A new political year

A new local political year began Tuesday when Clifford Lucero and John Ranson were sworn in and began four-year terms on the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners. A similar event will occur at Town Hall in the near future, as a new member of the town council will be seated to fill a spot left vacant by a resignation.

A new, and fresh political year — in the sense of new and fresh ideas and approaches in what might be a very difficult 2009 — will be a blessing. If new faces, new ideas and new approaches find tough going when it comes to affecting major change (as they usually do) at least their appearance should buoy those disheartened residents who have been increasingly distressed during the past few years by certain decisions and behaviors. Change, incremental change, measured with compromise and reason, will be welcomed.

Lucero and Ranson step into the middle of a set of problems, years in the making, and probably years away from total resolution. Those problems come down to two basic points — finance and morale. The simplicity of those points is belied when one begins to unravel the downline consequences. Indeed, the situation is complex and often ambiguous. The county’s financial situation is far from rosy. It is extremely positive that the county made it through 2008 without the ship running aground and kudos go out to any and all who battled to keep things afloat. The infusion of unexpected federal dollars helped, and personnel made great and effective efforts. Still, with a depression locked down on the area in a way almost guaranteed to negatively affect property values and, thus, property tax revenues that are so vital to the county, the ship that remains afloat must still find its way past some significant obstacles. And, will likely for a few years ahead.

We hope the new commission is endowed with the talents and judgment to pilot that ship. We find it hard to think county politics could be any worse than what we’ve seen the last four years — a term that turned sour shortly after it began, then grew progressively more dysfunctional.

While the county has taken the lion’s share of attention for several years now, a mere cursory glance at town politics shows that the entity surely has the potential to unravel in the face of a number of unresolved and pending problems. Town administration has gone through major shakeups. The town council is hardly a model of convivial action, nor is it devoid of influence by individuals, organizations and projects exerted out of the public eye and via ex parté dealings. The town, too, faces the prospect of dealing with declining revenues (in this case sales tax dollars), but fortunately has an incremental budget adjustment scheme in place. The problems are many, though: a bridge construction project far behind pace and running at higher-than-projected cost; a river restoration project that follows on a problem-laced permit process; infrastructure on the verge of erosion; major annexation moves at various stages of the process — with all the possible problems those can bring in the future, to infrastructure and services; with questions of vested rights granted to proposed projects and annexations; with a downtown in decline (with the exception of one major hotel project) and lacking the amenities needed to guarantee quick revitalization of a durable economy.

We believe these things and any others can be overcome. We believe they must be overcome civilly, conscientiously and in the clear light of day. And we look forward to reporting success in a difficult 2009.

Karl Isberg