The topic of running a county in a time of falling oil and gas property taxes dominated discussions Tuesday night at a La Plata County Commissioners "on the road" meeting at the Vallecito Community Center.
About 30 people attended the meeting, along with 10 commissioners and county staff members.
A few attendees asked the commissioners to keep the La Plata County clerk's office annex open in Bayfield. The office is slated to close at the end of 2017.
"We have to cut significant services we traditionally have provided," said Julie Westendorff, the commission chairwoman. "It's not something we want to do."
Taxpayers have suggested "cutting somewhere else," she said. "We're cutting everywhere else."
County tax revenues have fallen from $29 million in 2009 to $15 million this year, County Manager Joanne Spina said.
A few residents in neighborhoods on County Road 500 complained about a U.S. Forest Service campground that grew from 40 spaces to 80 with what they said was no public notice or studies of impacts on the neighborhood. Others said the forest service needs to mitigate its land that borders private property in the area.
Commissioner Brad Blake said the county meets quarterly with forest service staff and could pass on the neighbors' concerns about the campground.
The agency is conducting a vegetation management plan, which has to be in place before it can mitigate federal land, said Bruce Evans, the chief of Upper Pine Fire District.
Evans also pointed out the changing nature of the Vallecito area.
"You're at near-suburban density," he said of the homes in the mountains. Studying data and density in the area led the district to open a new fire station on the north end of the lake.
While some questioned the county's revision of its Land Use Code during a time of tight budgets, commissioners said the changes are necessary to bring more businesses to the area.
Some residents said Vallecito's rural character is changing, with more crime taking place.
Sheriff Sean Smith gave some reports to the audience, explaining that the Sheriff's Office typically has five deputies on patrol in the county at any given time, and they cover a 1,700-square-mile area.
One resident said he reported his neighbor's door was opened and didn't get a call back, while another said he reported a break-in in progress, and five deputies showed up in 25 minutes. Smith said all calls should receive a response, but an active crime will take precedence over other calls.
Smith said the Vallecito area accounts for about 2 to 3 percent of calls in the county, and his office has received 643 calls from the area so far this year. Last year, there were 1,156 calls made from Vallecito out of 37,731 total in the county.
While his department is similar in size to the Durango Police Department, he has a budget of $6.8 million, compared to $7.1 million in Durango. His deputies are paid less than both DPD officers and most other counties of similar size and population.
"We're doing what we can with the money we have," he said. "We're trying to do more with less."
A few residents were sympathetic with the county officials. Marilyn McCord said she and her husband paid more county property taxes on their land in Montana in the 1970s than they pay in Vallecito today.