2015 in Review: Local Highlights from Sept – Dec

Traditional Flag Retirement Ceremony

Traditional Flag Retirement Ceremony

A Fitting Tribute

The 3rd Annual Tri-State 9/11 Tribute in Lamar had several highlights Saturday, September 12, ranging from the performing bands and float entries that extended from West Beech Street to South 9th Street and from there into the Prowers County Fairgrounds for the day. Red, white and blue were the predominant colors of the parade entrants that ranged from a mounted honor guard, to performing bands from Lamar Middle and High schools, as well as numerous floats honoring local first responders, members of the Armed Forces and those in national service.

2015 Tribute Grand Marshall Clyde Kennedy

2015 Tribute Grand Marshall Clyde Kennedy

This year’s Grand Marshall was 96 year old Clyde Kennedy, who sat in the fairground stands during the ceremony and had his service record recounted by Prowers County Sheriff Sam Zordel. “A Granada High School graduate in 1936, Clyde studied accounting and with his degree was drafted into the Army in 1942.  Mr. Kennedy received numerous citations for his administrative duties in the European conflict and helped prepare his Division for the invasion of Europe when they were transferred overseas in February of 1944.”


Hickenlooper Community Forum Covers Rural Business Growth, Health, Marijuana

Governor Hickenlooper, accompanied by several state cabinet members, took questions from Lamar residents and provided a general overview of Colorado issues during a Town Forum at the Lamar Community Building on September 24.

Governor Hickenlooper

Governor Hickenlooper

“Colorado is ranked as a state in the top level of several categories across the country,” the governor remarked in his opening address. He stated that people are still moving into the state and the economy is continuing to grow, but acknowledged that it will still be a “heavy lift” for economic development in rural areas of the state. “Government can’t be the sole instrument for creating jobs,” he told the gathering.

The governor acknowledged the lack of funding for improvements to state roadways, particularly Highway 287 and the on-going Ports to Plains project. He said the 2016 budget is being prepared, but didn’t hold out much hope for any funding for highway projects in rural parts of the state.  On another transportation matter, Hickenlooper said $100M has been committed to developing a biking system throughout the state, but wants to see more money put into rural areas.

Stephanie Spitz, Manager at Lamar Animal Shelter

Stephanie Spitz was hired by the City of Lamar as the manager of the Lamar Animal Shelter on CR EE.5, just south of the Fairmount Cemetery. From that new position she has developed some fresh ideas to keep the dog population low at the shelter and help reunite lost pets with families or find a new home for abandoned dogs.  Spitz started a facebook site, Lamar Shelter, which posts photographs of any new dogs that come to the shelter.  She says this has helped local residents track down a missing pet instead of having to drive up and down local streets searching for their dog.

Shanice Martinez and Stephanie Spitz

Shanice Martinez and Stephanie Spitz

Lamar City Council Reviews Job Description for URA Manager

The Lamar City Council held a work session prior to its regular Monday night meeting on September 28th, covering needed changes for the Community Development and Urban Renewal Manager positions left vacant by the recent departure of Shawna Hodge.

LPI Board Members at Annual Meeting

LPI Board Members at Annual Meeting

City Administrator, John Sutherland, gave the council a one page outline covering the job description. Sutherland said of the two year old document, “It looks heavier on economic development than I would have liked.  It doesn’t focus on Main Street which was semi-intentional, but Main Street’s pretty important.  So we should have some mention of Main Street relating to the executive director.”  It’s not a complete description as Hodge’s duties which were expanded to cover Urban Renewal within the past year.  Prior to that, she worked as the executive director of Lamar Partnership Incorporated and as the Main Street Coordinator, but some of her functions began to overlap into the area of Urban Redevelopment.  The Urban Renewal Authority didn’t have a specific manager, although its membership was the Lamar City Council, working with the City Administrator.  In early December Sutherland said a candidate has given a verbal consent for the position and was expected to begin their duties in early January.

Fireworks Fundraisers Planned for Holly

Holly Trustees

Holly Trustees

The Holly Rural Fire Department began raising funds to offer a July 4th fireworks display next year if the goal was met for the holiday project. Jake Holdren of the Holly Rural Fire Department addressed the town Trustees during their September meeting, outlining some of the needs related to the project.  “All of the town’s clubs are on board with us,” Holdren said, adding, “We want to be able to do this up big for the first year, to get some activity generated so we can continue to have a display in the following years.”  He estimated it would take about $3,000 for a show excluding some of the start-up costs such as $300 for a permit and to certify the volunteers who would handle the fireworks. Holdren explained that the money needs to be paid out months before the July event, so the fundraising activities will be underway prior to that, during the Gateway Fair and through the rest of the year until their goals are met.


Semi Parking Prohibition Coming Closer

snow bound trucks

Legally Parked Semi’s

Owners of semi trucks who park their vehicles on city streets for a lengthy time have had a grace period of several months to make arrangements to park their vehicles elsewhere besides city streets before the Lamar Police Department starts to issue tickets. This past spring, Police Chief Kyle Miller read a revised ordinance about the parking regulations for the Lamar City Council before it was approved on first reading.  The concern is that the vehicles, weighing much more than ordinary cars or pickup trucks, damage the streets when they’re constantly parked in the same area for lengths of time.  Semis and other large vehicles in excess of 20,000 lbs. can damage city streets, especially when they’re parked overnight and especially if it’s on a consistent basis.  Chief Miller added that his officers won’t just start writing tickets, but will at least give a warning, mostly written, to any violators before they are ticketed and fined.


Enthusiastic Crowd for Paint the Plains Patriot Run

Approximately 300 runners/walkers turned out at Willow Creek Park on Saturday, September 12, to take part in the first annual Paint the Plains for Patriotism Fun Run and Walk. “It’s amazing what can develop from just a simple conversation,” exclaimed co-organizer, Shane Dashner at the swimming pool parking lot where he was taking in last minute entries.

A cloud of color starts the race.

A cloud of color starts the race.

The Run, sponsored by the Colorado National Guard, will help benefit the Lamar HOPE Center, headquartered at the former Lincoln School on North 10th Street. Dashner and co-organizer, Kendra Cope, told the HOPE Coalition members in late August that around 76 people had signed up for the Run and they were hoping for about 35 more.  Dashner said this past Saturday that he had ordered around 250 tee shirts for the participants and they would not have enough for everyone involved.  The early entry fee of $10, coupled with the later $15 fee would be put to use for activities at the HOPE Center.


Sod Laid on Final Two Sports Plex Fields

The remaining two ball fields at the Lamar Sports Plex received their final major installations in late September with light poles and sod. The light pole foundations were put in for fields three and four and in just the past two weeks, the light poles were erected and over the past two days, sod was installed on the softball fields along with the needed irrigation system.  Sod was also placed along the walkway leading into all four fields.

Sports Complex May 2015 (5)

Rick Akers, Lamar Parks and Recreation Director, said last summer the sod will have all fall to take root to be ready for next spring and the city wouldn’t have to use as much water on the fields with this schedule. Timberline Landscaping was the low bidder for the sod project earlier this summer at $109,614. Some additional finish work will be needed for the dugouts and backstops.  GoCO approved a grant in early July for the Lamar project.

The Sportplex is already seven years old, begun in 2008 to host the August 2009 Cal Ripken Boys World Series for 10 year olds on the first field. The city was also selected the following year to host the Babe Ruth 16 Year Old Softball Fast Pitch World Series for the second field. Various state and local organizations helped fund the early projects, along with several commercial donations.  The two older fields have seen lots of game time over the past several years from Cal Ripken Tournaments to regional softball tournaments including Babe Ruth competition and the 24th annual Windmill Men’s Softball Classic from this past summer.


Lamar VFW Post Closed

The struggle to keep local VFW Post on South Memorial Drive concluded with life members being notified by mail that the charter is being ended. The letter, from Patrick Botbyl, Director of Member Dues Processing states that life members have the option of transferring either to a local post of their choice or to opt for the at-large program under a different post.  The letter states in part that the charter of the St. George S. Creaghe Post 3621 was canceled as of September 29, 2015.

Lamar VFW Post

Lamar VFW Post

Earlier this summer the state organization literally closed and locked the VFW on South Memorial Drive, taking the keys to the building and issuing a letter that a lack of proper reporting of activity summaries and delinquent taxes promoted the closing at the state level. Local members convened on their own and began the appeals process before the August 1 deadline to revamp their membership and reporting policies for reconsideration on the closing announcement.

An email inquiry on September 25th from The Prowers Journal to the VFW State Commander, Peter Buchanan, regarding what next steps may occur in the appeals process was met with a basic reply stating, “This is an internal matter within the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization.”, and there would be no other response to outside questions.



Davidson Becomes District Judge

Gov. John Hickenlooper on October 3rd, announced the appointment of Michael Davidson as district court judge for the 15th Judicial District, which includes Baca, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Prowers counties.

Judges Tallman, Davidson, Brinkley

Judges Tallman, Davidson, Brinkley

Davidson will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of the Honorable P. Douglas Tallman, effective Oct. 3, 2015.

Davidson is an associate attorney at Scranton Specht & Associates, P.C. Davidson’s practice focuses primarily on family law, criminal defense, and civil litigation. Before joining Scranton Specht & Associates, Davidson served as the District Attorney for the 15th Judicial District; and as a Deputy District Attorney in the 15th Judicial District.


City Resolution Will Divert Funds from PCDI

A resolution passed by the Lamar City Council during their October 26th meeting called for funds normally earmarked for Prowers County Development Incorporated in the 2016 city budget, to be redirected for community development to be used in conjunction with the city’s Main Street Program. The City of Lamar and Prowers County have shared the costs of funding PCDI for several years, each with a $50,000 contribution.  The council, with one nay vote from Anne Marie Crampton, approved the resolution to divert funding for next year.

Lamar City Council

Lamar City Council

City Administrator, John Sutherland, said the discussion about funding is not new, “We’ve had this same discussion for each of the three years I’ve been here and I know it’s been on-going longer than that. The council is unhappy with the lack of results from the city’s annual investment.  We’ve reached the point where we feel more could be done if we kept that funding right here.”  He added that individually, the council would welcome an opportunity to participate in a county-wide effort if there was some economic development gain.  An economic development program was presented to the council which was asked to utilize some funding for a partnership with the county and although no solid response was given at the time, the council appeared receptive to making a limited funding donation for a PUMA study.


Inspire Award Caps Healthy Places Visit, Activity Sites Considered

Members of the Colorado Health Foundation, PUMA and Healthy Places visited Lamar for three days in what was styled as a Fall Fling in late October and a tour of the city.   The goal of the visit was to view some of the positive changes and initial plans from the Healthy Places group to create areas throughout the City of Lamar where youngsters and adults of all ages could enjoy some outdoor activities which were not available to them earlier.

Inspire Announcement Held at Bicentennial Park

Inspire Announcement Held at Bicentennial Park

The Inspire Initiative is a five year strategy aimed at inspiring communities to make use of local outdoor activities and benefit from the exercise it can provide. The Initiative wants to curtail what appears to be a growing disconnect between youth and the outdoors and a growing level of obesity in the state’s youth, particularly in southeast Colorado where it’s the highest.  Lamar will have ten months to use the $100,000 grant to submit applications with specific requests for grant funding to put their projects into use.  These grants will range between $1 million and $5 million per pilot community and the presentations will be made in October 2016.

The three day visit concluded on Thursday morning as local residents had an opportunity to voice their concerns or ideas for creating a skateboard park in an area of Lamar; Bicentennial Park, the ballfield Sportsplex, Willow Creek Park or the horseshoe pits east of the Enchanted Forest. PUMA, Progressive Urban Management Associates representatives, conducted the 45 minute interview sessions to get an idea of the local pros and cons for a park in each of the locations.


Fantasy Tree Gala Hosts Holiday Turnout

The annual Fantasy Tree Gala was held Saturday, November 21st, at the Lamar Elks Lodge, raising funds to help support the activities of the Domestic Safety Resource Center for southeast Colorado. Each year, just prior to Thanksgiving, committee members raise funds through the auction of decorated, donated Christmas trees and assorted wreaths, as well as a live and silent auction featuring merchandise from local retailers and service providers.  Since their inception in 1986, the Domestic Safety Resource Center has provided domestic violence support and resources to families and individuals living in Baca, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Prowers Counties.

Fantasy Tree 2015 (6)

The catered event featured performances from Leah Austin’s dance group, All the Right Moves Dance Studio in Lamar, a traditional visit from Santa Claus for young and old and voting on the People’s Choice awards for best decorated Christmas tree and wreath. The evening was highlighted by live music from the Jeffrey Alan Band.


PCDI Board Discusses 2016 Funding, Objectives

PCDI Interim Executive Director George Gotto, who stepped down from the position, thanked the board for their cooperation and assistance during his tenure when he stepped in several months after the resignation of Lance Benninghoff, the former PCDI director.

PCDI Board Discusses PUMA Objectives

PCDI Board Discusses PUMA Objectives

The City of Lamar made its last payment of $12,500 to PCD this November, fulfilling its 2015 commitment of $50,000 to help support the county’s economic development organization.   Prowers County has budgeted its $50,000 contribution to the organization for 2016, but additional funding will have to come from other sources.  The 2016 PCDI budget reflects the decrease comparing the 2015 income of $116,750 to next year’s $63,860.  Carla Scranton, PCDI Business Manager, will continue to maintain the office.  Gotto said the new budget was on a break even basis and there is no line item for next year for an executive director salary.  He noted there was a minor amount of income from surrounding communities; Wiley, Holly and Granada.  Gotto stated, “Under this plan, PCDI will remain a viable organization and will be able to help increase economic development throughout the county.”  The board approved the budget, contingent on future funding.

Rick Robbins, PCDI President, referenced a recent meeting with the county regarding a future direction for the organization which was detailed by Ron Cook, County Commissioner Chairman. He outlined a plan to hire PUMA, Progressive Urban Management Associates.  PUMA, in association with ULI, Urban Land Institute, conducted a study of Lamar several years ago which provided a springboard for the Healthy Places group and a three year, $1M grant to finance a health oriented study of the Lamar community.


Michael Martin Murphey Sings from Experience

Noted country-western artist Michael Martin Murphey entertained before a packed house at the annual Farm-City Banquet, hosted by the Lamar Chamber of Commerce Saturday, November 14th. Murphey’s career has shown a versatility that has ranged from singing and composing for various musical formats including country-western, cowboy and bluegrass styles.  He has garnered top honors in each for over 40 years.

Farm City Banquet 2015 (5)

Decked out in his traditional buckskin and fringe jacket, Murphey performed as a solo act, singing several of his past hit songs, concluding the evening with what has become his signature selection, “Wildfire”. Following his performance, the entertainer was available for an autograph session, any number of ‘selfies’ with the audience and an opportunity to promote and sell cd’s of his collection of hit songs from over the decades.  Bob Delancey, owner of KVAY radio in Lamar, hosted the event and prior to Murphey’s performance, the beef carcass awards were presented with first place going to Amber Comer whose beef was purchased by Davis Farms.


Prowers Gas Gathering Requests Contract Review from LUB

Art Pansze, a partner and manager of Prowers Gas Gathering, requested a review of the contract his company has with the Lamar Utilities Board during their November 10th meeting. Citing the lower price for natural gas prices over the past four years and the cost of drilling new wells, Pansze requested consideration for the $120,000 paid by his company to Lamar Light and Power for the use of the company’s pipeline route in southeast Colorado.  He also requested a return to the original three year agreement between his operation and the board instead of the current year-to-year contract.

Art Pansze of Prowers Gas Gathering

Art Pansze of Prowers Gas Gathering

Pansze asked the board to reconsider the $120,000 minimum payment and to replace the year to year renewal with the original three year agreement. “We don’t want to get to the point where we shut down the wells because with their age, they may not come back.  Under the current circumstances we may have to terminate the operation as we can’t keep losing money.”  He said that Atmos, the local gas supplier, has other sources they can call on to maintain local gas generation to area customers.  The board took no action at the meeting, but told Pansze they would review the finances of Prowers Gas Gathering and discuss the impact any financial changes would make on their operation.

New Water Rates Discussed by Lamar Council

The City of Lamar has not raised municipal water rates since 2009, but is considering an increase in light of the funds that have been spent over the past several years upgrading the city’s water delivery infrastructure. This includes work done on water, wastewater and storm-water facilities.  The price tag for debt on the projects is $7.5M, as well as an additional $3.8M for well-field pipeline and improvements and a near total replacement of all the city’s water meters.  The City of Lamar also plans to spend $1.8M on upgrades on the pipelines under Main Street next year, when CDOT begins to rebuild Main Street through the town.  Other well field improvements are being scheduled, along with replacing the storm-water lift station at the Lamar Canal and Main Street, replacing fire hydrants as needed and the annual valve replacements in the city’s water distribution system.  The city council discussed an equitable means of raising water rates to pay off the debt during a work session held prior to the council meeting on November 23rd.

Operating expenses have actually declined over the past several years, while water quality has improved due to the construction projects. The tight budget is attributable to bond and loan payments of $621,506 for next year as well as interest on the loans for a total of $909,415.  City Administrator, John Sutherland, discussed several options for rate increases with the council based on usage of 500 cubic feet of water per month.  The current rate is $0.0144 per cubic foot and all residents are assessed a monthly base charge of $11.05 and a facility investment fee of $6.50 per month.  The concept of a sliding scale of fee increases, based on water usage, appeared to be the best option and the council will hold another work session to approximate the revenues generated from various proposed fee levels.  They will also work out a similar rate increase for commercial customers.

Lamar has one of the lowest rate fee scales among several comparable cities for population. Lamar is charging a basic fee of 29.60 per month on a ¾ inch meter based on $0.02 per cubic foot which translates to 3,740 gallons for 500 cubic feet as a base charge.  By comparison, Cortez charges $36.10, La Junta users pay $49.82, Craig is at $43.70 and Sterling pays $67.43.

On a separate utility matter, the city council was informed that city auditors have recommended that uncollectible accounts be written off to the uncollectible reserve account. As of this month, Lamar Light and Power has $49,997.21 in delinquent accounts and they are capped at $50,000 for each year; the Water Department lists $19,412.15 and the Sanitation Department has $11,237.70 for a total of $80,647.06.  Delinquent accounts have almost tripled from 2013 to 2014 for the Water and Sewer Fund and have doubled in that same period for the Sanitation Fund.

Lamar Area Hospice Recognizes the Joy of Giving

“We have the most amazing fund raising committee and it really makes a difference, it really does.” That was a comment from Deb Pelley, Executive Director of Lamar Area Hospice, as she was presented with a record $31,000 check from the Lamar Hospice Committee this past Thursday evening, December 17th.  It was a fitting gift just several days prior to Christmas, and as Pelley explained, an apt example of the generosity of the residents in the community.

Hospice Donation 31K

The funds were raised through two main events held by the committee each year, the Angels Open Golf Tournament and the August dinner/dance and auction held in Lamar. Committee member, Denise Carder mentioned another event which may become an annual occasion.  “This past February the Buzzard’s Roost started a Pirate’s themed party which was a real success and the committee went forward with it and we raised $9,000.”  She said plans are already underway for February 2016 for another one.


Two Shot Goose Hunt Honors Bob Yates, Brings in New Hunt Teams

The 49th Annual Two Shot Goose Hunt was an event this year which was noted for a time of remembrance and reflection over the passing of Robert ‘Spanky’ Yates, one of the driving forces behind the Hunt for numerous years, just days prior to the beginning of annual event held in Lamar. He and his wife, Rose Ann Yates acted as emissaries for Lamar and southeast Colorado from their positions of Co-chairs of the hunt which attracts hunters from Colorado and neighboring states for the four day event which is held the first weekend of December.


A Friday evening banquet highlighted the annual hunt which featured the awards presented to the top three teams and their guides. This year, first place went to Table Rock Land Services, guided by Tristan Travis, second place went to the Work Zone team, guided by Kirk Stegman and Cazadores de Paloma finished in third place with Jeff Travis as their guide.


GoCO Inspire Grant Will be an Involved Process

Next year, Lamar could receive a GoCO grant in the neighborhood of $5M, earmarked mostly for outdoor activity projects for local youth. Lamar has already qualified for the Inspire Initiative planning grant of $100,000 needed to formulate a comprehensive application to the state by next August.  The implementation plan will include places, programs and pathways within the community as well as a budget supporting those plans.  That application is expected to involve several departments from the City of Lamar as well as representatives from the Healthy Places Initiative.  Healthy Places has committed $200,000 towards the estimated $500,000 matching grant that would accompany the bulk of the Inspire Initiative funding.

Lamar Parks and Recreation Director, Rick Akers, told the council during a recent work session, that there will be a lot of work needed from various departments between now and the submission deadline. He also felt that the balance of the matching grant could be apportioned at $70,000 for each of the next three years from the city’s Conservation Trust Fund as well as from other groups that would benefit from the grant.

Prioritizing for discussion, some of the current projects in the master plan, was suggested by councilman Kirk Crespin, such as ‘Wheels Park’ or the proposed skateboard park recommended for either Bi-Centennial Park, Willow Creek Park or the horseshoe pits east of the Enchanted Forest. That opened a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of each of the three areas by the council, an indication that a lot of ideas will be forthcoming over the next several months.

By Russ Baldwin


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