Montezuma County Commissioner Dewayne Findley takes pride in his work and would like to keep his job for another four years. The chairman of the Montezuma County Commission is running for a second term, but faces opposition from within his own party in the August primary from Steve Chappell and a Democrat firebrand, Galen Larson, in November should he overcome the first hurdle.
Findley’s points of pride include saving taxpayers nearly $2 million, he said, by re-financing the jail bond issue when interest rates were very low. Now, instead of retiring in 2018, the tax will retire in 2011. The county also was able to up its payment each year because the 0.45 percent sales tax was generating more revenue than anticipated.
“Obviously, that’s something that I’m proud of – that we were able to save the taxpayers of Montezuma County substantial dollars on the jail-bond issue,” he said.
The down side is when the bond and tax sunset, it will eliminate operating funds for the jail — about $300,000 a year. “So obviously we’re going to have to find some way to backfill that.”
Findley is also proud of the fact that during his four years on the commission the county has been able to increase the base salary of county employees by 2.5 to 3 percent a year, enough at least to keep pace with the cost of living.
Another of his accomplishments, he said, was his contribution to the Dolores River Valley plan, which implemented transferable development rights in order to limit growth in the scenic valley. Findley moved from planning commissioner to county commissioner as the plan was being developed. “I think that was a very worthwhile effort,” he said. “I think it’s a good blueprint for the way we need to look for specific individual area plans within Montezuma County.”
Unfortunately, the county has not done another specific area plan since then. “We have all the tools in place to do another area plan and no one has come forward with a request to do that,” he said. “We’ve had some feelers put out by the city of Cortez and there is some interest in the Mancos Valley, but two years have gone by when we could have been working on a plan and we haven’t taken advantage of that.”
For the rest of the county, he said, the effect of land-use regulations is less clear. Findley said the high-impact permit system is probably functioning better than the zoning regulations themselves.
“It seems like every time we really delve into the regulations and look hard at them we find gaps, things that aren’t covered within the regulations. The planning department and administration and commissioners do strive to correct those oversights but it seems like it’s an ongoing process.” One thorny issue not addressed in the land-use regulations is visual blight in residential areas.
“Obviously something needs to be done. The difficult thing is what,” Findley said.
As more affluent people buy up properties in Montezuma County, they clean them up on their own, he said, but some people aren’t willing to accept that “slow progress forward.” On the other hand, he asked, “Do you want to legislate personal responsibility on people’s personal property? I think that’s a dilemma all elected leaders deal with. How do you legislate common sense?”
Blight is partly in the eye of the beholder, he noted. “You could probably drive around the county and pick six [properties[ we agree on but the next six might be harder. You might say ‘those are nice old farm tractors’ and the other person says it’s a bunch of junk.”
Many residents also believe it’s time for the county to adopt a building code. Findley said he’d be willing for the county to have some basic standards, but not the International Building code.
“I’m actually supportive of building codes, but I think we have to be very careful of what kind of a building code we’re talking about. If you mean the IBC or UBC – a code book that’s 3 or 4 inches thick – I’m resistant because that’s going to be hard to enforce.”
He would like to see “basic codes that address the quality of foundations and some standardized building codes so buyers and builders know what is expected of them and what they can expect in return.”
“I don’t think we need all the regulations that La Plata County has,” he said.
A basic code is one leg of a fourlegged stool, he said. The second leg is “a fee process that pays for the additional administration and provides building permits. We’re behind the times because we do not have a building permit that alerts the assessor and the county sanitarian that we have a structure being built.”
Third, there needs to be contractor certification. Fourth would be an inspection and enforcement system. Findley said the local HomeBuilders Association plans to ask the commissioners to put a question on the ballot regarding building codes.
He said it needs to be a non-binding referendum. “I’m not going to let Cortez and Mancos and Dolores decide this issue. I’m going to look harder at the unincorporated areas of Montezuma County and if they’re supportive of it I would vote to implement those things.”
Findley was on the commission when it adopted a countywide plumbing- inspection requirement and believes that was a good measure.
One issue not related to land use that is an ongoing concern in the county is animal control. Every month there are numerous incidents of dogs attacking livestock and biting passersby. Findley said although he thinks it would be good for the sheriff’s office to have an animal-control officer as it once did, he doesn’t consider it a priority.
“How are we going to pay for that officer? How are we going to pay for the animals to be housed? I still think landowners and livestock owners are going to have to deal with that on their own, without expecting someone from the sheriff’s department or the animalcontrol officer to deal with this problem.
“If you’ve got a dog out there chasing your livestock you’re not going to wait for an animal-control officer to come and deal with it anyway – you’re probably going to shoot the dog and then call the animal-control officer.
“I think there are bigger needs in the county right now,” he said. Findley, who had heart-bypass surgery in April, said he’d received an “A plus” rating from his doctor during his last checkup.
“I’ve got a second lease on life. It’s helped realign my priorities. Being commissioner isn’t the most important thing in the world. There are things above and beyond that – my family, my grandkids.
“I feel like I’ve done a good job as commissioner — I’m sure most elected officials feel like they’ve done a good job, but I wouldn’t have done anything any differently.
“Montezuma County’s has invested a lot in me – financial resources, education — and I’ve invested a lot of time in Montezuma County, “I’d like the opportunity to continue to serve Montezuma County, but it will be up to the voters to make that decision.”