There was plenty of information shared at the third Trinidad & Las Animas County Legislative Roundtable held on Wednesday, January 2 in the Pioneer Room of the Sullivan Student Center at Trinidad State Junior College. State legislators, Congressional representatives, public health leaders, educators and public officials throughout the region gave a series of three-minute presentations. Members of the audience could submit written questions on subjects that interested them, and get the answers from experts in their respective fields. Trinidad’s Mayor Phil Rico served as moderator of the roundtable.
County Assessor Jodi Amato spoke about the Gallagher Amendment, which was approved by Colorado voters 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.
“I’m here today to give you some information about the Gallagher Amendment, and the impacts that the Gallagher Amendment is going to have to entities across all 64 counties in Colorado,” Amato said. “I’ll speak about the impacts in Colorado and specifically here in Las Animas County.”
She said the purpose of the amendment was to create equality across all the different kinds of property classifications in the state. “It created two assessment rates, one for residential, which at the time was 21 percent, and then all other property classifications, which include vacant, agricultural, commercial, industrial, oil and gas, personal property, those were set at 29 percent, and then oil and gas was put into its own class later on. What it was meant to do was keep a 45 percent to 55 percent ratio between the property classes.”
She talked about the Residential Assessment Rate (RAR) and how the explosion of growth from Colorado Springs north to Ft. Collins and adjacent areas had caused a corresponding increase in property values throughout that region. All assessor’s offices and the state Department of Taxation are charged with keeping taxation equal across all 64 Colorado counties, due to the Gallagher Amendment. The huge explosion in property values caused the RAR to be decreased. “What that means to all entities and to every district that has tax dollars is that you’re going to see a decrease in the revenues coming in to your districts. Six school districts in Las Animas County overall, and this is an average for all six of our school districts, will see a loss in revenue of $151,714. Trinidad School District No. 1 will be impacted the most because they have the most residential population and properties within their district. We have four fire districts in our county and overall, they’re going to see an average of a $28,000 loss. That’s going to severely impact a lot of our rural fire districts. The City of Trinidad will see a $30,000 loss, just from the residential properties. Our ambulance district will see a loss of about $10,000 in residential properties. In Las Animas County alone, because we encompass the entire county, we will see a loss of revenue of $154,431.”
None of this is good news and Amato said it would be hard to overturn the Gallagher Amendment because it would require a 51 percent vote of the people in an upcoming election.
Executive Director Kimberly Gonzales of the Huerfano-Las Animas Counties Health Department talked about the opioid crisis impacting many people throughout the region, resulting in several deaths due to such drugs as heroin and fentanyl. Gonzales also discussed local efforts to combat the opioid crisis through the establishment of the Partnership for a Drug Free Community, a group founded by Chief District Court Judge Leslie J. Gerbracht and Probation Office leader Martin Malouff. Local First Responders are also being trained in the use of Naloxone, a drug designed to bring heroin users back from overdose incidents.
Toni DeAngelis of the Trinidad State Junior College Educational Foundation talked about the college’s renowned robotics and gunsmithing programs, while also highlighting needed infrastructure improvements at the college with campuses in Trinidad and Alamosa. Scholarship endowments were another key component of the college’s past, present and future, she said.
Director Deb Hartman of SCCOG’s Early Learning Center talked about the rewards and challenges of feeding three meals a day to 175 preschool children while providing them with a solid medical and educational foundation. “We’re seeing more and more special needs kids,” Hartman said. “It’s all about love and learning, and achieving a level of sustainability. I stick up for the kids. That’s my job.”
Trinidad’s Director of Development Services, Tara Marshall, discussed overcoming the many challenges faced in the city’s Space to Create project, which recently overcame a funding gap and is expected to have its closing date next month. She noted that many of the apartments to be built were intended as housing for low-income people, and were not reserved specifically for artists, as some people believed.
Trinidad’s City Manager Greg Sund talked about the ongoing process of the city’s acquiring the iconic, 19,000-acre Crazy French Ranch south of the city, which features Fisher’s Peak. It’s a partnership with the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and others. Sund said the city was now undergoing a visioning process about how best to utilize the ranch, and had attracted 48 letters of support from a recent solicitation.
The second part of the legislative roundtable included remarks by state and local elected officials, including State Senator Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and State Representative Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim. Sen. Crowder talked about the dynamic changes hap.pening recently in Trinidad, and noted the “spark of life” he’d seen in the city in recent years.
Rep. Lewis talked about the importance of keeping ranch lands in private hands, saying she opposed conservation easements that often took ranch lands out of private hands and put them in the hands of conservation groups.
The roundtable also provoked some lively and thoughtful comments from citizens throughout the region.