Steel backs off cutting out natural resources position

Ann Franklin, who has worked for Moffat County less than a year, was forced to justify her position as a Moffat County employee Friday during a commissioners' meeting.

And with the support of two Moffat County commissioners and several residents and county employees, was able to do so.

Franklin's position had been targeted as part of Commissioner Darryl Steele's county reorganization plan.

The proposal to eliminate the natural resources specialist position was put forth as a motion by Steele Jan. 14, the day he was sworn into office. No one seconded his motion.

But commissioners Marianna Raftopoulos and Les Hampton agreed to revisit each of the issues in public meetings.

In his opening Friday, Steele said in a tight budget year, in which all departments had to take a cut, the only department that didn't was the natural resources department.

"We need to down size the size of our local government," he said. "In making this proposal I have nothing against the person who does this job. We've got to live within our means folks."

He then tried to drive his point home.

"Yesterday our bottom line was $2.4 million less than it was a year ago today," he said. "We have to be more fiscally responsible. That's why I'm targeting this position."

But Hampton stressed the growing importance of a natural resources department in an area like Moffat County, which he said environmentalists are targeting.

In 1976 there were 300 registered environmental organizations in the United States. Today, he said, there are more than 8,000.

"You know what our line of defense is against these 8,000 organizations?" he asked. "A staff of two."

But Steele interjected.

"Let's get back to the proposal," he said. "The proposal is not to eliminate the department. It's to down size."

But several at the meeting said the natural resources department is the wrong place to start down sizing.

Browns Park resident Dawn Nottingham said without Franklin, her family never could have gotten the necessary paperwork done to address their grazing rights in Dinosaur National Monument.

Local environmentalist Bob Grubb agreed that Franklin's work is important to the community.

"What's being done through her and Jeff Comstock is thoughtful conservation and environmental planning," Grubb said. "They answer the unthoughtful stuff that comes from the east and the west from those who don't know the damage they're doing locally. We're talking about scientific land management and that's the stuff that she (Franklin) is capable of doing."

Natural Resources Department Director Jeff Comstock estimated that $350,000 has come into the county through grant work done by his assistant, Franklin, and estimated that $500,000 more is still pending.

Franklin said she hoped the commissioners would consider that if they were to make a decision.

"I don't want to sacrifice the county for my position," Franklin said. "But I think I can make the county more money than it will ever cost for my job."

Land board member Dean Gent said he thought the two-person natural resources department was vital to the community.

"Had we not had Ann Franklin and Jeff Comstock on a lot of issues we'd be in a lot of trouble," he said. "If you're going to down size, I want there to be a public process. We need to do something about the good-ole-boy hiring that has been going on in this county for 25 years."

Comstock cited Franklin's work on grazing and environmental issues, and her work on the countywide fire plan to stress her importance to the county.

In the end, Steele withdrew his proposal.

"You have indicated to me that you are willing to sit down and cut dollars from the budget," Steele said to his fellow commissioners. "If you give me that commitment I will pull this off."

Both commissioners agreed to discuss with Steele where else the $33,500 salary paid to the natural resources specialist can be cut from the budget.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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