Covid count

San Miguel County Manager Mike Bordogna presented the resolution and the ballot language to the Board of County Commissioners at its Wednesday meeting. Commissioners Hilary Cooper, Kris Holstrom and Lance Waring unanimously approved both the resolution and the ballot measure language, which seeks to stabilize county revenues. (Screenshot by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

San Miguel County public health officials have, for the second week in a row, reported no new positive COVID-19 cases from test results received Aug. 29 through Sept. 1. The latest report, which was released Monday, means that the county case count is holding steady at 89. The good news, however, does not mean it’s a time to relax, said county public health director Grace Franklin.

“It doesn’t mean the virus is gone,” she told the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at its Wednesday regular meeting. “It’s smoldering.”

According to the latest report (the county issues them on Tuesdays and Fridays each week), based on data from Aug. 13-27, the county’s current positivity rate is at 0.7 percent and incidence rate is at 24.5. These low rates mean that the risk of getting COVID-19 in the county is lower at this time, the report read, in part.

“Over two weeks (to report zero new cases) is pretty remarkable,” Franklin said, adding that public health officials continue to “test robustly.”

The take-away, despite the low rates, is that county residents and their compliance with the five commitments is proving effective.

“The science is clear,” Franklin said. “Masks are working.”

In addition to wearing a facemask, the five commitments include, maintaining social distancing, staying home when sick, getting tested if coronavirus symptoms are exhibited and frequent hand washing.

Franklin and county manager Mike Bordogna also informed commissioners Lance Waring, Hilary Cooper and Kris Holstrom that the wastewater surveillance program had commenced at Telluride’s wastewater treatment plant. The project, which received buy-in from all the affected governments, as well as a challenge to match funding from a personal donation of $5,000 made by Greg Craig, will meet the minimum criteria of sampling human waste from the treatment plant every two weeks. Sampling began Wednesday. 

The surveillance program tests samples for COVID-19, which is shed in human feces days before symptoms manifest, thus giving local officials a heads-up for any potential outbreaks of the coronavirus. The testing will only reflect municipalities and other customers of Telluride’s wastewater treatment plant in the east end of the county. Franklin explained that though the plant’s auto-sampler was currently out of commission, hand sampling was taking place, but it did make the process “more cumbersome.” 

With the Labor Day holiday weekend just around the corner, Franklin said her department reminded visitors and residents to keep group sizes to no more than 10 people and to minimize travel.

Bordogna told the commissioners he’d gotten questions regarding the county’s 50 percent cap on short-term lodging. Why, he was asked, is the lodging cap still at 50 percent when no new cases have been reported for two weeks. 

“The current case count is what allows the schools to be open,” he said. “It  (zero case count) is cause for celebration, but not cause for lifting restrictions.” 

Additionally, Bordogna reported that county lodgers are reporting current numbers well below the 50 percent cap.

“We don’t want to mess with a formula that has been successful,” he said.

An oft-repeated phrase of late in both business and government is, “Winter is coming.” And with it, the necessity of taking life indoors, rather than outside.

Commissioner Cooper said the county would be reaching out to Telluride Ski & Golf officials to “determine what their approach toward winter is and get on the same page,” in advance of the state issuing guidelines ahead of the upcoming ski season. That meeting could take place as early as next week, she said.

Businesses are brainstorming how to handle “going inside. It’s a whole different operational challenge,” she said.

In other county business, the commissioners unanimously voted to place a ballot question on the November ballot that, if passed, will stabilize revenues so that the county can maintain a host of essential services. Both the resolution to place the measure on the ballot and the ballot language itself were each passed with minor tweaks to wording and typos.

Bordogna will serve as the designated election official for the measure, fielding questions from the public about the ballot question. His office will be creating an FAQ for public perusal. Commissioners can help educate the public on the measure, but cannot encourage the electorate to vote one way or another.

The ballot question reads: “Ballot issue (as yet designated by the county clerk) — protecting existing levels of county revenue from future state imposed reductions in residential assessed valuation rates due to Article X, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution (Gallagher Amendment) or similar state action without raising the mill levy for the 2021 tax collection year, shall the Board of County Commissioners for San Miguel County have the authority to adjust the county mill levy rate thereafter for the sole purpose of maintaining revenues that may otherwise be lost as a result of state imposed reductions in the ratio of assessed property tax valuations so that the actual tax revenues generated by the county mill levy are the same as the revenues that would have been generated had the state not imposed such reductions from the assessment rates for 2019-2020, with a maximum collection of not more than 10 (ten) percent of additional property tax revenue in any given year than the previous year, in order to allow the county to sustain services such as: Emergency response to wildland fires and other natural disasters; Necessary road repair and maintenance; Open spaces and natural resource preservation; Public health, behavioral health and early childhood education program funding; A minimum workforce to deliver county programs and services; Emergency assistance to our workers and residents; and shall the revenues generated by any such mill levy increase be collected, retained and spent notwithstanding any limits provided by law?”

Once Bordogna and county attorney Amy Markwell make the small changes suggested by the commissioners (the ballot language reported here reflects changes), they have until Sept. 8 to file it with the county clerk.

Both Markwell and commissioner Holstrom praised Bordogna for his thorough work on what most agreed was a complex challenge.

“He’s done a phenomenal job with this,” Markwell said.

Holstrom concurred, adding, “I wish we didn’t have to do this, but it’s a prudent step forward.”

For more information on county government or to view the COVID-19 webpage, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov

See the Sunday edition of the Daily Planet for more county meeting coverage.