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County Clerk's Bayfield office could close next year

Bayfield might lose the La Plata County Clerk's annex in Bayfield Town Hall next year as part of county budget cuts.

Town Manager Chris La May reported to town trustees on March 21, "Tiffany Lee Parker, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder, contacted me regarding the future lease of space in town hall for the motor vehicle office and elections. She informed me that she has been requested to close the office as a cost saving measure for La Plata County."

He continued, "La Plata County has every intention of honoring the current lease which expires February 2018. I've suggested to Ms. Parker that the town is willing to work with La Plata County on lease options, but she wasn't certain that a lease would be continued even under a more favorable lease."

The county has a five year lease that ends on Feb. 28, 2018. The county is paying $40,644 this year. La May told the Times the county also pays its share of utilities, approximately $4,000 annually. "The county has suggested that they will honor the terms of the current lease. The town hall debt will be retired in October of 2017, so it shouldn't affect our ability to pay back the debt on town hall," he said. That's been $267,862 per year.

La May said, "The Motor Vehicle Office in Bayfield is a great convenience to the area residents, but probably more important is the economic impact the customers conducting business at the Motor Vehicle Office have on the local economy. If you couple the loss of the Motor Vehicle Office with the talk of the U.S. Forest Service consolidating operations in Durango, the business activity at the local restaurants, personal service shops, and retail stores would likely dip."

La Plata County is joining other Colorado counties in having to cut services, Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina told the Times this week. Mesa County also eliminated a clerk's annex office, she said.

"This is something that's under consideration for cost cutting that the board (of county commissioners) will be considering over the next few months," Spins said. "This is the kind of thing they have to consider."

If the Bayfield annex does close next year, Spina said the voter service center and ballot drop box would still be there during elections. And if the annex closes, the staff there would move to the clerk's main office in Durango to help with increased work load.

In their 2017 budget message, County Manager Joe Kerby and Finance Director Diane Sorensen stressed the need to address the county's long-term financial sustainability given ongoing declines in county revenues.

They said, "Historically, much of the county's property tax base has derived from coalbed methane gas production. In recent years, natural gas prices have plummeted, and production in La Plata County has steadily decreased. This has had an extremely detrimental effect on property tax revenue."

They reported that county property tax revenue this year is projected to be $15.4 million compared to $29.4 million in 2010. Property tax from natural gas accounts for most of the decrease. It was $17.6 million in 2010. This year it's projected at $4.6 million. It's expected to decrease again in 2018, Kerby and Sorensen said.

"This trend, compounded by its effects at the state level, is causing significant structural challenges to La Plata County's budget. Without developing additional revenue sources, this scenario will hamper our ability to deliver services at present levels, and as La Plata County grows, this disparity will widen," they said.

They noted the county has the fourth lowest property tax rate among counties in Colorado at 8.5 mills.

The median rate for small and medium size counties is 20.021 mills, they said.