE TRAVEL TRENDS

Over the past few years, food tourism has been a buzzy trend in the travel industry. Not only is it appealing to a large population of travelers, but it also has the potential to boost in-destination spending and therefore positively benefit local economies and small businesses.

Many of our restaurants have been featured in national and international publications. Slope & Hatch, The Pullman, Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub, Co. Ranch House, Casey Brewing and Sweet Coloradough are some of the frequently featured restaurants. We find that foodie travel offers great potential beyond increased spending of tourists that are already visiting. Specific restaurants that have been featured in the media and on blogs, as well as towns that have a general great foodie reputation can be the entire reason for a vacation to a destination. A foodie traveler may not have come to Glenwood Springs for the hot springs, rafting, hiking, skiing, Doc Holliday, etc., but primarily to explore our local dining scene. While these travelers will certainly appreciate our other amenities, foodies can help us fill shoulder seasons and support local businesses during the winter months.

Therefore, we will continue to do our best to highlight our outstanding dining scene.

CALL TO ACTION FOR RESTAURANT OWNERS

If you are a restaurant owner, please go to visitglenwood.com and review your listing. Feel free to email marlene@visitglenwood.com if you would like to update your photos or change any information.

CALL TO ACTION FOR LOCAL FOODIES #DINEGLENWOOD

Share your local dining experience and support your favorite restaurants with #DineGlenwood. We feature user-generated content on our website and frequently share it to social media.

Marlene Neidert is tourism promotion project manager for Visit Glenwood Springs, a department of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Carbondale Chamber names Ascendigo Autism Services Non-Profit Business of the Year

Ascendigo Autism Services, a leading local nonprofit working to elevate the spectrum for individuals with autism, was recognized as the Non-Profit Business of the Year by the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce during its Business After Hours gathering at the Third Street Center on Wednesday, Jan. 15.

“We had several nominations for Ascendigo,” Katie Montie of the Carbondale Chamber said of the award.

One of the largest employers in Carbondale, Ascendigo provides opportunities for growth and independence for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Ascendigo’s mission is to elevate the spectrum by empowering people, inspiring lives and shattering expectations. In 2019, Ascendigo provided customized services to over 225 individuals on the autism spectrum.

Founded in 2004 by Aspen resident Sallie Bernard as a summer sports camp (formerly known as Extreme Sports Camp), Ascendigo has expanded to offer winter camps, employment and residential services, in-home behavioral therapy for children, and life coaching. Not only does Ascendigo serve local individuals and families affected by autism, but the organization attracts clients from throughout the United States and beyond.

Ascendigo integrates people with autism into the community through participation in adventure sports, practicing basic life skills, community engagement, and compatible employment with local companies. The organization has several vocational partnerships with local employers throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Put in real life terms, you may see an Ascendigo client ordering a cup of latte from Bonfire Coffee, cleaning office space at CoVenture, skiing the slopes of Snowmass, or creating a pot at the Carbondale Clay Center — all with the help of a coach specifically trained in autism learning tools,” Ascendigo Director of Development Julie Kaufman said.

“Ascendigo has had a strong presence in this community for over 15 years,” said Peter Bell, Ascendigo’s president and CEO. “We are honored to be recognized by the Carbondale Chamber as a viable business with a meaningful mission and the unique ability to serve both our clients and the staff who support them.”

Ascendigo currently employs over 55 full- and part-time professionals as well as an additional 60-65 seasonal employees. For more information about Ascendigo Autism Services visit www.ascendigo.org.

Sunlight expansion plan hinges on Forest review, but streamlined process likely

A cursory review of Sunlight Mountain’s ski-area expansion plan — for which the U.S. Forest Service is considering a categorical exclusion under federal environmental laws — does not mean critical elements won’t be studied, according the agency’s new district ranger.

The small amount of public land that would be disturbed for the ski area expansion and new chair lift — less than 5 acres — qualifies Sunlight’s plans for the less-extensive review, according to Kevin Warner, the White River National Forest’s new Aspen-Sopris District ranger.

And, judging from the light attendance (less than a dozen people) at an open house Tuesday night in Glenwood Springs meant to answer any questions the public may have about the proposal, the project is not likely to generate any controversy.

“In a lot of projects similar to this, where it’s a small amount of ground disturbance within a special-use permit area, we will analyze that through categorical exclusion,” Warner explained.

Sunlight announced its plans last year for a $4 million expansion on the East Ridge portion of the ski area, including about 100 acres of new expert skiing terrain and a new fixed-grip quad chair lift serving expanded expert and intermediate terrain.

Some of that expanded terrain has already been cleared on privately owned portions of Sunlight Mountain. New runs to the east of the current ski area boundary, along with the new lift and a pit toilet would involve additional forest land within the already permitted area.

Warner said the plan will necessitate a wildlife and fish analysis, as well as historical and cultural surveys of the project area. Even under categorical exclusion, a formal “decision memo” from Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams would be issued, he said.

“If any extraordinary circumstances come up in that process, we can still say that we would need to go into a more in-depth analysis,” Warner said.

The handful of people who did show up at the Tuesday meeting were mostly curious about the new skiing terrain that would be made available, and the timeline for the new lift installation.

According to Sunlight General Manager Tom Hays, who was on hand for the meeting, once the final clearance is given by the Forest Service, more timber would be cleared this summer and fall, making way for the new lift to be installed after the 2020-21 ski season.

“If we can get that clearing done in the summer, that’s going to drive when we can actually install the lift,” Hays said.

“It also depends on snowfall next year and visitation,” he said, noting that this year’s numbers so far are up and the ski conditions are prime.

“We’re having a good season, and to be able to move forward with the expansion is going to really add some dimension to the ski area,” Hays said.

An informal public comment process remains open until Feb. 23, but that’s not to say comments won’t be taken after that time, Warner said.

This spring, forest officials will meet to go over the comments that are received, followed by field surveys in late spring or early summer, he said. “Once we do that, then we can move forward with a decision.”

Sunlight’s expansion plans do not include the coveted Williams Peak to the west of the existing ski area, though that does remain in the resort’s long-range master plan, Hays said.

“At some point we would like to expand in that direction,” he said. “But it’s not anything short term, at least not in the next five years.”

Sunlight has a little more than 2,400 acres of permitted forest land to operate the ski resort.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Business briefs for Feb. 18

Holy Cross seeks proposals for utility-scale renewable energy projects

Holy Cross Energy (HCE) is soliciting proposals through a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) process for clean, non-carbon emitting utility-scale renewable energy projects and flexible distributed energy resources with preference for locations within the HCE service territory.

Both landowners with 10 or more acres and developers with un-sited project ideas may be considered with HCE serving as a site matchmaker. Bids will be evaluated by an HCE committee on competitive price, location and flexibility to meet HCE power supply obligations. Bids will be due on March 2 with a shortlist announcement on June 1.

HCE anticipates this to be a highly competitive process with many proposals submitted for a variety of clean energy projects. Visit holycross.com/request-for-proposals/all-source-rfp/ for additional information.

Biz-Opoly returns to Glenwood

The Biz-Opoly: Business Summit & Business-to-Business Expo is set for 1–7 p.m. Feb. 21 at Morgridge Commons, second floor, 815 Cooper Ave., Glenwood Springs.

The afternoon will include simultaneous workshops geared toward both business owners/managers and employees, a keynote speaker and the B2B Expo and Business After Hours.

More details at https://glenwoodchamber.com/seminars.

RVR golf earns recognition

The Golf Course at River Valley Ranch has been named among the top three Golfer’s Choice: Best Public Courses for 2019 in the state of Colorado by Golf Advisor. 

Golf Advisor, an independent source for worldwide golf course rankings and information, reviewed 113 public courses in Colorado. Twenty public courses made the list with River Valley Ranch being the only local course to make the cut, finishing third behind only two front range courses.  

“We couldn’t be more proud and thankful for all of the support the course has received in our first year,” said Cunningham Golf General Manager Red Cunningham. “To see this amazing property come to life and be embraced by this community is the exact reason we took over the business of the course and the Homestead restaurant.”

JVA acquires Structural Consultants Inc.

Structural Consultants Inc. has joined JVA Consulting Engineers. SCI has provided structural engineering services in the Denver market since 1977.

SCI is known for comprehensive design and consulting services to owners, architects, fabricators and contractors with expertise in health care, education, commercial development and forensics.

JVA has offices in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, Winter Park and Glenwood Springs.

County property taxes up $6M from last year

Garfield County property owners should have now received 2020 property tax notices in the mail. Approximately 30,000 notices were mailed out to property owners on Jan. 27.

According to a county news release, the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners has certified $153 million in taxes to be collected through this tax cycle — up from $147 million in 2019.

Property owners may pay taxes in halves or one lump sum; deadlines for half-payments are Feb. 29 and June 15. The deadline for a full payment is April 30.

Property owners can make payments online at www.garfield-county.com/treasurer/tax-payments, through a secure payment portal with the Garfield County Treasurer’s Office. Click on the button and search for a property by owner name, location, or account number, and click on the payment amount to open the online payment portal.

Credit card payments are accepted over the phone at 970-945-6382. Property owners may also pay in person at the Treasurer’s office: 109 Eighth St., Suite 204, Glenwood Springs (Garfield County Courthouse), or via the payment drop box located inside the entrance to the courthouse — this does not require going through courthouse security.

Online payments are subject to a $3 flat fee on electronic checks, or a 2.5% fee on credit cards ($3.95 minimum).

To pay by mail, please send to: P.O. Box 1069, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602. Payments cannot be made at any county building in Rifle.

“If property tax payments are made by mortgage companies, homeowners should contact their lenders prior to the due dates to verify the payments have been made,” the release advises. “Property taxes are due each year, whether taxpayers personally receive a tax notice or not.”

If a tax notice does not arrive in the next two weeks, property owners are advised to contact the Treasurer’s Office. Senior citizens with questions regarding the Senior Exemption or Homestead Exemption programs, should contact the Garfield County Assessor’s office.

For questions about property tax payments, or the tax payment process, contact the Garfield County Treasurer’s Office at 970-945-6382; or for valuation and assessment questions, call the Assessor’s Office at 970-945-9134.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs plan approved, Lofts phase III heads to council

Glenwood Springs’ demand for both free-market and deed-restricted housing was on full display Tuesday night.

The city’s planning and zoning commission considered two separate proposals at their regular meeting Tuesday.

A majority of a proposal from Iron Mountain Hot Springs, LLC, includes deed-restricted units while Realty Capital Management, LLC, brought forward a proposal focused exclusively on free-market housing.

FREE MARKET HOUSING

Phase III of the Lofts at Red Mountain, as proposed by Realty Capital Management, LLC, would see the construction of an 89-unit, multi-family apartment building in the Glenwood Meadows.

The already occupied phase I portion of the Lofts at Red Mountain houses 88 residential units and the currently under construction phase II segment will provide an additional 97 units upon completion.

The Lofts at Red Mountain only offers free-market housing units, meaning rent would be based on market demand.

“Have you guys entertained the thought of entering our voluntary, deed restriction program,” Marco Dehm, planning and zoning commission chairman, asked of the applicant concerning phase III.

Bob Moore, asset manager for Realty Capital Management, LLC said it was his understanding that the development firm had discussed the possibility of offering deed-restricted units as part of phase I, but ultimately decided against it.

“It was decided that there was a market for market-rate units here,” Moore said. “That would be a better way to go.”

To which Dehm replied “On your end.”

Deed-restricted housing offers more affordable rates, particularly for employees in resort communities who oftentimes face long commutes because of the high cost of living.

“Unfortunately, there is also a market on our end for deed-restricted units, that’s why I am asking,” Dehm said. “You have a chance to do this with your third phase and I am just wondering have you thought about it, have you ran numbers or not?”

Moore said deed-restricted units were not discussed for phase III of the Loft’s at Red Mountain.

According to loftsatredmountain.com, a two-bed, two-bath unit costs between $2,385 and $2,900 a month.

A one-bed, one-bath unit at the Lofts at Red Mountain ranges between $1,630 and $2,035 a month.

“I find it a real bummer that we don’t have voluntary, deed-restricted units in this building,” Dehm said. “There’s a lot of people that can afford that level, there’s also a lot of people that cannot.”

Because phase III of the Lofts at Red Mountain includes 25 or more new dwelling units, the entire proposal must go before city council for approval at a later date.

DEED-RESTRICTED HOUSING

The Planning and Zoning Commission was the final decision-making body concerning Iron Mountain Hot Springs, LLC’s request to construct a three-story, mixed-use building that will offer deed-restricted housing.

The commission approved the development planned for just east of Iron Mountain Hot Springs and immediately south of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs.

The building’s first floor will house Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Colorado State Patrol offices. However, the building’s second and third floors will offer 19 residential units, with 15 being deed-restricted.

“We’re losing entry to midlevel managers, leaving to go to Denver, because they can’t find a place to live,” said Steve Beckley, Iron Mountain Hot Springs owner. “Unfortunately, some of the other developments in town are out of reach for a lot of our employees.”

Of the 15 deed-restricted units, 12 will consist of two-bed, two-bath units whereas three will be one-bed, one-bath units.

According to Beckley, a two-bed, two-bath deed-restricted unit would cost between approximately $1,600 and $1,700 a month. An estimate for the cost of a one-bed, one-bath deed-restricted unit was not immediately available.

Now that the project has received approval, Beckley anticipated an April 2020 groundbreaking date and thought construction would last roughly a year.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will prioritize its employees for the deed-restricted units.

However, should the deed-restricted units not fill up with those employees, they will open up to any individual who works in the 81601 ZIP code.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Carbondale’s Red Rock Diner is closed

Carbondale’s classic diner has closed after 25 years of operation.

The Red Rock Diner near the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 133 had a closed sign out front on Saturday evening, and on Sunday the restaurant’s Facebook page posted a notice about the closure.

Co-owner Gina Shaw said she and fellow owner Marty Voller hope to sell the business but haven’t put it on the market yet.

Shaw said the business was unsustainable for a combination of reasons, including staffing and declining breakfast customers.

“In the current economy, it was really hard to find consistent help,” Shaw said.

The diner had many fabulous employees, Shaw said, but retaining talent was a struggle.

New minimum wage laws for restaurants didn’t help the small diner either, Shaw said.

Business started to diminish during the three-month Grand Avenue bridge closure in 2017, Shaw said.

“Ever since the bridge closure we lost our breakfast crowd, which was kind of our bread and butter,” Shaw said.

 “I think people were just so hell-bent on getting where they needed to go that they didn’t stop for breakfast because they didn’t have time, and after a long day of commuting they didn’t stop for dinner either,” Shaw said.

While the new bridge opened in November 2017, the Red Rock Diner’s breakfast traffic didn’t really return.

Voller and Shaw bought Red Rock Diner in 2015, taking over the iconic store just north of the town limits from Bob Olenik, who started the restaurant in 1994. The new owners kept much of the décor, retro atmosphere and staple diner fare.

Voller added a number of dishes and “reimagined what the ’50s and ’60s diner tastes like,” according to the restaurant’s website. The restaurant also served beer, wine and cocktails.

The news about Red Rock Diner comes nearly a month after New Castle’s diner announced it would be closing until a new owner is found.

tphippen@postindependent.com