SAGUACHE — During a special meeting Wednesday July 3, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R) chatted with Saguache Commissioners and a handful of Saguache County citizens to discuss concerns involving the county and the nation.
Crestone Eagle reporter Sandia Belgrade addressed the problem with children at the border entering the U.S. with adults presumed to be their parents who are then separated from these adults. “This is not a good idea,” Belgrade told Gardner.
Gardner advised Belgrade that Congress has passed additional funding to address the problem but added that Border Patrol agents have been “overwhelmed” with the number of illegal immigrants entering the country. He also noted that adult immigrants know they stand a much better chance of remaining on U.S. soil if they bring a child.
In addition, he pointed out, it is crucial that the government stop coyotes from transporting illegal immigrants to the U.S., citing the dangers especially to young girls entering the country. All girls 10 and over must now be given a pregnancy test, he reported, indicating the dangers they face while journeying with these coyotes from their place of origin.
Academic Recovery Center (ARC) Director Joy Werner thanked Gardner for supporting legislation to restore Secure Rural Schools funding. Saguache County is one of the top three in fund totals in the state. The funds have helped hire new teachers for Center Schools, she told Gardner, although the pool of teachers to hire from is dwindling.
Werner also asked Gardner what he can do to address issues with AP test scores, because test scores acceptable to Colorado State University are not accepted by Adams State University. She objected to electronic tag requirement for independent truckers, claiming that it has resulted in an increase in trucker accidents and deaths.
Werner also requested that CDL certificates be included among those recognized by the state so her students could apply for them when choosing careers. She also addressed the issue of apprentice programs for students and Gardner said he is working to make these programs more accessible for students in rural areas.
SRS funding, forests, tariffs
Sen. Gardner told commissioners he is supporting a bill that would increase funds to counties like Saguache with small populations. Commissioner Jason Anderson asked how much that would make up local funds to government. Road and Bridge Supervisor Randall Arredondo noted that the funds increase would help Road and Bridge departments in small counties like Saguache, since SRS funds go mainly to the schools.
Gardner remarked that the is currently a bill in progress that would better equalize the SRS funds distribution.
Commissioner J. Anderson raised Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concerns with Gardner, noting the citizens group advising the BLM has not met for two years when before they were meeting three times a year. Gardner advised Anderson the federal government is considering moving BLM headquarters to western Colorado and that might help resolve the situation.
Regarding concerns raised by Commissioner Tim Lovato, that tariffs are hurting agriculture and forest maintenance is a problem, Gardner said the bill to let loggers reclaim beetle kill in the forests is being challenged in the courts and must first play out before forest clean-up can move forward. Gardner agreed both producers and consumers are being hurt by tariffs and the tariff issue needs to be resolved “ASAP.”
He did support the tariffs levied against China, however, commenting that China should not be allowed to get by with their current trade practices with the U.S.
Commissioner Ken Anderson encouraged Gardner to “finish the farm bill” and Gardner says Congress intends to fix the language and financial side of the bill. Hearings are being held now, he said, and the bill should be ready to go by December.
Belgrade and Lovato agreed the Rio Grande Compact needs to be reviewed. Gardner said he spoke with potato farmers recently and is awaiting water numbers for this year. Erin Minks with Sen. Bennett’s office cautioned that it will take more than one year of unprecedented snowpack to compensate for water losses of almost two decades.
Gardner said the young farmers program is available but needs to be improved. Werner told Gardner the young farmer program is one that needs to be added to her ARC curriculum to prepare students interested in agriculture so they can begin the program before ever finishing school. She also encouraged better use of Future Farmers of America as a resource to promote agricultural careers.
A young farmers co-op that would help the younger generation reduce farming costs by pooling equipment and using tax allowances is the answer, he said, and something he is investigating.
Health care was on the minds of everyone attending, with Jason Anderson informing Gardner that the county’s healthcare costs constituted 40 percent of last year’s budget. This primarily because of catastrophic costs incurred by one of those insured by the county.
“They are tearing it down, but nothing is being rebuilt,” J. Anderson complained. Werner joined in to explain that while Center School’s health plan covers her medical costs, the same coverage quadruples for her son.
Gardner said a bill proposed last year that would have reduced health care costs by 17 percent was never passed and that legislators are working to drive down pharmaceutical costs by encouraging the increased availability of generic drug brands.
New jail, marijuana
Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick asked Gardner what funding he could suggest for the new jail facility since commissioners cannot match funds for the project. The new facility would cost at least $5 million, he estimated. Many rural Colorado counties are having the same problems with their jails, he added.
Law enforcement is the most impacted by the new marijuana laws, he pointed out, yet receives no appreciable additional funding to offset this effect. “Gray market” funding only pays for some equipment and training but does not translate into funds for a new jail or day-to-day operations, he explained.
Gardner said that because Congress can no longer earmark funds for special projects, that option is gone. He suggested applying for funding and grants from private foundations and offered Warwick the services of his assistant, Cathy Garcia. Garcia told Warwick that CSU will help the county write the grant for the project and she will make that contact.
Warwick also requested assistance in attracting additional personnel and addressing ongoing housing issues in the county, which affect the ability of those relocating here to secure affordable housing. Jason Anderson told Gardner the county has agreed to build an office and residence for a deputy in Crestone, which will serve as a satellite sheriff’s office.
Gardner said there are federal programs to look into to help with the housing issues. He also advised that there should be some progress by Congress in addressing the financial issues surrounding marijuana profits, which currently cannot be processed through federally-insured banking institutions. He added that 47 states now have legalized marijuana sales/use in some form.
Both Commissioners Anderson also told Gardner they expect greater consideration and more respect from Front Range lawmakers.