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Retain the revenues
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The buzz these days is economic development — and much of the buzz seems just that, and little else. With the effects of the economic meltdown washing over us, it is little wonder people hustle to find ways to hasten improvement. But are we succeeding?

Last week’s SUN included mention of a draft plan to enhance economic development and, no doubt, there are credible arguments for and against the plan and its elements. We wonder, though, if some of the elements are on track. Granted, Pagosa Country must be amenable to business and construction (with uniform and user-friendly planning processes, for example) but are development-related fee waivers and selective sales tax breaks going to do the trick?

Another perspective: Will Pagosa Country be a desirable place for business relocations and additional permanent and part-time residents when the time comes? And especially for substantial growth in tourism, our primary industry? With this, we do not suggest the community needs more than basic infrastructure and amenities; we’ve noted in previous editorials that many people move here expecting too much in the way of infrastructure and amenities, but the lack of basics is a problem. They are key to economic health.

Given persistent financial limitations, we believe government should retain its funds, and maintain and improve infrastructure and amenities when necessary.

Some of this is simple. For example: the welcome sign at the east side of Pagosa Springs was, at least last week, obscured by weeds, sitting on an unkempt plot.

The River Walk in downtown Pagosa Springs is in a state of incredible disrepair, and the River Walk circuit remains incomplete.

A newly-constructed athletic field complex in South Pagosa is quickly going to seed.

A sewage treatment plant must be built in town to serve the current population, not to mention one bolstered by future growth.

The town lacks a capital improvement plan, with a new budget cycle on the horizon.

Cars sit on blocks on town streets. Junk continues to accumulate on properties adjacent to U.S, 160.

People ride bikes and skateboards on sidewalks in the main business district, scattering pedestrians — directly below signs prohibiting bikes and skateboards.

A cheap casino sign flashes on the bell tower at Lewis Street, and neighborhoods lack sidewalks.

County government is making an effort to get on the road improvement bandwagon, but it will be years before the full county system is up to par — most of the roads graveled, not paved. There is a landfill expansion that must be completed, and there are trails to be built to serve the current population, as well as those who might move here.

Visitors to Pagosa Country, especially those approaching from the west on U.S. 160, are greeted by a disheartening array of debris. There are junk and nuisance ordinances on the books, and yet …

You want economic development, you need an environment that will attract individuals and enterprises that fuel that development. Not big-city attractive — Pagosa attractive. With more than 40 empty commercial spaces visible from the highway from one end of Pagosa Country to the other, and more than 500 homes on the market (add in condos, commercial properties and FSBOs) efforts to stimulate construction and commercial development are important, but less than paramount. Basic government work comes first. Will this community stack up with comparable communities when the time comes for reasonable development and growth? Local government needs to do other than toss off fee waivers and selective tax breaks. And, if you sacrifice funds, make sure you get things in return: not a hypothetical, eventual “trickle-down” of sales tax revenues, but guarantees of such things as levels of investment, quotas for employment, time frames for business done in town or county, public spaces, low-income housing. Development must pay its own way. If you can’t get something for your largesse, there should be no largesse.

Karl Isberg