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La Plata County commissioners return from D.C. advocacy trip

Broadband access, fire mitigation hurdles on agenda at annual conference
La Plata County commissioners Matt Salka and Marsha Porter-Norton, second and third from right, attended a news conference in front of the Capitol in support of extending the Affordable Connectivity Program last week while attending the annual National Association of Counties conference. (Courtesy of NACo County News/Meredith Moran via Matt Salka)

La Plata County commissioners Marsha Porter-Norton and Matt Salka returned last week from the annual meeting of the National Association of Counties.

The lobbying organization represents county officials before the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

As rural communities face similar issues with internet connectivity and Western counties grapple with an increasingly barren homeowners insurance market, the conference is an opportunity for local policymakers to collaborate, organize and network.

The commissioners heard from federal officials including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Assistant Secretary for Tribal Government Affairs with the Department of Transportation Arlando Teller as well as President Joe Biden.

Porter-Norton and Salka, who are running for reelection in November, said they used the trip to push for specific policy initiatives that would benefit La Plata County residents.

NACo is pushing this year for the passage of H.R. 5574, sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, which would increase from $600 to $5,000 the threshold for reporting of income related to natural disaster expenses. Under federal law, counties must issue a 1099 form for every wildfire mitigation grant and recipients must report the income, creating an administrative barrier to funding wildfire mitigation efforts.

“Because of our advocacy, we got the Colorado steering committee on public lands to look at it and then it ... has made it in the national NACo platform,” Porter-Norton said.

The commissioners also met with staffers of Rep. Lauren Boebert to advocate in favor of the Dolores River National Conservation Area.

Salka serves on the telecommunications steering committee, which approved four interim policy resolutions. One of the four resolutions supports the reauthorization of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which subsidizes high-speed internet for 22 million households nationwide to the tune of $30 per month. The program is set to expire in April, although a $7 billion extension package is on the table.

Both attending commissioners stood in support of the bill at a NACo news conference held in front of the Capitol. Salka has long made increasing broadband connectivity a priority of his tenure in office.

“It's not just about streaming Netflix and their favorite series, it's important for their medical (care), therapy, schooling, education,” he said.

The commissioners spent time in discussions with peers from across the state and the West, and Porter-Norton attended the first meeting of the NACo Native American and Allies Caucus.

“One of my largest takeaways and what I really enjoy is being able to network with other commissioners, not just in the state of Colorado, but elsewhere throughout the whole U.S.,” Salka said.


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