The Park County commissioners, seated as the county board of health, passed a county public health order prohibiting the operation of short-term rentals during the current coronavirus called COVID-19 pandemic.
The order is in effect until Colorado’s governor and department of public health lift the statewide stay-at-home order.
The commissioners held virtual work sessions on April 14 and April 15 before adopting the order at their virtual meeting on April 16.
About 190 attended the Tuesday work session and 130 attended the commissioner’s Thursday meeting either by internet or telephone. Most were against the county’s proposed order.
All commissioner candidates for the 2020 election were among the attendees.
The order does not close any county roads to travel, nor does it prohibit anyone from entering the county.
The original draft order contained language to do both, but the commissioners said neither were appropriate for Park County.
It also does not apply to second home owners who come to check on their property.
Three Colorado counties, Clear Creek, Gilpin and Gunnison, have closed roads to nonresidents to try to curb the spread of the disease in those counties.
Many attendees opposed the order stating the order was too restrictive, singling out just one business type and would kill business in the county.
Commissioner Dick Elsner said the county was trying to save lives, not kill business.
He said the county order is no different than the state order which also prohibits the operation of short-term rentals everywhere in the state.
Several stated that short-term rentals should be allowed to continue operating since hotels and motels are allowed to stay open.
They stated concern about the number of people in a hotel possibly spreading the coronavirus in hallways or hotels employees contracting it.
Since the state order allows hotels to stay open, the commissioners did not prohibit hotels and motels from staying open.
Untied States Forest Service District Ranger Josh Voorhis said federal campgrounds are closed during the pandemic.
The county order states dispersed camping on USFS land by county residents only is allowed as long as they comply with all orders by the county, state and federal governments.
“When people come up here, they are violating the stay-at-home order.” Elsner said, “The county order reinforces the state order.”
Sheriff Tom McGraw said once the order was approved, the county could use digital signs on highways coming into the county to alert people to the order. Media, including social media, will also be used to inform people of the order.
The commissioners and the county Sheriff all stated the order, first and foremost, was designed to protect first responders. It would also protect county businesses and county residents from undue exposure to the coronavirus.
Fire chiefs from Platte Canyon, North-West and Lake George fire protection districts attended to state their support for the county closing short-term rentals.
All three fire chiefs said at least 25 percent of their ambulance calls came from short term rental houses and protective gear for personnel is very limited.
Joe Burgett from Platte Canyon said an ambulance trip takes from 2.5 to 3 hours travel time per patient because hospitals are so far away.
Burgett said that with a COVID-19 patient, an additional one to two hours is needed to completely decontaminate personnel and the ambulance.
This leaves fewer resources to respond to other calls that might occur.
If personnel are exposed, they must quarantine for 14 days and longer if COVID-19 is contracted by personnel.
Elsner said about 20 percent of the emergency calls are to short-term rental properties.
He said with no hospitals and only one doctor in the county, more than one case of COVID-19 would overwhelm medical services in the county.
Several attendees said the order was a knee-jerk reaction to one death from COVID-19 and with only six cases in the county, the order wasn’t needed.
McGraw disagreed. He said that the Sheriff’s Department goes on every medical 911 call, in case an officer is needed.
They found several sick persons as well as the one who had died from COVID-19, he said.
They are not part of the official count of six Park County cases of COVID-19 because they did not live in Park County.
The cases are counted under “Other” on the state’s website list that lists numbers by county.
McGraw said that if the 911 call center didn’t have protocols in place asking about symptoms, emergency services and Sheriff’s personnel would have been exposed to the virus by arriving without protective gear.
He said they were fortunate that time and were geared up before arriving at the rental home.
That one call could have exposed six to eight emergency services personnel to the virus, McGraw said. If each one infected three to four others, soon it would cascade into a real problem and the virus could take hold in the county.
Plus any personnel testing positive would be out much longer than the two-week quarantine required upon exposure.
This would severely impact the emergency services ability to respond to calls in a timely manner, if at all.
Other concerns expressed by attendees were tying up deputies trying to chase down violators and the amount of a penalty plus jail time.
Some pointed out the state order didn’t carry penalties, yet the county order did.
Elsner said by state law, the county could include penalties. The draft had a penalty of up to 18 months in the county jail and up to $5,000 fine.
Jail time was removed. Elsner said it didn’t make sense to put someone in jail because they didn’t leave when the county wanted the person to leave.
McGraw said he didn’t have the manpower to go looking for violators, but would respond to complaints about people vacationing in short-term rentals.
He said already several residents have complained about groups of people at short term rentals since the state’s stay at home order was adopted.
McGraw said the deputies would not be heavy-handed about the order or automatically fine violators.
The office is preparing a written packet of information that will be given to violators when deputies respond to a complaint.
He said deputies would educate people in a respectful way about the state and county orders and that both did not allow short term renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The deputies would give short term renters 48 hours to vacate the rental property. If they did not, then a summons would be issued.
If a person was found guilty of violating the county order, the amount of the fine would be determined by the judge, not the sheriff. The maximum fine was left at $5,000.
A question was asked if the landowner would be penalized for renting out the property.
McGraw said if he had a known address, a landowner would receive a letter notifying them of the state and county orders.
It would also say that if the owner continued to rent after receiving the letter, the sheriff would issue a summons to appear in court.
If the landowner did not appear, a warrant would be issued for their arrest.
McGraw said if the owner lived in a different state, as many do, enforcing a warrant could only happen if they were found in the state.
Several second home owners asked if the order applied to them.
Elsner said no, but they would violate the state’s stay at home order. He said if one could come only to check on the property or to complete needed repairs.
He also said that the entire family should not come and no one should stay any longer than necessary, say a day or two.
Five exemptions are listed in the order. They are:
1. When working for a business or working on a project in Park County.
2. The short term rental was one’s primary residence.
3. The person renting is engaged in a critical business as defined in the state orders.
4. The person doesn’t have access to a residence or needs emergency shelter for no longer than seven days.
5. The person has symptoms, is under quarantine order or is caring for someone with symptoms of COVID-19.
Commissioner Mike Brazell said people needed to stay at home as long as the state and county orders are in effect. If not, more will be infected and the orders will last longer.
All orders can be found on the county’s website, www.parkco.us, by clicking on the COVID-19 button near the bottom of the home page.
Other county business
The commissioners approved a lease agreement with Winthrop TCF National Bank located in Minnetonka, MN for technology and equipment.
Under the agreement, the county may lease up to $250,000 of equipment and software for a $7,160 monthly payment for three years.
The county is responsible for shipping and installation costs as well.
Assistant county manager Cindy Gharst said the advantage of the program is once the lease is up, equipment will be returned and not become county property.
This will alleviate the need to dispose of outdated technology equipment, which can be costly.
The commissioners also signed a resolution allowing the sheriff to retain custody, control and disposition of unclaimed personal property that was seized as evidence.
Unless a county has regulations and policies on seized unclaimed personal property, the property automatically becomes state property.
The resolution will allow the sheriff to auction, sell or otherwise dispose of the property instead of it becoming state property.
McGraw said the resolution was needed because in July, a new law will increase the time that unclaimed property to be held.
An ownership change to Mary Lucille Garner was approved for a marijuana manufacturing facility on Crow Hill near Bailey. The name was also changed to Cannalulu Creations, LLC.
A ownership transfer of a liquor license was approved for the general store in Lake George. The new owners, Ronald and Lucie Karlin, also changed the name to Granite General Store.
Vouchers for $105,149 were approved for payment.
ACH prepaid payments in the amount of $475,094 were listed.
Nine acres adjacent to the county fairgrounds was purchased for $470,094 of the ACH payments. The money was taken from the sales tax trust fund.
It will expand parking and add more animal wash areas and restrooms at the fairgrounds.
The Land and Water Trust Fund Board, who makes recommendations to the commissioners on sales tax uses, recommended denial of the purchase. Three voted no, three voted to ask for revisions and one voted yes.