Seniors watch tax battle

Dinosaur residents rely on Rangely facility for meals, camaraderie

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Gladys Page of Dinosaur goes to the Radino Senior Center in Rangely a few times a week.

The center gives the 78-year-old a hot meal and, most importantly, a chance to talk to other seniors.

"It's very important to me," Page said.

Page is one of a few Moffat County seniors who rely on the Radino Center for a few meals a week and a chance to get out of the house.

Seniors from Dinosaur such as Page had 177 meals at Radino from January to June this year. Moffat County reimbursed Rio Blanco $885 for the meals, which Radino serves four times a week.

Western Moffat County's seniors use the facility in Rangely because it's closer than Moffat County's facilities in Craig.

"In Dinosaur, they really don't have anywhere else to go," Radino director Debra Barney said.

Radino's future is in jeopardy because of a tax dispute between Rio Blanco County and two energy companies.

About 60 percent of Radino's funding comes from Rio Blanco County's use tax. Energy companies pay a use tax on materials they use in Rio Blanco County, but two companies, EnCana and Exxon, are disputing the tax.

Without the nearly $1 million from EnCana and Exxon in use-tax revenues, Rio Blanco County would have a hard time paying for places such as Radino.

"We'll have to cut expenses, it's that simple," Rio Blanco County Budget Director Tom Judd said. Judd is also Rio Blanco's sales and use-tax administrator.

Page said that if Radino closed or scaled back its operation, she would end up spending more time at home, something she doesn't want to do.

"I feel we shouldn't stay home and let our health problems build up," Page said. "I hope they don't close (Radino) down, that would really upset me."

Exxon appealed its protest to the state, and EnCana had a hearing before Rio Blanco County commissioners last week. The commissioners will issue a ruling within 30 days of the hearing, but EnCana can appeal that decision to the state.

EnCana officials declined to comment about the case.

During the protest period, Rio Blanco isn't collecting use taxes from either company.

"We're going to have severe difficulty funding everything we've funded in the past," Judd said.

Rio Blanco's use-tax fund is down from $700,000 in 2004 to $200,000 this year.

The use tax partially funds a variety of programs, including the Rangely Museum, airports in Rangely and Meeker, services for people with disabilities and services for battered women.

Moffat County does not assess a use tax, but county officials are paying close attention to the dispute to the south.

"We're all going to watch and see how Rio Blanco comes out," Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said.

Gray said he hasn't taken a side in the dispute, but he said it would be a shame for Moffat County seniors to lose Radino's services.

"But for Rio Blanco," Gray said, "it would be much more than a shame."

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031 or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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