By Bill Tiedje
The Board of County Commissioners appointed Elisabeth Lawaczeck as the new Public Health Director and heard a presentation for a proposed one percent sales tax increase from county employees during the BOCC meeting on July 9.
Cheryl Roberts Lee, previous public health director, said of Lawaczeck, "She is going to be awesome, she is fantastic." In addition to Lawaczeck's appointment, Michael Benziger, M.D. was appointed Medical Officer for the county.
Lawaczeck updated the board on a six month Memorandum of Understanding with Montrose County for environmental health services. Lawaczeck indicated she had been in contact with Peg Mewes, director of Montrose County Health and Human Services, and Jim Austin, Montrose County environmental health manager, to create a log of necessary shared services as well as to determine which environmental health services she could accommodate or recommend to state agencies.
Lawaczeck also discussed arrangements to share office space with Ouray County Social Services in Ridgway and cited the need to purchase a room thermometer to regulate the temperature of vaccines in storage.
County officials including Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer, Treasurer Jeannine Casolari, Assessor Susie Mayfield and Sheriff Junior Mattivi were present at the July 9 meeting to present a one percent sales tax increase proposal that would make up for losses in property tax revenue.
It was estimated the proposed one percent sales tax increase would net approximately $515,000 and would be added to the November 2013 ballot. The proposal did not include a sunset clause in order that the sales tax increase could be used to fund capital projects if property tax revenue were to recover in coming years.
The revenue would be used to create a "Public Health and Safety Fund," and a total of $526,000 was also earmarked for the following budget line items: Public Health Nurse, $180,000; Emergency Manager / Coordinator, $35,000; Coroner, $36,000; Weeds, $100,000; Dispatch, $40,000; Search and Rescue, $4,000; Telecommunications, $10,000; Animal Control, $10,00; CAPP (Liability insurance), $62,000; and Jail and Inmate Care, $45,000.
The proposal stated approximately $526,000 would be relieved from the General Fund, therefore freeing up funds to cover the decrease in property tax revenue and leaving room for cost of employee benefits and capital projects.
Public health and safety was noted as an appropriate subject since the mostly tourism-based economy and a growing economy had strained the aforementioned budget items. The proposal stated that the sales tax increase would not be used to "grow government" since no new employees would be hired, and it was necessary to keep up with unfunded mandates and necessary improvements to current facilities.
The proposal indicated the official ballot question content would be submitted to the county clerk on Sept. 7.
County staff also presented alternative options to address the decrease in property tax revenue, including reducing the work week to 36 hours (four nine-hour days) and closing the courthouse on Fridays, imposing a furlough day and allowing full cost allocation of the general fund.
Commissioner Lynn Padgett suggested the proposal would be more functional if it created a "public health, emergency response and safety fund" and did not delineate spending to line items since this would limit the county's ability to address changing budget needs from year to year.
Commissioner Mike Fedel disagreed, saying that the budget line item delineation was essential so voters could see exactly what items the sales tax would fund. Fedel also stated a sunset clause was mandatory for voter approval in his opinion.
Commissioner Don Batchelder said, "I think we have a reasonable proposal; I think it should go to voters." Batchelder also felt a sunset clause would achieve greater voter support and asked the county staff to bring the ballot question to the board earlier, if possible, to accommodate debate. Padgett also indicated she supported the ballot question proposal moving forward as outlined in the staff presentation document.
Other items discussed at the July 9 BOCC meeting included a conversation with Darlene Marcus, Field Representative with Third Congressional District Representative Scott Tipton’s office, regarding the board's support for Good Samaritan mine clean up legislation; an update from County Assessor Susie Mayfield regarding assessment of personal property; a resolution directing the Planning Commission to consider changes in Colorado State Water Board regulations of governing flood plains; and, approval of Black and Veatch Corporation's installation of two smaller antennas to an existing equipment shed.