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Archuleta County cools talk of leaving San Juan Basin Public Health

Commissioners still want task force to look into forming own district
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said the health district is asking for Archuleta County to contribute to the COVID-19 response as La Plata County has done.

Archuleta County commissioners tamped down rhetoric Tuesday about leaving San Juan Basin Public Health, but said the county will continue to form a task force to look into whether it should start its own health district.

“A lot of people are getting overexcited and overreacting about us looking to form a task force,” said Archuleta County Commissioner Ronnie Maez. “But I know there’s a pandemic going on, and it would be a stupid move to separate from San Juan Basin Public Health right now.”

In recent weeks, two of three Archuleta County commissioners – Maez and Alvin Schaaf – have expressed interest in dropping out of SJBPH, casting uncertainty on the future of the health district.

SJBPH serves both Archuleta and La Plata counties. If Archuleta County left, it would likely force La Plata County to have to form its own health district.

A joint meeting Tuesday morning brought both counties and the health district together to talk about the future of SJBPH, and whether Archuleta County would commit to funding for the COVID-19 response as La Plata County has done.

Maez said all he wants at this point is for Archuleta County to look into whether it could provide better services to its residents with a county-formed health district. He had no set timeline for when that process might conclude.

“Everyone is assuming we’re separating, but we haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “All we’re doing is looking into it. ... I have no desire to make a decision at this time. I don’t think it’d be smart.”

Schaaf said little at Tuesday’s meeting other than to express he wants to see if a county-formed health district can “do better for our citizens.”

“Can we get more service here locally so our residents don’t have to travel to La Plata County?” Schaaf said.

SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon said nearly all services available in La Plata County are also available in Archuleta County, so residents shouldn’t have to cross the county line.

Regardless, in recent weeks, Archuleta County commissioners have taken issue with some of SJBPH’s rulemaking surrounding the COVID-19 response. New septic regulations adopted in 2018 have also been a continual issue raised by the county.

Archuleta County, with a population of about 14,000 people, contributes about $130,000 a year, and La Plata County, with a population of about 56,000 people, contributes around $545,000 a year to SJBPH – about an 80-20 split.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, La Plata County has committed an additional $600,000 in relief funds to the health district for the year. Archuleta County, to date, has not provided any additional funding.

Since March 1, SJBPH has spent about $150,000 a month on the coronavirus response.

Federal and state funding has helped, Jollon said, and the health district has made sweeping budget cuts: About $1.1 million was reallocated within the district’s budget at the expense of staff and health service programs.

But local dollars are still needed, Jollon said, and SJBPH is asking for $150,000 that was awarded to Archuleta County by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs through the CARES Act.

Maez said he would be supportive of funding SJBPH after seeing an itemized list of what the money would be spent on. Schaaf did not voice an opinion.

Archuleta County Commissioner Steve Wadley, who has been opposed to the idea of leaving SJBPH, said he has no objection allocating the county’s CARES Act funding to the health district.

“Why should La Plata County pay for Archuleta County?” Wadley said. “I don’t see any way that Archuleta County can afford to (form its own district). We can barely afford this. When the dust settles, it’s a conversation, but I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.”

As of Tuesday, La Plata County had 229 residents and 22 nonresidents test positive for COVID-19, and Archuleta County had 42 residents and 34 nonresidents test positive – about a 77-23 split.

Jollon said SJBPH investigates 100% of positive cases.

Maez said after reviewing SJBPH’s itemized list on what it spends on the coronavirus response, commissioners will likely go through the formal process to send funding to the health department.


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