OURAY COUNTY – Mike Fedel was sworn in as Ouray County’s newest commissioner on Tuesday and took his place in the meeting room between veterans Heidi Albritton and Lynn Padgett.
Albritton’s appearance was a surprise. Her second child was due on Monday, and she hadn’t expected to be at the meeting. “Still with child!” she said with a flourish on entering. “Now,” she addressed Fedel, who occupied the seat formerly held by Keith Meinert, “you are the rose between two thorns.” Padgett laughed, and Fedel smiled.
The BOCC meeting had been pushed back to 10:30 a.m. to accommodate the official swearing-in ceremony upstairs in the courtroom. There, County (and Municipal) Judge David Westfall performed the honors, one at a time, for all the incoming, elected or re-elected, county officials: Commissioner Fedel, County Assessor Susie Mayfield, Treasurer Jeanine Casolari, Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer, Coroner Colleen Hollenbeck, and Surveyor Bob Larson.
Following the ceremony, retiring coroner Gary Miller was called up and thanked for his 22 years of service.
Afterward, in the meeting room, Board Chair Lynn Padgett said, “Let the record show that Heidi is one dedicated commissioner.”
ALBRITTON VOTED BOCC CHAIR
Commissioner Heidi Albritton had reason to show up, nine months pregnant, at the BOCC meeting last Tuesday. At the top of the agenda was “Reorganization of the Board.” That meant voting on a new board chair and vice chair for the year 2011. Traditionally, the chair rotates among the three commissioners, and Albritton’s turn to run the meetings had come around.
“It’s not a political move,” she said of her appearance Tuesday (and of the letter she emailed in case she were unable to attend). “I’m just reminding you of the tradition. And I want my turn.”
Padgett, the outgoing chair, said it would be her “honor” to nominate Albritton for the role. Fedel seconded. Padgett apologized that she didn’t have a gavel to pass across to her cohort: “I’ve been so good at banging my coffee mug,” she said with a grin.
Getting right down to business, Albritton then moved that Padgett by named vice-chair. It only made sense, she said, “to give Mike a chance to get his feet under him.”
Fedel concurred, saying, “I’m comfortable with that. I certainly have a lot to get up to speed on.” In fact, Fedel was due to leave that afternoon for Denver, to attend rookie commissioners’ orientation, sponsored by Colorado Counties, Inc.
NEOSHO MINE GETS LANDMARK STATUS
The Ouray Board of County Commissioners this week, with new Chair Heidi Albritton running the meeting, discussed the status of the Neosho Mine. Specifically the request by the Ouray County Historical Society to designate the mine a County Historic Landmark. “This is pretty much the only way the Historical Society can get the funds to stabilize these buildings,” Albritton said of the iconic old boarding house and blacksmith shop clinging to the west side of the Uncompahgre Gorge opposite the Bear Creek Bridge.
Commissioner Lynn Padgett had a question: What would official designation do to the tradition of a clothesline and laundry appearing mysteriously, and very visibly from Highway 550, at the site every year?
Albritton said, “I have faith that the Historical Society would be amenable to that tradition carrying on. (I don’t want to spill the beans; it’s supposed to be a secret who does it.)”
Padgett moved that the designation be approved, with the condition that the county attorney “receives correspondence from the owner that he supports this designation.”
Fedel, in his first act as commissioner, seconded, and added the condition that “the owner be allowed to conduct hard-rock mining at the site,” landmark status or no.
FOOD STAMP DEMAND THROUGH THE ROOF
The Ouray BOCC heard at its meeting Tuesday from County Social Services Director Alan Gerstle that, due to the poor economy, his office has seen a leap in the number of households receiving food stamps. Gerstle’s territory includes both Ouray and San Miguel counties.
The average over the last 10 years, Gerstle said, was around 50-60 households a month, for each county, through 2008. In 2009, the numbers jumped up: an average of 85 Ouray County households per month received food stamps that year; in San Miguel County, the number was 83 per month. Then in 2010, Ouray averaged 119 per month, while San Miguel averaged 140 households per month. The bar graph Gerstle provided looked like the sweep of mountains outside the courthouse windows.
Other services in the caseload report had seen increased demand as well, Gerstle said: “T.A.N.F., O.A.P., HCBS, LEAP. . .”
He apologized for the rush of acronyms. “We’re very proud of our acronyms,” he said tongue-in-cheek. And then gave the commissioners, including newly sworn in Mike Fedel, a primer on the programs administered by the Board of Social Services.
T.A.N.F. stands for Temporary Aid to Needy Families. “That’s welfare,” Gerstle simplified. O.A.P. is Old Age Pension, for people over 60, “who can apply to augment their Social Security payments.” HCA is Home Care Assistance, he said, to help people stay in their own homes, rather than go to a nursing home.
LEAP stands for Low-income Energy Assistance Program, helping vulnerable, low-income households with winter heating bills. CHILD CARE assistance, an obvious one, Gerstle said, helps working parents with childcare costs. Family MED refers to the service that helps families apply for Medicaid. And finally, GA stands for General Assistance. These are discretionary county monies, he said, “that helps us pay for costs that might not be covered by another program: a kid needs glasses; a client needs medical care and isn’t on Medicare.”
In most instances, the caseload locally has grown for the acronym services as well, Gerstle said. “We want to see these numbers go down.”
All of this is managed, Gerstle said, by the CFMS, the Colorado Financial Management System, which allocates the funds, 20 percent of which come from the counties and 80 percent of which come from the federal government.
Albritton admitted that in her six full years on the board, the complexities of Social Services, including the acronym blizzard, had been among the most difficult to grasp. She thanked Gerstle for his clarifications and his work over the years. Gerstle concluded by announcing the hiring of Robert Matula to fill the job of retiring case manager Paulette Crabb. “I’ll miss Paulette,” Gerstle said. “I’ve worked with her since 1993. But Bob’s a wonderful guy. We’re lucky to have him.”