HUERFANO-LAS ANIMAS- COLFAX — Stronger Economies Together (SET) Initiative a joint project launched in 2009 by USDA Rural Development in collaboration with the nation’s Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDC) and their land-grant university partners have teamed up in a multi-county effort with Huerfano County and Las Animas County, Colorado, and Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the damaged economies within the Raton Basin. “The geological, cultural, and historical connection between the three counties is very strong,” Priscilla “Pete” Fraser, Executive Director for the Southern Colorado Council of Governments said. “Since we’ve all been through similar cycles of boom and bust, together we can find greater opportunities in growth.” The State of Colorado recognizes Huerfano and Las Animas Counties as a region in several areas: Judicial District, Council of Governments, and Health Department. However, Colfax County, New Mexico shares economic and demographic similarities with these Colorado counties. Agriculture, primarily ranching, is a strong economic engine throughout the region. Tourism is another major driving force of the collective economy. The region shares abundant wildlife, outdoor recreation opportunities, climate, and culture. Interstate trade is common to the region’s population. The primary infrastructure that ties the counties together is the interstate and secondary road system. Trinidad State Junior College in Las Animas County has a reciprocal agreement with Colfax County that clearly links the participants as a region. The three counties are very rural in nature with an average of four persons per square mile. The region has relied on coal mining and gas production from the Raton Basin, a large coal and natural gas deposit on which the three counties rest. The significant decline in coal exploration and production and the closing of a private prison has impacted the region creating a high poverty level, a decrease in employment, and a regional decline in employment opportunities. According to the draft Regional Economic Development Plan prepared by the Raton Basin Regional Economic Development (Raton Basin RED) task force, the plan is the product of a collaboration of various stakeholders and individuals from the three county area. It is noted in the draft statement that, “The SET process was successful in bringing government employees, economic developers, ranchers, international business developers, broadband local technology leaders, recycling specialists and advocates, energy producers (coal, natural gas, oil, and wind), childcare specialists, healthcare specialists, students, and artists together to create a strategic plan.” The effort was supported by technical assistance provided by Colorado State University extension systems to the region over a period of several months. Fallout from the closures of many coal mining operations in the tri-county area has extended itself over several generations most markedly in the decline of middle class families. That coupled with the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 has resulted in the expansion of family economic insecurity. A study released by KidsCount Colorado shows that in Huerfano County, Colorado, with a population of around 6,500, the median household income is about $29,700. And in Las Animas County, with a larger population of 15,500, median household income is about $40,600. Median household income in Colorado is about $59,000. Median household income in Colfax County, New Mexico, is about $38,000 with a population of around 12,700.
WALSENBURG — Colorado Republican State Senator for District 35 Larry Crowder and Democrat Representative for District 62 Edward Vigil held a town hall meeting in Walsenburg on Saturday, March 28 to update the community on legislative action. Also present were the three Huerfano County Commissioners and about 20 people. The legislators took questions. Some in the audience expressed concern about school mandates that are not funded. Also, they believe school boards should have more say in how money should be spent and that more money should be spent in the classroom. Eleanor Foley, a member of the La Veta School Board, said that funding pensions is critical for retirees. Cindy Campbell from LiveWell Colorado said that Huerfano County ranks 60th in the state ranking of healthy counties. She said it was important that the legislators knew this and support programs that promote good health. The legislators were asked what they were doing for economic development in Huerfano County. Crowder said the wind farms and the nurse practitioner act were among some programs that are helping the
WALSENBURG — The promoters of the summer concert event Sonic Bloom have an uphill battle in front of them to obtain a temporary use permit from the Huerfano County commissioners. It is thought the four-day event, which will take place around the Summer Solstice, will attract up to 6,000 people and over 1,000 vehicles to the remote ranch site, planned to be located five miles west on Lascar Road, in northern Huerfano County. The scale and the timing of the four-day event has caught county service providers off guard, and they told the commissioners exactly this at a special meeting called on March 30th. Representatives from the Colorado State Patrol, Huerfano Sheriff’s Office, the ambulance service, the hospital’s emergency room, the Huerfano County Fire Department and the county emergency services manager each weighed in, and each had serious concerns as to how their department could handle the equivalent of doubling Huerfano County’s population for four days. Sheriff Bruce Newman stated he had eight deputies for the entire county, and he estimated he’d need at least two of them stationed on site twenty four hours a day. The festival does contract for private security for these festivals, but actual Continue reading
WALSENBURG— When George Birrer and John Luginbill went in together to purcase the decrepit Fox Theatre in 1991, they knew they were buying a fixer-upper, but didn’t know how much. The theatre had been closed for the previous ten years, and had been neglected the entire time. “There were holes in the roof, the ceiling was caving in, there were puddles of standing water on the stage, and the seats were all rotted out,” Birrer ticked off the problems. “It was a real struggle,” he said mildly. Birrer and Luginbill had a vision to create a youth center for Walsenburg, to give kids who had no place else to hang out a place to go, and a place to work. The two men and their supporters worked tirelessly after that, pouring in countless hours of labor and a fair amount of their own money to make the non-profit venture a reality. Grants along the way helped enormously, and the community saw remarkable changes in what was once an eyesore at the end of town. They created the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Arts and Education to help fund and manage the
WALSENBURG — Contempt of court charges filed against Third Judicial District Attorney Frank Ruybalid were dismissed here Thursday, March 19, after a brief hearing in District Court. Ruybalid faced the charges when no attorney from the DA’s office appeared in court for three criminal hearings on Thursday, December 11, 2014. The three separate criminal cases against defendants Noah A. Graf, Jodie Howard and Michael Montez were dismissed by the court when they were called due to the lack of a prosecutor in the courtroom. District Judge Claude Appel had no option but to dismiss the cases, but cited Ruybalid for contempt of court. Appel sat in the unfamiliar position as a spectator during the proceeding on March 19. Graf had faced 10 local charges including: two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute, one count was a class 2 felony, the other a class 3 felony; first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft, class four felony; second degree criminal trespass, a class four felony; criminal mischief, a class four felony; vehicular eluding, a class five felony, obstructing a peace officer, class two misdemeanor, driving under restraint, eluding a peace officer and speeding. Howard, in a companion case with Graf, had been charged with theft over $20,000, a class three felony, possession of a schedule II controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute, a class three felony and vehicular eluding, a class five felony. Montez had been charged in association with an assault at the Huerfano County Jail in late November 2014. The charges dismissed against him were retaliation against a witness or victim, a class
COLFAX COUNTY NM — In an emailed statement dated March 24, 2015, from the New Mexico Attorney General’s office it was confirmed “…that we received a complaint regarding possible Colfax County election code violations from The Secretary of State’s Office. The matter is under review.” A complaint alleging balloting issues had been filed with the Secretary of State’s office by Robert Gonzales on January 16, 2015. Gonzales was a write-in candidate for the school board in Colfax County. His wife Eileen Gonzales also filed a complaint on January 30, 2015. The Secretary of State forwarded it to the Attorney General’s office for review after several attempts to bring the balloting issues at the Colfax County Clerk’s office into conformity with the state’s election code. Freda Baca, Colfax County Clerk, has allegedly violated at least three statutes in the New Mexico election code by failing to make ballots available to voters by the start of absentee voting during the January school board elections according to the New Mexico Secretary of State. Absentee voting began last January 12, 2015. In an email from the New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran to Ms. Baca, the Colfax County Clerk has to “immediately come into
WALSENBURG — Walsenburg Police don’t have any suspects in a number of burglaries reported in the community beginning earlier this month. WPD Captain Vince Suarez said this week, a few tips have been called into the police department, but investigators don’t have any person(s) of interest in the ten reported incidents. Suarez told the World Journal Tuesday, there doesn’t appear to be a geographical pattern to the crimes, but evidence collected at the various scenes seem to indicate one burglar is acting alone. In the incidents, the individual or individuals are entering residences, garages, and vehicles. The burglaries happened on March 6th in the 200 block of Hendren Ave.; March 12th in the 1000 block of Hwy. 85/87 (two firearms were taken); March 14 in the 300 block of W 12th St.; March 14th in the 800 block of Colorado; March 15th in the 600 block of W 10th; March 15th in the 200 block of E 8th St.; March 18th in the 400 block of W 9th St.; March 18 in the 200 block of W 4th St.; March 18 in the 600 W. 10th Street and the 300 block of E 7th St. The WPD posted this information on their Facebook page last week, “Please take extra caution when leaving your homes to ensure all doors and windows are secured and make sure your vehicle is locked when you exit”. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 719-738-1056.
RATON — The Raton City Commission ran through the agenda Tuesday evening with little discussion on the agenda items. Thomas Vigil, Colfax County Emergency Manager, introduced himself and offered the county’s services during an emergency, especially since the Red Cross status is in doubt. The emergency manager position was started after the Track Fire and has been there for assistance in emergencies in Cimarron and Springer. The county also has a reverse 911 system in place and is offering that service to the city as well. DJ Bird and Ally Bird of the Raton FFA are asking for the city’s help to rebuild some fence along Gardner Road. The FFA members will do the work if the city can chip in and help get the supplies. City Manager Scott Berry indicated the city would be required to get bids on the fencing material, which is estimated to be 500 fence posts and 5,000 feet of barbed wire. The fence is around the FFA ranch located west of Raton High School. The commissioners approved the contract for Raton Main Street’s Master plan work. The work
WALSENBURG — Earlier this year the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department announced to local government entities they will establish an inspection program under state statutes for marijuana facilities in the two county region. The City of Walsenburg had questioned the authority of the health department to take on the task and include a fee schedule in their original letter. It was an exercise in due diligence as the two entities communicated over the past week to make their positions clear to each other. Walsenburg City Administrator Dave Johnston directed City Attorney Dan Hyatt to investigate and clarify the issue. Hyatt wrote to the district’s health department interim director Kimberly Gonzales March 18, and a response came back to the city on Tuesday, March 24. Hyatt’s letter said in part, “The city of Walsenburg received a letter dated February 27, 2015 from the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department (“District”) regarding marijuana establishments and the apparent intent of the District to
TRINIDAD — When Gabriel Engeland first arrived in Trinidad from Gilbert, AZ last month, he took over his new office on the 3rd floor at City Hall and hit the brick streets running with municipal business in hand. But, attending to the city’s day-to-day business in a small community also means forging strong business bonds with the leaders of Las Animas County. “It is a very important relationship to have,” Engeland said to the Las Animas County Commissioners March 3 during their regular meeting as he entered his second week on the new job. Later that evening during the regular meeting of the Trinidad City Council, he was introduced to the several personalities that make up the council. Being a city manager in a small, but growing community in southern Colorado with ties to its southern neighbor in Colfax County, N.M., means Engeland may wear several hats at once while learning the ropes of city businesses, but it is not the first time he has done so. During the three years working for the city of Gilbert, located near the Phoenix metropolitan area, he served as an assistant to the town manager, development services director, parks and recreation manager, and economic development administrator. “There’s a lot of differences between Gilbert (the government), and Trinidad (the government) but the one thing that is the same,” Engeland said, “People wear a lot of