DEL NORTE— Honoring a story never told, the Rio Grande County Board of County Commissioners opened their meeting on Wednesday, April 24 with a presentation from Suzanne and Gordon Off recognizing Virgil Simon Off for his service in World War II. Adding Virgil’s name to the dedication in the Rio Grande County courthouse and memorial wall at Home Lake finally honors the man who perished when the USS Arizona suffered a surprise attack in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We had a nice little ceremony today,” noted Commissioner and Board Chairperson Suzanne Bothell before kicking off official discussions. Born in Del Norte, Virgil served in the U.S. Navy and received the Pacific Fleet assignment aboard the USS Arizona in Hawaii. County staff and local residents attended the commemoration before the regularly scheduled meeting.
Clerk and Recorder Cindy Hill quickly gained approval to renew the liquor license for Dos Rios in Monte Vista, the first action taken for the morning.
Presenting next, Rio Grande County Director of Social Services Jody Kern explained that it was National Denim Day and she was not declaring casual Wednesday all by herself. Kern and staff members wore denim trousers as part of a wider awareness campaign for sexual assault (symbolized by jeans this year).
Kern relayed a few examples of state-level changes and tendencies that create difficulty for Rio Grande County and other rural communities in Colorado. First, a reallocation formula this year will introduce new services to some Colorado counties while reducing funding and social service coverage in Rio Grande County.
“We have a population of underserved people,” Kern explained. “So it affects this population disproportionately. People in other areas had never had this assistance,” Kern continued. “But our families have had it. So if you take it away from them, they will feel it. We shouldn’t pull the rug out from under them and then add money to other counties.”
According to Kern, State Representative Don Valdez and State Senator Larry Crowder have been made aware of the situation, and the rules committee seems very receptive. They will review in January, and the state board is helping because people are finally making noise.
“People are paying attention to us,” Kern said.
In other state-level connections, Kern reported another successful audit among the ongoing scrutiny all counties face.
“If you have audit finding,” Kern said, “you are high risk. We have not had a finding in over 10 years.”
A third state issue might hit Rio Grande County later in the year, Kern cautioned. When the department needs to accommodate court-ordered placements, services must be covered regardless of budget status. In recent years, supplemental budgets and transfers have allowed many counties to cover costs when all the counties have been forced to overspend from the state allocation and no other funds are available.
When a resident loses his or her medical card, replacing it is mandatory, time-consuming and not the best use of county resources. Commissioners approved a policy to align with the state limit of four card replacements within a year, called the “Excessive Card Replacement Policy.”
Kern closed her update with details about the future of the Option for Long-term Care (OLC) program. Providing options for the elderly, this program is not facing funding problems. But it requires resources that are likely to increase soon as new administrative burdens will be significant and staff members are already stretched thin.
More important, some department functions are court-ordered and mandatory, but the OLC program is a voluntary, long-standing tradition that many in the community value. Like other social services, Kern explained, people across the state find different solutions to similar problems.
“We have 64 counties and 64 ways of doing business,” Kern said.
Emily Brown, Rio Grande County director of public health, talked about a number of health issues, started with coordination across organizations in times of need. The Volunteer Organization Assisting Disaster (VOAD) networks providers who might have bottled water, equipment or expertise to deploy immediately if a disaster requires their goods or services.
Brown also shared an award the county received from the state on April 3. Celebrating National Public Health Week, the Colorado House of Representatives presented the recognition in Denver.
Kent Rominger Airport Manager Jay Sarason finalized board appointments with commissioners and requested subtle policy changes that, as commissioner Gene Glover explained later, “allows the manager to do his job.” Managing parking, trash and other basic functions had become cumbersome according to old procedures.
Sarason described old setback codes and new construction projects for commissioners to approve. He also expressed concern about risks to pilots moving planes around at night when livestock and antelope roam the runways. Fencing for safety is a high priority commissioners supported, and they counseled him to balance fund options to achieve objectives.
Sarason also noted the revenue potential and service improvement by routinely selling fuel on-site. Pilots chart paths based on refueling options. Like plans to improve the runway overlay to accommodate heavier planes (in addition to the pilots’ convenience amenity in development), enhancing the airport increases growth.
As Sarason noted, “CDOT loves it when we’re investing in our own airport.”
Commissioners also clarified board appointments for the. Assigned to one-year positions, the current board of directors includes Chairperson Tom Haefeli, Dale Berkbigler, Bob Johnson, Dusty Hicks and Chez Yund.
Museum Director Louise Colville presented revenue-generating ideas to commissioners to leverage duplicate copies of books and other artifacts.
Using the museum gift shop and targeted events like Covered Wagon Days, museum staff members can raise additional funds to help cover costs.
Colville and the commissioners delved into detailed archive protocols for cataloging individual exhibits. Diverse shows include artifacts from the museum, private collectors and other sources. Consolidated in a single glass case, the objects seem easy to track. But when multiple shows open and close simultaneously in the curator’s environment, keeping tabs on the inventory can be a challenge.
Closing out the meeting, Charlie Spielman requested a sound system to amplify commissioners and presenters, although that was not why he waited all morning until he had a chance to present an idea for the Summitville Mine site. Recognizing how two wrongs might make a right, Spielman questioned how carefully Galactic Resources sorted materials during operation. Spielman suggested exploring an extraction project with the remaining tailings and materials after he witnessed hours of perfunctory ore handling.
“That gave me hope that there’s some pretty good grade stuff in there,” Spielman said.
The original gold rush on South Mountain drew miners to the Summitville area in the 1870s, followed by 150 years of profitable gold and silver extraction and decades of expensive cleanup. Perhaps a concentrated project to tidy the tailings will bring extra revenue to Rio Grande County, like finding coins under couch cushions.