2018: A look back at the year that was in Western Garfield County
Each year has its memorable stories, and 2018 was no exception in Rifle and throughout Western Garfield County.
Every municipality from New Castle to Rifle saw city and town managers go and new faces come in, while Rifle’s next big infrastructure project got final approval to end 2018.
From local government personnel changes to citizen recognitions, these are the stories that helped shape 2018.
managers dismissed, new ones brought in
Rifle City Council finalized a severance deal with former City Manager Jim Nichols, who was released in early March by the city under a mutual separation agreement after just three months on the job.
The city agreed to pay Nichols three months’ compensation, or $36,000, based on his contract salary of $144,000. Nichols had signed on for a two-and-a-half-year term with the city in November 2017, following an extensive search to replace former manager Matt Sturgeon.
Rifle later tapped Scott Hahn to become the new city manager. He started in the summer and helped to see that Rifle’s pool renovation project gained final approval.
In Silt, longtime Town Administrator Pamela Woods was let go. The reason for her dismissal was not clear and led to questions raised by members of the community. The town didn’t have a new administrator until fall, when Jeff Layman was selected to fill the position.
While it took a few months, the town of New Castle hired from within, naming building inspector David Reynolds as its new town administrator to replace longtime Town Administrator Tom Baker, who would retire in July.
“We felt it would be wise to do an internal search first before looking outside the area,” New Castle Mayor Art Riddile said of the decision. Hiring internally allowed the town to feel secure in its choice, he said.
Rifle pool proceeds
After over a year of discussions at Rifle City Council meetings, workshops and public information sessions, the Art Dague Pool renovation project Guaranteed Maximum Price was approved by Rifle City Council to end 2018. “There’s no turning back at this point,” City Manager Scott Hahn said of the unanimous decision by council. Rifle Parks and Recreation Director Tom Whitmore said he hopes to open the new pool by Memorial Day weekend in 2020.
One way, then the other in Silt mayor race
The April mayoral election in Silt was one to remember, as three candidates vied for the open seat that wouldn’t be decided until nearly two weeks later.
The vote initially appeared to favor candidate Jay Barner by just two votes, but a double recount ended in a one-vote win for the man who has been seated as mayor for the past eight months, Keith Richel.
Richel, who served on the town board as a trustee for six years prior, replaced Rick Aluise, who served a single four-year term as mayor before deciding not to seek re-election.
In New Castle, the much-less-contentious four-candidate race for three open seats ended when Brandy Copeland was elected after receiving just one more vote than first-runner up Joe Urnise.
In October, New Castle appointed the town’s first-ever Latina to serve on the town board, selecting Crystal Mariscal to fill the seat vacated when Mary Metzger stepped down following 10 years of service to the town.
There were few surprises in the 2018 midterm elections. Incumbent representatives of Garfield County at the local, state and federal levels mainly retained their seats, including Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, county Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico, Sheriff Lou Vallario, state Rep. Bob Rankin and Congressman Scott Tipton.
Voters approved bonding and mill levies for the fire department in Parachute, which will allow the department to purchase a new ambulance as well as other much-needed equipment and funding. Voters also approved the Garfield County Library District’s request to keep sales tax revenue it otherwise would have to refund, Garfield County, along with five other mountain counties, approved Colorado Mountain College’s request for a mill levy override.
No vote will impact Western Garfield County students more than the mill levy override to increase the Garfield School District Re-2 taxes by $4.9 million annually, approved by voters 5,330 for and 4,315 against. The increased funding will be specifically for the district’s staff salary schedule to address staff retainment. Re-2 Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton explained the new schedule will allow the district to be much more competitive in retaining experienced staffers and teachers especially. She said she’d heard from teachers who said they could be making as much as $10,000 more at neighboring districts.
Locals, law enforcement combine to close case
When an Amber Alert came through on phones across the state in early June, four Rifle citizens didn’t stop at just disabling the alarm on their phones. Instead, their efforts assisted law enforcement in finding the culprit and getting the 12-year-old girl back to safety.
Ben Wood, Sean Kemberling, Ashley Cid and Jason Miller were all recognized by the Rifle Police Department and their city council at a June Rifle City Council meeting, as each played a role in the arrest.
“This is the community we work in, and we’ve got to make it safe and keep it safe,” Miller said. “I think we all prefer to work in a safe environment.”
Miller noticed a suspicious vehicle outside the coffee shop he worked at and alerted police, which led to valuable information.
The suspect, Jody Kyle Haskin, 47, was wanted for the abduction of his 12-year-old stepdaughter. He ultimately decided to take his own life in the south Rifle area near Walmart as police were closing in.
Former UW, LIFT-UP director remembered
Amy Barr, who had directed the LIFT-UP poverty relief organization for a few brief months and had been the area United Way director for many years before that, died after a recent cancer recurrence. She was 64.
The Carbondale resident was remembered by friends and colleagues as a “witty champion of the needy … funny, feisty and a feminist with a laugh as big as the outdoors.”
Rifle rallies to help resident in need
When one Rifle resident woke up one morning to discover that her car had been stolen overnight, the community around her didn’t let her down. Sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. on the night before her last round of radiation treatment for breast cancer, somebody stole Pamela Nelson’s Honda SUV, which had a handicapped sticker on the dash and a walker in the back.
On June 18, her story was shared on Rifle Connected and in 13 days, 10 people raised $685 for her and her dog Maggie through a Go Fund Me campaign.
On June 21, Nelson received word from Grand Junction police that her car had been recovered.
“It was very humbling to have this kind of support,” she said. “It brought me to tears several times. “
While the Go Fund Me campaign was set up to help Nelson purchase a new vehicle, with her car’s recovery those that supported her said she should use it for any repairs she may need.