RIDGWAY – The need for food stamps in the region has doubled from 2008 to 2009, reported Ouray and San Miguel County Director of Social Services Allan Gerstle during Monday’s Ouray County Commissioners meeting in Ridgway.
In Ouray County, the number of households using food stamps (or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) rose from 50 households in January 2008 to 119 households in December 2009. He reported similar numbers in San Miguel County, where the need rose from 51 households to 107. For Ouray County, these numbers reflect a 138 percent increase, while in San Miguel County, food stamp use increased by 109 percent.
In Ouray County, $259,757 in food stamps was issued in 2009 compared to $114,536 in 2008. San Miguel County issued $245,839 in 2009, versus $102,256 the year before. Money distributed by the counties as food stamps is fully reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gerstle told the commissioners that the figures reflect the number of cases approved at each office and are “not indicative of the number of people we talked to.
“I can’t give enough accolades to the people in our office who are going through this crisis in dealing with some very distressed people,” he said.
While administering food stamps can be a burden for any county, the recent hire of a part-time, temporary employee for both counties has “taken the edge off,” said Gerstle.
Statewide spending on food stamps rose a staggering 60 percent last year, from $352,522,573 in 2008 to $565,178,739 in 2009.
“The 60 percent increase is huge in other counties,” he said. “Some have had to have staff decreases and layoffs. Others have had huge [food stamp] increases along with staff decreases. It’s a mess right now.”
Commissioners Consider Revision of Weed Management Plan
According to Ouray County Weed Manager Ron Mabry, the county’s Weed Board is considering rewriting the Ouray County Weed Management plan. He received an informal go-ahead from the Ouray County Commissioners on Monday to begin redrafting the plan.
Mabry said the Weed Board has been looking at many options for revising its management plan, including re-figuring the county’s set of “priority weeds” rather than following the state’s recommend list. For enforcement purposes, Mabry would like to add language that deals with noxious weeds on land involved in real estate sales.
“When a property changes hands, it would have a line item on it about the noxious weeds,” Mabry told the commissioners.
Commissioner Keith Meinert said the discussion about the plan’s language is interesting and he would likely support it.
“The issue we are trying to deal with is one of enforcement and the difficulty Ron has had in getting landowners’ attention to take the action the state is requiring landowners to do in controlling a class of weeds,” Meinert said. “One of the problems is that landowners, and I am not saying it is all of them, but people who hold property merely for speculative purposes – absentee landowners – they don’t want to know what’s on their property because it may devalue the property.
“So in order to get the attention of these people, we have to find some way of hitting their pocketbook – maybe by having a mandatory disclosure of a weed management problem.” That mandatory disclosure, Meinert said, could provide an incentive for landowners to take more action when it comes to controlling noxious weeds on their land.
After the discussion, the commissioners gave Mabry the nod to work on redrafting the county’s weed management plan to potentially include a mandatory disclosure of weeds in a real estate transaction.
“I am totally in favor of this,” Meinert said. “Things like requiring a weed assessment on property transactions is something we might want to consider.”
Fairgrounds Master Plan Update a Possibility
The Ouray Board of County Commissioners on Monday directed 4-H Event Center and Fairgrounds Manager Susan Long to research what the current Ouray County Fairgrounds Master Plan states before they discuss a master plan updates.
The conversation between Long and the commissioners was held during the “Call to the Public” portion of the commissioners’ regular meeting in Ridgway. Because several nonprofit organizations have expressed interest in using a portion of the fairgrounds in various capacities, now may be a good time to look at updating the facility’s master plan, she said.
The commissioners recommended Long work with the Fairgrounds Advisory Board in all discussions, and said it would be helpful to see the original master plan and any other past proposals for the fairgrounds before an update is considered.
Commissioner Keith Meinert also indicated his desire to review the most current master plan.
“I would like to see the master plan we have right now,” Meinert said. “But I don’t want this board to be involved in updating the master plan from scratch. Staff needs to bring updates to us and we will facilitate group discussions. I don’t want the impression that this is a board-driven strategic plan and I don’t want the board to assemble any meeting until we have staff recommendations.”
Commissioner Lynn Padgett emphasized the importance of public input on any fairgrounds master plan update.
“If there are groups out there showing vital interest, it is vital to reach out to the public and hear from the public,” she said.
It is unclear when a formal discussion on the current fairgrounds master plan will take place.