Commissioner’s column: Garfield County’s economic condition
Garfield County Commissioner
2020 has to be one of the most challenging years in recent history to serve as an elected official at the local, state or national level. The coronavirus has challenged individuals, businesses, governments and all aspects of life as we know it. As a Garfield County Commissioner, it has been my goal to diversify the economy and make it more resilient to address the effects of various business cycles and natural disasters. My overriding factor in making decisions is, “what is best for Garfield County?”
These efforts are having an impact. Recently, Jessica Valand, regional director for workforce development for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) that Garfield County appears better poised for economic recovery from the pandemic than other nearby resort regions. Simply put, Garfield County’s revenue comes from various base industries and is not dependent on a single base industry. She noted that Garfield County has more diversification than many other places on the West Slope and that diversification may pay off as the economy starts up again after the COVID-19 lockdown. It hasn’t always been this way.
As a Commissioner, I have spent a great deal of time and effort in advocating for the designation of much of the county as an Enterprise Zone, I have worked with Associated Governments of Northwestern Colorado (AGNC) to achieve designation as an Economic Development District which opens opportunities for access to federal grants that will support infrastructure development. I have supported the expansion of the NW Small Business Development Center (SBDC) services to Garfield County businesses and the creation of co-work spaces in many communities across the county. Shining examples of these efforts to attract new opportunities to Garfield County is the location of the Center of Excellence for Aerial Firefighting in Rifle and the unmanned aerial testing facility along with the private investments by Atlantic Aviation, the airport’s FBO. These are thanks to the infrastructure investment in the Rifle Garfield County Airport for which I strongly advocated.
During my tenure on the BOCC, my fellow commissioners and I have worked to develop more diversification in the economy. We have worked to support the construction of the infrastructure necessary to attract visitors and outdoor recreation as well as to attract remote workers along with business and industry that have different business cycles than the energy industry. Today, we look forward to a more robust recovery because of these efforts.
Garfield County is home to many natural resources and, in years past, energy production has dominated the economy. Garfield County has been fortunate to be home to the energy industry for so long; it is largely due to that industry that we have many of the amenities that attract business, workers and tourists. We have world class hospitals, libraries, co-work spaces, more than one Colorado Mountain College campus all built, to some extent, with federal mineral lease funds, severance tax, energy impact funds along with many generous contributions from the energy industry. Abundant, affordable energy drives the economy in this country, puts safe, affordable food on our tables, provides affordable products, keeps us cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and brings light to the dark all at affordable rates.
While serving on the BOCC, my fellow commissioners and I have worked to make sure that the development of energy resources in our county are done appropriately. All elected officials are charged with providing a structure by which all property rights can be legally exercised and that health and safety be protected while ensuring those rights. It’s not an easy task. Garfield County has spent millions of dollars working to ensure that energy development does not spoil the things we love; clean air, clean water, beautiful landscapes. We have an oil and gas liaison who is available day and night to address emergency situations, we monitor air quality and work to make sure that our air is well within compliance guidelines of the EPA, which it always has been. Garfield County has worked with energy producers to instill best practices with them and by working with the state on regulations.
The BOCC also has an obligation to its citizens to provide the many services expected of local governments and to protect revenue streams that support those services without undue tax burden. One such revenue stream comes from the fees and taxes paid by energy producers. Without those revenues, the BOCC would have no option but to ask for additional taxes or cut needed services. This county has been very involved in the rulemaking at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and has supported many of the regulations put in place as a result of SB19-181. Garfield County supports regulations that are developed through legally required procedures and have a sound basis for implementation. There are a few issues being proffered in the rulemaking that fail these tests and will cost our county millions of dollars in a reduction of mineral tax revenue. A reduction of this magnitude will drive cuts to public services like police and fire services, schools, libraries, community health and mental health care and others just when these services are struggling to overcome the economic losses due to the COVID crisis. Garfield County is challenging these few regulations to protect our diversified economy, to serve our constituents and to preserve our financial integrity.
It has been my honor to serve Garfield County my entire career as a teacher, administrator, elected official. Janet and I have raised our family here and have had the pleasure of working with many of your families. It is my honor and privilege to serve Garfield County as a Commissioner. It is challenging yet rewarding work and I look forward to continuing to advance the diversification of our economy and improving our resiliency if you, the people of Garfield County, allow me to do so.
Republican Mike Samson is a Garfield County commissioner. He is running for reelection against Democratic challenger Leslie Robinson in November.
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