12/31/10

To answer the question ...

Yep. We're still here. Hey, it's Christmas/New Year's Week!

And ... we're out freelancing; we have a series coming up on grain elevator safety and  non-compliance with OSHA safety standards throughout the industry. Tentative title: "Rural America's ticking time bombs".


Meanwhile, take a gander at Rich Galen's "An American CyberColumn"; today's article is:

2010: A pretty good year

12/29/10

History Repeated: From Cambodia to Pakistan

 We have another article up, a fairly good one if I do say so myself:

History Repeated: From Cambodia to Pakistan

12/28/10

Oxbow Wildlife area

We have an article up on the  State Wildlife Area halfway between La Junta and Las Animas:

Southeast Colorado's Oxbow Wildlife Area

12/22/10

Swink v. Crowley JV Girls

The JV girls game is up on:

Mike and Leece's Galleries

under Basketball.

Swink Lions

Swink Lions v. Crowley Chargers, 12.17.2010. Boys' and girls' varsity galleries are up here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

Under Basketball.

Girls' JV is in the works and will go up soon.

12/20/10

Knickers

From the approved and published Urban Renewal board meeting minutes of November 18, which are public documents:

"The La Junta Mill can’t meet OSHA requirements in their current facility so they are looking at moving to a different location. They approached us to see if Urban Renewal would like to buy their property."

Note that the minutes were presented to the board, and approved, and are now a matter of public record.

Moving on ...

The owners of La Junta Mill are faced with some heavy fines from OSHA, for the failure of the mill owners to comply with long-standing safety requirements. That was introduced to the Urban Renewal board on 9 December by Cody Stoker.

The owners of the La Junta Mill purchased the facility eleven years ago. At that time, it was not in compliance with OSHA requirements. This is not one of those Great Secrets of Life.

OSHA's grain operation safety requirements are not some kind of off-the-wall office worker's pipe dream: "... since the promulgation of OSHA's standard in December 1987, explosions were reduced by 42 %, the number of injured was reduced by 60 % and the number killed was down by 70%" (Ex. 3-56). In its statement for the OSHA public meeting on this Section 610 Review, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) described "an unprecedented decline in explosions, injuries and fatalities at grain handling facilities" since 1980 (Ex. 4). Furthermore, OSHA's own risk analysis has shown that, since the promulgation of the final Grain Handling Facilities Standard, the average number of annual grain suffocations has decreased by 44 percent"

In August of this year, OSHA's Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels, sent out a warning letter to selected grain mill and elevator operators known or suspected to be not in compliance with these safety standards. Escj Inc, known to most of us as La Junta Mill and Elevator, was one of those operators. No other addressees show a La Junta address.

In that warning letter, Assistant Secretary Michaels stated: "I am writing to you today because it is your responsibility to prevent your workers from dying in grain storage facilities ..." and "... If any employee dies in a grain storage facility, in addition to any civil penalties proposed, OSHA will consider referring the incident to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution pursuant to the criminal provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970."

Note that the operators have been put on notice that OSHA intends to file criminal charges through the Department of Justice should any employee die in one of those grain storage facilities. Do any of us remember the incident in Haswell in May 2009? Now, your mileage may vary, but at what point do we just shrug off the potential deaths of workers and say, "Well, the mill employs people, you know, and a lot of people come in and spend money here because of the mill."

La Junta Mill is not in compliance with OSHA safety requirements. The mill owners know this, and they have known it for years.

Now, the mill owners are making a pitch to Urban Renewal to buy their business - Eldon Stoker cited $500,000 - so that they can move to a new location.

The Stokers say the facility they want will cost $3,000,000. Initially, they had a firm deal on the old Gibson's building, but that will cost $600,000 to refurbish. The Stokers say that ain't gonna happen. If they can't afford $600,000 to refurbish the Gibson's building, who is going to back them on funding construction of a new, $3,000,000 facility on property currently outside the Tax Increment District? I'd love to follow the money on that deal.

Sylvia Stoker says they have received offers from "other cities", offers of land and buildings. She has not provided the names of those cities or other details of such deals. Presumably, our governing bodies are to accept those statements and rush to keep the mill here.

The mill owners want money from Urban Renewal. Urban Renewal funds are for the reduction of blight, not for bailing out businesses who, having failed to meet industrial safety requirements, now expect the taxpayers to bail them out.

Urban Renewal funds come from assessed valuation above an established baseline. Essentially, those funds come from taxes collected on improvements made by business - and residential - owners. The original baseline property taxes continue to go to the usual entities, such as the school districts. The TIF funds go into Urban Renewal coffers for blight removal. Would anyone like to take a guess how much La Junta Mill has contributed to Urban Renewal funding?

Why should other businesses and homeowners in the Tax Increment District take the hit for a business that has shown no interest in helping to improve the appearance and attractiveness of the business environment in La Junta, and which has failed to provide a safe work environment in accordance with accepted industry standards?

Meanwhile, the town's population has dropped from about 10,500 when we first moved here, to about 7,200 by the 2010 Census estimates. Actual census data is due to be released tomorrow.

The school district student population has dropped by half.

And the downtown area has even more vacant buildings.

Yep. Let's continue with "business as usual." But where does that leave your children and grandchildren?

12/19/10

Toys for Tots Basketball Game

Swink school alumni and staff played a Toys For Tots game against Colorado State Patrol, at Swink school gym, Saturday evening:

Performance-enhancing substances were reportedly used by CSP ...


While money exchanged hands between coaches and game officials ...


and Gregg "I wanna be an Airborne Ranger" Lovato goes in for a shot ...


 ... and CSP was rumored to have brought in a ringer from Duke ...

Stay tuned for a complete image gallery over on WritingPlaces.com later this afternoon or evening.

Update 12.20.2010/7:30 PM: 98 image gallery is up on WritingPlaces.com under "Events", last item on the page

12/16/10

Quotes of note

 Excerpted from the July 2010 Urban Renewal meeting's minutes. In regards to the Tabares Building:

Don Rizzuto:   That the building has character is all valid.   But if there is a deteriorating building out there that is the responsibility of the property owner.

Please note that the mayor wasn't referring specifically to the Tabares Building, but to any deteriorating building 'out there.'

Don Rizzuto: If we could adopt some code of maintenance of buildings and we went to the owners of a building where he lets this building get to the point it deteriorates they will say we don’t have the money to fix it up. Then who is fixing the building?


Good question, that. Apparently, it is the taxpayers of the City of La Junta, and all the business owner has to do is say "Well, we employ people ...", or indicate, as did Sylvia Stoker, that they've received undefined and unspecified invitations from undefined and unspecified 'other cities' in another state to provide them with a free building and free land. So, our local government officials better get on the stick and start coming up with the bailout bucks for La Junta Mill.

Rebecca Goodwin: Isn’t that what we are talking about with the Kit Carson because nothing was done? You look at sins of the past that somebody didn’t do something to the Tabares Building, or Kit Carson over the last twenty years that is the reality of what happened in the past. We don’t have to continue what was done for the last twenty to thirty years. We need to change.

Don Rizzuto: I still don’t feel comfortable with taxing the residents of La Junta to have somebody else’s property fixed up.

Or demolished, because they figured they could get away with not being in compliance with long-existing OSHA standards, but when bagged, try to dump it all on We the People.

So what is local government going to do? Cave in to the thinly veiled threats?

Silvia Stoker says they have been approached by other cities and/in (the recording's a little scratchy right there) another state that want them "there." She claims these would-be benefactors are telling them they will give the Stokers the land and a building if they'll move to these undisclosed locations.

Why don't we just tell La Junta Mill to make that move, and see if W.W. Feeds can't fill in the hole La Junta Mill leaves?

The Viaero snooker job

Snooker: To trick, entice, or trap. Ex - they were snookered into buying a pig in a poke,  at a price that was too high.

The excerpts pertaining to The Viaero Deal, from the Urban Renewal meeting minutes, 18 Nov:

Chairman Horner: This agreement was to be similar to what we did with the Hampton Inn but what we are finding out is it won’t work with this type of business. I have asked Ken Hood [Otero County Assessor] to come our meeting to explain State assessed valuation rather than County valuation. The more I hear I don’t think what we have got is going to work.

Ken Hood: Viaero is a multi-county corporation, maybe even a multi-state corporation and also a PUC corporation so rather then be normally assessed what happens they turn in their financials and their assets to the Division of Property Taxation for evaluation and they also turn in what X amount of business they are doing in this part of the state and X amount in this part of the county. The Division of Property Taxation apportions X amount of dollars to each county then when we receive that figure we apportion that figure into the different areas where they have property. However, if they say they are going to build a million dollar building and they are going to have a million dollar infrastructure in the City of La Junta but that million dollar infrastructure may be only .05% of their value that they turn into the State and there will be depreciation value. This building may also service more than one county. Maybe they service six counties so that affects the appropriation. What they end up doing is that million dollars in with other 500 hundred thousand million dollars, we get a percentage of what that total is. There is some infrastructure where we don’t have any infrastructure from a certain company but we still get some money because it going through our air so there is value that is appropriated to our county. They say they are doing you a big favor by building you a million dollar building in the city but from a tax revenue standpoint may be a whole lot less than tax that you might be realize if this would be a locally assessed property. It could be as minimal as $500 rather than 18 to 19 thousand dollars so you want to think about that. They are coming in this saying we are doing you a favor but in real terms with the way it is presented right now you are doing them one heck of a favor.

We don’t know because there is so much in the air that we can’t set the appropriation to the City of La Junta and tax increment district where that piece of property is. We have trouble getting them to report to us what the apportioned percentages actually are. We sent out maps and all this stuff to show us where their property is located and how much value they apportion to that property. They don’t give us the information. What you need to do is visit with them to see if that could certify a value for that building. If that doesn’t coincide with the State you could be in trouble.

Rick Klein: They are willing to sign it. The contract in fact is already signed by them. If they can’t certify then we don’t pay.

Rebecca Goodwin: I just worry about fifteen years from now when somebody else has to deal with this. This could fluctuate wildly. It will be hard to calculate. With the Hampton Inn we have an idea of what we are going to get over the fifteen years and we are not going to know with this.

Ken Hood: It would be fluctuating.

Chairman Horner: It would be a bookkeeping nightmare this way.

Sandra Leonard: At the same time they can come back and say we put that in the contract by looking what we are having to deal with. They probably have twenty lawyers that can fight for them.

Rebecca Goodwin: We have talked about this being a state assessment project. It is just very risky. I am very uncomfortable doing this.

Rick Klein: Can I bring the Viaero people back in to a meeting to discuss this and also have Ken Hood present. I will talk to Paul Benedetti in Denver about how they handle state assessed taxes.

Ken Hood: They have to report to Denver and then they report to us. Then you have fifteen days to the 15th of August to make any changes. Also all the companies are supposed to report and appropriate to the counties. They feel that a postmark of August 15 is good enough. Then we don’t receive it until the 16th. It also depends on how the 15th falls. If it is on Friday you don’t receive it until the 18th or 19th. We are supposed to certify to all the entities on August 25 but we can’t do the abstract of assessment until we have that information. We do the best we know how but there is a real time crunch.

Don Rizzuto: Don’t sign it until we have more information from them.

Rick Klein: They are trying to beat the winter

Rebecca Goodwin: They started ten days ago.

Don Rizzuto: If they want to go ahead and build let them go ahead but we are not going to sign the contract until we have more information.

Rebecca Goodwin: We knew from day one this is a state assessed property and it was going to be a lot more difficult. I think signing this is going to get us into trouble. If we don’t have a good clean contract now what is going to happen in nine to ten years when communications changes completely.

Ken Hood: One suggestion I have is that it be paid in arrears. That way they would produce a tax base and you would know what portion was attributed to the tax increment district. You could pay every year based on what the actual value that was incurred by them. Then you have X amount of dollars.

Rebecca Goodwin: We should talk to other Urban Renewals and see how they have dealt with these projects for state assessed properties.

Mack Burtis: I understand it is state assessment. Is there any public record of how much taxes they would pay. Why can’t we work off of that public record of the recorded taxes after their payment is received? The amount of all the money they pay and we get a percentage of that and wait until the payment is made. Then you have X amount of dollars paid. How it was arrived at I couldn’t care less.

Sandra Leonard: The thing is to cover what is in the contract

Mack Burtis: That doesn’t really concern us.

Dean Malouff: The issue is what you want to do about the $85,000. I would encourage from a legal position that you give the Chairman or City Manager authority to execute the contract as soon as possible. If you drop it a crash will occur. They have relied on you to sign the contract. They have started work with the thought in mind that they are going to get something from Urban Renewal. You will have a major problem if you don’t pay them the $85,000. Make the deal and sign because perception to them was that we were going to pay them the $85,000.

Rebecca Goodwin: Did we have a vote to give them the $85,000?

Sandra Leonard: Yes we did. We gave the authority to the Executive Director to do the contract.

Rebecca Goodwin: I thought that was premature.

Dean Malouff: They have the authority to execute the contract at their discretion for the best deal we can and get it solved. This was all figured out and now they can leverage that against you on this promise.

Sandra Leonard: There are lessons learned here as long as I have been on this board. We need to take more time to ask more questions before we get into a situation like this. This time we got caught.

Bill Jackson: They have already signed the contract for 60% or lesser of even with tax certification. I think this is covered in this contract they already signed.

Dean Malouff: I looked at this contract for the first time today. In Section 8.02 they do need to certify so the limitation is set in place and I also believe that being uncertain in terms of calculating I think it would to be easily cleared up without changing the contract.

MOTION: Don Rizzuto made a motion that the Chairman and Executive Director be authorized to execute the contract with Viaero. Motion was seconded by Mack Burtis. Vote passed with 2 NOs (Sandra Leonard and Rebecca Goodwin).

Chairman Horner: Reading through this Rebecca pointed out that on the one with Hampton Inn there was a certain percentage. This one says a percentage but doesn’t say what percentage.

Most people I have spoken with here in The Smile Hi City think it was David Slaughter who negotiated this little bit of fiscal snookery. However, I believe you will find that Slaughter had little, if anything, to do with it. The Smoothie from Viaero on this one just got himself onto the Joint Budget Committee in the state General Assembly:

McNulty taps freshman Republican for JBC

Excerpts:

“Rep.-elect Jon Becker will be a budget hawk and will fight to help us prioritize spending and protect those services people care about most,” McNulty said. “My appointment of Rep.-elect Becker to the JBC is a strong signal to Colorado that, for Republicans, it’s no longer business-as-usual at the state Capitol.”


A budget hawk, hmmmm? Prioritize spending? Uh huh. "Protect those services?" You betcha. He sure protected Viaero in this one, didn't he?

Becker had been working as the director of government relations for Viaero Wireless and as adjunct professor at Morgan Community College. He also had served as a Morgan County commissioner and the executive director of the Morgan County Economic Development Corporation.

What was it Mack Burtis said about the La Junta Mill project being "over the heads" of the board members? I'd say this project was way over; Becker slicked 'em pretty good.

But it's OK. Viaero employs people here in The Smile Hi City. We should be glad to give a major corporation $85,000 for new construction.

Here's a quote from Becker's campaign website that local government officials should commit to memory:

"I will look at the budget and spending issues as if I were running my own business. The government should not spend more than it has and it should not increase taxes/fees to cover budget shortfalls.  Fiscal management should not be clouded by government redirect, instead be guided by sound and proven techniques.  I can see that most politicians tend to implement programs without much of a concern for how they will be funded or even whether a program is really necessary. It is time to be smarter and more disciplined about our governmental spending to be sure we get the most value out of every dollar we spend, after all it is your money not the government’s.  [Ed. note: Feel free to crank out a real horselaugh right about now] Colorado cannot continue to spend more than it can afford, it is time for our leaders to make the difficult choices.  My background in business will help me propose and make these difficult choices and stop the liberal spending machine we have now."

Steel City Slam

The Steel City Slam 2nd Dan Gable Challenge Southern Division

Ethan "The Beast" Leyba adjusts his head guard at one of last year's tournaments. Leyba will be participating in the Steel City Slam on Saturday.

12/15/10

OSHA Grain Handling Standards

At the Urban Renewal meeting on December 9, Eldon Stoker cited "that kid getting killed in Haswell a couple years ago" as the reason for OSHA's apparently sudden interest in compliance. However, here is the OSHA Grain Handling Standard Regulatory Review:

Grain Handling Final Report

Please note that the report is dated February 2003.

An excerpt from that report:

Since OSHA promulgated its Grain Handling Facilities Standard in 1987, working in the grain industry is safer. Comments submitted to the Docket for this Section 610 Review from the Food and Allied Service Trades (FAST), AFL-CIO, stated "... since the promulgation of OSHA's standard in December 1987, explosions were reduced by 42 %, the number of injured was reduced by 60 % and the number killed was down by 70%" (Ex. 3-56). In its statement for the OSHA public meeting on this Section 610 Review, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) described "an unprecedented decline in explosions, injuries and fatalities at grain handling facilities" since 1980 (Ex. 4). Furthermore, OSHA's own risk analysis has shown that, since the promulgation of the final Grain Handling Facilities Standard, the average number of annual grain suffocations has decreased by 44 percent

Further note that the standard was "promulgated" in 1987, which is well before the Stokers purchased La Junta Mill eleven years ago. The facility was nowhere near in compliance when they purchased it, and from OSHA's interest in La Junta Mill, it is hardly anywhere near compliance now. According to Cody Stoker, OSHA has gone over all the "tickets" issued as the result of the their findings and the Stokers should receive notice from OSHA in the next week or so. They will then have fifteen days to set up a meeting with OSHA officials up in Denver, where they will attempt to negotiate the fines and set a timeline for the mill to become OSHA compliant.

I dunno. All my working careers have been around operations where employee safety has always been paramount. The City of La Junta safety program is a major component of the entire operation, across all the skill areas in the city workforce. In USN and USAF, non-compliance with safety standards was and is a career killer for the higher ups. So I will confess to having no understanding of a business where employee safety is something you have to be fined into oblivion over in order to get the point.

Here is a warning letter sent to grain operators:

Grain Letter dated August 2010.

An excerpt:

I am writing to you today because it is your responsibility to prevent your workers from dying in grain storage facilities. All employers, and especially those in high hazard industries such as the grain industry, must recognize as well as prevent workplace hazards. As an employer, you must be vigilant and always follow the long established, common sense safety practices that will prevent these tragedies. A copy of OSHA’s Grain Handling Facilities standard, 29 CFR 1910.272, is enclosed for your reference. This standard contains the rules that must be followed. States that operate their own occupational safety and health programs under plans approved by Federal OSHA enforce comparable standards but may have different or additional requirements. A list of State plans is available at http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/index.html.

and another:

As an employer of workers facing these hazards, you have the legal obligation to protect and train your workers. OSHA will not tolerate non-compliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard. OSHA has investigated several cases involving worker entry into grain storage bins where we have found that the employer was aware of the hazards and of OSHA’s standards, but failed to train or protect the workers entering the bin. OSHA has aggressively pursued these cases and we will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible. Just in the last 10 months, OSHA has issued three large penalty citations to grain elevator operators for these very hazards.

  • On November 23, 2009, OSHA fined Tempel Grain Elevators LLP more than $1.5 million following the May 29, 2009 death of a teenage worker at the company's Haswell, Colorado grain storage operation. The youth suffocated after being engulfed by grain in one of the facility’s bins. The company also exposed three other teenage workers to the cited hazards.
  • On May 27, 2010, OSHA fined the South Dakota Wheat Growers Association of Aberdeen, South Dakota more than $1.6 million following the death of a worker who had suffocated after being engulfed by grain. OSHA’s investigation found that five additional workers were also at risk of being engulfed when they were sent into the bin to dig the victim out.
  • On August 4, 2010, OSHA fined Cooperative Plus, Inc. in Burlington, Wisconsin $721,000 after a worker was buried up to his chest and trapped in frozen soybeans. The worker was ultimately rescued after a four hour ordeal.
You see, this is not just another government agency engaging in the feckless spreading of administrative chicken feces. Let me reiterate from the 2003 regulatory review:

"... since the promulgation of OSHA's standard in December 1987, explosions were reduced by 42 %, the number of injured was reduced by 60 % and the number killed was down by 70%"

This is a serious industrial safety 'issue.' It seems to indicate to me that operators are either oblivious to, or indifferent to, the hazards to workers in their business. OSHA is concerned enough about the willful non-compliance of grain elevator and mill operators to give them a direct warning in the August 2010 letter:

If any employee dies in a grain storage facility, in addition to any civil penalties proposed, OSHA will consider referring the incident to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution pursuant to the criminal provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Pretty good motivation to either get into compliance, or find someone to buy the place, don't you think?

Here is a list of addressees for that letter:

Addressee list for Grain Letter

12/14/10

Urban Renewal and La Junta Mill

Here is the discussion by the Urban Renewal Board in its entirety, from the minutes of the meeting of November 18. Note that Klein is a non-voting support staff member for the Urban Renewal Authority. Leonard, Racine, Burtis, Bennett, Goodwin, Horner, and Rizzuto are all voting members of the board. They are the ones who make the decisions.

Rick Klein: The La Junta Mill can’t meet OSHA requirements in their current facility so they are looking at moving to a different location. They approached us to see if Urban Renewal would like to buy their property. The first thing we wanted to do was to make sure it was not contaminated. We had Brownsfield people look at it and assess it. We are not scared of the mill having contamination. Pete Danko behind the mill wants to get out too. If we are going to do this should we go ahead and also get the Danko property? Both property owners are willing to sell. We would have to get an option to buy before we could proceed with an environmental study. If we are going to clean up the area should we look at both the Mill and Danko?

Sandra Leonard: What are we purchasing?

Rick Klein: If we would purchase the Mill and Danko properties, we would have a blank piece of property.

Gordon Racine: The demolition will have a cost. That property value is pretty low because it is in the flood plain.

Rick Klein: They said they would get an appraisal.

Gordon Racine: It will cost money to take it out. Do they want us to buy it for appraised value?

Mack Burtis: I have said before for that property the only value is the value of the land after it is cleared. That is the maximum value. It is a liability because of everything that is there. It is a negative value so I can’t see buying it for over $1.00. You have a proper appraisal and then we are going to incur the cost to clean it?

Nancy Bennett: What would Urban Renewal do with it?

Rick Klein: We would keep it for five years and then sell it.

Nancy Bennett: Is there anybody inquiring about that?

Rick Klein: No. Not many people know that the Mill is going to move.

Nancy Bennett: I knew.

Rebecca Goodwin: First we have to have an option to buy it to do the environmental study.

It is contingent with what we find in the environmental study. 1) Because with SBA and USDA involved you are going to have to comply with Section 106. It is a historic structure because it is over 150 years old. You need to check into that. Also USDA is Federal money so would have to comply with Federal law. 2) That is a very important business that goes clear up to Nebraska and down to Texas. They bring a lot of money into this community. They deserve for us to look at it. They are the only Mill in this part of the state and I am an advocate for this to happen but I don’t want us to get half way into it and then have problems.

Gordon Racine:The Gibson’s building is it outside the city limit?

Rick Klein: It is in the city limits and in the Tax Increment District. They got a solid deal on the Gibson’s building.

Mack Burtis: This project scares me frankly because it is over the heads of the people on this Board. The whole project needs to be somehow arranged so everybody can see who all the players are and what kind of money we are talking about. This is bigger than just Urban Renewal.

Chairman Horner: These are the same issues we had with the Book Stop only on a grander scale.

Sandra Leonard: Where are the people from La Junta Mill? We just brought in DJ and here we are again talking about people that are not here to present this project.

Rick Klein: Eldon Stoker just got back in town. Do you want me to bring him in?

Rebecca Goodwin: We need a lot more information. Somebody needs to do more research. Ask them to come to the next meeting. Also invite Bryan Bryant and Bill Dutro and others involved to get the whole picture and do a presentation. Tell us what the options are - what the whole project is.

Don Rizzuto: Going back to the part that this is a true Urban Renewal project creating a better business environment. We would have a big vacant lot that would be available for some kind of new business. The other side of it though is where the funding is coming from. We don’t know the cost. I am in favor of tearing it down and have the whole block for a huge business. Don’t care what kind of business to go on the highway. But we need a lot more information and where is the money going to come from?

Rick Klein: This business does bring a lot of people into town.

Don Rizzuto: We don’t want that business to move out of town. We want to try to encourage businesses to stay in town. These projects really do merit our assistance. These are two businesses that draw people from long distances away. When those people come into town they go to restaurants, Wal-Mart etc. spending money for our tax base. Let’s research this.

Rick Klein: They are looking to move forward to get that information on Phase 1 and Phase 2. The clock is ticking on them. They have six months.

MOTION: Rebecca Goodwin made a motion that we get more information for the next meeting. Don Rizzuto seconded the motion.

Sandra Leonard: Those things don’t come out of the woodwork. These things didn’t happen overnight. That isn’t our problem. Still have to do our due diligence to the people that put us on this Board and this community. I am not going to be pushed any longer. They knew about their problems before this. I want to help them but I’m not going to vote until we have estimates in front of us.

Rebecca Goodwin rescinded her original motion.

Mack Burtis: I am not in favor of buying at the assessed value and then also paying to demolish the building.

MOTION: Rebecca Goodwin made a motion that more research be done on the request from La Junta Mill and they come back next month and make a presentation with that information. Motion was seconded by Don Rizzuto and carried unanimously.

As we now know, following the December meeting, La Junta Mill's deal on the Gibson's building turned out to be considerably less than "solid". According to the Stokers, the building requires $600,000 in repairs and refurbishment to make it suitable for their use. If that figure is accurate, it would appear that the Gibson building is on the verge of becoming blight itself. I would like to see documentation on those repairs and costs.

So the Stokers are looking at a place east of town, outside the Tax Increment District but adjacent to it - according to statements at the December meeting. And, they want to build a $3 million facility. How is it that a $3 million facility outside the TID is feasible, but $600,000 in repairs to the Gibson's building inside the TID is not? Is that secondary proposed location outside the TID supposed to entice the board to give them $600,000 so as to build inside? That's a question that has not been asked, nor answered.

The Stokers are faced with substantial fines for failing to comply with OSHA standards. OSHA standards have to do with maintaining a safe work environment. According to the Stokers, they knew that OSHA would be cracking down on mills and elevators following a fatality in another operation two years ago. So what have they done in the ensuing two years to make their operation safe for workers? Is it not reasonable to deduce that very little has been done, given the findings of OSHA's inspection(s)? Is there some other explanation for OSHA's findings? Should that question be asked as well? What may one deduce regarding the attitude toward worker safety from this?

Sandy Leonard stated: Those things don’t come out of the woodwork.These things didn’t happen overnight. That isn’t our problem. Still have to do our due diligence to the people that put us on this Board and this community. I am not going to be pushed any longer. They knew about their problems before this. I want to help them but I’m not going to vote until we have estimates in front of us.

I agree.Argument has been made that this business brings in a lot of people. That is true. It does. Rizzuto says we don't want this business to move out of town. That too is true. On the other hand, how many times have we fallen victim to that mantra, and been left holding the bag? For example, we are supposed to support farmers and ranchers. Then after we do that, they retire and move somewhere else, selling their water to Aurora. If that ain't a screwing, I don't know what is. And how many times have we heard that "shop local" thing, yet we see our local business owners shopping in Pueblo? If that ain't a double standard and a tacit 'screw you and your horse', I don't know what is.

It is a responsibility of government to help create a constructive fiscal and political environment to support business. It is not government's business to shovel tax money at any business that decides the taxpayers should be bled out due to poor business management practices, to cover for business mistakes or indifference, despite what Barack H. Obama and his accomplices say and do. Stoker the Elder threw out the figure of $500,000 value for the business. My own answer to that is "When pigs sprout wings and transport themselves bodily to heaven ...".

Here's another point that has been posited: "These businesses are only getting back their own tax money, money they have paid into Urban Renewal's funds."

There is a grain of truth to that, but it's a very small grain, and most of the time, it's a non-existent grain anyway. More on that in the next post.

Meanwhile, check the highlighted quotes by Mack Burtis. For once, someone really should pay attention to the crusty old curmudgeon. He has it nailed down really good.

More posts on this subject:

La Junta Mill and 'due diligence'
La Junta Mill and 'due diligence' Part Deux
La Junta Mill and 'due diligence' Part Trois
La Junta Mill's OSHA violations (online extract, OSHA)
The full inspection report, from our Freedom of Information Act request
Knickers
Quotes of Note
OSHA Grain handling standards

Tourism and Slumlords

But not much in the way of Urban Renewal.
From the minutes of the November 18 Urban Renewal Board meeting:

TOURISM SIGNS

Chairman Horner: I have been working with Dan Ballard on ideas for tourism signs and we have two different ones with some of the same components but with different wording. Chairman Horner passed out pictures of signs. This is a beginning point to consider for some tourism sign for the edges of town. Look at them and give my your feedback. Part of what I would like to see is visually very eye-catching so when people come into town they are not going to see so much wording as much as imagery of what we got to offer. We are looking at some billboard signs with the same cutout shape as our entrance signs for some continuity with those signs. We also have looked at putting the La Junta website on the sign to show people where they could get information. I need to go to the Chamber and talk to them about being the somewhere to direct them to get more information. That seems like the logical place to go and if we do that when we rework that corner of the Chamber with landscaping might want to encourage a sign that says Visitor Information.

Rick Klein: The Tourism Board is researching the same thing and would like a joint meeting to discuss these types of things.

Rebecca Goodwin: It might be a good idea to meet with the Tourism Board and other groups that are working on this same type of thing.

Chairman Horner: That is my plan

Don Rizzuto: The Tourism Board is doing the same thing and looking at grants. They have some funding.

Chairman Horner: My initial thought was to have something eye catching with visual appeal that makes it inviting enough so when people travel through on Highway 50 they want to stop and get more information.

Mack Burtis: Unless that sign is hellaciously big I don’t buy your concept. I don’t think that kind of picture will stop anybody at any speed at all. You need to identify a place where you can stop and get information.

Chairman Horner: Tell me what your concept is.

Mack Burtis: Identify a place where you can stop and get information. Clearly identify a place that can provide the information.

Chairman Horner: I don’t think we have these items available at this point. When people drive through they don’t have a clue unless they happen to see a sign that shows what we have in our area. They are not going to stop if we don’t have some kind of sign that at least promotes those ideas and places. The other part somebody has to be there to give out the information. One idea or the other doesn’t do us a lot of good.

Don Rizzuto: Let’s talk to the Tourism Board and see what their ideas are.

Rick Klein: Tourism Board is working on the same type of deal.

Rebecca Goodwin: Got to be able to stop on a Saturday morning or Friday at 5:30 but where do you go?

Rick Klein: They are looking at that on the Tourism Board.

Rebecca Goodwin: SECORHT is also working on this. There are some grants out there.

Sandra Leonard: I think it is great that we should all get together and be on the same page. However, since I have been on this board, I have heard that SECORHT is going to do this or that. At least Lynn has actually gone out and did something. He is following through and that I appreciate. This business that they are going to do this and they are going to do that is all good. I do think we should work together but need to move forward.

Chairman Horner: I will get a hold of the Tourism Board and see when we can meet. Or we can have a small committee to look at this.

So. What does any of this have to do with Urban Renewal? Why are we spending Urban Renewal tax bux on tourism projects?

Speaking of which, in the same meeting, we have this:

MINISTERIAL ALLIANCE

Rick Klein: Lynn, Rebecca, Bill and I went to a meeting with the Ministerial Alliance people. They have a problem with landlords coming to them for money but then they don’t apply it to the homes they rent out. They are also giving rent assistance to certain landlords over and over who are not keeping up their homes. People from the Health Department, Urban Renewal, Housing Authority, Tri-County Housing, and Colorado Legal Services met to see if there is anything we could do to help the situation. Tri-County Housing is having a Strategic Planning meeting on Saturday. I put this on their agenda to see if there is anything they could do about it. None of these groups have the resources to do that type of activity. And it makes it more difficult how often a renter moves in and out of these homes. At the end of our last meeting Jack Marshall chastised the Urban Renewal Board for working on other things other than blight. He said that is what we used to do. We don’t do that any more.

Rebecca Goodwin: One of these landlords is a certain landlord we have talked about multiple times. He has gotten a lot of money from Urban Renewal tearing down his houses and then we have the same person going out and buying more substandard properties.

Chairman Horner: The cycle goes on. Urban Renewal doesn’t benefit just handing money over to this guy.

Rebecca Goodwin: I don’t like putting money in the pockets of these landlords. At these meetings we talked about conditions of some of the houses. One had a door with no hinges and you had to lift the door to get it open. In the bathroom there was mold everywhere and water standing where the floor was ready to fall through.

Nancy Bennett: Why doesn’t the Health Department do it?

Gordon Racine: Children shouldn’t have to live like that.

Nancy Bennett: Another one that should be involved is HUD. HUD has criteria landlords are supposed to meet.

Rebecca Goodwin: These are below HUD standards. Sandy, if someone comes to you because of a dangerous situation how hard is it to find replacement housing?

Sandra Leonard: We try to place people in our residential facility but they could be on a waiting list for one to two years before they can get into a home. Even if they are at great risk. What we try to do is find a private landlord that will help but a lot of those are not the standards we would like. There are a lot of homeless people in our area. There is no place for them. Several years ago we tried to get transient housing but we couldn’t get it through. We have to tackle the responsibility here in our own community. If we have Department of Human Services guidelines imposed they must be very loose because these are not standard living conditions.

Rebecca Goodwin: The State is cutting hundreds of dollars from human services. The State is also cutting the money with their county services. Somehow we are going to have to figure it out.

I draw your attention to this post, from April 2008:

The Empty Lot

If this unidentified slumlord they're going on about is the one I think it is, the fact that this oxygen thief is still functioning in The Smile Hi City is a crime against humanity. Gordon Racine is correct. Children shouldn't have to live like that. But they do, right here in The Smile Hi City, while the Urban Renewal Board is talking about tourism signs and dinosaur tracks. And while our churches are sending thousands of bux overseas to missions there. What about missions here? Why is that? And spare me the Biblical quotes about "... Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.". That's a dog that don't hunt, not when we have this kind of suffering going on under our own noses, in our own neighborhoods, in our own community. You don't have to go to the ends of the earth. Take care of home, first.

In that "Empty Lot" post, we mention one of the trailers that used to be in the 400 block of Hayes. Those trailers are no longer there. This is a good example of what we should expect from Urban Renewal, and what they should be doing with Urban Renewal tax bux. Tourism development is not in the Urban Renewal charter. Note the comment above, attributed to Jack Marshall, about the Urban Renewal board drifting off track.

It's true. Mack Burtis hints at this with his objections to the tourism sign project.

Note that other board members go on about what they've "talked about."

There's a lot of that at these meetings, but there is very little accomplished.

And guess what ... at the December meeting, this slumlord thing wasn't even discussed. What the board did accomplish was a spat over free lunches. Mack Burtis has questioned this for some months now. After some 'spirited discussion', it was pushed to a vote, and the board decided that they would no longer furnish free lunches for board members. This was accepted with some rancor on the part of some board members.

And who says Urban Renewal isn't getting anything done?

12/8/10

"Services rendered?"

Our Urban Renewal board is responsible for reducing or eliminating blight – getting rid of dilapidated buildings, “renewing” the urban center; that sort of thing. Over the years Urban Renewal has done a pretty good job of it, though many people fail to appreciate the full measure of the board's accomplishments. You can educate yourself by going to the city’s website and clicking on the Urban Renewal link.

Of late, however, it seems that the board is adrift, missing its mandate, floundering rather than accomplishing its charter mission.

Is Urban Renewal a tourism development board? A downtown development board? The current board members seem to think so, else why are they spending our urban renewal tax revenues on welcoming signs, dinosaur tracks in the sidewalks, and other projects that seem well outside the urban renewal venue? This current board has accomplished very little in the way of anything that could be considered “urban renewal” or “blight abatement.”

Most recently, they gave a pile of money to Viaero, a for-profit corporation that is constructing a new facility outside the downtown area – our “urban” center – though it is still within the Tax Increment District. Why? Isn’t that an economic development project? How is financing new construction out there doing anything about blight? And didn’t they really miss the boat on TID tax returns on that project?

The board is also considering a proposal from another for-profit business. That one has We the People funding the demolishing of the Plaza building and improving the lot so Tri-County Motors can work a swap. That’s not so bad, as Tri-County wants to swap an improved lot for an improved lot, rather than just swapping tax bucks from our pockets to theirs. Actually, it seems a fairly reasonable proposal, and it will result in blight reduction.

But here’s one that should really getcher knickers in a tightly twisted bind. La Junta Mill wants you to buy their dump, the one that has been an eyesore on First Street for over thirty years, so they can move somewhere else. It seems they can't bring the dump up to OSHA standards, so they want you and me to bail them out. After all, they employ people, so we apparently owe it to them to overhaul their mess. Wasn’t that the same argument the Obamanians used to bail out banks, General Motors, Chrysler, etc, saving all those union/Democrat voter jobs? How well did that sit with you? I heard not one La Junta business owner utter one positive word about those bailouts. So why would the same “reasoning” hold water now? That place was blight when we blew into The Smile Hi City in 1978 and it has not improved since, under any ownership. Now, after over thirty years of neglect, We the People are expected to buy it and tear it down? Isn’t that kind of like how we’re supposed to support ranchers and farmers, till they decide to retire and move away after selling their water to Aurora? Your mileage may vary, but those attitudes leave me feeling like I’m seen in the same light as a Colfax Avenue hooker after “services rendered.”

Urban Renewal’s voting members are either appointed by city council, or are members of city council. They serve at the pleasure of We the People. We the People are not a cash cow for every Tom, Dick, and Harriet looking for a handout … or wasn’t anyone paying attention this last election?

Death and Taxes

Over on the Tribune-Democrat's website, they have a survey running:

Do you think tax breaks for those making $250,000 a year or more should be extended?

with 52% of respondents selecting:

No, why should those who make a lot of money get breaks?

In 2008, 5% of Americans paid 59% of all Federal income taxes. 1% paid 38%. So says FoxNews this morning. Here's a graph from Tax Foundation:

Tax Burden

and another

Nonpayers

44% of American households paid no income tax at all. How many of those households do you think received those hefty little "earned income" refunds? We might ask how you can receive a "refund" when you paid nothing in to begin with, but that logic seems to escape the deep thinkers in our little part of America.

The point is, "wealthy" Americans are already paying a pretty good share of the money that the Democrats are busy re-distributing in the best Marxist fashion, but a significant part of our population still sees them as blood-sucking capitalist swine, oppressing the masses, yadda yadda yadda.

You see the shift in what we now consider the "American Dream" to be. You don't try to reach the top of the heap yourself; what you do is drag down those who have managed to do that. Granted, some people inherit their money, but most of the people La Junta's 52% consider unworthy of keeping the money they earned, did in fact earn it themselves ... other than the ones who seem to think We the Taxpayers owe them a chunk of those Urban Renewal funds, which puts them in the same mindset pool as the 52%, but that's another story we can work on.

So let's kill off small business; let's wander around mumbling platitudes to the effect that "we're really lucky we're economically deprived here; that's why the recession hasn't bothered us so much."

Off on another track ... whenever Leece and I go off on a road trip, as we recently did over the Thanksgiving holiday, we tend to look at other Smallvilles to see what they are doing that we are not, here in the Smile Hi City.

Of course, what we find is of no interest whatsoever to the people running our local show; experience has shown us that time and time again. According to them, what we should be doing is looking at other places, focusing on what they are doing that is screwed up, so we can feel better about what we're doing here ... whatever that is.

Meanwhile, over in Rocky Ford ... how many empty buildings have they filled in their downtown?

And how many have we?

Can we spell "ecomomick deportlement" or whatever they call it these days?

And then there's the dustup over the so-called "Death Tax", which is an opportunity for the Democrats to re-tax, re-re-tax, and generally steal from people who the Dems seem to think owe them a living.

Laugh of the month

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said, "It seems to me this Congress should not be adding substantially to the deficit."

Pomeroy has a warped sense of humor, it would seem.

Where has he been the last couple of years?

Angry Democrats could punt on tax cut deal

And then, angry voters could punt a few Democrats over the tax deal ... and the deficit ... and stupid comments like the one by Pomeroy.

A "dirty word"?

On the simmering tax cut deal:

Compromise is a dirty word in Washington. And with an epic "deal" on the table to extend existing tax rates while granting a host of Republican and Democratic holiday wishes, it is pretty much guaranteed nobody's happy in the rank-and-file.

Really? "Compromise" is a dirty word?

See how they've completely lost their way? "Compromise" is what makes this country's political system work. Otherwise, why not just set up as a dictatorship and go with that "tyranny of the majority"?

You'd think a constitutional scholar like Obama would understand that, even if his partymen in the Congress do not:

"A moral outrage," is how Sen.Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, described the trade-off, griping that tax cuts for the rich would be extended for two years while long-term unemployment aid would be extended for one year.

"Grossly unfair," declared Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

While the liberal wing of President Obama's party was howling over his decision to negotiate with Republicans -- likened to "terrorists" by one Democratic senator last week -- conservatives also were grumbling that the president won concessions for Democrats in the process.


And the Repubs are not much better, if indeed they are any better at all.

Rep.Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in an interview Monday on Sean Hannity's radio show shortly before the deal was announced, said that she's not sure Republicans would support a package that includes the aid extension alongside the tax cuts.

"That'd be a very hard vote to take," Bachmann said, urging lawmakers to divorce the two issues. "I think, again, we're back in a conundrum."


No, Michelle, we are not. Get it fixed, and get it fixed before 31 December, or you'll find the only "conundrum" We the People will have is in finding a replacement for you and your accomplices.

Bipartisan heat over Obama's tax cut compromise

12/6/10

Pearl Harbor Day

Wrestling and Basketball

We have some pretty good galleries up for this weekend's basketball and wrestling. Go to:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

and you will find the Swink Lions v. Centennial Bulldogs varsity and JV (we didn't make the C-Team game) under Basketball, and some Lions wrestling from the Rocky Ford Dual meet under ... Wrestling. Also some of the Rocky Ford Meloneers.

12/4/10

Christmas wish list

Lions v. Bulldogs

Swink played Pueblo Centennial Friday evening, on a short notice schedule change. All three boys' teams - C, JV, and Varsity - played. Here are some shots of the varsity game, with a JV gallery to follow:

Mike and Leece's Image Galleries

This morning we're off to the Rocky Ford Dual, where Swink's matmen are taking on the Meloneers. We'll have shots of that and the JV basketball game up later.

12/2/10

A Smile Hi Christmas Story

This one is true:

Christmas at Hardee's

The vet in this story really existed. He may still exist for all I know, but I never saw him again. But this is a true story, of Christmas in The Smile Hi City.

The vet in this story is the basis for our DinkyDau Billy character, a character that has developed over time, fleshed out with my own personal experiences, recollections, and 'interfaces' with other Vietnam-era vets and denizens of The Smile Hi City.

At the end of that Christmas story, you will find links to related posts. "Psalm 91" is one of my favorites, and it includes at the end my favorite rendition of my favorite church hymn, "Come thou, fount of every blessing."

Enjoy, and as Christmas draws near, may we here at Blogger Central dare to suggest that this is a good time to step back a bit, detach from the shopping frenzy and holiday histrionics, and consider instead all of our good fortunes, and the Source thereof, even if at the moment that might seem a stretch for some of us.

God bless us, every one!

This might also be a good time to think about a donation of some kind to Jay's Christmas Dinner, and perhaps some of the other good works about town.

12/1/10

School Daze

Last time, we observed that CASB – the Colorado Association of School Boards – is telling boards that We the People have “no right to speak” at school board meetings. There is no statutory cite that supports that view; CASB derives their opinion from the fact that none of the state statutes specifically include a provision that We the People must be allowed an opportunity to speak. Ergo, we may not speak. That’s some strange reasoning, especially when contrasted against those “American values,”  the state constitution, and the federal Constitution.

CASB is an interesting outfit. One of their major roles seems to be to serve as a focal point for bringing lobbyists and school district members and administrators together. School boards have their fingers wrapped firmly around millions upon millions of our tax dollars, and make all kinds of decisions how those millions will be spent, from school construction to text book purchases to labor/management negotiations with teachers’ unions. All of it is done in secret, behind closed doors, and you have no right to even observe the process, much less speak before these boards. That’s what they say. And, that’s what they do.

CASB is having its annual bash this week, up in Colorado Springs. “Vendors” are spending up to $10,000 each to set up booths, mingle with board members, schmooze ‘em, wine and dine ‘em. They’re having this bash at The Broadmoor. Yep. They are. At The Broadmoor. Remember how the state’s public education system was supposed to be going under like the Titanic? That’s why we consolidated school buildings, closed one, “re-structured” the manning chart, and came up with a whole new way of doing things. Because of the economy, because of state funding reductions, because … because … because. With most of us more or less on “fixed income” and hoping beyond hope that we don’t get pink slipped, our school boards are wining, dining, schmoozing, mingling, back-slapping and back-scratching with lobbyists, vendors, each other, and their lawyers, up at Colorado’s premier luxury resort hotel. Who’s payin’ for that? And why?  Well … they do have some interesting seminars. My favorite has to be the one on school lunches, “Serving healthy food in a sick economy.”  I wonder if they’ll be serving those hundred bucks a pound Wagyu steaks during their own lunch … no … wait … that’s an Obama thing. No matter; the Broadmoor kitchens put on a good feed, if the El Pomar bash was any clue. Of course, El Pomar is a privately-funded non-profit, not snuffling along on your tax dollars and mine.

The fee for the whole bash, Wednesday through Sunday, is $330. Rooms at the Broadmoor start at $150 and go up quickly from there, and them’s the special discounts for CASB and don't include "incidentals."
 
Ah well. Anyone up for selling frozen cookie dough and magazine subscriptions door-to-door to raise money for school functions? We have a freezer full of cookie dough from last year. Hey! Maybe we could use up all that cookie dough, go up to The Broadmoor, and have a bake sale in the lobby of the International Center?

And remember … if you’re wondering why all this has to be done at a place like The Broadmoor, in this economy, with all these semi-hysterics over school district budgeting … keep your questions to yourself. You have no right to go before the board and ask: “Why?” CASB says so.