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Working With the White House

Working With the White House

 

All three Fremont County Commissioners recently joined historical discussions with officials at the highest levels at the White House in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in history, all 580,000 County Commissioners across the United States were invited to participate in in a three-year, ongoing series of State Leadership Days under President Donald Trump. Colorado Commissioners joined other participants from the seven-state Western Region in September.

This event allowed us a unique, bipartisan opportunity to discuss challenges we all share. We not only listened to presentations from federal officials, but we also had the opportunity to engage with them and ask questions relevant to all citizens of Fremont County.

Since 2017, 5,213 Republican, Democrat, and Unaffiliated officials joined the unprecedented movement to take our concerns to the White House. The 45 different events held over those three years allowed serious face-to-face communications and professional relationships that are essential to build strong intergovernmental partnerships.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed our group and said six million new jobs have been created in this country since President Trump took office. He said the current administration is focused on investment in infrastructure, workforce, and safety. We were most pleased to hear the White House believes in empowering local communities, an issue we all focus on every day.

Because the Western Region encompasses most federal lands in the United States, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt also spoke during our session. He discussed current difficulties with attracting high-ranking agency staff to live in Washington and the administration’s efforts to move the positions where the jobs are. That effort created the Bureau of Land Management federal headquarters move from Washington to Grand Junction, Colorado. Bernhardt, a Colorado native, also said more people are working now than ever before.

Following the conclusion of State Leadership Days, Bernhardt said he appreciated the opportunities to visit with and learn from leaders across the country.

“Their input and insight are invaluable in our work and service to the American people,” Bernhardt said.

During the event, we also heard other officials discuss current administration priorities, including shared stewardship of federal lands, combatting the opioid crisis, permanent funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, facilitating infrastructure development and rural prosperity, promoting economic and workforce development, and improving disaster recovering and resilience.

Perhaps one of the most interesting topics was the Selective Service System. Director Don Benton said men are registered to require before the age of 26 or face lifetime consequences. If not registered after the age of 25, men cannot be employed by the federal government or by federal contracting agencies including UPS and FedEx. About 50 percent of all states have adopted the same policies, so unregistered men also would not qualify for state jobs. In addition, there are no federal grants for college for men who have not registered. He said this equates to more than $10,800 in lost financial aid and other funding per person that would otherwise be available.

Most registrations – a full 92 percent currently – take place online, at www.sss.gov. Benton said kids who drop out of high school are at the biggest risk for not registering.

“It takes 45 seconds to save a man 45 years of heartache,” Benton said.

In addition to all the discussion, I believe one of the most important pieces of information we received was a list of contact information for many of the folks in White House Intergovernmental Affairs, allowing us to contact any of them in the future for one-on-one discussions.

Casey Hammond, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, told us to use that contact information when the need arises.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Hammond reminded our group. “If you have to, knock twice.”

Armed with the information we received during State Leadership Days, the Fremont County Commissioners are now more prepared than ever to work with the current administration in moving local priorities forward.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at debbie.bell@fremontco.com.

When National Issues Hit Home

When National Issues Hit Home

 

Although the United States of America hosts only about 4 percent of the world’s population, our country produces enough food annually for 29 percent of the entire population of the Earth!

Here is the math: There are 325 million people in the United States, and 7.7 billion in the world. Our agriculture industry produces enough food every year to feed 2.2 billion people, almost 7 times more people as currently reside in our country.

This is one of the most fascinating facts I learned at the recent National Association of Counties Annual Conference, where trying to absorb all the information available was like the famous idiom, “Drinking water from a fire hose.”

Because I serve on the NACo Agriculture and Rural Affairs Steering Committee, I organized my schedule to attend each session even loosely based on these topics. I was able to bring back massive amounts of information and have continued researching, reading, and absorbing what feels like a ton of data. That information ties directly back to Fremont County in far-reaching ways I never had imagined.

I learned members of our local agricultural community have the incredible opportunity to participate in international trade missions both locally and abroad. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Agriculture each send delegations to places like Canada, Vietnam, West Africa, Colombia, and Panama, to name a few. In addition, inbound missions right here in Colorado host events that allow Ag producers an easier avenue to expand product sales across the globe. Retailers from around the world who are interested in adding American products to their shelves travel here to meet producers.

My committee also discussed the need for education from the youngest ages to teach children where their food actually originates. Fremont County kids likely know the connection between steak and a cow, or bacon and a pig; unfortunately, urban children may not – but should.

Coloradan Sallie Clark, Colorado State Director for United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, spoke several times to discuss the many programs available to communities like ours through the USDA. Loans and grants provide essential services such as housing, health care, libraries, first responder services and equipment, and infrastructure for water, electric, and communications. USDA also promotes economic development by supporting businesses with loans, technical assistances and information to help Ag producers get started and improve the effectiveness of their operations. In addition, USDA provides technical assistance to help rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing, and make health and safety repairs to their homes.

During the conference, the steering committee adopted a platform change urging federal assistance for costly repairs and upgrades to farm-to-market and ranch-to-market infrastructure, those rural roads that primarily serve to transport Ag products from a farm or ranch to the marketplace.

The other approved platform change is to lobby for additional sustained funding for rural broadband deployment and support for cooperatives deploying telecommunications services by leveraging and streamlining key federal programs.

These platforms are only one benefit Fremont County receives from engaging on a national level with NACo, a fact-based, non-partisan organization made up of counties from across the United States. As counties, we set the policy, and staff drives it on the national level.

I still have much, much more information on Ag and Rural Affairs that I’m happy to share. Are you interested in the many programs mentioned here? Let me know! Together, we can make an incredible difference here in Fremont County.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at (719) 276-7300 or debbie.bell@fremontco.com.

 

Group Effort to Transform Properties

Group Effort to Transform Properties

 

Renewed energy and excitement now fill the air from one end of the county to the other, thanks to Small Business Revolution, river surfing in Florence, TechSTART, restoration at the St. Cloud Hotel, the renovated park in Penrose, and much, much more.

In addition to the many public endeavors, much work is happening behind the scenes with the $600,000 grant to assess potentially contaminated properties throughout Fremont County. The funds allow the county and its partners – the City of Cañon City, the City of Florence, and Fremont Economic Development Corporation – to take a deeper dive into our effort to transform underutilized properties and breathe new life into specific sites.

Now is the time to bring the project to the citizens of Fremont County! We need your input and have scheduled two public meetings next week for conversations about this incredible opportunity to transform our community.

Brownfield sites are real properties that are hindered by the presence or perceived presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. This perception or fact complicates the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of such a property, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Once cleaned up and restored to a pristine state – or cleared of the stigma when proven no contamination exists – these lands have unlimited potential for redevelopment into other businesses, industries, or even homes.

Ultimately, the EPA grant allows communities to reinvest in these properties to increase our local tax base, facilitate job growth, utilize existing infrastructure, take development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improve and protect the environment.

Locally, potential project sites might have once hosted mining for gold, iron, gypsum, coal, or uranium, leaving behind abandoned mines, ore mills, gravel pits, electrical transformers and unpermitted dump sites. Industrial facilities here once included smelters, oil refineries, goods manufacturing, and a coal-fired power plant along the Arkansas River corridor. Additional dangers include asbestos and lead painting in old hotels and other structures right here at home.

Sites suitable for project properties are situated inside city limits as well as in unincorporated Fremont County. Each Fremont County Brownfield Coalition partner has created a list of potential brownfield target areas and known potential priority brownfield sites. Most importantly, the coalition will work closely together with property owners to implement this grant. Participation is strictly voluntary; no one will be forced to join in this redevelopment effort.

This grant affords landowners the opportunity to break free of waiting while trying to figure out what dangers might lie on any given piece of property. This is a starting point, an open invitation to discover information that can only help landowners in the future.

The coalition already has formed a Community Advisory Committee made up of folks throughout the county who have specific skills or information that will be helpful in moving forward. Following this three-year grant cycle, the coalition anticipates another grant application to EPA for actual cleanup of sites identified and confirmed as brownfields.

However, the meetings next week focus on members of the public who want more information. Topics of discussion include the impact of brownfield sites on the livelihood, health and safety of communities. We also will talk about plans to transform blighted areas into viable spaces that provide employment opportunities and enhance neighborhoods. We will discuss priority revitalization and focus areas, redevelopment strategies and desired outcomes, and community involvement opportunities.

The Florence meeting is scheduled 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at Florence City Hall, 600 W. 3rd St. in Florence. The Cañon City meeting is scheduled 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 9, at Cañon City’s City Hall, 128 Main St. in Cañon City.

Please join us for this important discussion about the future of Fremont County.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at debbie.bell@fremontco.com.

To Preserve and Protect

To Preserve and Protect

 

Although Fremont County continues to work on closing out year-end 2018, many exciting projects already are complete. Here is an update on just a few of those, including steps taken to preserve and protect the county’s assets.

The Phantom Canyon tunnel repair project is complete, using a $100,000 Department of Local Affairs grant and another $150,000 in county funds. One of the two tunnels on Phantom Canyon Road had structural damage, and without repair, the road eventually would have been closed to the many tourists and workers that drive it every day. Now it is reopen and once again seeing a steady stream of traffic.

A major reroofing project on the west end of the County Administration Building was completed last year. This was a massive undertaking, as it appeared to be the first actual complete renovation of the area in more than 50 years, instead of simply applying another new layer over the old. Workers removed multiple layers of old, deteriorated roofing materials before installing the new protective covering.

The County unveiled a brand-new, clean Web site at www.fremontco.com. Information technology technician Jon Grayson designed the new look to be attractive and user-friendly. In part because of his hard work on the project, Jon was named 2018 Fremont County Employee of the Year.

We created a new position of drainage maintenance equipment operator in our Department of Transportation to coordinate and resolve flooding issues. Prevention efforts included the construction of cross pans on County Road 132, CR45 and CR28. Culverts were installed on both CR45 and CR2 to also aid in directing water flow. Last year saw major flooding following heavy downpours, and county crews quickly cleared Chandler Creek drainage as well as Ninth Street and 15th Street following those floods.

Much work took place in 2018 at the Col. Leo S. Boson War Memorial Park near the Fremont County Airport. Workers installed additional gravel and a drip watering system. Dead trees were removed and new trees planted in their place. Another new interpretive panel also was placed to express gratitude to early donors to the park effort. And, an Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments mini-grant, plus a local match, allowed the county to install a shade structure over the In God We Trust “penny project,” to protect the fragile display from deteriorating in the strong Colorado sun. This spring, some native grasses will be planted and a thorough cleaning of the military displays will take place.

The year also saw serious grant money awarded to Fremont County.

The Hayden Pass Fire, ignited by lighting on July 8, 2016, burned about 16,000 acres of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Most of that fire remained on U.S. Forest Service Lands south of Coaldale. Subsequent heavy rains and flooding wiped out roads, driveways, a dam, access to homes, and at least one home itself. Roughly $3.5 million in recovery funds have been secured to mitigate the flooding issues there.

Fremont County secured a $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant over three years to assess land previously used for industrial or commercial uses, which may have been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution. Once cleaned up, those areas can become host to new business development. The County currently is working with its partners, the City of Cañon City, the City of Florence, and Fremont Economic Development Corporation, to finalize members of a Community Advisory Committee that will help this major project move forward.

The County also secured $200,000 in an Underfunded Courthouse Grant to finish an official courtroom at the Judicial Building. We now are awaiting the results of additional grant requests to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Energy and Mineral Funds to finalize those renovation plans.

The Fremont County Commissioners will release the full 2018 Accountability Report next month. It will include much more detail from departments and other elected officials. That annual report, begun in 2013, is just one part of the county’s continued effort to keep our citizens informed and to hold ourselves to the highest standards in accountability, responsibility, and reliability.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at debbie.bell@fremontco.com.

NACO 2019

On July 15th, The National Association of Counties (NACo) adopted 125 policy resolutions at NACo’s 2019 national conference at Clark County Nevada. Commissioner Bell and I attended this national conference and learned that these resolutions will supplement existing NACo policy and guide the organizations advocacy during the 2019- 2020 term.

The NACo resolutions process provides members with the ability to participate in national policy decisions affecting local county governments. During the annual conference NACo’s ten policy steering committees and the general membership voted on these policy resolutions, and are good for one year until the 2020 annual conference, which will be held in Orange County/Orlando Florida.

One of the ten policy steering committees is the Public Lands Steering Committee. For two days, I sat in on these Steering Committee meetings in which 27 resolutions had some lengthy, and at times, lively, discussions. Many of these resolutions were State-specific, however a few resolutions did pertain to all states, and some to just western states.

There were a few proposed resolutions that I was able to give input that would directly impact rural counties like Fremont County:

Resolution on Amendments for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (Pilt) Side B funding – Establishing a minimum.

Resolution supporting Federal Public Land Agency funding.

Resolution to allow the public and public entities to comment on Wilderness characteristics cataloging and inventory by federal land management agencies.

Resolution regarding Wildland fire Regulations on policy.

Resolution urging Congress to update the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Resolution urging Congress to support the return of 40% of Federal Mineral Lease Revenue to the County in which it was generated.

Resolution to require Federal Land Management Agencies to offset acquisition of new land to mitigate financial impact of impacted Counties.

These are a few examples of the resolutions that were discussed and voted on. These resolutions will then be presented to Congress from the NACo lobbyists.

A full list of all 125 policy resolutions can be found on the National Association of Counties website www. Naco.org.

Tim Payne
Fremont County Commissioner,
District One

Payment in Lieu of Taxes

We get a lot of questions about PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). This is a Federal program that started back in 1976. These are Federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to the existence of nontaxable Federal lands within their boundaries.

61% of counties have federal land within their boundaries. Even though they are not able to collect property tax on federal land, county governments must still provide essential services for their residents and those who visit these public lands each year. The PILT program provides payments to 1,900 counties and other local governments to offset the loss of tax revenues. In 2019 PILT payments totaled $514.7 million. The formula used to compute the payments is contained in the PILT Act and is based on population, revenue-sharing payments, and the amount of Federal land within an affected county.

In 2019 counties in Colorado received $39,908,985 for 23,697,989 acres of federal land. Fremont County has 455,300 acres of federal land, the payment for 2019 was just under $1.2 million. This money is used to supplement the budgets of the Road and Bridge Department, Sheriff Department and help the county provide essential services to our residents and those who visit these public lands.

Last week I was in Washington DC with Commissioners from 14 other Western States meeting with members of congress and their staff. We were there with NACo (National Association of Counties), founded in 1935. This association unites America’s 3069 county governments. NACo gives county officials a collective voice on national policy. While in DC we were there advocating for PILT to be funded long term or permanently. As we do our budgets for the next year we are uncertain if PILT will be funded. We encourage Congress to work on bi-partisan, sustainable and permanent PILT funding legislation. Counties in the Western States know the impacts of not receiving property tax on the federal property and these PILT payment help to lesson the worry of a tight budget. Although PILT touches 49 states many counties in Eastern States have little to no federal land so it is not important to those congressional representatives, therefore it is important for us to make our voices be heard.

One of the most effective points I can make as a County Commissioner is to show how state and federal policies affect local management and services. Standing up for the people of Fremont County and making sure our county has a voice.

 

Dwayne McFall

Fremont County Commissioner District 3

Ready for another fun-filled fair

As July gets under way, so does preparation of projects to be entered into the Fremont County Fair. Fair dates this year are July 26th through August 4th. The Shooting Sports Competition occurs on weekends starting July 13th. The 10 days of fun and excitement that make up the Fair start with a Junior Rodeo that includes Mutton Bustin’, Mini Bronc Riding, Mini Bull Riding, Barrel Racing and Calf Scramble on Friday July 26th at Pathfinder Park. Saturday July 27th, the official start of the fair begins at 8:30 with a ribbon cutting ceremony at Pathfinder Park, followed by a Horse show and an evening Ranch Rodeo. The public is invited to attend all events.

The Fair in full swing includes Horses, Pigs, Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Chickens and Rabbits and so much more. You don’t have to be in 4-H or FFA to enter crafts, baked goods, art and produce in the open division. There are categories for everyone. On August 2nd, in honor of our Senior Citizens a complimentary breakfast of biscuits and gravy will be served to individuals over the age of 65 on a first come, first served basis. The Beta Zeta Sorority and the Fremont County Fair Board sponsor the event. 4-H Ambassadors will be available to visit with seniors and offer tours of the fair. Don’t miss Family Day starting at 10 that same day. Colorado Country Music Association artists will be performing for your enjoyment August 2nd and 3rd. There will be many fun filled days at the fair.

Fremont County has 15 4-H clubs with over 250 members who work all year on projects to participate in the County Fair. Some have multiple projects which keep them busy while learning. The Florence FFA Chapter also has some members who participate in the Fair.

4-H Clubs have adult leaders who guide and mentor members. 4‑H has opened the door for young people to learn leadership skills and revolutionized how youth connected to practical, hands-on learning experiences outside the classroom. 4-H and its success could not be achieved without the many volunteers who work hours throughout the year as Club Leaders, Fair Board, Sale Committee, Project Leaders and anywhere else they are needed. CSU Extension agents and staff work tirelessly to make sure all programs and events are successful. I can’t thank the parents and volunteers enough for their hard work. Congratulations to the youth for a successful year!

The fair wraps up on August 4th, known as “Buyers’ Day”. Starting at noon, the Parade of Champions Award Ceremony will take place under the entertainment tent, followed by the Buyers’ Barbeque at 3:00 p.m. Anyone interested in buying an animal from Fair Auction is invited to attend the BBQ with tickets for sale at the door. After the 4-H Family of the Year is announced, the livestock sale begins. The money raised by the 4-Hers through the sale of their animals is used to pay project costs and, many times, to help with continuing education.

Anyone interested in participating in the open division can find information and entry forms at https://fremont.extension.colostate.edu/programs/fremont-county-fair/. Information of all Fair events and times can be found at http://fremontcountyfair.com/fairevents.shtml.

Ill see you at the Fair!

 

Dwayne McFall

Fremont County Commissioner District 3

To Preserve and Protect

Although Fremont County continues to work on closing out year-end 2018, many exciting projects already are complete. Here is an update on just a few of those, including steps taken to preserve and protect the county’s assets.

The Phantom Canyon tunnel repair project is complete, using a $100,000 Department of Local Affairs grant and another $150,000 in county funds. One of the two tunnels on Phantom Canyon Road had structural damage, and without repair, the road eventually would have been closed to the many tourists and workers that drive it every day. Now it is reopen and once again seeing a steady stream of traffic.

A major reroofing project on the west end of the County Administration Building was completed last year. This was a massive undertaking, as it appeared to be the first actual complete renovation of the area in more than 50 years, instead of simply applying another new layer over the old. Workers removed multiple layers of old, deteriorated roofing materials before installing the new protective covering.

The County unveiled a brand-new, clean Web site at www.fremontco.com. Information technology technician Jon Grayson designed the new look to be attractive and user-friendly. In part because of his hard work on the project, Jon was named 2018 Fremont County Employee of the Year.

We created a new position of drainage maintenance equipment operator in our Department of Transportation to coordinate and resolve flooding issues. Prevention efforts included the construction of cross pans on County Road 132, CR45 and CR28. Culverts were installed on both CR45 and CR2 to also aid in directing water flow. Last year saw major flooding following heavy downpours, and county crews quickly cleared Chandler Creek drainage as well as Ninth Street and 15th Street following those floods.

Much work took place in 2018 at the Col. Leo S. Boson War Memorial Park near the Fremont County Airport. Workers installed additional gravel and a drip watering system. Dead trees were removed and new trees planted in their place. Another new interpretive panel also was placed to express gratitude to early donors to the park effort. And, an Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments mini-grant, plus a local match, allowed the county to install a shade structure over the In God We Trust “penny project,” to protect the fragile display from deteriorating in the strong Colorado sun. This spring, some native grasses will be planted and a thorough cleaning of the military displays will take place.

The year also saw serious grant money awarded to Fremont County.

The Hayden Pass Fire, ignited by lighting on July 8, 2016, burned about 16,000 acres of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Most of that fire remained on U.S. Forest Service Lands south of Coaldale. Subsequent heavy rains and flooding wiped out roads, driveways, a dam, access to homes, and at least one home itself. Roughly $3.5 million in recovery funds have been secured to mitigate the flooding issues there.

Fremont County secured a $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant over three years to assess land previously used for industrial or commercial uses, which may have been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution. Once cleaned up, those areas can become host to new business development. The County currently is working with its partners, the City of Cañon City, the City of Florence, and Fremont Economic Development Corporation, to finalize members of a Community Advisory Committee that will help this major project move forward.

The County also secured $200,000 in an Underfunded Courthouse Grant to finish an official courtroom at the Judicial Building. We now are awaiting the results of additional grant requests to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Energy and Mineral Funds to finalize those renovation plans.

The Fremont County Commissioners will release the full 2018 Accountability Report next month. It will include much more detail from departments and other elected officials. That annual report, begun in 2013, is just one part of the county’s continued effort to keep our citizens informed and to hold ourselves to the highest standards in accountability, responsibility, and reliability.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at debbie.bell@fremontco.com.

Annual Budget

The annual budget is the County’s most important financial management document. It is a financial road map for the coming year for all of the various departments and offices. The budget process is a joint effort between the Commissioners the department heads, and the other elected officials to maximize services in the most efficient way possible. According to state statute, the Board of County Commissioners has exclusive power to adopt the annual budget for the operation of the county government, including all offices, departments, boards, commissions, other spending agencies of the county government and other agencies which are funded in whole or in part by county appropriations.

 

This time of year the County has to go through the budget process preparing its budget for the fiscal year which begins January 1 and concludes December 31. Colorado Revised Statutes mandate the Board of County Commissioners to provide Law Enforcement, Courtroom and Court facilities, a Department of Human Services, and a Department of Public Health. Also under State Statute: We must provide a Road and Bridge Department, as well as staff a Planning and Zoning Department and Building Department for dealing with land uses. There are, of course the other Elected Officials and their staff: Assessor, Treasurer,

County Clerk & Recorder and Coroner.

 

The first State mandated deadline is on October 15th. This is when the Finance Officer must submit a proposed budget to the County Commissioners. The Commissioners must then publish a “Notice of Budget” upon receiving the proposed budget, this notice states the date and time of the hearing at which the adoption of the proposed budget will be considered. After the October 15th deadline and the proposed budget is submitted, the next sixty days are spent fine tuning the budget for the final budget to be ratified by the end of December.

 

All costs of doing business continue to rise for government just as they do for other businesses and private individuals. The County has to purchase supplies, insurance, utilities, food, and equipment. These costs have perpetually increased without corresponding revenue increases.

Businesses may pass along these increases to their consumers, but the County does not have this option.

 

The goal of the County Commissioner is to end the year with a healthy reserve fund balance for those unexpected or emergency situations. This also help keep stability of the county’s finances. We make every effort to be good stewards of taxpayer money. I can assure all taxpayers that prudent thought and multiple oversight has occurred when making spending decisions. However, government services are not free and the cost of doing business continues to rise.

We are working hard for you, Fremont County!

 

Dwayne McFall, Fremont County Commissioner, District 3

A Slow but Steady Rise

Many local folks are feeling the effects of a housing shortage, either not finding a place to rent or buy, or perhaps paying much more than they really can afford.

Fremont County recently partnered with Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments, the Cities of Cañon City and Florence, and a couple of other counties for a formal housing study that truly will tell the story of the types and income levels of housing that are needed here. The study will help attract and entice developers and contractors to build here, because they will have the professional proof that housing desperately is needed.

Even though we continue to see a housing shortage, if construction is any indication of a community’s wellbeing, Fremont County is seeing a slow but steady rise in its economic comfort and security.

Both building permits and construction use tax collections have been on a continuous upswing in the past few years. This year is not only looking good in comparison, but it promises to be the best year in the record books for quite some time.

In an effort to compare actual year-to-year, Fremont County Building Official Mike Cox did some research stretching back a few years for the numbers from January through July, since our latest numbers run through July 31 of this year.

In 2015, through July, the county issued 310 building permits, including 26 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits was about $10.5 million; site-built dwellings were valued at almost $6.5 million that year. In 2015 the county collected just over $376,000 in construction use tax.

The following year, in 2016, the county issued 339 total permits through July, including 29 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits was almost $11.4 million; site-built dwellings were valued at $6.8 million. And, in 2016, the county collected $389,000 in construction use tax.

Last year, 2017, the county issued more permits at 376 total through July, including 29 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits was down just a bit to $11.2 million; site-built dwellings were valued at $5.6 million. And construction use tax collected in 2017 was a whopping $525,078.

This year, through July, the county already has issued 440 total permits, including 39 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits is just under $12 million; site-built dwellings are valued at more than $7.2 million. Comparable information on construction use tax in 2018 is not yet available.

It is most interesting to note that the average valuation per dwelling, again January through July, also dropped steadily over these four years. In 2015 the average new home construction was $252,181; in 2016, $237,638; in 2017, $195,292; and in 2018, $185,477 – an almost $67,000 drop in just three years. This indicates the industry trend is toward more affordable housing, which may be a reflection of current consumer needs.

Commercial building permits are much more difficult to compare from year-to-year. For example, one commercial permit alone in 2015 was valued at more than $2.2 million while another, that same year, was $104,000.

However, it is interesting to note that in 2015, the county issued a total of 3 construction permits at a valuation of $2.3 million; in 2016, 24 permits at almost $3.8 million; in 2017, 16 permits at $1.6 million; and so far in 2018, 8 commercial permits at $441,000. Commercial permits range from museums to storage units to reroofing to cabins to toilets. It’s no wonder there is a major difference in year-to-year totals in that category.

As Commissioners, the slow-but-steady rise is the best scenario possible. While not indicative of a boom, which inevitably is followed by a bust, it means our community is building at a rate that is necessary, but sustainable. This is good news for all of us.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at debbie.bell@fremontco.com.

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