The Platte Canyon Fire Department Community Room was filled to capacity Friday evening for the Bailey Town Hall Meeting.
Local owner and chair of the Safe285 Committee Mark Linne’ began the meeting by explaining this was a general meeting, not just about safety of the highway. Linne’ told the audience about a recent meeting with a banker from Utah. After seeing the area, the banker told Linne’, “You are fortunate to live here. You live in a paradise.”
Linne’ explained that each person on the panel would give a 20-minute presentation followed by questions from the citizens who were encouraged to be respectful and to present a broad range of questions.
Participants included Ron Hanks, Colorado House of Representatives, District 60; Dennis Hisey, Colorado State Senator, District 2; Amy Mitchell, Park County Commissioner, District 1; Ray Douglas, Park County Commissioner District 3, Dick Elsner, Park County Commissioner District 2 and Sheriff Tom McGraw.
Senator Hisey discussed current legislation and direct impacts on citizens in Bailey. Hisey is a member of the Transportation Committtee which gives him an insight regarding current highway safety problems in and around Bailey. Hisey explained that the current Transportation Bill “will not add any asphalt where there is not currently asphalt.”
Hisey also discussed the gravel trucks travelling through Bailey.
“Creeks along the front range where gravel was previously mined is being mined out,” Hisey explained. “The specs for roads are more stringent, needing harder rock.”
That harder rock is coming out of Park County.
Dick Elsner represents Park County on many state committees. For transportation, Elsner addressed the stoplight on U.S. Highway 285. Elsner explained, “CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) wants to remove the light, but they are working on two alternatives.” Elsner added, “We need to get away from making it a quick fix and making it a project. Projects have to have support and a way to fund it.”
Elsner told the crowd that CDOT will do more community engagement and encouraged everyone to be involved.
During questions and comments regarding transportation, the opinion that the Park County Rd. 72 interchange was dangerous was clear.
Sheriff Tom McGraw added during his presentation, “285 is the most dangerous highway in Colorado, mostly out-of-towners causing the majority of problems on 285.”
Linne’ concluded the discussion on highway safety by stating, “We have too much traffic for a highway that was designed as a railway, then a road, then a highway.” Linne’ proposed that education and enforcement are simple, effective ways to improve safety. Linne’ also commented that safety is impacted by “huge trucks running every ten minutes, with no regulation that they would have on I-70.”
Citizens are encouraged to send ideas about highway safety to Safe285.com.
Amy Mitchell addressed affordable housing in her presentation. Mitchell explained that she is in favor of modifying zoning to allow people to live in campers in specified areas of the county not including Bailey.
Elsner described affordable housing as the biggest issue coming up across the state. Elsner stated, “We need apartment buildings and small houses.” He explained that the county is looking at some grants and working with Habitat for Humanity.
Assessed home values in relation to limits on the Tabor Amendment were also explained by Elsner. Even if a home valuation increased significantly, the taxes are limited to increase.
The possibility of building affordable housing on county owned properties was discussed by Ray Douglas. This option is hampered by the need to have existing infrastructure in place prior to building housing.
Short Term Rentals
Elsner explained the need to license short term rentals as these rentals impact Fire and Rescue as well as Sheriff’s Office resources. The license fee for the first year is proposed at $600 with following years at $200. Tax polices in the state are being reviewed in relation to short term rentals. In Park County, short term rentals are not currently charged taxes as a business.
Douglas stated that there are currently “362 applications, but the county believes that number is low.” Some of the issues with short term rentals besides using up resources is that people arrive in vehicles not suited for the terrain and park on the roads. The snowplows and emergency vehicles cannot get past these cars. People in short term rentals also over utilize septic systems that then impact the neighboring systems.
Douglas continued, “Altitude sickness has been an issue with Rescue going out to short term rentals.” McGraw agreed during his presentation adding, “Renters start drinking the first night at altitude.”
Other issues on short term rentals discussed by McGraw included renters sliding off the roads and needing rescued due to inadequate vehicles, family fights, bon fires during burn bans and how these renters do not pay for services required during their stay. McGraw was asked if there was a way to charge non-residents for services. McGraw explained, “A judge could require repayment, but this is very difficult with most allowed to have a payment plan.”
Citizen’s questions related to short term rentals included if the license fee was high enough. Douglas explained that by law the fee must be the cost to the county to manage them. “This covers expenses for inspections and the employee cost to review the licenses,” stated Douglas.
Citizens are encouraged to contact any of the commissioners if there is a concern about a short term rental in their neighborhood. A complaint form is also available on the county website under the Planning and Development Department.
Mitchell addressed the Fire Revisions Ordinance stating “A citizen should not have more restrictions than someone camping in the forest.”
Elsner discussed that the State Water Engineer wants to drain ponds because they evaporate water. This drainage would severely hamper the county’s ability to fight fires. “All counties are elevating this as a priority,” explained Elsner.
Douglas addressed wildfire mitigation stating, “Mitigation is much more affordable than fighting a fire.”
Several panel members presented concerns about electric vehicle ownership, fees for charging stations and the possibility of an additional fee at registration to offset the owners not paying fuel taxes.
County Staffing Shortages
Douglas explained that every county department is experiencing a staffing shortage.
One citizen expressed concern that his phone messages were not being returned by the county. Elsner explained that due to staff shortages, many people are out in the field working and not managing the offices.
McGraw discussed staff shortages in the Sherriff’s office at length. On this particular Friday evening, there were only three deputies on the roads in all of Park County. McGraw added, “I only have four deputies on a good day.” When a deputy has a call that needs backup, the backup has to travel long distances to get there. The travel time is even longer due to the traffic congestion. Travel times can create a dangerous situation, particularly in cases involving domestic violence.
McGraw added, “We need a mental health specialist to go out with a deputy to give options.”
McGraw said, “The current recommendation is for Park County to hire an additional 15-19 deputies.” While it is difficult to hire new deputies, it is also difficult to keep them. McGraw explained, “We are the lowest pay sheriff’s office in the area.” A newly hired deputy makes $43,000. “This qualifies you for a $175,000 home.” McGraw then asked, “Can you buy a home in Park County for $175,000?”
McGraw also talked about the staff shortages at the Park County jail. In the early 2000’s, the jail was making money for Park County. The jail can hold 285 inmates. Currently there are 30-40 inmates in the jail.
“State statute states we must have a jail,” explained McGraw. He then explained that when the jail was housing more inmates, they were getting mostly drug addicts. When these inmates were at altitude combined with their illnesses, they would get even sicker. These created a situation where a deputy had to then transport the inmate to medical care, taking another deputy out of the county.
Sales Tax Increase
McGraw discussed the need for a sales tax increase in Park County to help with deputy shortages, the purchase of body cameras which is now required by the state and the hiring of the mental health specialist.
McGraw explained the sales tax Increase is on the November ballot. For every $1000 in sales, the tax would increase $10. The sales tax would not include purchases for medical, energy or gasoline.