Dollars and census: The price of growth

Local governments, social services strapped as newcomers bring old problems to area


— The newly released census numbers simply confirmed what some area agencies already knew: More people need more services that cost more money.

Some of the 5,600 newcomers to Routt County are bringing their troubles with them, and it's costing a pretty penny, said Social Services Director Bob White.

"What were seeing is an impact on child protective service cases," White said.

White said 10 years ago, Social Services used to spend just more than $300,000 a year in child welfare services. Now the department is spending closer to $400,000 a year, a 20-percent increase in child welfare alone.

White said some families are trying to run away from problems where they used to call home.

"Sometimes they are trying to get away from trouble so their kids won't be involved with 'bad kids,'" White said.

But they're bringing their troubles with them.

He called some of the new families "transient" and "dysfunctional."

"They're not handling the therapeutic family treatment as well as local families who have been here and who we've worked with over the years," White said

For example, Routt County has recently had to take over the care of a teen-ager belonging to one of these transient families.

"We put him in a residential treatment center that's costing us $5,000 a month," White said. "That will cost us until he's 18."

Hitting the roads

Perhaps the biggest impact on population growth in Routt County can be found underneath those four-wheel-drive vehicles that are popular in the High Country.

The county's Road and Bridge Department has seen double the traffic since 1980, and in some places, triple.

"There's more people everywhere," said Paul Draper, who heads the department.

Draper said County Road 129, which is used by people going to and from Steamboat Lake, carried 712 vehicles near the Hot Springs Creek area in 1980. That same area carries 2,069 cars as of 1998.

Although the county has refused to add more roads to its maintenance schedule, Draper said his employees are doing more work because of increased traffic.

The higher traffic count means that maintenance done 20 years ago lasted much longer than it does now.

"We used (to smooth over) a road and it would be nice for six weeks, now it's not even nice for two weeks," Draper said.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said dust control is also a constant battle because many of these county roads aren't paved.

The county has 900 miles of roads but will only maintain and snowplow 520 roads.

"Last fall was the first time we had homeowners wanting us to come in and maintain their roads," Stahoviak said. "We made it clear, and were consistent about it, that we can't do that. We don't have the resources to do it."

Another indicator of increased traffic and population is the number of vehicle registrations.

In 1990, there were 19,100 vehicles registered in Routt County. In 2000, there were 27,021 vehicles registered, a 41-percent increase.

Building on the numbers

One has to go only as far as the local building department to confirm that Routt County is growing.

Since 1991, Routt County has issued 1,272 building permits for single-family homes. That's compared to the city of Steamboat Springs, which only issued 798 permits for single-family homes.

Since 1990, the county's community services (including planning, building, environmental health, etc.) have seen a whopping 315 percent increase in funding.

In 1990, Routt County spent $1.01 million on community services and in 2000 it jumped to $5.8 million.

The department of planning and building alone has added nine additional employees since 1990.

Stahoviak said the county is seeing certain kinds of planning petitions that were rare before 1990 especially the subdivision petitions from Heritage Park and Silver Spur, Stahoviak said about the two high-density residential developments west of Steamboat Springs.

For years, the commissioners mostly dealt with 5- and 35-acre homesites in rural Routt County.

In the past six years, homes in Heritage Park and Silver Spur (Silverview) started going up, and now people want to build in the antiquated neighborhoods like Stagecoach and Steamboat Lake, Stahoviak said.

In some cases, people are consolidating small lots to create 5-acre lots, but in some cases not.

She said people in South Shore, a development on the east side of Stagecoach Reservoir, are building on smaller lots that require vault systems for their waste, as opposed to a septic system.

Accounting for the count

While Hayden and south Routt's populations are up from 1990, their numbers are still down from their so-called boom time in 1980.

Commissioner Dan Ellison said the explanation is simple.

In 1980 there was power plant construction in Craig and maybe some in Hayden, Ellison said.

There were also more coal mines and more miners who lived and worked in south Routt, he said.

According to county statistics, in 1979 there were 812 miners in Routt County. By 1980, that number had dropped to 512. And in 2000, there were only 395 miners.

"You're mining more coal now, but it's because the operation is more efficient," Ellison said.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that Hayden has grown only 13.2 percent since 1990, (from 1,444 to 1,634) but town clerk Lisa Johnston said she and others don't agree with that estimate.

"Our feeling is we're more like 1,800," Johnston said, basing her estimate on billing statements like water and sewer.

She said even the state of Colorado acknowledges the town has at least 1,717 people.

Census figures are important to every town, city and county in America because the figures help calculate what kind of federal funding comes into the community.

"Some people just didn't bother answering their census," Johnston said.

Holding its own

Ellison believes the county is doing a pretty good job of keeping up with growth and not choking on it.

He credited technology and good department heads with keeping costs and personnel from spiraling out of control.

"Computerization has helped us with the growth," Ellison said.

"The county has made a big effort to get all of our offices on computer systems."

Ellison said the county has a 5-person Information Systems (computer) Department that didn't exist in 1980.

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208

or e-mail


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.