Nonprofits urge BOCC to keep health and human services offices in Rifle |

Nonprofits urge BOCC to keep health and human services offices in Rifle

Nonprofit agency representatives and the city of Rifle made a last-ditch effort Monday to stop Garfield County from moving its health and human service offices in Rifle to a new location by the county airport.

County commissioners agreed to revisit the issue at their next meeting, on May 3.

They also may consider various possible in-town locations at that meeting, after previously focusing on the Rifle county court building at 1800 Railroad Ave. The county is currently facing unexpected difficulties cleaning up fuel that was leaked at that site when it was used as a road and bridge shop (see related story, page 1).

Representatives of human service agencies said moving the health and human service offices out of town would block access to service for the clients they serve.

“I don’t know all the reasons why the decision was made to build a new building at the Airport Road, but I think it’s going to hurt the people I work with,” said Julie Olson, executive director of the Advocate Safehouse Project.

She said many of her clients are “disenfranchised” and have a difficult time surviving. Making them try to find transportation to out-of-town county offices is “a huge barrier,” she said.

County Commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown voted in March to locate the new offices at county property about three miles outside town. Commissioner Tresi Houpt voted against the move, arguing in favor of keeping the offices in the city limits. The offices are currently located in the Taughenbaugh Building on Taughenbaugh Road, south of Interstate 70 in Rifle.

Martin and McCown cited the cheaper cost of building the offices on the larger acreage it owns near the airport. But Houpt and nonprofit representatives say the site is less convenient for clients.

Olson said an inability by clients to access county services could cost the county more in the long run if it means the county Department of Social Services’ Child Protection Team has to get involved with more families.

Debbie Wilde of YouthZone and Tom Ziemann of Catholic Charities also spoke against moving the offices out of town.

In addition, Rifle City Councilman Al Lambert noted that the council passed a resolution in favor of keeping the offices in town.

While agreeing to reconsider the move, Martin said the county is under pressure to move from the Taughenbaugh offices by April 2005 because of safety problems there.

“Our insurance company has put a timeline on us to get out of that building,” he said.

In December, problems with a heating unit caused a carbon monoxide leak that forced evacuation of that building. Testing also found other furnaces there didn’t meet safety standards or were rated marginal.

Martin and county manager Ed Green said reversing the decision to build at the airport would need to come soon, to avoid wasting time and money on designs and other aspects of the new offices.

Houpt believes the location issue is worth reconsidering.

“I think it’s very important that we listen to the professionals who will be working with the people we are serving,” she said.

Moving the offices to the court site on Railroad Avenue could be more difficult now that the county may have to excavate soil there to clean up fuel. But proponents of an in-town location for the new offices say other locations might work.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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