Week in Review | PostIndependent.com

Week in Review

After winning a legal battle over a downtown development funding mechanism, the city of Glenwood Springs could face a new challenge on the legislative front.A legislative task force has begun looking into tax increment financing, a method used to help pay for the efforts of urban renewal and downtown development authorities.The task force’s mission is to evaluate what impact so-called TIF funding has on the state’s education budget, but it also is looking more broadly at the funding method and the divisiveness it sometimes causes between government entities.Garfield County and Colorado Mountain College sued the city in 2002 over its TIF funding plan for its Downtown Development Authority. The city won a summary judgment in the case in district court in 2003. A state appeals court again sided with the city in 2005, agreeing the county and college had no legal standing to sue, and in August 2006 the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the county and college’s appeal of the case.The parties are continuing to negotiate with the county Treasurer’s Office over the release of what is now almost $600,000 that has been generated by the TIF funding since the court fight started.Under the TIF plan, the city will collect all new tax revenues created by growth in the property tax base downtown over 25 years. State law allows TIF funding, but CMC and the county contend the city isn’t properly following the law and argue that the financing plan would deprive them of nearly $4 million in tax revenues.The new legislative review was required as part of this year’s school finance bill. Lawmakers are concerned about how much TIF programs add to what the state must pay to help fund local school districts. The concern arises because districts are guaranteed a certain amount of funding, and whatever amount isn’t funded by local property taxes must be made up for by the state.

Nic Janes goes to Glenwood Springs’ “hot pots” for peace of mind.They’ve provided anything but that for the city’s police chief, Terry Wilson. His officers often respond to calls at the hot springs pools on the Colorado River near the city’s main Interstate 70 interchange.Wilson’s long-sought goal of closing down the hot pots is gaining support. And that concerns Janes and others who enjoy soaking in the pools, which are filled by a pipe carrying the outflow from the commercial Hot Springs Pool.Janes said people have put a lot of work into designing the pools at the hot pots.”They clean it, they try to maintain it. I think a lot of people would be heartbroken if this wasn’t here,” the New Castle resident said Monday after soaking his feet while having the hot pots all to himself.Wilson has seen a lot of heartbreak associated with the hot pots. The latest was in August when a man accidentally drowned in the river after last being seen at the hot pots. The body of Edgar Hernandez González vila, 22, was found in the river several days later, west of New Castle. Wilson said a toxicology report recently determined he had drugs in his body at the time of death.The victim left behind a wife and three children.Also in August, about eight to 10 men attacked a bather at the hot pots and he ended up tumbling downhill, striking some rocks and suffering several injuries to the head.Wilson said police have had to deal with it all at the hot pots over the years – drownings, drug overdoses, fights, sexual assaults, suicides, injuries from falls.”I don’t think it’s safe at all. … I’m sick of it,” he said.

In an unscheduled appearance before the Garfield County Commissioners Monday afternoon, county oil and gas auditor Mary Ellen Denomy tendered her resignation.Denomy was hired two years ago to assist County Assessor Shannon Hurst to audit oil and gas companies over payment of property taxes. Garfield County received $13 million in property tax from oil and gas companies in 2005, which accounts for 55 percent of all property tax paid.Denomy said she has become a target of Hurst’s campaign to retain her seat as county assessor in the November election.”I will not be used as part of a political campaign for either one of the candidates,” she said. Denomy alluded to a comment made by Hurst in last week’s candidates debate in Rifle but was reluctant to quote Hurst’s words.Denomy said she does not want “to become a political punching bag in an election race that has heated up over oil and gas property taxes and accountability.”I am a professional accountant not a politician,” she said. “I work for about 300 clients as well as other counties. I have not endorsed either of the candidates.”Denomy also told the commissioners Hurst has not shared confidential financial documents with her that pertain to the audit. If she were asked to attest to the accuracy of the audit she could not “when I cannot see those documents to compare them. That is an infringement of my ability to attest to an audit,” she said in an interview Monday.In her letter to the commissioners Denomy said, “I cannot continue to assist the County with oil and gas audits if the County Assessor is not open, candid and forthcoming with necessary documents.”

Lee and Lauren Hardin thought they had found a place to sit down and eat their lunch Monday on Seventh Street in downtown Glenwood Springs when something changed their mind.”We turned around because of a large crowd of what appeared to be transient folk,” Lee Hardin said.The Grand Junction residents ended up finding privacy under the shelter on Seventh with their 4-month-old daughter Lauren and their dog, and enjoying the take-out meal they had bought across the street at Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse.When transients concern customers of downtown businesses, they concern business owners as well. Casey Christianson, co-owner of the Maple Table Bakery & Cafe on Seventh Street, raised the issue with City Council at its meeting last week.”I know there’s a lot of sensitivity (about transients) … but it does affect businesses downtown,” he said.He said transients sometimes whistle and yell at others in the area, causing them to leave. Christianson believes the transients have become a drawback in what is a beautiful part of the downtown core.Council member Kris Chadwick thinks Christianson has a point.”I know I see it as well, and it’s an issue,” she said.But Christianson said police say they won’t do anything about the problem because of City Council.Mayor Bruce Christensen said that whoever told Christianson that is “seriously mistaken.”He noted that the city passed an ordinance addressing a panhandling problem in certain parts of town. While the city wants to be humane toward transients, it also wants to address merchants’ concerns, and council will check with city staff to see what can be done, he said.However, city attorney Karl Hanlon said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that cities can’t prohibit loitering. But Christensen said the city at least should be able to deal with public drunkenness.Actually, no, said city Police Chief Terry Wilson.”That was declared an unconstitutional thing to arrest someone on as well,” he said.

A long-term natural gas developer in the Piceance Basin will expand its operations and drill more than 1,000 wells during the next 30 years. ExxonMobil, which has produced natural gas from the mid-Piceance Basin near Meeker since the 1950s, has filed for additional wells in a development plan that would see about 400 workers in the area during construction, as well as 60 miles of roads and pipelines and a central gas processing plant.The Bureau of Land Management White River Field Office published an environmental assessment (EA) of the proposed plan in September and is taking public comments until Nov. 3. BLM is also preparing a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) for its field office area because of the significant jump in drilling activity over the past few years. Its original RMP predicted about 1,000 wells would be drilled over the 20-year life of the plan. BLM now says it expects upwards of 10,000 wells to be drilled over that period.ExxonMobil first formed its Piceance Creek Unit in 1940 and has been continuously producing natural gas since the 1950s. In 2005, the field was producing approximately 45 million cubic feet of gas per day from 52 wells.According the EA, the new drilling would take place on 29,680 acres of BLM, leased and state land in Rio Blanco County.The ExxonMobil proposal represents a significant jump in gas activity in the central Piceance Basin, calling for 1,080 wells to be directionally drilled from 120 well pads, to depths of 12,000 to 15,000 feet.The wells would be spaced one per 20 acres, which is “necessary to avoid waste and efficiently develop the resource,” the EA stated. The resource analysis and specifications for development in the EA were prepared by consultants hired by ExxonMobil.

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