ALAMOSA — Alamosa city councilors this week made several decisions supporting positive efforts in the community.
The council approved a $3,000 sponsorship of a children’s carnival scheduled through the Alamosa County Department of Human Services and Children’s Advocacy Center on April 14, which is during Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. The council also waived $260 in fees for use of the Alamosa Family Recreation Center for the event.
County staff asked the council during its February 7 meeting for financial assistance to present the carnival, which they estimated would cost about $9,500 this year, primarily for backpacks that will be provided to all children attendees. The event hosted 682 children last year, and staff expects 800 this year.
The city has a sponsorship fund for $10,000 and has used funds from that budget item in the past for Alamosa Round Up and Beat the Heat.
Cheryl Smith from the county department said this is the second year for the event, which will be held on April 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the recreation center. It will be free to children and their families from all over the San Luis Valley who will enjoy a meal (last year donated by SLV Health), door prizes and fun activities such as the Salida Circus. Children will receive items such as coloring books, which were generously donated by local businesses in the past.
She said this day would mean a great deal for children and their families, as well as department staff, who may not otherwise have many joyful memories with their families. She spoke about how the number of child abuse calls has risen. Statewide in 2017 the crisis hotline fielded 211,554 calls, up from the 2016 total of 206,107. In Alamosa County, staff received 545 calls, with 269 of those requiring action.
Smith talked about the opioid epidemic and the lack of treatment facility beds for those seeking treatment for their opioid addiction.
Alamosa County Department of Human Services Director Catherine Salazar added, “We are all experiencing the effects of the opioid epidemic.”
She said in her 29 years in the system, the last 8-10 had been the toughest in terms of the deterioration of the family structure.
“An event like this gives everybody an opportunity to breathe,” she said, “and focus in on the family and the kids.”
Smith also spoke about the dire need for foster homes in Alamosa and in the San Luis Valley. One of the informational booths at the carnival, for example, will focus on foster care home recruitment. She said currently there are Valley children in foster homes as far away as Grand Junction, Colorado Springs and La Junta. Salazar added there are 70 children from Alamosa County in out-of-home placement right now.
Councilors vocalized their support for the event, followed by their vote to sponsor it. Mayor Ty Coleman assisted with the event last year, and Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said her grandchildren attended last year and enjoyed it. Councilman Jan Vigil suggested a $4,000 donation, and Councilor Kristina Daniel said she was thinking along the lines of $2,000 to save money for other groups that would be requesting sponsorships. Hensley said the city could also donate the recreation center fee. The council settled on a sponsorship amount of $3,000, plus the rec center fee waiver.
Mayor Coleman said, “Sometimes kids don’t have hope, don’t experience any joy. If we can do anything as a council to help provide a day of joy that means more than all the money in the world to them.”
In other positive actions Wednesday night, the council approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Alamosa RIO Coalition for the Inspire grant provided through Great Outdoors Colorado and passed on first reading with a public hearing scheduled for February 21 an intergovernmental agreement for the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) grant that will offer a diversion program with case management through Center for Restorative Programs. Instead of going through the court system, LEAD participants will receive a variety of services to deal with the issues that brought them into the system.
“This is a huge deal,” Councilman Vigil said. He thanked Alamosa Chief Duane Oakes and all others who worked to get the LEAD grant.
“This is going to combat the opioid crisis in our Valley,” Vigil said.
Also on Wednesday the council unanimously approved amendments to the city’s code of ordinances, with one of those major changes being the “decriminalization” of most offenses on first-time offenses. Except for 18 offenses, most code violations will not be jail-able offenses on first-time offense. The ordinance includes “on ramps” and “off ramps” that give the city prosecutor and judge flexibility to put offenses on the table or take them off the table for jail on a first offense.
City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado (who produced a report last October that was critical of Alamosa’s municipal court) was happy with the “off ramp” but not so much with the “on ramp.” However, he believed the “on ramp” was appropriate.
“I think that’s an appropriate function for the city prosecutor to have,” he said.