On Tuesday, the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) enthusiastically approved the adoption of bylaws for the newly-created Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Advisory Committee.
The committee will review and make recommendations to the BOCC concerning the use of the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Fund (OLRT), established by ballot measure last November. The voter-approved ballot initiative established a 10-year limited sales tax increase of 0.3 percent to be used for keeping water in local rivers; conserving open lands, wildlife habitat, wetlands and river access through acquisition; and maintaining hiking and biking trails. Based on previous sales tax revenue, it is anticipated to bring in $750,000 a year for natural resource use issues.
The decision comes after a delayed vote last week, following a discussion in which Commissioner Rich Cimino expressed concern that some of the language in different documents varied. Specifically, the resolution binding the Committee bylaws describes a 15 percent cap on collected monies that can be used for trail maintenance. Whereas, the ballot didn’t mention any spending caps.
Cimino was concerned about the discrepancy, saying, “I think that the voters were duped.” He quoted ballot language that reads, “without limitation or condition.” And said, “It’s my perception that voters in District 1 were excited about trail maintenance.”
Cray Healy, of the Colorado Headwaters Land Trust, ensured that the language was drafted with attorneys from the Land Trust and the Trust for Public Lands. It is similar, he said, to language used for similar initiatives in other Colorado counties and comes from polling that indicates trail maintenance to be of lesser concern, compared to land and water preservation.
County Attorney Alan Hassler further clarified that Colorado Law, upheld by the State Supreme Court, indicates that “ballot language does not need to spell out all parts of a proposed initiative. It is up to the voters to have full education on the issues.”
As in any new project, other questions remain, such as if trails include those used for horseback riding or nordic skiing and what kind of maintenance is allowed on multi-use trails. But all stakeholders remained in agreement about the positive effect the fund will have on the County.
Of the bylaws, Commissioner Merrit Linke said, “I think it’s a good thing. I think it captures the spirit and intent of the voters.” And Commissioner Kris Manguso praised the hard work and research put into the effort.
The bylaws clarify that nine-person committee will consist of uncompensated members from each town and three from unincorporated Grand County, one from each commissioner district. The positions have prescribed staggered 4-year terms and members may serve a total of two terms. It is intended as a balanced representation of area interests, including agriculture, land conservation, outdoor recreation, and economic development.
Committee members also expressed gratitude for a good working group and an exciting opportunity. Healy cited numbers from Gunnison County saying that they were receiving up to a $12 value for every $1 spent on their open lands program. Committee Member Paul Bruchez encouraged, “If we can leverage our funds, there is a significant return moving forward. Even if every dollar spent provides only a $4 return, that is significant.”
The Committee has also completed creation of a grant application for the OLRT. According to Cindy Southway, Committee Representative from Grand Lake, the Committee hopes to be accepting applications and awarding grants by the end of the year, ultimately working on two grant cycles to be aligned with the Great Outdoors Colorado grant cycles.
County Proposes State Health Care Issue
The BOCC recently submitted a Legislative Issue Form to Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI) for policy initiation and support regarding health care premiums in the 2018 State Legislative session.
Commissioner Cimino brought up the concern that “Health care premiums are at ridiculously high levels for some rural counties.” And the document describes the problem by saying that “In many rural Colorado Counties, health care premiums can be two or three times as high as premiums in urban areas in our state.” Cited reasons are increased distance to medical care; longer life expectancy among rural citizens, resulting in expensive conditions later in life; and smaller participant numbers, or pool size, in rural areas.
Jenn Fanning, Director of the Rural Health Network, provided support for the initiative. She explained that a similar policy was proposed in 2016, but failed to garner support from the State Insurance Commissioner, Margaret Salazar, due to concerns about data validity. The data used for that effort was skewed, according to Fanning, only including the one-third of Colorado citizens who are on employer-funded insurance policies for statistics of health concerns and costs. She says that information on the third of citizens with public insurance (Medicaid, Medicare or Veterans Insurance) and the third enrolled in employer-based self-funded insurance were not included at that time.
Another problem with the data is that it looked at zip-codes of where service was provided, not where the recipient lived. An issue that impacts Grand County and other tourist destinations disproportionately, due to the number of non-residents involved in accidents and seeking care in the county. On the issue of longevity, she said, “Essentially, we are being punished for living longer and healthier and leading more active lives. How do we balance that with health care needs?”
Cimino says that he is “very attracted to a single insurance zone, but not limited to that as a solution.” He cited statistics that indicate that if all members of the state are included in the same pool, premium costs for urban residents would increase an average of 5 percent, but premium costs for rural mountain residents would drop, on average, between 30 and 40 percent.
Commissioners Manguso and Linke were empathetic to the problem and in favor of seeking a solution, signing the proposal to CCI. Additionally the Commissioners instructed County staff to explore more local solutions, including partnering with area employers to create a county-wide pool to leverage cheaper health insurance premiums for County residents.
Library Board Position Filled
The Grand County Library District President Sally Leclair presented Darcy Schlichting to the BOCC as the District’s nominee to fill the vacant District 3C, At-Large Board member position. The position represents the eastern end of the County, and while bylaws give preference to district residents, all residents are eligible.
There were initially five applicants, explained Leclair, with one person withdrawing for personal reasons and another after being offered employment by the Library District. She described Schlichting as a long-time part-time resident, having had lots of civic engagement in other areas of Colorado, before retiring here full-time last year.
Schlichting’s application and resume detail her “extensive volunteer experience on boards as well as with educational programs and the arts.” That experience includes active participation in arts education in Denver Public Schools, involvement with Colorado History Day, and a tenure as treasurer for the Cherry Creek High School boys’ tennis booster club.
The Commissioners approved her appointment in a unanimous vote, indicating positive input from others as well. Of the appointment, Schlichting says, “This is a new experience for me and I am going into it as an excited challenge. I look forward to getting to know the other members and making a good contribution to the larger community.”