Why Clear Creek County faces tough decisions

The Henderson Mine's future closure needs to be addressed

Molybdenum ore has been clawed out of the Henderson Mine since 1976. While the mine itself has 230 employees, most of whom live in metro Denver, property tax assessments collected from mine operator Freeport-McMoRan are crucial to government operations in Clear Creek County.

Those revenues, though, are expected to end – sooner than later. 

“Count on it,” said Bryce Romig, a longtime manager of the mine, which is located at the foot of Berthoud Pass at a meeting in 2015. “Get ready.”

In a statement issued earlier this year, Freeport-McMoRan estimated five years and possibly beyond – but only if rising prices of molybdenum justified the expense of developing the remaining reserves.

Some 40 percent of revenue in Clear Creek County’s general fund comes from property taxes assessed on Henderson. Decisions must be made.  What services should be cut? Having a jail is mandated by the state. So is control of noxious weeds.  But offering ambulance service is optional.

On the other hand, Clear Creek County could also grow its economic pie. Sales tax revenues have been rising 5 percent a year. But county officials think they need to make the county a destination, not just a place to drive through.

One effort, says county communications officer John Bryan, involves the 6-acre property along the shores of Georgetown Lake. County officials have not indicated their precise plans, but Bryan says the strategy would involve drawing visitors from the adjacent Interstate 70.

Another effort being launched seeks to improve broadband. Portions of the valley, even some locations not far from I-70, suffer from internet speeds of just 750 kilobytes per second, compared to the 20 gigabytes many people in better-connected locations enjoy.

“It’s hard to attract a young family or anybody else unless we have that,” Bryan says.

Yet a third effort involves support for better health care. The county lost its only full-time physician five years ago. It has emergency medical services, but funding would be threatened by the loss of taxes from Henderson. County residents in November will be asked to address both ambulances and a doctor with a 1 percent sales tax increase combined with a three-mill property tax increase.

Finally, the county has taken steps to improve public transportation with a link to metro Denver’s RTD buses at El Rancho, near Floyd Hill.

Categories: Economy/Politics, Magazine Articles