Year in review

Looking back at 2018 in Jefferson County

Posted 12/31/18

From proposed roads to taxes, Jefferson County had a busy year in 2018. Blue Jeffco Jefferson County voters made history this year by voting to put the majority of elected offices in the hands of …

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Year in review

Looking back at 2018 in Jefferson County

Posted

From proposed roads to taxes, Jefferson County had a busy year in 2018.

Blue Jeffco

Jefferson County voters made history this year by voting to put the majority of elected offices in the hands of Democrats.

The county has 10 elected offices — three county commissioner seats, assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, district attorney, sheriff, surveyor and treasurer. Nine of these have been in the hands of Republicans for several years. However, following the outcome of this midterm election, Republicans hold only three offices — one county commissioner seat, sheriff and district attorney. Of these, Sheriff Jeff Shrader was the only one up for re-election. He ran unopposed and was the only Republican who won an election this year.

Perhaps the closest race for county offices this election was that for the clerk and recorder. The race had been separated by less than a percentage point for each contestant as soon as first counts came in on Election Day, Nov. 6. Republican Faye Griffin, the incumbent, had been involved in the county’s government for about two decades, but final results will have Democrat George Stern taking over the seat.

Another noteworthy race was that for the county commissioner seat. Tina Francone, a Republican who has a background that includes serving as the Regional Transportation District (RTD) director for District N, ran as the appointed incumbent for District Three. She was appointed to the seat after Donald Rosier, who was term limited, vacated it early. She was sworn in on Feb. 6.

However, Democrat Leslie Dahlkemper, a former school board member, won the election. District Three represents the southern part of Jefferson County, although all county offices are voted on at-large.

All seven of the newly-elected officials, in addition to eight judges, will be sworn in at 8 a.m. Jan. 8.

Major milestones

Two county organizations celebrated an anniversary and two executive directors retired in 2018.

Foothills Art Center, 809 15th St. in Golden, celebrated its 50th anniversary with an event called ARTSWEEK GOLDEN, which took place July 16-22 at various in-and-outdoor venues in Golden. It featured 168 hours of art highlighting everything from aerialists and dance to murals and quilts. The culminating event was a juried art festival that featured 100 national artist booths.

Another noteworthy moment for cultural institutions in the county came on Aug. 31, as Pam Nissler retired from her role as the executive director of the Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL. She joined the Jeffco library district in 2009 and served as its executive director since 2011. Nissler had a 40-year career of library work, including serving libraries in Arapahoe and Douglas counties in a variety of managerial and directorial roles. Donna Walker, who had been JCPL’s director of public services, assumed Nissler’s role on Sept. 1.

The Jefferson Center for Mental Health celebrated its 60th anniversary on May 10, with an event that gave special recognition to Dr. Harriet L. Hall, who retired as the organization’s CEO and president on July 18. Hall’s career with the Jefferson Center began in 1981 as the associate director and she became CEO and president in 1984. She continues a part-time role with the center. Kiara Kuenzler, who formerly served as the organization’s chief operating officer, took over Hall’s position.

The Jefferson Center got its start on April 30, 1958, in the basement of the Jefferson County courthouse. Today, between the three counties it serves — Jefferson, Gilpin and Clear Creek — the nonprofit is the community’s go-to resource to support individuals and families struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders.

Tax dollars in Jeffco

Tax money received attention in Jefferson County this year on two separate issues.

On Sept. 18, the Board of County Commissioners voted two-to-one to eliminate its portion of business personal property tax (BPPT), payable to its general fund.

Commissioner Casey Tighe cast the no vote.

The state defines business personal property as “equipment, machinery, furniture, security devices, household furnishings and signs which are used for the production of income or in the operation of a business.”

The elimination of the tax does not apply to any other county funds, such as library, urban renewal or other special district funds.

The effort was spearheaded by the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation (Jeffco EDC) and county commissioners Libby Szabo and Tina Francone.

“Jeffco EDC has been working for decades to eliminate this unfair tax on businesses,” Kristi Pollard, president and CEO of the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation. “We are pleased that the Jefferson County Commissioners view themselves as partners with the business community by understanding that their investment will yield a greater return by eliminating this tax.”

The Jefferson County community saw some of the benefits of marijuana tax revenue in 2018.

In June 2016, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) received a grant to implement an effort called Communities That Care, funded by the state marijuana tax fund and managed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The goal of the program is to prevent substance abuse, while reducing violence and improving mental health, among youth.

Twenty-one teens, ranging in age from 14 to 18, were selected to intern as researchers to gather data on what they are experiencing in the Jeffco community. They hosted eight focus groups in March this year, and had participation from 67 of their peers. This research will help professionals better understand and recognize youths’ needs and how to prevent some of the problems that today’s youth face before they even start.

The eventual goal is to create policies, systems and programs that reach children and families, and help youth grow into productive adults.

In 2016-17, CDPHE received about $7,125,000, from the marijuana tax money, and received about $9 million in 2017-18. Jeffco’s Communities That Care grant will be awarded for five years, which began in 2016. By 2021, the county is projected to receive more than $1 million in grant money.

Closures, openings and progress

While the last attraction at Heritage Square closed this year, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge opened to the public and progress is being made on the Jefferson Parkway.

The Jefferson Parkway is a proposed toll road intended to close the gap between State Highway 128 in Broomfield and State Highway 93 near West 58th Avenue, north of Golden.

It has spanned about four decades of discussions and studies, but as of 2018, is now in the process of seeking funding through a private partnership. The private partner will be responsible for financing, designing, building, operating and maintaining the parkway.

The goal is for construction to begin sometime in 2020.

Heritage Amusement Park and the Garden Grill restaurant, 18301 W. Colfax Ave. in Golden — the last remaining attractions of Heritage Square — closed on June 30, following a settlement with property owners Martin Marietta. An estimated 200-some people attended an auction on Oct. 25 where items from the restaurant and amusement park were sold to the highest bidder.

In its lifetime, Heritage Square, a once-popular entertainment and tourist destination, boasted a Victorian-themed shopping village, the Heritage Square Opera House and the Alpine Slide.

The company Martin Marietta bought Heritage Square in Dec. 2011 and announced plans to close its commercial portion in February 2015. By that fall, most of the businesses had closed and demolition of many of the buildings began early 2016. Martin Marietta has yet to reveal its future plans for the site.

On Sept. 15, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge — a 5,000-acre area of open land bordered by Broomfield, Boulder and Jefferson counties managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — opened to the public.

However, a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was filed in May is ongoing.

The plaintiffs, five citizen groups, are Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, Rock Flats Right to Know, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association and Environmental Information Network.

Represented by the Boulder-based environmental attorney Randall Weiner, they are “challenging major violations of environmental statutes in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to open Rocky Flats to the public,” Weiner said in an earlier interview. Their argument is that U.S. Fish and Wildlife failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy ACT (NEPA) in planning to build public trails and a visitor center at Rocky Flats.

The site operated as a nuclear weapons plant from 1952 until 1989, when the FBI raided Rocky Flats to investigate allegations of environmental violations. Decommissioning of the plant happened in 1992 and a few years later, a $7 billion cleanup effort began.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ended its cleanup in June 2007 and that same year, Rocky Flats was taken off the national superfund list and the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established. A fenced-off core area of the old factory grounds remains off limits due to contamination.

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