County news

Director Ken Burns, center, is pictured during a question-and-answer session following the 2017 Telluride Film Festival screening of “Episode Nine” of “The Vietnam War.” This year’s festival is still slated to take place over Labor Day weekend, though local public health officials have expressed concern. (Planet file photo)

The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners tackled a myriad of topics at its Wednesday meeting, but at the heart of a packed agenda, the COVID-19 pandemic claimed dominance. In addition to wanting to delay the next increase in the amount of allowable lodging (see the Thursday edition of the Daily Planet), officials discussed this year’s Telluride Film Festival, and tweaked how notification announcing new coronavirus cases in the county would be released. County staff and commissioners Kris Holstrom, Lance Waring and Hilary Cooper also mulled a possible de-Gallagherization measure on November’s ballot. The issue of dogs being where they are not permitted also made the agenda.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic roared into existence in the U.S., county officials have mobilized alongside health professionals to keep track of the county’s health profile, issuing emails announcing each new positive case or cases. At Wednesday’s meeting, a new system was announced. County public health director Grace Franklin clarified after the meeting how notices will be released going forward.

“We are sending out a press release summary of cases on Tuesday and Friday," Franklin said. "The dashboard will be updated daily Monday through Friday. As things have progressed, we recognized the need for a more sustainable approach for our staff and to alert the public. If there is a major outbreak or concern that we need to let the public know about immediately, we will post an alert and news release outside of this schedule."

Over the holiday weekend, those who’d signed up for the notifications received one on July 3 and another July 5. The decision was driven, in part, by a desire to ease staff workload. The county’s COVID-19 dashboard, Bordogna said, will be updated on Tuesdays and Fridays moving forward.

“And unless there is a major outbreak on a weekend, we will be sharing the releases during the week to try and take some of the strain off of our public health and communications staff,” he explained. “The timing of those updates are also tied to when we get most of our batch results back from PCR tests.”

Press releases and social media updates will continue as new cases occur.

Bordogna also advised the commissioners that the deadline was fast approaching for letting the county clerk know if they may have a question to be place on the November ballot. 

“I’m asking that you strongly consider a ballot question this November,” he said.

Though no specific ballot question has been crafted, Bordogna said that the effects of the Gallagher amendment, passed in 1982 by Colorado voters, was serving to limit county revenues and that a “de-Gallagherization” measure might prove beneficial. 

As explained on the state’s website, the amendment divides the state’s total property tax burden between residential and nonresidential (commercial) property and dictates that 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property, and 55 percent of the property tax collected must come from commercial property.

The amendment also mandates that the assessment rate for commercial property, which is responsible for 55 percent of the total state property tax burden, be fixed at 29 percent. The residential rate, on the other hand, is annually adjusted to hold the 45-55 split constant. Because of rapidly increasing residential property values, the residential assessment rate has sunk from approximately 21 percent in 1982 to around 7 percent today. Since the amendment works to ratchet assessment rates down, governments find themselves challenged to provide essential services. Bordogna recommended filing a placeholder on the ballot with the clerk by July 24, which the commissioners agreed was prudent. 

“We have to look after our ability to function,” Holstrom said.

Commissioners turned their attention to a discussion about the Telluride Film Festival, which is the last of the major summer festivals to, so far, remain on the events calendar. This despite word that the school district has declined to allow the internationally acclaimed festival to use its facilities. The festival uses the elementary school gym and the Palm Theatre as venues during the Labor Day weekend gathering.

“I have more questions and concerns that I have broached with them,” said county public health director Grace Franklin. “The schools determined it’s not safe to be operating in any of those venues. It’s off the table.”

Saying that “the safety piece is the determining factor,” Franklin said she is in ongoing discussions with film festival staff to ascertain if “this is feasible or not,” given current limitations on crowd sizes and the ability to maintain six foot distancing.

Franklin is also in discussions with the county’s two libraries about how to resume programming safely, as well as Telluride Theatre staff, which is moving forward with both its annual Shakespeare production and its summertime gala fundraiser. Of concern, she added, was a proposed Egnar Music Festival, an event she said that, “from a public health standpoint, there’s a lot of outstanding questions.”

Though still trying to make its September festival work at the time of the commissioners’ meeting, Telluride Festival of Cars & Colors has since announced it would be shelving its event this year.

The topic of dogs, and where they can and cannot be, made the agenda Wednesday, spurred by an uptick of complaints about their presence in the Keystone Gorge and other prohibited areas in the Lawson Hill PUD. Despite signage expressly prohibiting dogs, dog owners are bringing their canine companions into the Keystone Gorge, which is a designated wildlife corridor. 

“I don’t feel like it’s signage that matters to them,” Waring said. “I don’t foresee an elegant solution.”

The county requested increased patrol in Keystone Gorge from the U.S. Forest Service, which operates a recreational ranger program, positions that are funded by the county and the towns of Mountain Village and Telluride.

Bordogna also sought to shift away from the county’s role in processing the emotional support paperwork required for Lawson Hill residents seeking a waiver on the development’s dog prohibition. Lawson Homeowners Association manager, Pam Hall, indicated she’d be “more than willing to manage those,” but for now the job will remain with the county.

The Lawson Hill HOA meets July 15, and Hall said they would be working to create a new fine structure for those in violation of the development’s no dog rule. The rule was made a part of the PUD’s declarations in deference to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife determination that the development was built on severe winter deer and elk range.

Wednesday was also decreed Telluride Regional Medical Center Day, an honor bestowed on the medical facility for, among other things, how efficiently and quickly the team there “had to ramp up” in response to an uptick in COVID-19 cases, and for its efforts in conducting greatly expanded testing for the coronavirus. By adding staff, the med center was able to test upwards of 250 people per week. Bordogna said they’ve administered more than 1,100 swab tests and were instrumental in the antibody screening, which required drawing blood samples from 5,400 county residents in the spring.

“We’re honoring them for their service to the citizens of San Miguel County,” Bordogna said. “They are one of our closest allies and partners.”