Briefs: Gunnison County

By Katherine Nettles

2024 budget finalized

Gunnison County commissioners approved their 2024 budget on December 12, and passed resolutions on December 19 amending budgets for the Local Marketing District and Gunnison County Housing Authority to accommodate minor changes. 

GVRHA looking for new ED

Since Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) executive director Andy Kadlec resigned earlier this month, the GVRHA board is working on a plan for the short and long term to fill the vacant position. County commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels reported during the December 19 commissioners’ meeting that the goal is to appoint an interim director from January through May, giving the board time to find the right candidate over that four month period. For the permanent position, Puckett Daniels said the board has formed a hiring committee to sort through candidates and will then bring finalists to the full GVRHA board. She said the board is doing some soul searching about how best to make the transition easier on everyone involved.

Crystal River stakeholder group narrowing down priorities

County commissioner Liz Smith reported that the Crystal River Wild and Scenic Collaborative, a stakeholder group lobbying for protections for the Crystal, had a productive steering committee meeting on December 14. Smith has participated in discussions over the past several months with the stakeholder group as it builds a consensus. She said the group is ready to learn more about wild and scenic designation to keep the river free flowing and prevent future dams or diversions. The process has been extensive and Smith commented about how difficult it has been to get to consensus, but that taking smaller steps on more immediate protections may be the preferred solution.

More information about the group can be found at https://thecrystalvalleyecho.com/wild-scenic-stakeholder.

CORE Act progressing

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which has long been supported by U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, made it through the Senate natural resources committee for the first time recently with bipartisan support. If it were to pass as legislation, it would protect over 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establish new wilderness areas and make the Thompson Divide Withdrawal permanent instead of the 20-year protection currently underway for the area. The act would also protect existing recreation and agriculture.  “There would be no changes to grazing. Some parcels would simply be exchanged between BLM, the Forest Service and the Park Service,” said Gunnison County commission chair Jonathan Houck. “The underlying uses would remain the same.” The legislation still has a way to go before passing into law, but Houck said he was hopeful about the new momentum.

Supporting legislation 

to tax STRs

Commissioners agreed to allocate up to $5,000 of discretionary funds to pool with other counties for a lobbyist to work on pushing forward short-term rental (STR) legislation with the Counties and Commissioners Working Together (CCAT) organization. CCAT advocates for its member counties at the statehouse on various nonpartisan items, and commissioner Smith said the issue of charging commercial tax rates to STRs is one that resonates with several mountain communities but not as much with the Front Range. She described potential legislation that would make exceptions for primary residents occasionally renting out their own homes for a few weeks or a month to help make ends meet, while commercially taxing those with accessory dwellings or dedicated STR properties. 

Commissioner Houck wanted to make sure this was not setting a precedent or paying for additional lobbyists on other issues, but Smith was confident this was an exception, since many of the CCAT  communities, particularly in the Front Range, do not identify with this issue and the testimony coming from Airbnb and VRBO has been robust in favor of protecting STR interests. Birnie noted there was plenty of money available in the discretionary fund, and commissioners unanimously approved the expenditure.

Sage grouse satisfaction

Commissioner Houck said he has gone through some heavy reading on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Management Plan Amendment for Gunnison sage grouse and has begun an outline for comment on behalf of the county. The BLM has initiated a land use planning effort “to incorporate management decisions and actions to preserve and enhance habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse,” according to the federal agency’s project description. This will affect all BLM land use plans with occupied and unoccupied habitat across the eight populations in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah, which includes Gunnison County.  

Houck said his initial response is that the plan “So far, looks fairly good. It looks like, at a high level review, Gunnison County’s concerns and issues have been addressed substantially,” he said. He will be coming forward with proposed comments, which are due the first week of February.

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