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Commissioners fund Mahonee, deny TU

Posted: Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

David Mahonee

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — A Valley wide decision will permit a deputy district attorney to continue working in Valley courtrooms.

On Monday, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (SLVCCA) discussed the $10,000 need District Attorney (DA) David Mahonee brought before them last month, and decided to contribute on an individual county basis. Mahonee will use the funding to match two grant positions, which will allow his staff to continue to operate at full capacity.

“We are doing everything we can to cut costs,” said Mahonee at the SLVCCA April 15 meeting. “What can we pay? What can’t we pay? We haven’t had an increase in five years.”

In October 2012, the SLVCCA passed its $883,733 budget that designated $642,854 for the DA’ s office, which is the only entity the commissioners are required to fund. Mahonee originally requested $672,254, a difference of $30,000. County payment totals were $217,360, Alamosa County; $110,000, Conejos County; $53,546, Costilla County; $8,600, Mineral County; $161,000, Rio Grande County; and $92,348, Saguache County.

The six Valley counties will split the $10,000 addition equally, about $1,600 each, without worrying about which county receives the most services.

“It would be a matter of $100 one way or another,” said Mineral County Commissioner Scott Lamb on Monday. “What’s the difference?”

Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen was not against the DA’s request, but said that he would not like to see this situation repeat itself.

“Next year, this is not going to happen,” Allen said. “It’s too hard to cough up the money.”

To avoid another delayed request, the SLVCCA will make note in the 2013 budget so such funding can be addressed this fall.

“I’m not trying to be greedy,” said Mahonee, who would have accepted any additional amount of funding last month. “I just don’t want to be buried alive. We have a lot of work.”

No support for TU

Before addressing the DA’s budget, the SLVCCA unanimously moved not to support Trout Unlimited (TU) in its backing of Senate Bill 279 and House Bill 596 because of the unknowns circling around Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) dollars.

At the SLVCCA April 15 meeting, TU Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development (SFRED) Colorado Coordinator Bob Meulengracht asked the commissioners to support both bills that “help balance wind and solar energy development with conservation of fish, wildlife and water resources.”

With only minor differences between the two, the bills both facilitate competitive leasing; implement royalty payment structures on wind and solar energy generation; and specify royal revenue distribution. Royal distribution is shaping up to offer 25 percent to counties, 25 percent to states, 15 percent to the processing agency and 35 percent to the Renewable Energy Conservation Fund, which HB 596 reduces to 25 percent with 10 percent earmarked for national deficit reduction.

Public land acquisition for renewable energy development today abides by an uncompetitive right-of-way policy, according to TU. The legislation will force land nominations and contract projects through a bidding system, which allows agencies and communities to decide on what is built in their backyard, but does not guide project development.

TU is interested in the bills because of the potential long-term developments with impacts loss of sportsmen access and value; habitat fragmentation; and erosion, sedimentation and invasive species issues.

In the Valley, Meulengracht said the bill would help with solar energy development and potential geothermal energy opportunities. It has already garnered support from Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall in addition to a list of representatives including the Third Congressional District’s Scott Tipton.

Although the SLVCCA stood behind a similar bill last year, Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson said he could not support the 2013 version because of unanswered PILT questions and future access to the federal payments local governments receive to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries.

“For my county, I can’t take that risk,” Anderson said on Monday. “The question was not answered.”

The SLVCCA agreed to revisit the matter if a satisfactory answer to PILT questions was provided.

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