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COVID-19 causes major loss of Gilpin County tax revenue

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Consequences shut down Rec Center and 25% employee layoffs

By Jaclyn Schrock

Gilpin County $25 million budget generally receives the largest funding of the year from tax revenue accumulated during the months everyone was in lock-down. Consequently, the loss of tax revenue forced the County Commissions to make nearly a 25% reduction in the county workforce, effective in July, removing $1 million from the Sheriff’s budget, and unable to reopen the Recreation Center.

Gilpin County officials and residents are experiencing insult to injury. Insulting is the physical, spiritual, emotional and health attacks from pandemic lock-down. Injury to Gilpin County is the economic floor dropping out from under us.

Our county originated with non-native people from the mid 1800 as miners poured into the area with meager physical resources. Working independently for gold lying in the waterways or on the ground worked for many, for a while, then hard rock mining took over. Ultimately working together toward the common goal of survival is what made Gilpin County endure.

Gilpin miners survived with developing technology, harsh willpower, and adapting to the changes time has brought. Poor living conditions, loss of health, and dangerous working conditions in the mining industry have filled our cemeteries. Many returned to where they came from, beaten down by disappointment and other disasters. The rugged folks who stayed have developed ranching, recreation venues in our wonderful wildernesses, and other sometimes short-lived opportunities – so Gilpin County has endured to 2020.

2020 Gilpin is working together. We are considering potential solutions. Residents are drawing together to seek compensation for county employees, the potentially dangerous effects to our Sheriff’s department, and a loss of options for all ages of families for meals, healthy social, and physical options and recreation. Federal stimulus packages for recovery offers nothing to small communities and counties like ours so far.

Gilpin Commissioner Ron Engels authored an article April 30, 2020 at www.colorado politics.com. Engels knew Gilpin County was devastated economically by the COVID lock-down, yet had no references to how other towns and counties were fairing through the lock-down.

According to both the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, Gilpin County in Colorado is recognized as having “the greatest percentage of its economy shut down among all counties in the entire nation.”

Gilpin County is recognized uniquely among other US counties because more than 80% of all workers employed in leisure and hospitality. Tourism hospitality includes recreation, hotels and restaurants. Leisure and hospitality are considered non-essential, shut down, no revenue.

Real people are unable to work at all, and little in any direction can be used as an alternative to a lack of employment. With a stay at home order, mountains and forests have no jobs waiting in another line of work.

Small and large businesses are taking a huge hit. Sad stories are also complicated by challenges of being a small community in the mountains.

All the residents and larger corporate attractions in Gilpin County have taken a hard hit from the cautions mandated attempting to protect individuals from the often permanent life changing effects when one gets the unique corona virus.

Two cities in Gilpin County generating the highest percent of tax revenue were shut down for over three months – Black Hawk and Central City. “Over half of the counties tax revenue comes from the gaming industry. Another quarter of the revenue comes from the casinos real and personal property” according to Commissioner Engels.

Wisely planned, there is a reserve fund for emergencies that can keep the county functioning for a time. Gilpin County must fulfill “statutorily mandated services.” The jail must be maintained, emergencies will be responded to with help, abuse will be addressed, roads maintained, transfer station open, and ballots prepared and counted for voters. Those minimum services are all that can be done.

Grants, federal assistance, and “outside the box “possibilities are being sought to recover. We are all unsure how long the pandemic will change our normal. There is no predicting how recovery will go. It is likely that it could take over 10 years for Gilpin County to recover financially from the current phase of lock down, according to County Manager Abel Montoya.

Gilpin County Town hall meetings were held online to avoid potentially spreading the contagious coronavirus while retaining the transparency of Gilpin County operations. Town Hall facilitators and residents only attend online, using Zoom to listen to presenters and also dialog with text questions and comments.

Keeping communication open when everything is shut down helps us stay connected during our isolation. The first of June and July Gilpin Board of County Commissioners held town hall meetings. Budget shortfall effects were discussed in the summer online Town Hall meetings.

Everyone is concerned for the well-being of Gilpin County people affected by the cut backs due to a loss of expected revenue. We can only get through this by pulling together.

One very visible casualty is the Gilpin County Community Center Campus, now closed permanently due to a lack of operating funds.

There have been two online Town Hall meetings July 9 and July 22 to consider options for Gilpin’s Community Center Campus. Local residents have also met to search for options.

The next online Zoom meeting is on August 18, 6-7 pm, to consider next steps for the Gilpin Community Center.

The Community Center includes the currently closed arena and barn, recreation center, as well as outdoor uses still available: Veterans Memorial, the walking trail and community gardens.

The CSU cooperative extension office inside the barn is still open by appointment. Jennifer Cook, our new director, is helpful for services related to living in our specific area and nature.

The arena was developed and has been maintained primarily by Larry Sterling’s dedicated efforts. Mr. Sterling now also heads up Gilpin County Animal Rescue Team (Gilpin CART). Gilpin CART has volunteered to maintain the arena and barn areas, for emergency care of local animals and also potentially, so animal care givers can continue to use it as designed.

A work session by Commissioners on July 22 discussed insurance options for the volunteered services gratefully offered. Tuesday’s meeting will address the needed arrangements to assure coverage of volunteers by Gilpin County’s insurance program for liability doing volunteer work.

A group of Gilpin residents have also found a grant source for recreation programs called GOCO Resilient Communities grant, which offers funding exclusively for outdoor recreation.  A deadline for application is the first week in August with funds available by early September. Gilpin Commissioners are seeking to get an application for these funds completed after Tuesday’s meeting to approve and streamline the application process. Unfortunately, this would not be a benefit for the indoor use of the recreation center.

Potential revenue sources and management options have been discussed to reopen the Recreation Center. Currently, the Gilpin County Parks and Recreation Department is a department within Gilpin County government. Parks and Rec is funded and managed by Gilpin County government, so with such a major short fall of funds, our county had to close the recreation center.

Other Parks and Recreation management and funding options discussed include:

–Park & Recreation Special District

–Mill Levy increase

–Sales Tax Adoption

–Sell the community center to a private sector

–Combinations of above

Making Gilpin Parks and Recreation Department a Special District rather than a government department is likely a sure long-term solution way to recover. The Gilpin Library is a Special District so has its own board of directors rather than Gilpin Commissioners directing management and financing it, although contributions do come from our county government.

A Mill Levy increase is only a funding solution. It is dependent on the passage of the increase in property taxes from a ballot vote as early as November 2020. The funds would not be available for use at the rec center until after property taxes are paid in the spring of 2021.

Adopting a County Sales Tax is another ballot option that would only effect funding for the Community Center. Increasing sales taxes would increase the price everyone pays for things in the Gilpin County.

Selling the Community Center to a private sector would make the fairgrounds, barn, and recreation center available for a private investor to purchase and manage as they saw fit. The county residents would have no input to its uses, and likely no benefits for being a resident of the county.

In the last year, 424 youth residents and 390 senior adult residents have made over 50 free visits to use the rec center or participate in events, including senior lunch. However, these youth and seniors also come to the center and pay a fee to participate in hobby interests, classes, and even special events.

Over 100 adult and youth annual memberships have contributed funds for the rec center. Non-residents monthly memberships range about half the resident annual memberships.

–10,290 total users have enjoyed Gilpin’s Recreation Center in the last year of operation.

–8,763 users have attended classes.

–953 have participated in leagues. The remainder have attended meetings, events, camps, and birthday parties.

This does not include those who have attended the Gilpin County Fair, Town Hall meetings, and the annual Winter Arts Show. These events are free to those attending.

The first Gilpin survey regarding opinions for reopening the Community Center began online in the July 9 online meeting. It was completed July 21 to recognize resident interests for funding sources, and how the Community Center has been used by which of the three districts in the past.

See slides of tallied data and recorded meetings found at www.opengov.com/gilpincountyco.    Slides with identical headings include those by the 56 zoom participants first, then second is the addition of the other 58 residents adding their opinion after the meeting.

The 2nd GCCC survey closes August 10th at 8 am. To take the survey, go to https://stories.opengov.com/gilpincountyco/published/t7JUzn6nw

Info presented there includes:

Unique users of the Community Center in 2019 was 1,924, average of 17 visits (does not include spectators, events, non-residents memberships/ drop-ins), show data of user groups.

Utilities for the Community Center Campus cost approximately $220,000/annually.

Approximately $2M/annually needed to run Community Center Campus at status quo (includes CIP list, HR, Finance, Attorney staff services).

Gilpin County does not have a sales tax.

Two main sources of revenue are Gaming Tax and Property Tax.

Gaming Tax Rate is in the State Constitution (would be very hard to change).

4.5 Mills would generate approximately $2 Million for the Community Center (1mill = $440,000)

4.5 Mills would generate approximately $2 Million for the Sheriff’s Office.

The current Property Tax mill levy is approximately 9 mills for the County.

This survey is the second of three to determine residents interest in Gilpin Counties future. Questions are seeking your willingness to vote for potential Gilpin County changes to offer hope of recovering from the current revenue losses.

Another Gilpin survey that closes July 30th asks you to pick one primary area of interest residents fall into as a user at the rec center. These groupings are: seniors, youth, hobbies, barn, gym, and participation in a parks and recreation district. Results will be posted at the Gilpin County Parks and Recreation Department.

Hope to see you, your questions and comments at the next Gilpin County Community Center Town Hall Meeting on August 18, from 6-7 pm – no mask required

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