Today is January 11, 2019, day 21 of the United States Government shutdown. The partial shutdown is affecting approximately 800,000 federal employees. For these federal workers today should also be payday; only for these workers, there won’t be a paycheck.
Per the Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages and the Colorado Demography Office, in 2017 the Federal Government employed 70 federal workers in Chaffee County, and 53,504 workers in the State of Colorado.
Many of the federal employees in Chaffee County are employed by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service. These government entities are tasked with protecting and managing the national wilderness areas, forests, and monuments including the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness; Browns Canyon National Monument; Collegiate Peaks Wilderness; and the San Isabel National Forest.
These entities have furloughed all non-essential personnel. As a result, the National Wildlife Areas and Forests in Chaffee County, along with the federal buildings, are not being maintained at this time. Much of this work is done by federal contract workers, who will never recoup lost wages. Trash receptacles in parks and wildlife areas, snow removal, trail maintenance, and visitor services are shut down until federal funding is restored.
Federal informational websites are not being updated. According to the USDA Website, “Recreation sites across the U.S. National Forest System, unless they are operated by external parties under a recreational special use permit, will be closed. While technically closed, many will still be physically accessible to visitors at their own risk, but without staffing at ranger stations and without access to facilities such as public restrooms.”
Regarding visitor services and maintenance, The Bureau of Land Management’s contingency plan for government shutdowns reads, “Visitor services including trash collection and toilet cleaning will be suspended. Any emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property will be made on a site-specific basis and are subject to a review of available funds. BLM land will remain accessible to the public and the BLM will post signs, as appropriate, to indicate that no maintenance or other services will be provided.”
With the closing of the BLM and the USFS, local businesses dependent on recreation permits from these entities may feel more pressure should the shutdown continue.
Wilderness Aware Rafting has a location in Buena Vista and depends on Federal Permits to operate on portions of the Arkansas River.
“They [permit applications] are not due for submission until March,” said Joe Greiner, owner and operator of Wilderness Aware Rafting. “I suppose, should the shutdown last that long, it could potentially raise in issue [for us]”
Not only are the National Forests and Monuments processes and staffing interrupted by the shutdown, but individuals around the county are experiencing major headaches due to the closing of other federal agencies.
Dennis Ridley, A Chaffee County resident, recently closed his business, and has a party wanting to purchase his inventory and equipment. The party, however, needs a Small Business Loan to make the purchase. That process has come to a screeching halt as the United States Small Business Administration has discontinued SBL financing until Federal Funding is restored.
“Suffice to say, we, like the rest of America, believe that the shutdown is totally nonsense.” Ridley commented through an email with Ark Valley Voice.
The prolonged sale process is costing Ridley money by the day, and will continue to until the SBA is opened.
Read McCulloch of Chaffee Housing Trust, said he has several buyers who are in the process of buying units of the new CHT affordable housing project called the Old Stage Road row houses, whose buying process have come to a halt due to the government shutdown. “We have four buyers who can’t get any of their income and buyer verifications done. They’re just stuck until the government reopens.”
A check with those handling land sales and other financial transactions reveals the shutdown hasn’t caused high levels of panic or severe concern in Chaffee County.
Jeff Post, of the First Colorado Land Office, recognizes there may be some trickle-down effects to the everyday individual, but those feeling the brunt of the shutdown are the federal employees.
“It certainly effects the federal employees that have bills to pay, [or] those federal employees making a mortgage payment,” Post commented, [and with] the government being the biggest employer, I think there are some local and national effects that trickle down locally.”
One such area, Post said, that may experience that trickle-down effect is the attitudes of real estate investors. This effect though, he suggested, may be more a result of media influence than the government shutdown itself.
“I think it’s just the media and honestly, the bottom line is the media drives a lot of these attitudes” Post said. “whether it’s a shutdown or not a shutdown, the way people leave after listening to a TV program or [reading] an article has to do with how the media spins it.”
Post is not highly concerned for the well-being or immediate security of Chaffee County residents and considers every day to be business as usual at this point.
“Yes, we all need to wake up and keep our eyes open as to what is going on around us locally and nationally,” Post stated. “All we can do as local individuals is keep working hard and moving forward, and work for a positive outcome.”
Wendell Pryor, the director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation said that the shutdown and its local affects “has come up in conversation, and is something that is being monitored, but isn’t a major concern (in the county) right now.”
Burke Kaiser, the president of Collegiate Peaks Bank Mountain Region echoed Pryor’s assessment,
“You know, at the moment, from a bank standpoint, it hasn’t provided us any cause for concern relative to our operations or our customers.” Kaiser commented.