As 2019 wraps up and Cortez looks ahead to 2020, it’s with fiscal responsibility in mind so that operations can resume normally.
And while finances may have overshadowed city meetings and conversations for the past several months, many other big projects also are on the horizon for Cortez, from an electric vehicle charging station to a new park on the city’s south side, to a land-use code update.
On the education front, Cortez schools have seen a whirlwind of events in the past year, including safety upgrades, mental health programming and a failed a mill levy campaign. As district officials look ahead to 2020, they continue to lobby state lawmakers and look for school funding.
Financials in the spotlightIn January, Cortez took on a new finance director to replace Kathi Moss, who stepped down after over three decades with the city. Cortez native Ben Burkett stepped into the position, returning to the area after about 18 years away.After a series of unfortunate events, the city’s finances are still in flux, leading to belt-tightening across departments. The first big issue involved a faulty software conversion in 2016 that led to inadequate financial documentation that kept Cortez from receiving audits for the past three years – meaning that certain state funds and grants, along with property taxes, have been withheld.While Cortez was in the process of putting its audits in order, it was discovered that a former city employee had allegedly embezzled from the city. Along with forensic auditors, the case is being investigated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which has told the city to halt its financial documentation cleanup, further delaying the audits. The extent of the embezzlement is uncertain.Planning and building rebootsAfter about five years in the works, a nearly 500-page land-use code update, which includes standards for landscaping, building aesthetics and zoning, is nearing completion. However, the document has prompted some pushback from community members and local business owners concerned about the regulations’ potential cost increase. The update was on the table for a second reading and possible approval in October, but because of the pushback, councilors voted to push the vote through the end of January to allow for continued feedback.Designs for the south side park project on the grounds of the old Montezuma-Cortez High School are nearing completion, although the starting date for construction remains unknown because of the city’s current financial problems.An electric vehicle charging station is headed to the Colorado Welcome Center on Main Street. City staff say the station is forward-thinking and could benefit the city economically, since electric vehicle users could stop in Cortez and spend money at businesses while their vehicle charges.The Bridge’s new facility opened at 735 N. Park St., right next to the Montezuma County Combined Courthouse. The new building will allow the group to not only shelter those experiencing homelessness, but also provide transitional housing to people working toward independent living.The city transferred a small parcel of land to Montezuma County to allow construction to begin on an extension of Seventh Street from Sligo Street to County Road 27. Initially, the county looked to collaborate with the city on the project, since the land for the extension was shared by the two entities. But since the city’s financial situation prevented it from immediately beginning construction on the project, City Council agreed to transfer the property to the county.Court newsAfter several years of litigation, the city of Cortez agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Shane French and his family over the 2014 arrest of French at his home. The original complaint alleges that Cortez police officers were called to the home for a mental health hold for French, but then entered without consent, tackled French and repeatedly tased him. French was arrested for an alleged assault connected to a nick on one officer’s stomach, but he was later cleared of all charges by a jury. The lawsuit by the French family sought compensatory damages.A judge reversed the Cortez City Council’s denial of marijuana retailer NuVue Pharma, meaning the shop will be granted another public hearing and chance to open its doors. The judge found the City Council’s rationale for the denial was not aligned with the city’s current marijuana code.City Councilor Mike Lavey was severely injured after his vehicle collided with an intoxicated driver’s vehicle in January, but at an emotional sentencing hearing for the driver in August, Lavey asked the driver to reflect on the consequences of his choices and make a life change. The driver, Logan Vigil, was sentenced to 20 days in jail, along with treatment and therapy, a defensive driving course, 80 hours of public service, court fees and an apology letter to Lavey.A citation against Lavey for turning left into oncoming traffic also had been considered, acting Cortez Police Chief Andy Brock said during the crash investigation.
EducationAfter two middle school students took their own lives in January, mental health and suicide prevention became a prominent topic in Cortez, and schools and local nonprofits collaborated to support students through programs such as Sources of Strength.Safety was another big topic for Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, with the district implementing a number of upgrades throughout its schools, including the RAPTOR system, which performs a sort of background check on campus visitors.This November, voters again failed to pass a proposed mill levy override for the district. The property tax increase would have gone toward teacher salaries in an effort to remain competitive with neighboring school districts, and be able to attract and retain quality teachers, according to Re-1. After Ballot Measure 4A didn’t pass, Superintendent Lori Haukeness again said the district would take a hard look at the budget in coming months.Ute Mountain Ute educators plan to open a charter school in Towaoc that would incorporate language and culture into its curriculum, and have a less traditional style of teaching, with an emphasis on group learning. They hope to open their doors in fall 2021.Montezuma-Cortez High School cracked the Top 100 list for the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of Colorado’s best public high schools, coming in at No.100.Police Chief Roy Lane diesClosing out 2019, longtime Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane died at the age of 75, after undergoing treatment for a chronic illness, according to city officials. He served as Cortez police chief for 39 years and was known for supporting The Bridge shelter, Renew Inc., and other community and fundraising efforts. Prior to his death, City Council voted to rename the municipal courtroom the Roy Lane Courtroom in his honor.[email protected]