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A promise made is a promise kept

Few people around these parts noticed that yet another grant deadline was missed about a month back. Skatepark idea, R.I.P.

One of the first events I attended in Pagosa Springs was a fundraiser at the (now, Ross Aragon) community center, hosted by Skater’s Coalition for Concrete (SCC) and featuring two local bands, a skater demonstration and loads of community support.

It was a great introduction to the town. Although I had only lived here a few weeks, it seemed as though I’d already met half the people in attendance. Hanging out with my new friends, pounding back locally brewed beer and getting into the small but vigorous mosh pit seemed quintessentially small town. I felt welcomed, warmed by the camaraderie of sharing a common goal (raising money for a nice skatepark), my place as a fellow involved citizen secured as I walked into the community center that chilly November evening.

Flash forward a few years later and there is still no skatepark and, as best as I can tell, no intention to ever build one. In fact, I’m beginning to suspect that local government never had a plan to build one. Four grant cycles have been missed, for a variety of reasons, and various locations have been proposed and then scotched, as NIMBYs have exerted political pressure on local officials to put the park anywhere else but two blocks from sacred ground.

Despite a promise from the town that, if the SCC raised funds it would build the park, despite promises to residents on Eighth Street that the current ramshackle construction would eventually go away ... promises don’t seem to matter much in this town.

I recall a discussion during a Town Council meeting, during the Big Box discussion, when a council member reminded a local citizen that the future would determine if that citizen would be, “a man of his word or not, which in this town is do or die.”

Apparently, ours is a “do as I say, not as I do,” government.

Frankly, the naive optimism I took with me from my community introduction to Pagosa Springs has left me, replaced by a hardened cynicism and a reasoned disenchantment.

Recently, the town and county were the beneficiaries of over $2 million in back taxes collected by the state. No one expected the money and neither the town nor county seems to know what to do with their windfall. The smart thing would be to bank it and wait for the results in November on Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 (which would severely curtail local government’s ability to provide services or fund infrastructure).

However, what happens to that money if those initiatives don’t pass? Will the town and county pony up to make a skatepark a reality?

Don’t. Hold. Your. Breath.

Likewise, I don’t see that money being spent on local schools. A push to complete the Town-to-Lakes Trail? In your dreams.

These are some of the same folks who wanted to squander taxpayer money on an indoor Equestrian Center in order to satisfy the small but well-heeled horsey crowd. Some of the same folks who, when negotiating a geothermal lease with The Springs Resort, refused to allocate $100,000 for powering the town’s geothermal system (and making it100 percent green).

And while the town and county has been scrambling to address economic development — mostly to the ends of diversifying industry hereabouts and attracting new business — little has been said about what attracts young families here, to start a business or take a position with a new business.

Although “there’s not much for kids to do here” has been mentioned with some frequency, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC) did not address that situation during a recent community work session. Yet, all it takes is a little imagination to run this potential conversation through your head:

“It’s certainly beautiful here and I’m thinking of locating my business in Pagosa Springs but I have kids and want to know what you have here that will keep them occupied.”

“We have a wonderful Parks and Rec program — soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball — and when they reach junior high age, they can play on a school team.”

“We’ll, my kids aren’t really into team sports. What else is there?”

“There’s always 4-H or you can learn the joys of horseback riding!”

“Are you kidding me? We don’t have the money to own and board horses. And we’re not buying a ranch, we’re looking at downtown or a suburban neighborhood. Not really into raising livestock.”

“Any number of churches host youth groups.”

“We’re not exactly the churchgoing type, I’m not sure my kids would go for that.”

“Of course, there’s ample opportunity for hiking, skiing, camping, fishing, hunting ... we have an abundance of outdoor opportunities!”

“Well, most of those aren’t exactly after-school activities, especially in the winter. What do you offer where my kids can just go and hang out with their friends?”

“Is there an indoor pool? A youth center? A bowling alley? A skating rink? A skatepark?”

“Um ... I agree, it’s certainly beautiful here!”

If funding our youth isn’t an investment in our future, if providing infrastructure isn’t an important aspect of economic development, I don’t know what is. Yet, it’s been suggested that the town and county use their entire windfall to fund more corporate socialism (under the aegis of further economic development), because, you know, companies coming to the town and county hat in hand, feeding at the taxpayer funded trough, benefits us all. Or something.

Rather than fighting over the placement of a utility substation, I see very few government officials fighting for the kids in this town. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but it looks to me like retirees and second home owners get more than the lion’s share of table time at any given board meeting.

“I don’t care if the kids don’t have anything to do in this town but the streets had better by God be plowed by the time I have my first cup of coffee,” seems to be the priority around here.

Making good on a promise? Not so much.

Look, in the grand scheme of things, having a skatepark in Pagosa Springs is not going to make that much of a difference. If a young family is considering a move here, I doubt it’s because we have a cool skatepark in our midst.

However, the symbolic nature of making good on a promise made long ago would have immeasurable benefit, telling the kids in this town that they matter and their efforts will be rewarded. It would say to them that the political process indeed works, for everyone, and maybe, just maybe, shift the perception that government responds when the correct steps are taken.

By most estimates, $100,000 each from the town and the county, would provide an adequate match to qualify for the Greater Outdoor Colorado grant (money coming out of revenues the state gets from Lotto and Lottery funds). That commitment would amount to less than a tenth of the windfall they received last month.

I’m confident that 60, 61 and 101 will fail. At the end of the day, while most folks believe government has become too large and inefficient, they also believe that quality schools, driving on good roads, police and fire protection, and so many other amenities are a wise use of tax money and that, despite all its faults, government does good things.

If the November elections prove me correct and there’s over a $2 million surplus shared between the town and county, the funds are there to show that government indeed does good things.

Like announce that kids here do matter. That a promise made is a promise kept. That, at the end of the day, if you work hard and follow the rules, you will be rewarded.

jim@pagosasun.com