Council Takes No Action on Sage Brush Service Plan

Municipal Offices in Lamar


Proponents of the Sage Brush Meadows nursing home came no closer in their goal of having the Lamar City Council vote to approve their Service Plan for the 54 bed home during the council’s regular meeting on Monday, July 23rd.    The group’s window for moving forward for a November ballot issue closes on July 30th, according to the timetable required for placing a question before City of Lamar voters this fall.

During the public comment portion of the meeting Jillane Hixson, spokesperson for the group, asked the council to reconsider their current stand and allow the resolution for the question of a 1% special use tax district to be placed on the ballot. Hixson distributed additional information from the Service Plan to the council, noting that some specific terms on the plan had been altered including a 30 year term limit on the construction debt instead of 40 years and soil and engineering tests would be conducted on the site north of Spreading Antlers Golf Course.  Hixson added that all licensing requirements to secure Medicaid status for the nursing home beds would be met.

Dr. Margaret Loewen addressed the council on her concerns regarding the physical status of the current facility, adding, “My concern is that the existing facility in the city is not handicapped accessible and I know that our long range goal is to have one that would accommodate all of the people in this town.”

Mayor Roger Stagner acknowledged that the city has been in contact with the new owners of the nursing home to see about reconstructing some of the bathroom facilities for residents. Speakers at past meetings have been vocal about the restrictions door space has had on wheelchair bound residents and the fact that despite having had several owners over the years, the current nursing home is apparently able to operate with few changes because of ‘grandfather’ clauses.

Another speaker for Sage Brush, Brad Semmons, said he wasn’t sure if the nursing home had grandfather status and commented that any physical alterations would reduce the number of residents, stating, “It takes about 30 square feet for a handicap restroom and that would mean half their occupants would be moved out in order to accommodate a handicapped one.”

Statements pertaining to the viability of a new nursing home at the expense of existing ones in the county were reiterated, as well as loss or gain of job numbers, projected occupancy rates for the home and the precedent of the council, by its approval vote, initiating a circumstance of local government favoring a non-profit business operation at the expense of commercial nursing homes.

Hixson asked the council for a vote on the service plan, but was denied as Stagner said the question had not been placed on the meeting agenda and no motion was made by council members for an alteration.

The council opted for the 10-year lease plan submitted by Frontier Bank to finance a Pierce Type-3 fire engine for the city. Fire Chief, Jeremy Burkhart noted several weeks ago, the city was denied a funding grant for the needed engine and it was decided to use local financing that was put to bid.  Burkhart said lease terms from Frontier Bank would enable the city to make ten total payments to purchase the unit, estimated at $363,347.  The initial payment would be $43,137.92 with the balance paid off in annual installments of $43,087.92.  Burkhart explained the fire engine would not be a ladder type, but would have the capacity to fight prairie fires away from a steady water source.  He estimated the city could take delivery in six to nine months.

With some changes to the wording, the council approved Resolution 18-07-02 which constitutes acceptance of a payment of $2,500,000 from Arkansas River Power Authority, ARPA. This is a settlement payment from a lawsuit brought by the city against ARPA regarding the failed Lamar Repowering Project.  The payment will be deposited in the city’s account to be used by council approval for capital asset acquisition, renewal and replacement.  The council went a step farther, nothing that the funds could be used for emergency situations.  Mayor Stagner said the funds would not be used for general business operations by the city.

Eric Depperschmidt, Executive Director for Prowers Economic Prosperity, (PEP) briefed the council on completed projects and future goals for the county-wide economic organization. A state senate bill, 18-197, is being modified for presentation to the legislature during the next session.  If approved, it will help benefit agricultural producers and transporters by providing a five mile exception through the Port of Entry.  The current regulations have been cited as time consuming and a detriment to local ag producers.  Depperschmidt explained that although work is underway in the Holly area for a dairy farm with construction of silage pits and a heifer pen, some federal zoning regulations may hinder future dairy development in the county.  He said, “Opportunity Zones have been set up to provide tax credits to businesses that locate in them,” but the problem is some areas in the county and other areas of southeast Colorado have been omitted, despite the fact it was intended to help rural areas.  While Lamar was included, other Prowers County communities weren’t.  One proposed dairy had been looking at a site that was excluded, and Depperschmidt said he thought the establsihed zones would not be altered, but he is looking at other tax credit avenues.

PEP roundtable meetings are underway, covering five specific economic growth areas such as manufacturing, housing and agriculture and a recent hotel feasibility study has been completed with Cobblestone Inn and Suites taking an interest for the Lamar area for an upscale hotel.

The council approved the annual special event permit for the Lamar Chamber of Commerce’s Oktoberfest, set for September 22nd.  Chamber President, Kendra Cope, explained that all but two of the chamber’s directors had been TIPS certified to serve beer and they will complete their course.  During the public hearing Cope said the boundary fence would be regularly patrolled at the chamber parking lot and used cups would be picked up from the picnic tables.

Several weeks ago, the council received word that the new Amtrak President, Richard Anderson, a former Delta airlines official, decided to eliminate cross country railroad service as a cost-cutting measure. This would impact the Southwest Chief passenger route through southeast Colorado, including Lamar and La Junta as well as New Mexico and Kansas communities.  The council approved a letter of protest to be sent to Anthony Coscia, Chairman of the Board of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation as well as supporting continued service for the Southwest Chief route.  Lamar was part of a coalition of communities which had been funding support for railway improvements which are matched by the federal government through TIGER grants.

Police Chief Kyle Miller was given the go-ahead to submit a letter of intent for continued funding from the Animal Assistance Foundation. Past requests for $18,500 had been approved which included $15,000 for the local animal shelter’s salary and $3,000 for supplies.  The new request will be for $23,500.

In other action, councilman Oscar Riley noted the Lamar Airport Board discussed a name change for the airport to Southeast Colorado Regional Airport. He noted the September Fly-In and Air Show will be held on September 9th from 8am to Noon and a fly-over has been planned to coincide with the 9/11 Tribute.  There was also discussion by the airport board to use the FBO services on an on-call basis on Sundays.  There are four older hangers which are now available for rent at the airport.

The City Planning and Zoning Commission has approved a plan for Farm Credit Union to construct a bank between Big R and 4 Rivers along East Highway 50. The bank will fall within city limits.

City Administrator, John Sutherland, noted that a local businessman has inquired about setting up a skateboard oriented venture at Willow Creek Park. The owner would operate from his pickup truck near the new skateboard park.  The council expressed reservations about allowing a commercial enterprise within the park boundaries even though the person has a commercial vendor’s license.  “That’s going to be something the council will have to thoroughly discuss as there’s a lot of areas where we could have problems,” he explained, noting that there has been discussion about a concession stand operating from other city parks such as North Gateway.  Councilman Riley noted that there have been vendors operating in the park in the past, “But they were there for special events such as Lamar Days,” he stated.

The Lamar Redevelopment Authority awarded $1,000 to Tail Wag N Grooming on South Main Street in Lamar to be used towards an air conditioning unit.

The next city council breakfast meeting will be Wednesday, August 1st at 7am at Pilot Truck Stop and the next regular council meeting will be held on Monday, August 13th.

By Russ Baldwin



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