Walter Elias Disney said that "Our greatest natural resource is in the minds of our children."
Maybe that was the thinking a few years back when members of the Hotchkiss town council and Hotchkiss High School student government began holding joint meetings on a semi-annual basis. In what has become an annual tradition, the two entities shared responsibilities last Thursday at the regularly scheduled council meeting.
Student Council sponsor Matt Cavanaugh said seniors are studying a unit on the structures of government. This week begins the local governments part of the unit. Sitting in on the meeting provides an introduction of sorts on what they will be discussing in the coming days, said Cavanaugh, and gives students a reference point and practical experience for their student council duties at school. The meeting allows them to witness how decisions are made at the town level. "They get to see how exciting local government can be," said Cavanaugh.
Student body president Sophia Schelle co-chaired the meeting and was joined at the front table by senior class president Andrew Oviedo, junior class treasurer Roggen Frick, sophomore class president Nolan Egging and freshman class president Bruce Turnbull. About 20 members of the senior class also attended the meeting. Attendance wasn't mandatory, said Cavanaugh, but students do receive extra credit.
The tradition of having students join council began about four years ago, said Mayor Wendell Koontz. "It's a way to get kids interested in town government, and vice versa."
Among the agenda items was an application for a water tap on property located near Back River Road northeast of town. The access line doesn't provide a lot of volume, which can affect service, said public works director Mike Owens. Applicants Tom Curry and Mike Pitt said they understand that because of the low volume, they may find themselves without water on occasion. The only fix, which is not in the immediate plans due to limited growth, is to install a bigger water main, said Owens. Following discussion, trustee Thomas Wills made a motion to approve the request with the provision that purchasers acknowledge awareness of the possible limitations of the tap, and that the conditions be disclosed on documents related to the property to avoid problems with future buyers. "Let's not get in the habit of doing such a stand-alone," suggested town attorney Bo Nerlin.
Owens and town engineer Joann Fagan provided an update on the wastewater rehabilitation project. Owens showed photographs of the 9-foot-deep trenches where sewer pipes are being replaced, and explained how steel supports prevent the sides from caving in on pipes and workers. With much of the system dating back to 100 years ago, the project has its share of surprises, said Fagan.
Trustees also approved four requests for donations. Billie Marta requested $500 to help Hotchkiss Memorial Hall pay for repairing the front steps, which will largely be completed by volunteers and is estimated to cost about $1,000. The hall sees about 450 community uses per year, said Marta. Earlier in the evening the hall was named Non-profit of the Year by the Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Koontz remarked that the hall is a tremendous resource for the community.
Council also approved an annual donation of $500, $250 each for the community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners organized by trustee Larry Jakubiak. Mayor Koontz told the students that the events provide great volunteer opportunities that are both rewarding and look good on scholarship applications.
Pam Bliss received $200 for the 24th annual Children's Christmas Party, which will provide support for four children in the North Fork area. "And we, too, need a lot of volunteers for that party," said Bliss.
Trustees also voted to approve a donation of $500 to the Center for Mental Health, which provides services in a six-county region, and awarded $500 to Delta County Economic Development. Trustee Wills voted for the DCEC donation, but not before pushing for DCED's request that the annual donation be doubled in light of recent mine layoffs and other economic considerations. Mayor Koontz said he can see that side of the argument, but recommended the $500 amount.
Anita Evans, with the Delta County School District Foundation, gave a presentation on "The Nature Connection," an environmental education center to be located on Bulldog Street in the former Montessori School building and funded by a $75,000 planning grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. Creation of a website and posting of survey to help guide creation of the center and its associated programs are pending. Evans asked students and trustees to consider creative ways to get local students to spend quality time outdoors, and the equipment that might be needed.
Koontz also reminded students that the town awards two $500 Hotchkiss Community Scholarships annually. These are not academic scholarships, but are based on community spirit, volunteerism and involvement in the community, said Koontz. Applications will be available in January, and scholarship winners will be announced at the April council meeting, which will be held at the high school. "We do this to let you know that the town and the community supports our seniors," said Koontz.
Trustees anticipate approval of the draft 2016 budget at the regularly scheduled Dec. 10 public meeting. In looking at this year's budget as year-end approaches, Mayor Koontz stated that projected general fund income for the year is $788,000 and expense projections are $785,000. "We're about $3,000 in the black," Koontz told council and town staff. "Well done."
Student council members said they enjoyed the experience. It allows students to get comfortable with walking into this kind of situation, so that if they ever have to come before a board or council, they'll have an idea of how things work, said Cavanaugh.
Freshman class president Bruce Turnbull said he was encouraged to get involved in school government by his older brother and that Schelle and others have been very supportive. The experience gave him more of an understanding of how a town government is run. "It's good to know what's happening in town," said Turnbull.