The city of Cortez has joined other governmental entities in declaring a state of emergency, which will allow the city to access additional state and federal funds.
City Council unanimously approved the declaration at a special meeting Wednesday night, at which they also canceled next Tuesday night’s regular council meeting and committee meetings through April 20.
The declaration will allow Cortez to apply for extra state funds and circumvent some parts of the City Charter, like requirements that meetings be held face to face or certain publication procedures be followed – which might not keep pace with the speed of the emergency.
The municipal election, however, will continue as scheduled. Ballots were sent out this week, the election is expected to happen April 7, and City Hall will remain open for ballot collection.
“We’re moving forward just like we were,” said City Clerk Linda Smith. “Nothing has changed, I will be here every single day.” She’s still aiming to receive 1,500 ballots by election day.
Both the state of Colorado and Montezuma County also have declared a state of emergency. Montezuma County Commissioner Jim Candelaria and County Administrator Shak Powers attended the city’s special meeting and shared how the county is handling the situation.
Powers said that county departments are staying operational, although many employees are working remotely. The landfill is functioning normally, although the virus will affect recycling operations.
“During a pandemic, one of the worst things that could happen would be to have trash piling up in the streets,” Powers said.
But since recycling is sorted by hand at the landfill, recycling operations are being suspended to protect staff from potential virus contamination that might be spread through recyclable materials.
The council also canceled next week’s regular Tuesday meeting, which featured the quasi-judicial hearing for the NuVue Pharma marijuana shop. Staff worried that City Hall’s chambers are not yet equipped to handle the hearing remotely, since it must operate under very specific procedures, as per regulations set by a local judge in November.
“Canceling this next meeting would give us time to maybe find the technology, get it in place, as the procedures in the emergency ordinance appear to allow us to do,” said City Attorney Mike Green. “We already went through a year and a half on this hearing, and if we’re going to do it again, I want an extremely good record so that a district court judge – if one has to look at it – doesn’t have to guess what was said in gaps because we missed something.”
Council unanimously approved the cancellation “until further notice.”
Committee meetings also were canceled, although the city might look into remote options for the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has key issues on its agenda in coming weeks.
Cortez City Manager John Dougherty also talked about freezing some city funds and limiting expenses to essential items such as infrastructure. He also discussed the current state of affairs in the city – temporary city employees have been let go, he said, and part-time employees are being put to work on tasks that don’t violate the state order limiting mass congregation.
Councilors asked to be able to review the frozen funds and for staff to be cognizant of part-time employees’ schedules, so as not to jeopardize other jobs they may have.
All public meetings at City Hall have been canceled for the next 30 days, Dougherty said, although there is limited public access.
Because of the governor’s order banning gatherings of 10 or more people, the League of Women Voters has canceled its City Council candidates forum, scheduled to happen Thursday night.
However, the forum organizers will be sending candidates the league’s questions. Candidates’ responses will be published in The Journal next week.