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In this Planet file photo, District 1 Commissioner Lance Waring, center and other elected county officials were sworn in January 2019. The county is launching a slew of projects in 2020, funded by savings and state grants. (File photo)

For San Miguel County officials, having money in the bank means it’s time to spend it on a number of projects that have long been in the offing.

County manager Mike Bordogna said the county has been building up its general and capital funds for a host of projects that will mostly be completed by year’s end.

“It’s not because we decided to go on a big shopping spree,” he said, “but we’ve been saving for these big projects.”

All of the county’s latest projects are funded not only through its own savings, but with significant grant opportunities via the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).

“Every one of these projects have grant funding from DOLA,” he said.

First on the list is improved connectivity with the extension of broadband infrastructure from Norwood to Telluride. The line from Nucla to Norwood was completed last year, and the project is charging forward. A new era of open access networks that will first be made available to institutions like schools and medical facilities will have benefits for the everyday consumer, too, Bordogna said.

“It will open the door dramatically to competition,” he said. “And with new competition, our consumers can expect to see lower prices and better product, not to mention redundancy.”

In the bricks and mortar department, the county will get to work soon on improved and expanded facilities for the sheriff’s department with a pair of projects that carry a $3.3 million price tag. A growing West End has resulted in more calls for law enforcement assistance. To better serve citizens there, a new emergency operations center will be built in Norwood, which will serve as a second base of operations for administrative staff and responders for the sheriff’s department. Its location will shorten commutes for many of the department’s deputies, who call that part of the county home. The facility will also aid police and emergency personnel in responding to what Bordogna characterized as “a massive issue, such as fire, etc.”

 “Nine-one-one calls went up four times in the west end of the county,” he said. “There’s been lots of growth in Norwood and the West End.”

Also in the works for the sheriff’s department will be the upgrade to the Ilium jail facility. The current building, which is approaching its 30th year of service, needs practical and modern upgrades, such as a new roof, as well as expanded areas for offices and a larger evidence storage area. Additionally, the jail will be adding a place for subjects experiencing mental health issues that will keep them out of the general prison population.

“It will be a safe place for them,” Bordogna said.

The jail, he said, does not have a detox component or specific personnel.

Of the DOLA grants in the pipeline, or already awarded, Bordogna is excited for the one that will help fund solar infrastructure on the historic county courthouse and at the sheriff’s facility. DOLA’s Renewable and Clean Energy Challenge grant has $12 million available to municipalities striving for 100 percent renewable energy usage.

According to the DOLA website: “DOLA will support efforts by local governments to implement demonstration projects that will move recipient communities towards 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. In an effort to make the most impact with these dollars, an emphasis will be placed on funding large-scale demonstration projects statewide that will serve as models for future projects throughout the state. There will be no cap on the amount of funds an applicant can request.”

While the grant recipients will not be announced until March, Bordogna said the county is in the final four applicants. So confident are county officials that the $1.5 million project will be awarded that plans are underway for not only installation of solar panels, but the battery infrastructure to be built on-site that will mean, Bordogna said, that the buildings “will not be on the grid.”

“Overall, it will decrease the long-term operating costs and provide redundancy,” he said.

There are also some changes afoot in several of the county’s departments. Tasked with crafting a new Regional Area Master Plan (RAMP) and updating the Land Use Code (LUC) this year, county planner Kaye Simonson’s staff will grow by one senior planner and see the promotion of the associate planner.

Parks and Open Space will be working to place approximately 9, 000 acres under protection. The acreage is primarily specific habitats for threatened plant and animal species. Additionally, the department is continuing its collaborative work on the Bridal Veil Trail plan, as well as developing the Mill Creek parcel (across from the Shell station on the Spur) as an eventual park.

“These are exciting things for the town and the region,” Bordogna said.

And county building official, Todd Herman, will be seeking input and knowledge from the construction industry on the ground as the county works to update its building codes. The update is needed to accommodate new energy use standards.

The Public Health Department has extended an offer to a candidate that had applied for that department’s director position and is currently advertising for a candidate to fill a new 30-hour-per-week position. A new office coordinator has been hired to replace longtime employee Deb Adams. The department, in addition to commercial kitchen inspections, offers health care, immunizations and family planning services.

Looking internally, Bordogna said there was a strong desire expressed by county staffers for continued opportunities for professional training. To that end, the county will be holding quarterly half-day training sessions for its 125 full-time employees on subjects such as workplace safety, technology and customer relations topics. Those sessions, he said, will take place mid-week in the mornings in February, May, August and November.

At its final meeting of 2019, the Board of County Commissioners chose District 1 Commissioner Hilary Cooper as its new chair. District 2 Commissioner Lance Waring will serve as vice chair. Kris Holstrom, representing District 3, served as chair for the previous two years. The commissioners, Bordogna said, “are aggressively looking at new ways to house people in the region,” especially for those facing long commutes.