Outgoing Steele

County commissioner prepares to leave office

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Darryl Steele will attend his last full meeting as a Moffat County commissioner on Tuesday.

Steele, who did not run for re-election, will be replaced Jan. 9 by commissioner elect Tom Mathers who will be sworn in as commissioner for district 3.

Steele, elected in a landslide in 2002 and nominated board chairman in 2005, leaves office feeling good about his accomplishments during the past four years.

He also said the new makeup of the count commission will face some challenges.

"I think the biggest issue facing the next commissioner after the election will be finances," Steele said. "We're still not out of the woods."

He said the county is on track to get back to a solid financial ground but still needs to build up reserve capital for emergencies.

Steele said that while Department of Local Affair (DOLA) grants helped the county in 2006, the decrease in income experienced in the last half of 2003 and the next two years still has the county dealing with old equipment, vehicles, and facilities that need maintenance.

"I'm happy to be part of making the 2007 budget," Steele said. "And I have a lot of confidence in Tom (Gray) and Saed (Tayyara) in keeping us on track."

On gas and oil exploration in the county, Steele said, "It's coming, and all of us have seen the boom and bust happen before. The key is to not spend money you are anticipating making in the future. Work on a long range plan."

One thing Steele said to be careful of is the size of government. It needs to be sustainable through long periods.

"I want to see us produce energy, and do it right," Steele said. "Plan for the future and have values past the exploration, to the reclamation. I'm in favor of manageable exploration and drilling, and reclaimed land."

Steele said originally DOLA grants were for energy impacts on counties like Moffat. Now the DOLA grants are all seeking a 50-50 match from counties, and the secret is to not bankrupt yourself while trying to match the grant.

"Look for the top priorities," Steele said. "The five counties in Northwest Colorado are responsible for creating 75 to 80 percent of the DOLA money. I'm not bashful about asking DOLA to put back into the county roads, especially in equipment and infrastructure."

Part of that infrastructure is the maintenance of counties roads, which the commissioners always intended to return to spraying with magnesium-chloride again in 2007.

"We've had a certain amount of complaints, and the road and bridge department is working hard on the roads," Steele said. "If there's any crust on the road from last years spraying, it's better to leave it alone than blade the crust off."

On hiring a county manager, Steele said there might be a time down the road for that, but right now the county can't afford it.

"A county manager makes the life of a commissioner easier," Steele said. "They earn in the range of $120,000. I don't think Moffat County residents are willing to spend that to make a commissioners' life easier."

When elected, Steele said his goals were to improve the financial situation of Moffat County, and to compensate and improve the morale of county employees.

"We have done that, and I say we, because you don't do anything as an individual, you are part of a board."

Given more time, Steele would have liked to finish improving the infrastructures of the fairgrounds and the

airport. The master plans are in place, but the money must be taken care of first, he said.

"There are county-owned mineral leasing dollars to be used for capital improvements. We have started a savings account and we're growing the money to follow the master plans." Steele said. "I was part of the savings part, but I won't be part of the implementation."

Steele was born in Craig and raised in Maybell. He is a rancher, has owned a mining company for 20 years, and enjoys team roping.

When his term as commissioner ends, he will return to running his ranch, and spending more time with the grandkids and family. He also wouldn't mind trying to become world-champion at team roping, something he put on hold when elected a commissioner.

"It takes time and practice," Steele said. He and his daughter, Joyce, were ranked 14th in the world standings in 1996 in division 5 with the U.S. Team Roping Championships.

"I would like to make one more run at it," Steele said. "I may be too old, but maybe not."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com

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