Walsenburg police seek masked break-in duo

WALSENBURG — Walsenburg police are investigating an early morning break in at an occupied home in the 500 block of West Pinon in which the handicapped resident was threatened and some of his property taken. At about 4:50 am Tuesday, Sept. 22, a masked pair of intruders pounded on the door of the victim’s home. The victim who was in bed at the time, looked at his home security video monitor and did not recognize the pair. When the victim did not answer his door, the brazen criminals forced it open and entered the residence. From his bedroom the man yelled he was going to call police and one of the suspects yelled that he had a gun. Police are not releasing the victim’s name nor the property that was stolen. The pair were recorded on video which has been turned over to investigators, electronic media outlets, and law enforcement agencies. The black and white video images show at least one recognizable tattoo on the arm of one of the suspects, who may also have a tattoo, or scar on the back of one of his hands. It appears one of the suspects attempted to cover his face with a camo bandanna, while the other wore a silver colored skull mask. While the mask appears dark in the surveillance video, WPD Captain Vince Suarez told the World Journal Tuesday the video evidence shows it is

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Raton tax receipts above budget expectations

 RATON — Raton City Commissioners wrapped their September 22 regular meeting in just over 30 minutes Tuesday evening, again without Mayor Mantz, who, according to her husband, is finally out of the hospital and doing well after dealing with a broken leg. During the short regular session, commissioners approved the financial report, which noted a $50,855 gross receipts tax increase that’s a 7.3129% increase over the budgeted amount. The ending General Fund cash balance is $1,445,659. Commissioners also approved budget adjustment #1 for fiscal year 2016. Some of the adjustments include water capital improvements, debt service on the aquatic center, and street improvement transfers, including the final transfers for the Tiger Drive project. Today the city opened sealed bids for three projects, including the senior center roof, the First Street paving project and the Pecos and Galesteo streets paving work. Commissioners can expect a special meeting to award those bids. The commissioners heard a report from Municipal Judge Roy Manfredi and Court Clerk Sherri Romero, with Judge Manfredi noting with the current computer system there are a number of unpaid fines, some for people who have passed away and viewed as uncollectable. Romero talked about the 1,500 plus tickets written by city police officers so far this year. City Manager Scott Berry talked about a visit

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County cites falling valuations as reason for decline in tax revenues

 Las Animas County asking voters for sales tax increase

TRINIDAD — The county requires voter approval to add a one percent sales tax to the November ballot. In the past, voters have been against the tax, but the county says adding it would help develop a workable budget so services aren’t cut, employees are retained, and projects are completed. The county does not have a county sales or use tax presently in effect. If approved during the Nov. 3, 2015 election, the revenue would be credited to the Las Animas County General Fund and divided among the various offices beginning Jan. 1, 2016. “This tax isn’t just being paid by the residents of Las Animas County. Anyone who is driving through and stops and purchases something will pay this tax,” said County Administrator Leann Fabec. About 16,000 vehicles pass through just the city each day, about six million vehicles move through the county every year. Projected revenue from the sales tax could increase the county’s take by about $950,000 in 2016. “It isn’t 2016 that we are looking at, it is 2017 that’s going to be the bad year,” Fabec said. Property valuations have declined in recent years, in part from the collapse of property values, and an exodus from the county by Pioneer Natural Resources earlier this year. The current situation began

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City Council reviews marijuana license renewals, stumbles over Peaceful Herbs

TRINIDAD — The Trinidad City Council weighed in on the city’s marijuana businesses at several points during their regular meeting on Tuesday evening, Sept. 15, taking one owner to task. Atanu Shawqmail, owner of Peaceful Herbs, came up for license renewal, which focused the council on two discrepancies in his business over the past year. The most glaring one was centered around the original issuance of the retail marijuana license from a year ago. According to city records, Shawqmail was issued a state license, and then was granted a city license under conditional approval. He purchased several pounds of marijuana even though he had not yet received the actual license from the city. This resulted in a visit by police and a warning letter from the city in December 2014. State marijuana authorities were notified. Their opinion was Shawqmail had not violated any state laws by purchasing the herb under the conditionally approved license. During the licensing renewal hearing, Shawqmail stated he had notified the police concerning the

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Aguilar woman jailed on attempted murder charge

AGUILAR — The Aguilar Town Marshal responding, Friday, Sept. 11, to a domestic disturbance call found a man whose throat had been cut by his common-law wife following a conversation by the couple on who could cut a throat. According to Marshal Tracy Bonham, Tammie Cortez said she could do it. She then went into the kitchen to get a knife. “The cut went from the victim’s adams apple to just under his ear, nicking the jugular vein,” Marshal Bonham said. Dickie Coca was taken to St. Mary Corwin Hospital in Pueblo on Friday. He was released Saturday after spending the night under observation. Marshal Bonham told the World Journal during a phone interview the couple had been drinking before the incident. “That behavior has been ongoing for several years.” Cortez has been charged with attempted first degree murder, first degree assault, and domestic violence, which will serve as an enhancer to the other charges. The enhancer is a red flag to the courts and could result in an increase of any penalties. It could also result in Cortez not being able to possess a firearm and the issuance of restraining orders stopping any

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City’s financial position improving says 2014 draft audit report

WALSENBURG — Walsenburg City Council Tuesday night heard a brief overview of the 2014 draft audit from Russell White of RubinBrown, the city’s long-time auditor, who said the municipality, again this year, had a clean opinion of financial practices. While the city still shows a deficit in the General Fund, tied in large part to effects of Colorado’s TABOR measure, White said the deficit is shrinking. “It’s all positive,” White said, “a 180 from where it was two or three years ago.” White praised the austere management of city finances saying, “It’s a great job of management and city council in reducing that General Fund deficit.” But even with that said, the city continues to face financial challenges, aging infrastructure in water and sewer lines and major concerns about the condition of the long high-pressure natural gas pipeline. Walsenburg Treasurer Jim Moore noted the gas department showed only a slight profit of $79,000 last year, and said he was concerned the city is not going to be able to set aside enough money to meet major gas line repairs or replacement in the future. White said, of the 15 or so cities and towns he works with as a municipal auditor, Walsenburg is about in the middle of the pack when it comes to

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County vehicle stolen and recovered Monday

WALSENBURG/PUEBLO — A mechanic field service vehicle owned by Huerfano County was stolen Monday and recovered later the same day in Pueblo West, where one suspect was arrested. At about 1:13 pm September 7, a report was made that a 1994 Dodge pickup with a utility bed had been stolen following a break-in at the Huerfano County Shop off of Russell Avenue. Walsenburg police investigated the scene and determined the county shop garage door had been kicked in and the vehicle stolen. Police put out a description of the vehicle on the statewide crime computer system and the truck was spotted by a Pueblo County Sheriff’s deputy at about 3 pm Monday in the Walmart parking lot in Pueblo West. Pueblo authorities kept the vehicle in sight until two people approached the vehicle and began to enter it. Jayson Sheffield, 30, of Walsenburg was arrested on initial charges of burglary and motor vehicle theft and was booked at the Pueblo County Jail. Accompanying Sheffield at the time of his arrest was Devin Pino, who, according to

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Special meeting set on RPS tariff

 RATON, NM — Raton Public Service will have to wait a bit longer for the Raton City Commission’s approval on their net metering tariff amendment and the Proration Agreement with Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. Commissioners tabled the resolutions until a special session is held September 15. General Manager Dan Dible explained RPS is a small company and there are a couple of big solar users that are costing RPS money by the amount of electricity their solar systems are producing. The amendment to the metering tariff is an attempt to put a cap on the amount of electricity that RPS will purchase from the solar providers. Users who already have a solar system will be grandfathered in but new users will be subject to this tariff amendment making it less attractive to purchase solar for their house. RPS is recommending a 10kw a year or about 833 watts per month cap, which Dible said, was above what most household consumers use monthly. This tariff change is a result of declining revenues due to declining population. The resolution, subject to action at the special session later this month, involves hiring an attorney and adopting a proration agreement with the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company as they pursue subrogation proceedings against Wartsila. This agreement will not cost the city any money and is in support of Hartford Steam Boiler. If Hartford is successful in getting Wartsila to pay for damages, anything over the $6.25 million will be split with the city after attorney fees are paid. The special city commission meeting will be at 5 pm Sept. 15 in commission chambers.

Huerfano Sheriff’s Office, Feds take down $10 Million illegal pot operation

HUERFANO COUNTY — The Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the US Forest Service and US Bureau of Land Management law enforcement raided a huge suspected drug cartel marijuana grow operation in the San Isabel National Forest Wednesday, September 9. The size of the four location pot grow is a near record in Colorado and even more rare, was the capture of two of the suspected five or six pot farmers who were at the site when the raid was made early Wednesday morning. Two yet unidentified Mexican nationals are in custody at the Huerfano County Jail facing initial charges of illegal marijuana cultivation for distribution. “It is extremely rare to catch someone at these kind of sites,” Sheriff Bruce Newman said Thursday. When law enforcement agents commenced the raid, the suspects fled the scene in every direction. Sheriff Newman said federal agents were able to run down two of the fleeing farmers and tackle them. Nearly 12,000 individual plants were discovered at the four connected grow sites. Federal officials estimate the value of the illegal marijuana at “at least” $10,000,000. The newly budding plants were destroyed at the site Wednesday, with the exception of some samples that were seized as evidence and for testing. Sheriff Newman said with the wet weather the area has had this year, the growers got a late start on their operation and were still some days to weeks away from harvest. The joint local-federal law enforcement teams hit the grow site and the worker’s campsite from two directions at approximately 8:25 am, catching the growers preparing breakfast. Authorities converged on the growers from below and above the campsite with the advance team coming in from the mountain side down and getting within 30 to 50 feet of the growers before rushing in. The Huerfano Sheriff’s Office has been working on the investigation for a little over two weeks, after a pair of bow hunters, scouting for hunting locations in the San Isabel Forest in the vicinity of Bear Lake / Blue Lake stumbled across the a grow site and reported their find to a deputy. Sheriff Newman said there were two large grows on adjoining ridge lines and two located in the small valley in between the mountains. The location was at about 10,000 feet and far away from any trails. The growers had built a holding pond on the creek and were taking water in miles of black pipe from there to the grow sites. Sheriff Newman said the operation was professional and extensive, with each of the nearly 12,000 pot plants having its own individual feeder line equipped with a shut off valve coming off of the main plastic water line from the holding pool and creek. The growers had built lean-to shelters covered with tarps and branches as sleeping quarters and had a kitchen / eating area well established. Federal officials will be back in the area soon to remove all the debris from the sites and acess the damage done to the national forest. No one was injured in the operation and one .22 rifle was found. Sheriff Newman said there were no booby traps or noise makers found. Tin cans tied together with string and put at foot and waist level are often used by illegal growers as early warning systems to alert them when someone is nearby. As of Thursday the two growers arrested in the mid-week raid have not been identified. They will be prosecuted by the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office with the federal government waiving jurisdiction to the local prosecutor.

RATON — Raton Water Works is preparing for some expensive and lengthy projects at Lake Maloya with work on the dam and water intake facilities at Lake Maloya at the north end of Sugarite Canyon State Park. Dan Campbell, Raton Water Works General Manager, noted the 100 year old earthen dam has grown from having only a few acre feet of capacity, to a dam now storing over 3,000 acre feet of water for the city of Raton. While the dam has weathered many a storm with little problem, the new regulations for emergency overflow will require the water department to engineer and expand the emergency spillway, and or design a shield to protect the dam in the event of water spilling over the dam above the current small concrete spillway. When the issue first came up in the 1970s, it was calculated the emergency spillway was about 50% adequate, but with the new regulations and weather predictions, they are estimating the emergency spillway to only be at 9% of the needed size to handle a catastrophic weather event. The emergency spillway extends from the current boat ramp to the east and around the east side of the dam. The issue with the water intake is one of age. The piping was installed first in 1917 and has been extended as the dam grew in size. It was found that one of the pipes was leaking into the dam, and

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