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Jeffco one of two counties to bill Park County for help with snow disaster

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By AJ Vicens

Jefferson and El Paso were the only two counties to bill Park County for assistance during a recent spate of snowstorms and high winds that spurred Parkco to declare a disaster, according to a Park County official, but Jeffco’s bill may be a simple misunderstanding.

Larry Benshoof, director of Jeffco's Road and Bridge Department, said the charges Park County is referring to were not intended to be billed to Park County; rather, Jeffco officials expected a state emergency management fund would cover the costs.

"The intent there was if there were emergency funds available through the Department of Local Affairs to reimburse Jeffco for (our) costs, then we wanted to get in line for those funds," Benshoof said Feb. 15. "If the funds weren't available, we do not expect Park County to reimburse."

Park County officials declared an emergency Feb. 11 because of snowstorms that pounded the southern part of the county, trapping many residents in their homes. Several counties pitched in to clear roads and offer other assistance, including Jeffco, which sent Road and Bridge equipment and personnel and donated time from the county's emergency management team. The disaster ended Feb. 19, when the last outside equipment left Park County.

Numerous outside entities pitched in on the recovery efforts, including Arapahoe, Baca, Clear Creek and Pueblo counties.

A rough estimate of Jeffco's Road and Bridge costs — as determined by time sheets and a breakdown of general hourly rates, according to Benshoof — was given to Park County officials with the intent of it being part of a package forwarded to the state for reimbursement. Jeffco said it spent $6,450 on salaries and $25,000 in equipment use.

"When emergency funds are made available, with our budget issues, we would like to recoup any costs that we could without taking it from Park County," Benshoof said. "That's only prudent for us.

"To go after Park County is not the intent of our effort," Benshoof continued. "It was to help the residents of Park County, and not put them behind the eight ball."

Kathy Boyce, the Park County budget and finance director, said any implication that Jeffco is somehow the "bad guys" for submitting paperwork for funds is misplaced, because "they came and helped, and that's what we needed."

Boyce said she was under the impression that Jeffco would bill Park County and was also under the impression that Park County would pay Jeffco for the costs. When Park County made the disaster declaration Feb. 11, the request was forwarded to the state, and Park County was hoping the state would declare it as a disaster as well, which would pave the way for state emergency management funds, Boyce said.

Polly White, spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, said that all the efforts during the Park County incident were county-to-county mutual aid, and "there wouldn't be any state reimbursement." Boyce said that Park County's costs could be as much as $225,000.

"I don't want them to feel bad," Boyce said of Jeffco officials. "We would have paid more people if we would have had to."

Benshoof said Jeffco pitched in for the right reasons.

"We weren't there to make a buck, that's for sure," Benshoof said. "We were there to help out."

INFO BOX

A list of the outside entities that pitched in to help Park County, according to Kathy Boyce:

Arapahoe County

Baca County

Berthoud Fire Protection Department

Colorado Department of Corrections

Colorado Department of Transportation

City of Colorado Springs

Clear Creek County

Colorado Division of Emergency Management

El Paso County

Ham Radio

Jefferson/Como Fire

Jefferson County

Northwest Fire

Platte Canyon Fire

Park County Search and Rescue

Pueblo County

Red Cross

Salvation Army

Summit County Ambulance Service

Teller County