DEL NORTE- The Rio Grande County Commissioners met Dec. 18 to continue a discussion pertaining to conservation trust fund monies that are being requested to aid in the cost associated with the proposed Ski Hi Recreational project in Monte Vista and ultimately decided to table the approval of the request until their meeting at the end of the month.
The Friends of Ski Hi were in attendance for the meeting and took a moment to express their support of the project. Many stated how much the facility is needed here in the Valley. The first person to speak was Friends of Ski Hi member Virginia Christensen who spoke to the board in the public comment period about the need of the facility stating, “The project is eligible for the funds as has been stated in a letter to commissioners from the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). As demonstrated by the community user groups who attended the last meeting, the project is widely supported and seen as a recreational and economic driver for Rio Grande County and the entire San Luis Valley.”
Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce member Linda Barnett also addressed the commissioners stating that the existing building was in disrepair and explained that the annual agricultural conference was coming up in February and the organization was hoping to have the new facility in the initial stages in time for the following year in 2020. “We are hoping that the county can help us to be able to make this possible for the whole Valley.”
Other members of the Friends of Ski Hi took turns explaining the reasons for the potential project and their support for economic growth. Upper Rio Grande Economic Development member Marty Asplin stressed the need for projects such as this in order to help stimulate the economy and aid in the growth of the Valley as a whole. Asplin also respectfully asked commissioners to approve the conservation trust fund monies in the amount of $150,000 which would be used as matching funds for several grants.
Commissioner John Noffsker spoke on the topic stating that he had only received information pertaining to the project a short while ago during the first meeting that was held earlier in the month. “This is the first I have heard of an actual number for the project, we saw for the first time a project plan and we have questions on that. None of the numbers have been presented to me. One of my concerns has been, as commissioners we are being asked to provide a match of sorts for funds and it was the first, we had heard of it, so it feels awkward. I am still gathering information. It is not that I am opposed to the project, but I have some questions.”
Commissioner Susanne Bothell also stated similar concerns, stating that they needed more information before moving forward for an approval. By the end of the conversation, Commissioner Gene Glover made a motion to approve the funds in the amount of $150,000 as requested only to have the motion die on the table for lack of a second from either of the other two board members.
Commissioners voted to meet with project lead Kathy Woods in order to have their questions answered and agreed to have a decision by the meeting scheduled for Dec. 31. After the conversation, Rio Grande Administrator Trish Slater presented commissioners with new information stating that in 2017, the previous board passed a policy that required the county to withhold 35 percent of all fund accounts for emergency purposes.
In 2017, the board adopted a reserve fund policy which requires it to hold 35 percent of all funds for emergency purposes. That makes the available balance of the conservation trust fund be $290,000 instead of just over $400,000 that was previously presented as the fund balance.