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La Plata County commissioners head to D.C. for nationwide conference

Porter-Norton and Salka will attend National Association of Counties legislative meeting
The National Association of Counties meeting provides opportunities for commissioners to learn from their peers in other places who are working through similar challenges. La Plata County commissioners Marsha Porter-Norton, right, and Matt Salk, center, will attend this year. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

La Plata County commissioners Marsha Porter-Norton and Matt Salka will leave Friday for Washington, D.C., to attend the annual legislative meeting of the National Association of Counties. Commissioner Clyde Church is on a pre-scheduled vacation and will not attend.

The meeting brings together commissioners from counties across the country to learn about and impact legislation occurring at the federal level.

“I see this as democracy in action,” Porter-Norton said. “... We are very close to the people – I go to City Market and I hear what’s on people’s mind. So, our job is to take that to the state level, through Colorado Counties Inc. and Counties and Commissioners Acting Together, and take it to NACo.”

The five-day conference boasts a packed schedule of committee meetings and learning opportunities. Some meetings focus on a particular topic or piece of legislation, while others invite representatives of individual states or regions into dialogue.

Commissioners from each state vote to elect fellow commissioners to serve on those committees. Salka was recently elected to serve on the telecommunications committee, and is the only representative from Colorado of the 85 members.

“I look forward to being able to provide learned experience, as well as to network with other county commissioners that are on this committee to hear what works, what hasn’t worked for them, what to avoid and what to go after to provide better access broadband,” Salka said.

Among the many events that will take place, Porter-Norton said she is particularly interested in the rural action caucus, the all-western states meeting and the session on navigating the overdose epidemic.

“The county taxpayers are getting their money’s worth,” Porter-Norton said.

Although the specific ask is not yet clear, Porter-Norton said she hopes to suggest a change to federal law that would simplify the reimbursement process for landowners doing wildfire mitigation work.

Commissioners from Colorado will meet with Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet. It is not clear if Rep. Lauren Boebert will attend.

“Anytime we can be around our senators in D.C., that is good,” Porter-Norton said. “The reason we got congressionally directed spending for DeNier is that we have personal relationships with them and we know them and we know how to call their staff and say, ‘Hey, this is coming up.’ Those relationship might not net something this month or this year, but they will net something eventually.”

The conference gives commissioners an opportunity to learn from other counties, many of which are navigating the same issues that La Plata County faces. Wildfire danger poses a challenge to many Western states; all states that accepted the opioid settlement are figuring out how best to leverage those dollars; and many communities are now forced to confront the lack of available workforce housing.

Salka and Porter-Norton said the event should be an immense learning and networking opportunity.

“Nothing replaces face-to-face contact,” Porter-Norton said.


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