A cooperative turn

When things get lean, the safest things local government can do are to trim expenses and anticipate the effects of revenue cutbacks. Then, it must plan for times when the economic tide rolls back in, and growth and development become tangible prospects. It will happen; when, no one can say. Recent considerations by town and county officials show an encouraging bent when it comes to preparing for a future that will again feature vigorous national and local economies and all that flows from them.

With renewed vigor, development will return to Pagosa Country. Like it or not, development — commercial and residential — is a major pillar in our economy. While sound arguments can be made for reasonable control of growth, equally sound arguments can be made for having governmental planning and building personnel and processes in place and operating smoothly when developers and builders line up to seek approval of projects.

The town council and the board of county commissioners met in a work session last week to discuss a move that could allow both entities to better deal with planning and building demands. Both entities need to be prepared: the town faces some major annexation proposals, the county is certain to face pressures, including those from extraction industries. The officials discussed the possibility of merging town and county planning staffs and planning commissions.

There is a chance for cost savings in the merger of planning and building departments — savings for government and, if done right, for customers. Cooperative effort could be of value when areas proposed for annexation and/or development are within each entity’s boundaries — for example, parcels and projects currently in the county, but also within the town’s three-mile planning boundary. A merger could free staff to deal with what is certain to be increased demand for oil and gas operation permitting. For the customer, merger of departments could bring a better administrative process — a central, one-stop shop providing regulations, documentation, permit work and checkoffs.

The merger of planning commissions would be another matter. There is hesitation on the part of some town officials to make this move. But, the county has opened the door for further discussion.

Last week, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) requested that all members of the Archuleta County Planning Commission resign. The BoCC indicated it would accept applications for appointment from all newly-resigned commissioners. The county begins to advertise for applicants this week — with an emphasis of holding to the demands of the founding bylaws, in particular those related to applicable, professional experience.

The door is open due to the fact the BoCC made it clear the town would have input in the process, be allowed to weigh in on possible restructuring of the commission (perhaps to a five-person board) and on conditions for the selection of members.

Now, the matter is one of the county presenting acceptable details about a possible merger of planning and building staffs. A draft merger plan is set for presentation to the town council in mid-February.

The fact this discussion is taking place, and moving forward, is a great sign. Where once, 20 or more years ago, a form of regional government such as countywide Home Rule made a great deal of sense, such a possibility might no longer be in the cards. But, cooperation, in any area, at any level, is always a positive idea. If, at first, cooperative, combined efforts save money and increase efficiency, that is reason enough to undertake them. If, when the economic environment shifts and demands increase, we hope any and all cooperative efforts and changes allow for more effective and responsive government. Those will be efforts and changes well made, with an eye on the future.

Karl Isberg