Dealing with challenges and working to resolve problems were cited as the reasons he likes his job by recently hired County Administrator Phil Dorenkamp, speaking in a Thursday, January 10 interview in his office at the County Courthouse. He’s also served as the county’s Road and Bridge Department Superintendent for the past 17 years, but pulling the double duty of both responsibilities doesn’t seem to faze him.
Dorenkamp took office on September 18, 2018. I’m liking the job. I like the challenges,” he said. “I like making things work and if there’s a problem, trying to figure out a way to resolve the problem. I need to stress that I rely heavily on staff both at the Road and Bridge Department and here at the courthouse. They know what they’re doing.”
Growing up out in the country east of Lamar, he graduated from Granada High School and earned his bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering Technology from what was then the University of Southern Colorado and is now Colorado State University in Pueblo. Now 61 years old, he and his wife, Sheila, have one daughter who’s now a senior at Hoehne High School.
Las Animas County employs approximately 150 people, he said, with the largest number of employees working at the Department of Human Services, the Road and Bridge Department and the County Sheriff’s Office. Dorenkamp said he would like to find a way to increase the salaries of county employees, many of whom haven’t had a pay raise for several years. “I know that giving salary increases of hourly wage increases always seems to set against public opinion, but the folks in Las Animas County, not including myself, haven’t seen any kind of increase in a long time,” he said. “The cost of living continues to rise. We’ve got people who work in some departments who I’m told are actually eligible for entitlement programs. We’ve got to try and figure out something else so we can increase their wages to at least keep up with inflation.”
That could be tough to do anytime soon, especially with possible negative impacts to the county’s budget due to the terms of the Gallagher Amendment, which was an amendment to the Colorado Constitution enacted in 1982 concerning property tax. It set forth the guidelines in the Colorado Constitution for determining the actual value of property and the valuation for assessment of such property. Dorenkamp was asked what his understanding of the Gallagher Amendment was and how it could negatively impact the county’s budget next year. “My understanding of what will most likely impact rural Colorado is the Residential Assessment Rate (RAR). Projections are it will go from 7.1 percent down to 6.9 percent. The impact is likely to be the loss of $300,000 to $350,000 to this county’s revenues is what my guess is. We won’t know the final numbers until the legislature decides what that RAR is going to be. What happens is they take the value of the property times the RAR, which gives you the assessed value, and then you take the assessed value times our mill levy rate, which is 9.357 mills and then that is the tax for that piece of property.
“It’s a huge hit for us. That RAR may be adjusted again in a couple of years.”
He said he decided to go after the job after previous administrator Priscilla (Pete) Fraser was fired by the County Board at a meeting on June 8, 2018. “I guess there were some things I wanted to try and implement, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet so I want to hold off on that.”
He said good communication was the key for him in working with the County Board. “In my opinion it’s communication. Even if we disagree, that’s okay as long as we can still talk to each other. We’ve got to be able to talk to each other so we can get things done for the citizenry. That’s what our job is.”
He was asked if industrial hemp production could benefit agricultural producers in the county. “I don’t know if any of our farmers would be interested in growing it, but my personal opinion is that any kind of market we can open up to any type of producer, whether it’s farmers, ranchers or whatever type of production it is, to me as long as it isn’t detrimental to society as a whole, we should sure take a long hard look at helping to push that through. What I’ve been told is that hemp is one of those products that could help us. If I’m a farmer and have an opportunity to make more money growing hemp than I could growing other products, I would be sure to take a long hard look at it, as long as the environment is conducive to raising it, of course.”
Dorenkamp, in closing, said he would to tell the citizens of the county that he’s humbled and honored that they have allowed him to serve them in his various capacities.