OURAY COUNTY – Increases in foreclosures, food stamp assistance and vehicle break-ins were all linked to the fledgling economy during the Ouray County Commissioners’ monthly meeting on Monday. A handful of county department heads provided the commissioners with reports on their various departments’ needs and experiences as of late, and the news was discouraging.
Ouray County Treasurer Jeannine Casolari told the commissioners that she has already received notice of nine foreclosures since Jan. 1. By comparison, there were a total of 10 foreclosures in 2008.
“We have a full plate of foreclosures,” Casolari said, “and it’s going up.”
Commissioner Keith Meinert questioned whether this most recent trend of foreclosures were expensive “high end” houses and if they were owner occupied. Casolari said that the price value of the foreclosures have ranged from as low as $100,000 to over $300,000 and that she doesn’t keep track of whether they are owner occupied.
“Some [foreclosures] are vacant land and some are residential,” she said. “It’s real busy.”
Allan Gerstle, director of social services, said he too is busy, as the number of county residents needing food stamps has been climbing. In December of 2008, social services had 77 people using the food stamp program, compared to 46 people using the program in December 2007.
“The economy has hit Ouray County,” Gerstle said. “We are seeing more people in our office for food stamps. We are also seeing people in our office who we have never seen before.”
Use of the social services general assistance funds is also on the rise. These funds, according to Gerstle, help people with medical bills, rent and auto repairs. In 2006, social services provided residents with $2,649 in general assistance. That amount increased to $3,604 in 2007, and to $5,118 last year.
Complicating things for his department, Gerstle said, is the fact that the State of Colorado, which funds some of his department’s programs, has a “dire budget crisis.” (The food stamp program is 100 percent federally funded by the Department of Agriculture.)
“I have no good news,” he said, other than he has not seen a spike in child welfare and domestic violence.
Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi reported that traffic contacts had recently increased, but that there had been an overall decline in vehicles on the road, something he attributed to the economy. His office has also seen seven to eight fraud cases come in since the beginning of the year, but he didn’t indicate whether that was an increase from previous numbers. Mattivi also said that “smash and grabs” where vehicles have been broken into for wallets and credit cards are “starting to go up.”
Paralleling what Mattivi said in regards to fewer cars being on Ouray County roads, Chief Paramedic Norm Rooker said emergency calls to his department are down by a full third. This drop he attributed to weather and fewer tourists in the area, who often suffer chest pain or other forms of altitude sickness.
As if the news at Monday’s meeting could get no worse, the county’s weed manager, Ron Mabry, said an increase in chemical costs could limit his department’s effectiveness.
“I met with two chemical suppliers and some [prices] have gone up 300 percent,” Mabry said. “I know that my chemical budget has been set but it means it is going to lower my coverage area.”
Mabry told the commissioners he planned to attend a March 12 luncheon at which Colorado Sen. Jim Isgar and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg will raise weed control awareness. Mabry said he would see what he could do to get more money into weed programs.
“One of the subject I want to bring up at the luncheon is unfunded mandates,” Mabry said.