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Full agenda at town/county joint meeting

With the Dog Days of summer imminent, local town and county officials demonstrated at Thursday’s joint town and county work session that, while there might be a lull in current projects and activities, the near future suggests some movement on several fronts.

The first item of business at the monthly joint town county work session was an update on three geothermal projects for the area: status of a grant for the town’s District Heating System (DHS), proposed research conducted on various geothermal wells throughout the town and geothermal greenhouses planned for the downtown area by the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP).

Presenting to local officials, Pagosa Springs Planning Director James Dickhoff said that a contracted representative from the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) would be conducting a feasibility analysis on upgrading the town’s geothermal heating system. According to Dickhoff, the analysis is necessary to move onto the second phase of the Renewable Energy Development Team (REDT) grant which, Dickhoff wrote, “(A)wards 120 hours of technical assistance including financial feasibility, business plan development and expert technical engineering advice. The top 12 applicants will receive an opportunity to sit down with investors and financing coordinators.”

Dickhoff then reported that the Pagosa Geothermal Advocates (an ad hoc group of geothermal stakeholders and local residents interested in conducting research on the town’s geothermal resources) was close to meeting its $7,000 fund-raising goal to pay the remaining cost of the study.

On Friday, Dickhoff told SUN staff that the goal had been reached.

With the money in place, Dickhoff said that attorneys would be working on agreements with various well owners regarding the installation of meters on their geothermal wells. Dickhoff stated that, pending examination and acceptance of those agreements, the research could begin, “Within the next month or so.”

Finally, Dickhoff stated that the GGP has three grants in process — all with an emphasis on economic development — and should know about award identification for the grants by early this fall.

Next, Schulte reported on the status of 1A money owed to the town. As reported in the June 16 edition of The SUN, the county owes the town about $270,000 — something that only recently came to light for county officials.

In his report, Schulte indicated that payments to the town would be stretched out over the course of two years, with the first payment due this September, the final payment being made next June.

Because of the nature of 1A funds, Schulte added that the money going to the town would have to be dedicated to road and bridge improvements.

The next item on the work session’s agenda had been added at the request of Pagosa Springs Trustee Stan Holt: recommendations for the town and county’s medical marijuana subcommittee (a task force examining medical marijuana issues for the sake of providing recommendations to local government).

Holt stated that the subcommittee was understaffed due to members resigning from the task force, and that those members needed to be replaced for adequate operation. However, Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr (a medical marijuana subcommittee member) stated he did not think the task force was understaffed.

Nonetheless, in an attempt to answer Holt’s concern, Starr said he would draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the county and town in order to “formalize” the task force’s membership and focus.

Following Holt’s request, Town Tourism Coordinator Jennie Green updated work session attendees on a proposed system to begin collecting lodgers and sales tax on many local vacation rentals.

As reported in the June 9 edition of The SUN, the bulk of vacation rental properties throughout Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County fail to pay both lodgers tax and sales tax, not so much due to malfeasance, but more due to a lack of knowledge regarding the town and county’s tax code.

Green stated last Thursday that upfront costs for the vacation rental database would be shared by the TTC and the County Tourism Committee. Furthermore, a $25 per property commission paid to the database vendor (on collected tax) would be paid by either the county or the town, depending on the location of the property.

Although Green said that she believes the county should administer the contract with the database vendor, Schulte stated that, “The contractual party will have to be the (Pagosa Springs) Chamber of Commerce due to state-imposed budget strictures.”

Schulte clarified his statement by adding that monies for employing the database vendor had not been included in the county’s 2011 budget, affecting current county cash flows. Starr and Schulte said the cash flow issues regarding the Chamber as administering party needed to be ironed out prior to pursuing the proposed contract for the vacation rental database.

Following that discussion, the interim executive director for the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation, Karin Kohake, provided an update on a proposed joint venture between the Chamber and the CDC.

As reported in the July 21 edition of The SUN, the CDC signed a lease for office space in the Country Center after approaching the Chamber about situating a west side satellite Visitor Center in that space.

Kohake reported that discussions with the Chamber regarding the joint venture had been positive and that an MOU was being drafted to hopefully seal the agreement.

Representing the Lodger’s Association, local hotel owner Chirag Patel provided work session attendees with a letter of support from the association regarding the proposed joint venture between the Chamber and CDC.

Finally, a draft strategic plan for economic development in the county was briefly discussed. Formulated from results from a recent survey (Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Bottom Up Economic Development strategy), both town and county officials stated that the draft would be discussed by the two boards during later meetings and work sessions with an eye on a refined plan available by early September.

Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem stated that the question needed to be asked regarding how to increase community involvement in formulating a countywide economic development strategy.

“We need to mobilize the community and businesses in the implementation of the plan,” Mitchem said. “The bottom line measure is jobs (creation)... there are other considerations but the fundamental is jobs.”

The SUN will provide more information on the Archuleta County Economic Development Strategy as the town and county further discuss and refine goals of that plan. Furthermore, opportunities for community input for the plan will be posted on www.pagosasun.com, as well as published in future editions of The SUN.

Indeed, of all the future projects discussed at Thursday’s joint town/county work session, the development of the Archuleta County Economic Development Strategy could be the single most important issue facing both boards in the weeks and months to come.

jim@pagosasun.com

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