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A done deal, a deal not yet done

Much of the buzz of late concerns the possible construction of a Wal-Mart at the west end of Pagosa Springs.

While those opposed to the arrival of the big box are more obvious than those who welcome the arrival, make no mistake: many residents of Pagosa Country would be happy to have the store here.

Those opposed make reasonable and serious claims concerning the backwash from the operation of a big box in a small community. And, they should. There is no question that some existing businesses will be put under great and, often, lethal pressure by a major corporate operation. There is no question that strategies must be devised — by business owners, government and the CDC — to ease that pressure. There is also no question that local consumers must step up and support local businesses and that the owners of those businesses must be realistic concerning the goods and services they offer and the prices they charge.

Some opponents, however, base their assertions on questionable points. One of these is that town government can decide to change the rules once the game begins. It can’t — not without chancing legal action. Second, some assert the town can deny a business the right to operate, citing the town’s moratorium on marijuana dispensaries. The argument fails when one realizes the denial of business licenses to marijuana dispensaries is based on the fact federal law prohibits such business.

The third argument heard often (concerning this situation and others over the years) is that county residents cannot vote in town elections — elections such as the one two years ago that did away with size restrictions for new stores, opening the door for a big box. The argument fails when one considers Colorado law and the status of municipalities. It is a situation common to all non-home rule counties in Colorado. A county resident has the right to express an opinion, but that is as far as it goes. If county residents want a vote or want to hold public office in the municipality, they must reside there. The first obligation of elected officials in town is to the residents of the town. If those officials are reasonable, they listen to others, but they vote for their constituents.

Those who complain they do not have a vote need to remember: there was ample opportunity provided to residents of subdivisions adjacent to annexations to the west to themselves annex to the town. They chose not to. There have been concerted efforts made to create a home rule county during the past two decades. Each was rejected.

Another argument is that, in agreeing to admit a big box, town officials are selling out, lured by the revenue. This is partly true, and is true to a degree for all governments. Sales tax revenues matter in Pagosa Springs, which derives the lion’s share of its revenue from sales tax.

The Wal-Mart question is, by and large, settled. Unless the corporation decides otherwise, it will construct and operate a store. Opposition can, and must be, voiced, but the path is clear. Town officials have only the critical question of incentives to answer and we assert again: no fee breaks should be given to any new business. All should pay for the privilege of doing business here.

We now wait for those interested in the future of the community to set their sights on a proposed action that can, indeed, still be influenced by public comment: the Reservoir Hill development project. We stand opposed to most of the suggestions made for development of what we believe is a unique amenity. A public meeting is set for Jan. 25 and we will detail our concerns in next week’s editorial.

Karl Isberg

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