Updated: Sep 10, 2022
(Las Animas, CO) -- A pre-prepared statement before a commissioners motion might have put a hold button on the state of Colorado taking over the costs of Ft. Lyon, at least for a little while.
But first, since the average person doesn't deal with state contracts and lawyer speak. So it wasn't a surprise that some in an audience of Bent County residents might not have understood the actions Bent County Commissioners gathered on Thursday to take regarding Fort Lyon.
But the 9am meeting started in a crowded court room Thursday with Bent County Commissioner and Chair Chuck Netherton explaining they were there to decide whether Bent County should be the fiscal agent for Ft. Lyon and be responsible for the maintenance contract. Currently the county must renew their contract with the state, or department of local affairs each year.
Netherton explained that anyone wanting to speak on that issue would have two minutes and would be timed to allow everyone the chance to be heard.
Former Bent County Commissioner Tom Wallace stood to say he was involved when it was decided to start Fort Lyon. He furthered that the state led them to understand that there would be a start up cost to the county that was to be a one-time fee. Several years following that agreement the county is still footing the bill and Wallace said it should be up to the state to fund, the county should no longer be financially obligated.
The program, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which was implemented under former Governor John Hickenlooper is housed on the campus of Fort Lyon, east of Las Animas.
According to the website, The program model allows people experiencing homelessness to leave the community in which they continue to struggle with substance use disorders and homelessness for up to two years in order to help them recover and attain health stability. As a result, participants will gain the resources necessary to maintain long-term recovery, employment and overall self-sufficiency.
The project has come under fire from some Bent County residents who believe it's become a dumping ground for Denver's homeless and drug addicted population causing an increase in community crime.
Bent County resident Bill Elder took his two minutes at the mic to explain that he's not opposed to the work being done to help those in need at Ft. Lyon, he just doesn't feel it should be a financial burden to the taxpayers of Bent County.
"The state should be financially sound enough to pay their own bills." Elder finished.
He also called for there to be more financially transparency in the transactions and contracts happening between the county and the state concerning Ft. Lyon.
Bent County Ambulance Service Director John Spanos expressed concern that if Bent County is to allow the state to fund the program, control would be lost. Both Commissioners Jean Sykes and Chuck Netherton explained the county would still have a seat the table with decision making about the program.
Pam Valdez is a Bent County resident who works and couldn't attend the hearing that was held at 9am on a Thursday but submitted a letter to be read. She stated her concern that Ft. Lyon needs to be fiscally sound. She felt that this was going to be an arduous task considering the large cost of the Transit that transports Ft. Lyon residents multiple times a day to La Junta and Lamar. The bus service's cost in the last budget was more than $103,000 and with higher gas prices this year, Valdez asked if modifications to the contract would include gasoline costs and increased utility costs.
The cost of the transit was also on the mind of resident Tammy Ritschard who was present by phone for the hearing. She agreed that the bus service shouldn't be the Bent county's financial burden and the state needs to pay since it benefits the program that state created and moved to the Ft. Lyon campus.
Fiscal transparency is what Randy Losey called for in his letter read aloud during the hearing. He felt that facts have not been revealed to tax payers. Losey said he has even asked for information and never received it.
Las Animas Elementary School Principal Lana Gardner told commissioners she feels no matter what the program at Ft. Lyon needs to continue as her school has families with 20 parents employed at the campus. "Cutting programs would hurt the community."
Ft. Lyon Chaplain Sharon Bullock said she feels the program must go on. She said she has worked with the residents and has seen a lot of good come from it. In fact, she felt more should be done to insure their success. "If they graduate or fall, how can we do more to help them?"
Other local business owners echoed they felt it was good for the community to have the program at Ft. Lyon. Resident Barb Martin said she couldn't believe the county wants to turn their back on Ft. Lyon.
Commissioners reiterated that the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless program at Ft. Lyon would continue no matter what. The state of Colorado has assured them of it. The purpose of the meeting and the actions they were set to take was to vote to turn the financial responsibility back to the state of Colorado.
Pastor Susan Coulter explained she would like the commissioners to take more time and research to study whether or not it would be a good idea for the state to pay for the program instead of Bent County.
As it came time to close and call for a motion, commissioner Kim MacDonnell explained that she had a pre-prepared statement to read going into her motion.
I move that the Bent County Commissioners decline to enter into the maintenance contract with the Department of Local Affairs, DOLA, for the fiscal year 2022-2023, and that the county give immediate notice to DOLA of this decision.
MacDonnell stated that the county should continue to work with DOLA to make sure the program continues to be viable.
Allow the contract to go beyond the December 31. 2022 date if it was needed to make sure things go well.
Keep the transit (bus service) until the transition is complete and base decisions on educated, data driven and public input on the bus service to the community and residents.
The motion was seconded and passed.
We'll continue to follow this story on Colorado News, YOUR Way.