Elders shoveling through options as Moffat County axes snow services
Craig — With falling property values and a decline in oil and mineral leases, Moffat County is facing a budget shortfall, and seniors are taking a hit as officials look for cuts.
Last week, Moffat County Commissioners recommended that the county discontinue snow plowing for seniors outside of city limits next year, and opted not to accept nine new applications for this year. The cost of snow removal for seniors this year is projected to be more than $12,000, and the cut represents a small step towards making up an estimated $14 million shortfall expected by 2021.
“About a year ago when we knew these long-term challenges were coming up — especially knowing we have challenges with (Craig Station) Unit 1 and evaluations with oil and minerals are way down, which is affecting all counties around here and which is affecting property and real estate tax — we had a session to look at where are all the different areas we can adjust,” said Commissioner Frank Moe.
Though neighboring Routt and Rio Blanco counties do not offer the same service to their seniors, there are many seniors in remote parts of Moffat County who have nonetheless come to rely on the county’s help.
“I would probably be snowed in a big part of the winter because I don’t have someone here all the time to plow, so I would really miss it. It would put me in a kind of a hardship,” said 83-year-old Browns Park resident Dorothy Simpson, who has relied on the service for nearly 20 years.
Simpson lives about 50 miles from Maybell and 15 miles from her closest neighbor.
Many Moffat County residents were critical of the commissioners on Facebook last week. Some offered to pitch in and help their elderly neighbors on a volunteer basis, something Moe hopes could be organized into an alternative for seniors.
“I’m working to get it to where we can have a volunteer corps for people, especially handicapped people or those that aren’t financially able to do it themselves,” Moe said, adding that the decision could open more opportunities for private enterprises.
Since 2014, the county has seen a $1.6 million drop in property taxes, a $676,000 decrease in mineral leases and a $500,000 decrease in severance taxes, adding up to nearly $2.8 million less revenue as the county heads into 2017, according to Moffat County Finance Director Mindy Curtis.
Moffat County Commissioner-elect and current Craig Mayor Ray Beck is not keen on cutting services for seniors, but acknowledges that “tough decisions are going to have to be made.”
“We need to take a real hard look at supporting our seniors and veterans when the finances are there to do that,” Beck said. “What other cuts can you make that have a larger impact? But not having been there and not having been in all the discussions, it’s hard to say whether that’s the right or wrong decision.”
The 2017 budget is still a work in progress and is set to be approved Dec. 13. Thus far, commissioners have made $2.3 million in cuts to operating expenses across all departments, and have reduced the capital budget by $2.9 million, according to Curtis.
Barbara Nottingham, 64, near Browns Park, currently plows her own 1.5-mile-long drive but could use the help when high winds build big drifts. Hers was one of the new applications that was rejected.
“I think maybe just an on-call basis, a situation where they needed it,” Nottingham said. “Seniors have paid taxes a long time and they put in a lot towards the county, so I feel it’s not real good to cut it out, because there are ones that really do need it.”
Bill Fawcett, 68, who lives off County Road 7, suffered a stroke this spring, prompting him to apply for the service.
“It’s a hard decision to be made,” Fawcett said. “But they spend money on everything else. I guess you gotta draw a line somewhere and decide what to do with it.”
As part of Moffat County High School’s Class of 2019 graduation ceremony, outgoing students took the opportunity to express their creativity, honor their past and look to the future atop their mortarboards.