The Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners have tried in recent years to work more closely on specific issues. In particular, Councilwoman Kathy Connell and Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak made it a priority to repair what had been a strained relationship between the two entities.
It would be costly to see the improved relationship disintegrate because of the split between the city and county over the site of a new justice center.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to write a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers stating that a downtown site is a practical alternative to the site west of town that commissioners have chosen for the justice center. Approval by the Corps of Engineers, which oversees wetlands issues, is the last step the county needs to move ahead with the western site.
On Thursday, the City Planning Commission also rejected the new justice center plans in a 4-3 vote. Again, the location of the center weighed heavily in the decision. Planning commissioners who opposed the center noted that the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan recommends keeping essential government services downtown.
It is important to note that the city has no official role in the Corps of Engineers' decision-making process. Also, the county does not need the city Planning Commission's approval to move ahead with the center. Bringing the plans before the city Planning Commission is simply a courtesy.
The city votes came despite rather strong statements from county commissioners that they were resolute in their site selection. The county argues it went through a very public, months-long process last spring before making its decision, and that the city's involvement at this point is an affront to that process. "There is no reconsidering," Commissioner Doug Monger said. "There is nothing to reconsider."
Monger said the city's actions are "driving a wedge" between the city and the county.
Then after the City Council made its decision, City Manager Paul Hughes said it "certainly could drive a wedge between the city and the county" if commissioners choose simply to ignore the concerns the city has raised about the justice center site.
It's unfortunate to hear such rhetoric. The underlying implication in the comments is that there could be some sort of payback down the line by either entity because of the justice center dispute.
The Friends of the Justice Center Inc. has driven the most recent move to force the site to be reconsidered. While we might not agree with the group's timing, the organization certainly has every right to make its case -- to the city, the county, the Army Corps of Engineers and anyone else who will listen. That's the political process.
Likewise, the City Council and the city Planning Commission have the right to oppose the justice center, and the county has the right to reconsider the site location or stick to its guns. That decision will play itself out in the weeks to come.
But however this dispute is resolved, the city and the county have a responsibility to continue working together on critical issues such as the multi-jurisdictional housing authority, the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and policies on big-box retail, among others. Allowing a wedge to develop between them would be a tremendous disservice to the taxpayers for whom commissioners and council members work.