Commissioners to decide on leaving regional association next week
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners is still weighing whether to leave the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, largely because of the organization’s lobbying.
About 10% to 15% of the group’s budget is geared toward lobbying, said Bonnie Peterson, executive director of the group, in a meeting with commissioners Monday, where she explained the value of membership in the group to Routt County.
Commissioners did not make a decision Monday and directed staff to find some time for a vote next week.
The regional planning areas stem from 1970s legislation that encouraged local governments with similar local economies to work together to coordinate development for the betterment of the wider region.
But Routt County is different from other counties in the group, relying more on tourism and less on the declining energy industry. Commissioners said they believe they are not well represented by the group when it comes to advocating at the Capitol.
“Routt County has always been a little bit of an outlier from the rest of the counties in Northwest Colorado,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “We’re just a unique county with a world class ski area, thriving resort tourist economy, but at the same time, having a power plant and a coal mine.”
But the Hayden Station power plant is now set to close by 2028, and there is uncertainly about the future of the energy industry in Routt County.
“We’ve put a lot of support into the extraction industry, which I understand is very important to some of our counties,” Commissioner Tim Redmond said. “I’m a bit of a realist, and I’d like to put my energies into things that are going to be feasible and beneficial to us all.”
Redmond said he would have liked to see the organization take more of a middle-of-the-road position, but instead, the association would bring in speakers with ideas he described as “fringe.”
“When we’ve got a large organization that tries to achieve the greater good, I would have liked to have seen that energy put into things that were acceptable to all the members,” Redmond said.
Despite his criticism, Redmond said there was no doubt the town of Hayden benefited from the group when he was mayor.
In describing the positive impacts of the association, Peterson said the group serves as the administrator for the Northwest Enterprise Zone, which has brought over $2.1 million into Routt County through tax breaks.
“By and large, Routt County uses the enterprise zone much more than any other place and has since 2016, so it is pretty substantial,” Peterson said.
Peterson said almost $1.4 million has come to Routt County senior programs in the past five years through the Area Agency on Aging, providing services for seniors ranging from counseling, help with chores around the house and assistance to get caregivers. Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado serves as administrator of the program, and Routt County would need to pay $1,201 to have access to this, but the money flowing to programs are state and federal dollars.
When it comes to lobbying, Peterson said the association has done a lot of work for people in Routt County. She pointed to efforts around rural health care, where the group lobbied to loosen restrictions to keep more care options in rural areas. The association also has worked to bring back state programs that are focused on rural areas like the Rural Economic Development and Jump Start programs, Peterson explained.
Still, Commissioner Beth Melton said she didn’t feel like she could separate what the group lobbies for on the county’s behalf from the other programs it provides. She also expressed disappointment there is no legislative agenda approved by members of the group.
With a document like that, Melton said, commissioners could answer to constituents when they ask about what AGNC is lobbying for like she can with other organizations that lobby on the county’s behalf. Peterson said the association prefers to wait to see which bills will be introduced first.
The county also lobbies through Counties and Commissioners Acting Together and Colorado Counties Incorporated, and commissioners fear these efforts may be at odds with AGNC’s efforts. If commissioners leave the group, they have explored joining the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, of which the city of Steamboat Springs is already a member.
“The focus of AGNC’s lobbying efforts for some time has been for the preservation of an extraction style industry, and Routt County, I think, has at least emotionally moved on from that argument,” Corrigan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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