Rifle, GarCo, CMC officials highlight State of Community luncheon
Citizen Telegram Editor
Close to 200 people listened to Rifle, Garfield County and Colorado Mountain College leaders recount last year and look ahead to this year at the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce’s ninth annual State of the Community luncheon on Thursday, Feb. 6, in the Grand River Health ballroom.
COUNTY ISSUES, PLANS OUTLINED
County Commissioner Mike Samson of Rifle highlighted the county’s fiscal health and promised to “spend your tax dollars wisely and judiciously, as we’ve always done.”
Samson also noted last year’s revision of the county land use code.
“The planning and zoning commission got rid of 700 pages of repetition and redundancy,” he said. “It’s not a perfect document, and as times and factors change, we can amend it again.”
Other projects included the first phase of a county energy master plan, which Samson said will come in handy when discussions take place with state and federal officials about energy development in the county.
A dispute over sales tax revenue with the Colorado Department of Revenue over natural gas hydraulic fracturing fluids continues to hurt the county and several special districts, Samson said.
“One big problem is we still don’t know how much is involved here and how much longer this is going to go on,” he added. “You could say we’re going into overtime on this in 2014.”
Samson called the county Federal Mineral Leasing District, which distributes a portion of the royalties generated from mineral leases on federal lands in the county to local governments, “a blessing” to the county and its cities.
“We’ve been able to help fund projects from Parachute to Carbondale,” he said.
The county is working this year to see the state reimburse around $3.8 million in federal payment in lieu of taxes funding it diverted from local governments to help ease state budget shortfalls in recent years, Samson noted.
Access to federal lands and preventing the listing of the Greater Sage Grouse as an endangered species were other issues Samson said the county is keeping a close eye on this year.
And with the county included in the most costly of the state’s 11 health care reform areas, Samson said “We’re fighting the good fight” against high medical deductible costs for residents and businesses.
“Steady, solid and slow growth” has helped cut the numbers of home foreclosures in the county from more than 700 in 2011 to an estimate of under 200 this year, Samson added.
The county spent close to $1 million to improve the county fairgrounds in Rifle last year, he said, and noted more improvements are planned in coming years as a master plan is completed.
Samson called the Garfield County Regional Airport south of Rifle “a great blessing.”
“I think, ten years from now, you probably won’t recognize the landscape out there,” he said.
And Samson said the Henry building, at the corner of Third Street and East Avenue in downtown Rifle, is “not conducive” to housing county services over the long term, so the county plans to build a new building.
WATER PLANT, EVENTS CENTER COMING IN 2014
Rifle Mayor Randy Winkler, who was given that title by his colleagues after being reelected to his City Council seat last September, thanked former council members Alan and Keith Lambert (no relation) and Jennifer Sanborn for their years of service. None of the three ran for another term.
Winkler also said the city plans to seek bids for its $25 million new water treatment plant in the spring, with construction taking up to two years, before the 6-million-gallons-a-day plant is online.
The New Ute Events Center in downtown Rifle will prove to be a “really, really good center for a variety of things, including a full symphony orchestra,” will sell itself after it opens in May, Winkler added.
City sales tax revenue bottomed out at the end of 2009, Winkler stated, but added revenues are still about even with 2012, once revenue from the 3/4 cent sales tax voters approved to help pay for the new water plant, is removed.
The city’s general fund reserves, however, are in good shape, Winkler said.
“Most local governments want to see a reserve fund that can cover 15- to 20 percent of annual expenditures,” he added. “Rifle is at about 39 percent, despite our having to use that fund in recent years” to balance yearly budgets.
“So the state of Rifle is not as bad as some people think,” Winkler said. “While the energy industry isn’t as robust as it once was, the people who are working in the industry are truly the cream of the crop. They’ve found better ways to drill, to haul waste without accidents and I really think they’ll soon be getting ready to come back.”
“But there are others in Rifle that are the cream of the crop, too,” Winkler continued. “There’s a spirit in Rifle that goes back to the settlers. We’re here now and we’re proud to be part of that spirit. Long live the spirit of Rifle.”
Dr. Carrie Besnette-Hauser, president of Colorado Mountain College since December, said the college and it’s Rifle campus had “grown up together with you and the Rifle community. We’re your community college and we’re here to serve you.”
Besnette-Hauser noted the Encana Academic Center at the Rifle campus and the Clough Family Foundation had helped make higher education and energy-related jobs possible for hundreds of residents.
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