Soap Box

Mending our urban-rural fences
01/30/2020

To the editor,

After a couple of weeks celebrating our Western heritage at the National Western Stock Show, hobnobbing with steers in the Brown Palace Hotel during their high tea, enjoying dinner with members of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and attending the Voices for Rural Colorado gathering at the Governor’s mansion, it’s hard not to think about the issues facing the rural parts of our state.

Though rural Colorado encompasses the majority of land in Colorado, its representation is only 20 percent of the Legislature. We need to work together to be a strong voice, with focused advocacy.

Our issues differ wildly from those on the urban Front Range, and the rural issues of the Western Slope differ from those on the Eastern Slope. But we continue to find bipartisan ground to identify and examine the questions facing us.

A few of my early bills are addressing some of those issues.

One bill I am sponsoring with Sen. Don Coram from Montrose focuses on rural economic development. Senate Bill 054 establishes a fund to provide matching grants from non-governmental sources to businesses in their very early stages. The businesses must be in rural areas, employ people in the area and have the potential to export goods or services outside the area.

We don’t envision these rural businesses to depend solely on rural support for their income.

Many rural parts of the state are still facing the economic hardships induced by lower-than-average population, wages, employment and total property values. Providing a kickstart and requiring the matching funds encourages growth and innovation, while stimulating the private sector. We want to encourage local business sustainability in areas of the state that truly need the employment opportunities and increased tax base.

A second bill, House Bill 1115, will provide a tax exemption for the farmers and ranchers who, out of necessity, need to continuously buy fencing material. I am sponsoring this bill with Sen. Coram and Rep. Marc Catlin, also from Southwest Colorado.

The fencing material is a necessary expenditure for those making a living off crop production and animal husbandry in Colorado.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote poet Robert Frost, but they are expensive. If we can give these farmers just a little help, it may keep their costs down and production up.

We are working with stakeholders to decide if this should be a state income tax exemption only, permitting the local taxing districts to decide for themselves if they want to participate.

I am running a third bill with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg from northeastern Colorado. Current state law allows school board members to participate in board meetings electronically. In rural areas, where members are often prevented from attending because of bad weather, sick animals or long days at work, the electronic participation has helped move board meetings forward and increased robust participation.

Tim Taplin, a member of both the Ridgway School Board and Colorado Association of School Boards, brought this to my attention.

Unfortunately, though members can vote electronically, they cannot contribute to the number of members required for a quorum. This bill (which doesn’t have a number yet) would add a simple fix. While members are participating and voting electronically, their presence will also be counted as part of the required quorum, keeping the gears of responsible government turning.

All members will have access to materials distributed during the board meeting. The choice to add any restrictions is in the hands of the local school board.

During the two-day Voices of Rural Colorado Conference in Denver last week, participants discussed legislation and regional issues, and listening to a wide variety of cabinet members, legislators, department heads and business leaders.

Participants represented the 59 rural and frontier counties of Colorado’s 64 and were hosted by Club 20 from the Western Slope, Action 22 from Southern Colorado and Pro 15 from Northeast Colorado. It was a great way to have representatives of all the rural areas of the state band together to share a unified voice and educate our urban counterparts.

It is my honor to represent the people of District 59 and rural Colorado, and be one of their voices in the State Legislature. I am here to listen to your concerns as we move through this legislative season together.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango

Marsha for county commissioner
01/30/2020

To the editor,
My friend and colleague Marsha Porter-Norton is running for La Plata County commissioner, and the election is this November 2020. I am writing this letter to let you know more about her and to offer my strong support. I met Marsha in 2000 when she was the executive director for a nonprofit called Operation Healthy Communities and she was the project manager for two La Plata County summits, bringing together all segments of La Plata County to set strategic plans, goals and priorities for a healthier community. From the time that I first met Marsha, I recognized her as a born leader, community advocate and extraordinary volunteer. In the years to follow, we served together with many other community groups to benefit the health and well-being of the entire community including seniors, children, homeless, business, students and often vulnerable residents who needed her to be a voice on their behalf. Over the years, she has worked with nearly 100 organizations in SW Colorado, which has greatly contributed to her breadth of experience.

Marsha has been a strong advocate for primary care, affordable housing, transportation, and mental health and wellness. She is an extraordinary mediator and facilitator and her ability to actively listen and identify the issues for any group she is working with is her top priority. Marsha has a unique ability to take a leadership role and bring everyone together to create a synergy and positive outcome which includes individual perspectives, strengths and concerns in order to get the job done. La Plata County needs this set of skills now more than ever.

Marsha has a deep, genuine caring for our community and a depth of experience no one else will bring to the job of commissioner. Marsha is a proven leader and her roots are deep, as she is a fourth-generation Southwest Coloradoan. She grew up on a ranch and lives in Durango so understands both our urban and rural residents’ needs, concerns and ideas. Marsha is a true Coloradoan.

I also know Marsha as being one of the most humble, accomplished and authentic people I know. Her tireless energy and genuine concern for our community is nothing short of outstanding. I will work hard to help her get elected as our next La Plata County commissioner. Find out more at her website: www.marshaporternorton.com

– Sheila Casey, Durango

The end of animal oppression
01/23/2020

To the editor,

On Jan. 27, the world will observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Hitler’s largest death camp.

A key question facing historians is how could an enlightened society that produced our civilization’s greatest philosophers, poets and composers also produce its most notorious mass murderers? How could it get millions of ordinary citizens to go along? Was the Holocaust a peculiarly German phenomenon, or are other enlightened societies capable? Why are we Americans willing to subsidize unspeakable atrocities in our own factory farms and slaughterhouses?

Jewish Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer concluded that: “To the animals, all people are Nazis.” His message was that we are all capable of oppressing the more vulnerable sentient beings in our midst, frequently without giving it a second thought.

Indeed, our own enlightened society has translated the arbitrary Nazi dictum “the Christian lives, the Jew dies” into an equally arbitrary “the dog lives, the pig dies.” Only the victims’ names have been changed. The blissful ignorance of death camps and slaughterhouses in our midst remains.

On the long road to end all oppression our very first step must be to drop animals from our menus.

– Dante Gomez, Durango

Time for Trump to hit the road
01/23/2020

To the editor,

No American is above the law, including the President of the United States. Donald Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election demonstrate that he is a danger to our democracy. Thanks to public testimony during the impeachment hearing, we have irrefutable proof that Trump abused his power – threatening to withhold $400 million in security aid unless Ukraine complied with his request.

If any other American or public servant committed these crimes, they would be behind bars. Now that the House of Representatives has voted to impeach Trump, it’s up to the Senate to hold Trump accountable. Lawmakers are bound by oath to defend the Constitution, and Trump’s behavior, as outlined in the House’s articles of impeachment, make it clear that he’s unfit to remain in office.

Poll after poll demonstrates that the American people are sick and tired of Trump’s assault on the rule of law. The way forward is clear: removal.

With the integrity of our elections and the health of our democracy at stake, it’s the right decision to make.

– Jan Clark, Durango

Look for property tax notices soon
01/23/2020

To the editor,

You should receive your property tax notice by the end of January. These notices are mailed to the address on file with the county assessor. Even if you do not receive your notice, you are still responsible for the tax payment. You may obtain a duplicate notice on the La Plata County website or by calling the Treasurer’s Office. This notice is for your records.

Many homeowners have a mortgage and an escrow account with their bank. If you do, check with your bank as to when they will be paying your taxes. You are paying your taxes through your mortgage payments. If you both pay the property taxes, we will refund the money to the person or entity that paid second. Why? Because....

We pass on all property taxes collected to the local taxing authorities, such as the school districts, library districts, fire districts, etc. the month following our collection of taxes from you. School teachers and firefighters depend on you!

You may pay taxes in two half payments (March 2 and June 15) or in one full payment (April 30). Partial payments will be returned. Interest accrues after the payment deadlines, per the schedule on your tax notice.

Also, on the back of your tax notice is information on the senior and veteran exemptions. For an application, contact the Assessor’s Office. Applications are due by July 15.

Please contact either the County Treasurer Office (970-382-6352) or Assessor Office (970-382-6228) for more information or clarification.

– Allison Aichele, La Plata County treasurer and public trustee