Montezuma County commissioners delayed naming The Journal as the newspaper to publish required public notices Monday, and instructed county attorney John Baxter to study their options.
State statutes and the Montezuma County code require notices be published in an established local newspaper that is printed at least weekly. The Journal is the only newspaper that qualifies in the county.
Legal public notices are wide-ranging, and include announcements of public hearings, meetings and proposed projects, notice of new policies, budgets, and election information, plus information on mill levies, licenses, taxes, bids for commercial services, and foreclosures. Maximum rates are set by state statute.
During their regular meeting Monday, commissioners instructed Baxter to look into whether they can use another venue for publishing public notices such as KSJD radio, the Internet or their own website.
“We do not want to decrease accessibility,” Baxter said.
Commissioners Larry Don Suckla and Keenan Ertel expressed concerns about the costs of publishing public notices in The Journal. Commissioner James Lambert noted that not everybody subscribes to the newspaper.
Suckla said the commissioners understand the legal requirement to publish the notices, but they are waiting on legal advice to see if there are alternatives to the newspaper as a way to save money.
“We feel the rate is too high, and the prices have gone up,” Suckla said. “We’re trying to build our reserves for projects like the Mesa Verde trail, broadband and solar.”
However, according to Colorado laws, public notices, often called “legals,” must be published in an established local newspaper that qualifies under the statutes. The Journal qualifies as a “legal newspaper” because it is an established county-wide newspaper that comes out at least weekly.
KSJD and The Four Corners Free Press don’t qualify under the requirements set by the state of Colorado or by Montezuma County itself.
Steve Zansberg, a Denver-based media law attorney who represents the Colorado Press Association and The Journal, said the county cannot lawfully stop publishing public notices in The Journal.
“Section 111 of article 25 of the County Code unambiguously requires all counties to publish certain information in a ‘legal newspaper’ in that county,” Zansberg said.
Odette Zenizo, a classified advertising representative for The Journal, handles the public notices.
She said the public legal notice rate charged for the county is 39 cents per line, and 28 cents per line for subsequent run.
“The public legal notice rate is state-mandated, with a maximum of 44 cents per line,” Zenizo said. The maximum for a subsequent line is 32 cents.
Other rates have increased, but some are negotiable.
According to the Colorado Press Association, “Public notices have been and remain the most effective in newspapers. Newspapers are still the most accessible medium, especially in the far-reaching corners of Colorado where many families are still without Internet access.”
A law that went into effect in 2015, also requires county legal notices to be uploaded to PublicNoticeColorado.com
Gayla Pock, who attended the Monday meeting, urged the commissioners to continue publishing the public notices in The Journal.
“Public notices keep us informed so taxpayers know what is going on,” she said. “Not everybody has access to the Internet.”