Crawford hears request for help from health clinic

By Randy Sunderland

The Town of Crawford adopted its 2018 budget following a public hearing on Dec. 6, with two people speaking.

Jay Ziegler spoke first, describing how he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Crawford seven years ago. He was interrupted by Mayor Wanda Gofforth, who asked if his comments pertained to the town's budget.

He said his statement was directly related to the budget, and was asked to continue.

Ziegler told the town board that seven years ago his marijuana dispensary was locally supplied, and would have generated taxes for the town if it had been allowed to continue. Closing his operation encourages black market, illegally grown product. Referring to a letter to the editor in the Delta County Independent, he outlined a concept of establishing a co-op of growers and an outlet which could generate needed tax revenue and jobs for the community.

Jenny Mitchell, who opened the non-profit Needlerock Family Health Clinic in Crawford five years ago, inquired with the town if there were any support available for the clinic. "The clinic is a non-profit," said Mitchell. "This means it's not my clinic; it's the town's ... it is very important for the town. Does the council think it is vital to have a health clinic in Crawford?"

She added, "What happens when I'm gone or retire ... I need some help."

As Mitchell continued, she said the operation needs new board members; that the opening of clinics in Hotchkiss and Paonia by Delta County Memorial Hospital has reduced the number of clients she is seeing, resulting in scaling back to only three days a week. She asked if the town could help with grants. "Operational grants, operational monies is what I need," said Mitchell.

Mayor Gofforth told Mitchell the town did not have access to grant money for her operation.

Noting that she had read about the town having some $240,000 in reserves, Mitchell asked, "If there is room in the budget for the clinic, it would be really nice."

After public works director Bruce Blair explained the town must maintain reserves and it was not good practice to dip into reserves, Mitchell said, "I'm not really asking for reserves. I am asking the town for some help, some recognition would be nice ... the town can't even blade a road so my handicapped patients can't get up there."

Blair explained that the clinic's entryway is private property which legally the town cannot do anything on it, including plowing.

As it became apparent the discussion was veering away from the budget, the town board tabled Mitchell's topic until the hearing ended and the regular meeting was convened.

When the board shifted to its regular agenda, Mayor Gofforth read a letter from Carl Page, demanding that she issue a public apology for comments made during the November meeting. He stated that Gofforth had made a "slanderous attack on my character" when she stated that he had been reprimanded by the Delta County Court during a dispute last year. The mayor then apologized, stating she had used the wrong words.

Page accepted her apology.

The board then resumed the discussion with Jenny Mitchell. She explained how she came to Crawford in 2008 to establish the clinic. The building housing the clinic opened in 2013. After elaborating on the operation, board member Chris Johnson said, "It is not in the best interest of the town to be involved in the health business. The questions you are posing ... what happens to the building, to the clinic ... is for your board to consider."

"So the town doesn't have any interest in helping?" asked Mitchell.

"The town doesn't have the revenue to help," replied Gofforth.

Chriss Watters compared her situation to that of other businesses in town, needing to find ways to get more people to come. The chamber, noted Watters, is trying to build up the business community to generate more revenue.

Mitchell concluded, "The weight is on my shoulders to keep the clinic open ... I think it is a good business for the town. It's not my building, it's not even my road ... I'll try to keep it operational as long as I can."

The council approved the 2018 budget for the town. It appropriated $99,353 for the general fund, with budgeted expenses of $98,993; $85,754 for the water fund with expenses of $85,393.52; $96,354 for the sewer fund with expenses of $95,993; and $15,000 to the Colorado Trust Fund with expenses of $15,000. It also certified its mill levy of 2.42.

After adopting the budget, the board held a lengthy discussion on awarding bonuses to its employees. As council worked out the 2018 budget, it was decided there would be no changes to employee salaries in the coming year. However, they agreed to look at the town's financial position at year end and consider bonuses. Mayor Gofforth explained that after reviewing the numbers, the town will be approximately $15,000 "in the black" in its general fund and even in its water and sewer fund.

It decided to award $500 bonuses to the town's three employees. Mike Tiedemann was the only board member to oppose the motion.

It was announced that four seats will be up for election in the upcoming municipal election in April. Terms are ending for council members Mike Tiedeman, Chriss Watters, Jeff Peed and mayor Wanda Gofforth. Watters announced he did not intend to seek reelection. Petitions for candidates will be available in January those interested in running for town council.

The next meeting of the Crawford Town Board will be Wednesday, Jan. 3, beginning at 7 p.m.