Affordable housing, child care, wildfire mitigation top issues for Routt County commissioners in 2022
The Routt County Board of Commissioners will broach many issues this year, but addressing a lack of affordable housing and child care options will remain top priorities in 2022.
Maintaining infrastructure and ensuring it can accommodate a growing county, as well as mitigating wildfire risks, are priorities, commissioners said.
“As much as it is a challenging time, I really see it as a time for opportunity for us,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond. “For so many years, I dealt with a pretty apathetic public. … But now people understand they need to care and speak up.”
Housing will continue to be one of, if not the top issue for commissioners this year, something Commissioner Tim Corrigan said shouldn’t be a surprise.
Breaking it down, Corrigan said the commissioners’ work will primarily come in two ways: advocacy for legislation at the state level and supporting the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch project.
In Corrigan’s mind, one of the biggest issues in Denver is property-tax equity between short-term rentals that pay residential-level taxes and commercial-lodging options, something that he said a number of legislators are preparing bills to address.
“I’m trying to frame this as a tax cut for people whose principal residence is here in Routt County,” Corrigan said, noting that because the county is limited by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, this legislation would likely decrease mills assessed on residential property.
Commissioner Beth Melton said much of the county’s support for Brown Ranch would likely come in the form of advocacy for state and federal funding. Redmond agreed, saying he sees the county’s role as support and potentially cutting red tape for development west of town.
Corrigan, who sits on the board of the housing authority, said he expects the authority to work with state agencies for money the state already has, like from the American Rescue Plan Act, as well as exploring what funding opportunities may be available in the future.
“Other counties and municipalities really need the money for land acquisition, where we are much more focused on dollars to support infrastructure development,” he said.
Child care in Routt County hit a critical point last summer when Little Lambs in South Routt was forced to close, and addressing the shortage will remain a top priority for commissioners.
Corrigan said commissioners tried to put together a partnership with the South Routt School District and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation to purchase Little Lambs, but they were unable to resurrect South Routt’s only child care option.
“Having said that, during those conversations, we did identify a couple of other opportunities in South Routt,” Corrigan said. “That same partnership might find a way to create some capacity.”
Redmond said capacity in Hayden will expand soon with the opening of Totally Tots at the Hayden Center, but there is more work to do. The results from a feasibility study for a child care center conducted by the county and city of Steamboat Springs should come back in the next few weeks, Melton said.
Part of that study could detail what financial commitment would be needed, if any, to run a child care center, Melton said. Ideally, there would be a way that wouldn’t require dedicated city or county funding, she said, because councils and commissioners change and so can their willingness to provide funding.
“I hesitate to jump directly to taxes, but I think that’s obvious when people talk about long-term and sustainable funding sources, that typically is what you would be referring to,” Melton said. “It doesn’t mean it is the only option out there.”
While it is an ongoing challenge, Corrigan said maintaining the county’s roads and bridges is also a priority for him this year, especially as the county’s population is growing.
“We have a growing population in the outlying parts of the county and increasing, and (there are) increasing demands on the infrastructure as we currently maintain it,” Corrigan said.
This includes requests from residents to extend winter road maintenance in places like Stagecoach, where some subdivisions are growing and do not currently see county plows.
Some of that infrastructure may also include water infrastructure, something on which commissioners can spend some of the county’s $5 million from ARPA.
This spending needs to be identified by the end of 2024, but both Melton and Corrigan said they thought a significant portion of that spending could be identified by the end of the year. The recent infrastructure bill puts even more money out there, Melton said.
“We all want to really make sure to maximize the dollars that are available rather than spending it from one source,” Melton said. “Right now, where we are is really trying to work with other municipalities, the special districts, etc., to put together a master list of priority projects.”
Routt County saw two fires in 2021. While he feels better with snow falling, Redmond said wildfire mitigation is a significant priority for him this year.
“What my hopes are, is that we can be the one-stop shop for (homeowners) that need information and perhaps some help putting that defensible space around their homes,” Redmond said.
The Marshall fire in Boulder County also has Redmond thinking about entrances and exits to subdivisions that could create a bottle neck of evacuating residents and firefighting personnel in an emergency.
The county could look at adjusting building codes or other regulations that could help with mitigation, as well, he said. For example, it is legal to have wood shingles in Routt County, which can ignite more readily than metal roofing.
Redmond said his focus is on listening to fire professionals across the county who are telling him wildfires are changing. This was seen in the Muddy Slide Fire, which saw massive growth as it burned downhill at night this summer.
“(A firefighter in South Routt) said, ‘Never have I ever seen a fire run downhill at night before,’” Redmond said. “For me, it’s to listen to them, understand what they’re seeing and then educate the public so they can be prepared.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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