In an era of declining revenues for La Plata County, Colton Black, who is challenging incumbent Treasurer Allison Aichele, said the office’s budget has grown 38 percent in the past four years, an expense he would rein in.
Aichele defended costs in the office’s budget Monday night in a candidates forum held at the Extension Office building at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. More than 100 people attended the forum, which was sponsored by the La Plata-Archuleta Cattleman’s Association. In addition to treasurer candidates, the forum included candidates vying for La Plata County sheriff, La Plata County commissioner, state Senate and state House.
Aichele said one change that increased costs – outsourcing the handling of account receivable processing to Lockbox, a service of Wells Fargo Bank – may cost the county $25,000 a year, but it raised revenues from “overnight funds” from $11,000 a year to $600,000 a year.
Additionally, she said it helped eliminate a three-month backlog in processing receivables, reduced overtime in the office and allowed the office to shed one full-time employee. She also said the service handles the processing faster, safer and quicker than handling the process in-house.
Black said the increase in revenue from overnight funds did not come from an outsource of the work but to rising interest rates in the past four years as short-term interest rates increased from 0.11 percent to 2.5 percent.
Black also said the $55,000 spent annually to pay an outside investment firm to handle investments could be handled in-house given the limited number of legal investments allowed to county treasurers.
“I have the skill set to do this,” he said. “We can reduce the investment advisory fees from $55,000. There are options that are lower cost.”
Incumbent Sheriff Sean Smith, a Democrat, did some soul-searching in his opening address.
“I’ve been a little defensive in the campaign, and that’s not who I want to be,” Smith told the crowd.
He said he was proud the department handled more than 37,700 calls in 2017 compared with 24,000 calls four years ago.
In addition, he said the department is more active in community and law enforcement groups.
“For 20 years, the office was cut off and operating in isolation. We needed to change that and become community-based and less isolated,” he said.
Republican challenger Charles Hamby said unlike Smith, he would enforce no-camping laws on public property. He questioned Smith’s handling of the homeless population.
Hamby said it is unconstitutional to deprive the homeless of sleep, but he said no-camping laws can be enforced to end homeless camps on public property.
In addition, both Hamby and Dean Mize, an unaffiliated candidate running for sheriff, said they would end bicycle patrols and focus those resources on increasing vehicle patrols, especially in rural areas.
Smith defended the bicycle patrols, saying they are a good tool for patrolling the homeless population and they don’t pull deputies from regular patrols. Bicycle patrols are an idea that arose from the ranks, he said.
Both Brad Blake, the Republican incumbent, and his challenger, Clyde Church, said the county will need to hear from residents in an era of declining revenues from natural gas.
“We need frank conversations from the community about what services they want and how much they are willing to pay for them,” Blake said.
Church said minor things, such as shutting off computers at the end of the day, can save money in a large organization, but in the end, residents are looking at a difficult choice.
“The pot is almost empty,” he said. “We can make budget cuts or we can increase taxes, and we need the community’s input.”
Challenger Guinn Unger, a Bayfield Democrat, said the rising cost of health insurance is the top issue on the campaign trail, and he suggested requiring insurers in Colorado to sell policies in all counties to bring down costs that are especially high on the Western Slope.
Long-term, Unger said the best and most cost-effective health insurance policy is to adopt a universal provider model similar to the health system in Canada, which he said covers more of its population at half the cost of health insurance in the United States.
State Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he recently had medical work at the Mayo Clinic and was amazed at the number of Canadians being treated there.
“They didn’t want to wait six months to get treatment. They thought it was a better choice than dying,” he said.
Incumbent state Rep. Barbara McLachlan defended membership in a major party caucus in the state Capitol against challenger Paul Jones, an independent, who called partisanship the biggest problem in Denver.
“The beauty of working in a caucus is you can talk to your members and change bills so that they work for your district,” McLachlan said.
Jones said his run as an independent traces its origins to growing up in a household with a mother who was a lifelong Democrat and a father who was a lifelong Republican.
“They didn’t agree on anything, but what they did was talk, and they worked things out,” he said.
He said the conversations his parents had are no longer viable in a highly partisan political age.