Garfield County economy strongly tied to oil and gas production, official says

Alex Zorn

RIFLE — Garfield County Finance Director Theresa Wagenman stopped by the Energy Advisory Board meeting on Thursday and while she remained positive, her message was clear: Without oil and gas production, the county’s economy would be in trouble.

“The economic and fiscal impacts of the energy industry in Garfield County are significant to the financial well-being of the county, both to the government and the area economy as a whole, including all the special districts,” she said.

She also indicated that the county’s ongoing decline in natural gas production could impact each and every Garfield County resident. From 2012 to 2016, Garfield County natural gas production has declined each year.

“Without oil and gas, the other taxpayers in the community would probably have a much greater tax burden [for Garfield County] to be able to provide [the] same services,” she said.

According to the Garfield County assessor’s 2016 Abstract, oil and gas was responsible for 54 percent of the county’s assessed valuation. Wagenman said that historically that number is around 70 percent. Of Garfield County’s $2.21 billion assessed valuation, $1.19 billion of it came for oil and gas in 2016. In 2015, the oil and gas industry’s AV had been $2.39 billion.

Assessed value is the value of all property in the county and serves as a economic measure for overall wealth.

“As residential assessment rates go down, counties such as Garfield County may have to rely more heavily on the energy industry to maintain our level of government,” she added.

By level of government she was referring to Garfield County’s ability to provide everyday and necessary services such as public safety, public health and welfare, general administrative services and more.

The industry has provided millions to a number of services throughout the county, including local fire stations, school districts and parks.

“Garfield County has benefited well from the industry: We have nice roads, nice bridges, nice public facilities and the ability to provide for a number of services,” she said.

The top 10 taxpayers in Garfield County in 2016 were oil and gas companies, providing over $40 million in taxes for the county.

She added that if the downward trend continues, the county’s ability to provide these services will diminish.

“If we want to continue to maintain the same level of government that we have, we would possibly have to raise taxes, however, Garfield has been able to stay fiscally conservative over the years and has built up healthy reserves keeping us from having to raise taxes,” she explained.

In 2016, the oil and gas industry provided 1,470 jobs to Garfield County, which would rank as the seventh-largest industry in the county, according to Wagenman.

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