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2009 – a difficult year

Looking back on 2009, the year is best summed up in a word: Difficult. The year that ends at midnight tonight has been difficult locally, nationally and globally.

Few other than Wall Street bankers were untouched by the financial problems that gripped the world. Only those who purposefully remain ignorant of the news are not concerned by the reality of poverty, war, disease, hunger. In a world increasingly connected, that which affects one, affects many. And most of what has had the greatest effect this past year was … difficult.

Here in Pagosa Country, many friends and neighbors were unemployed, fighting to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. Many Pagosans were underemployed, struggling to keep up with the bills, working without benefits. While several arms of local government remained on a fairly steady course, others suffered budget woes, making cuts on pace with decreases in tax revenues. News came in 2009 that some entities — most notably our school district — might have to deal with significant budget cuts in the year to come.

Times have been difficult.

Empty commercial spaces and storefronts tell us businesses closed their doors here in 2009. A record number of foreclosures took place during 2009. While valuations of properties for the purposes of taxation went up in many cases, market values most often went down. Properties did sell during the year, but our local real estate industry was a shadow of its former self. The same with a construction industry that, just a few years ago, was booming.

Difficult.

The quality of public discourse has continued to erode, becoming less civil, abrim with ill-informed and uninformed nonsense, in a year marked by birthers, deathers and tenthers, by tea parties, death panels and flu scares. The spread of poorly substantiated or wholly unsubstantiated “fact,” via blogs, cable television commentators and radio talk show hosts, goes unchecked in many quarters, with listening and viewing audiences steadily less willing to digest complex information and comprehend difficult, ambiguous situations. The rule of the day for too many Americans is to simply accept what one hears, without question, without a care for the credibility or competence of the source.

American political life has become a circus. Politicians of all stripes have shown themselves to be empty parodies of genuine public servants — more concerned about restrictive partisan agendas and actions, and the need to raise money for reelection, than about the health and well being of their constituents, and the ideas and institutions they took an oath to support.

Difficult.

And yet, here in Pagosa Country at least, we find reasons to be of guarded good cheer. Life has been difficult, but there is light in many quarters.

The budget cuts noted above were made with care, with concern for employees and constituents, with the least damage to the fewest number as a guiding rule. Some branches of local government picked up steam — most notably the county, coming out of its financial crisis with the black side of the ledger taking center stage and significant road projects completed. Federal stimulus money has found its way to Pagosa Country and more is being sought. The health service district continues to provide quality hospital and emergency response services, and is on the way to creating a Rural Health Clinic. A new bridge downtown is a step toward a unified trail system, and river improvements turned the San Juan into a major amenity in town. Many of the best business minds in the community are pondering plans for economic development, seeking ways to improve the local business climate. Significant conservation easements completed this year will preserve ranch lands in the area. We have abundant, clean water and there is food on the store shelves.

Most important: the positive, charitable Pagosa spirit remains unbroken. Times have been difficult, but our sense of community and collective responsibility remains strong. It bodes well for the new year ahead.

Karl Isberg