As Jeffco looks ahead to 2014, several issues from previous years will return to the Board of County Commissioners’ agenda. The Columbine Courier sat down with the commissioners to ask what issues they think will be in the center ring in 2014.
Balancing the county’s 2015 budget is likely the biggest issue Jeffco will face in 2014.
While there was disagreement on whether the 2014 budget approved in November was a step in the right direction, all three commissioners agreed the county must define exactly how much Jeffco should have in reserves and how the county government can become more efficient.
“I think we need to be strategic in what we want to have in the reserves,” said Commissioner Casey Tighe. “When you’re using your fund balance on a regular basis to fund ongoing operations, it’s unsustainable, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Tighe wants to establish a set amount for the reserve fund that the county couldn’t touch.
Commissioner Don Rosier, who voted against the final version of the 2014 budget, said the county is heading toward financial ruin and needs to work to prevent across-the-board budget cuts among all county departments.
“The reason I did not support the budget is, the budget in out-years show that we’re going to be under water in essence, bankrupt. I trust the data that’s in there,” Rosier said. “We need to be good stewards of our tax dollars. That’s what good representation is, and that’s why I was elected.”
While Commissioner Faye Griffin voted in 2013 to restore 1.5 mills of the county property tax, one of her main goals is to once again reduce the levy in the next few years.
“I would like to put back that … is my goal. In a couple of years when we start to see the property valuation has gone up, let’s put it back in reserve so we have that mill for future use,” Griffin said. “It may take a couple of years to get to that, but that is my goal.”
Griffin said she’d also like to see the county establish a fixed reserve amount before finalizing the budget for 2015.
While Jeffco has a moratorium banning the sale of recreational marijuana until 2015, the county isn’t standing pat on pot. Jeffco has established a working committee that will present its findings by mid-2014 on the rollout of recreational marijuana sales, along with recommendations for how the county should move forward on the issue.
“I look forward to hearing from the committee and implementing what they come back with,” Rosier said. “We need to have the knowledge, but at the same time, voters in Jefferson County voted for the legalization of marijuana. I have to be respective of those desires, but … it’s my job to make sure we’re good stewards and we’re protective of those who shouldn’t get it.”
Griffin said edible marijuana products are one of her biggest concerns.
“How do you know what’s in there?” Griffin asked, referring to the possibility of inadvertently eating a marijuana-laced cookie. “It is, to me, a real scary issue. One of the things I’ve thought about is, ‘… The people did vote for this. But did they understand this thoroughly?’ ”
Rosier said the committee might come back with a recommendation to put the issue on the ballot in 2014 to gauge whether Jeffco residents want retail outlets in the county or not.
After the wildfires of the past few years, the county is focused on improving how forest land is maintained to mitigate fire danger.
Yet that may require rethinking how mitigation is handled.
“When you look at all the forest, as a nation we’re coming to the conclusion that our forest management over the last 50 to 100 years maybe wasn’t the best practice,” Tighe said.
Tighe said it might be necessary, despite the cost, to thin forests to reduce the fuel available for potential fires. While normal wildfires are necessary for a healthy forest, Tighe said, the extreme wildfires the state has experienced have scarred the land and will take years to recover from.
Rosier was in agreement about the need to improve how the county and state handle wildfire mitigation.
“We need to be working with our whole delegation on how best do we tackle that, how do we address it and to encourage people to do what needs to be done,” Rosier said. “That will have a positive impact on our wildfires.”
All three commissioners said that finding solutions to the transportation challenges in Jeffco is a top priority for 2014.
Rosier said having all the partners involved in the western beltway project, or WestConnect, sit down without partisan motives could help move the project forward. That project focuses on transportation through the western corridor of the metro area, specifically the proposed Jefferson Parkway, Sixth Avenue, C-470 and Colorado 93.
For Tighe, having the right infrastructure in place, especially the western beltway, will let Jeffco take advantage of what he hopes will be a period of economic growth in the next few years.
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.