Saturday, August 14, 2004
In following the recent articles and opinions in the Steamboat Pilot & Today surrounding the location for the new Routt County Justice Center, I become increasingly alarmed at the unveiling facts and the obstinate stance of the county commissioners.
Upon learning the many reasons why the downtown site is not only a practicable alternative to filling a wetlands for this building, but also an obvious choice considering the economic and cultural impact on our bustling and historic Old Town, I find it hard to believe that this proposal represents the best interest of our community.
The county's permit application stated that "voters of Routt County voted against a mill levy in November of 2002, ending the potential of a downtown site." This is not true -- in fact, the mill levy asked voters whether they would be willing to raise their taxes to pay for a new facility. Then a post-election survey cited cost, size and aversion to tax increase as the three top reasons for the "No" vote, location being fourth.
But quite honestly, this became a moot point when the county decided to use certificates of participation to build the new facility, thus avoiding public approval. Furthermore, this alternative source of funding, and the decision to build west of town, were announced on the heels of a public hearing which yielded a split decision about the location -- would this decision have been so "split" had the voters known that the certificates were a funding alternative to their tax dollars?
This split-vote fact was acknowledged by the commissioners in an Aug. 9 Steamboat Today article "County Pursues Western Court Site," yet they also said that their decision to move west "represents what the majority of residents want." On which side of the split vote does the majority reside?! And in the event of a split vote, it is my opinion that the commissioners should show more leadership and vision -- to preserve wetlands, support the downtown economy and culture, support the Community Plan that states "government offices act as anchors within Old Town and should continue to be located downtown," and support and respect the City Council who backed the downtown site and demonstrated an eagerness to work with the county to build an efficient center early in the process.
In spite of repeated endorsements and pleas by the City Council, including a letter sent to the Corps stating a unanimous vote to build the new facility downtown, still the county elected to ignore such pertinent information in its application to the Corps. Omitting such evidence and community support of a practicable (downtown) alternative to disturbing a wetlands is egregious in my opinion.
I say we forget the permit and follow the suggestion of Lyman Orton: Let's return to the table, all of us -- including the city, the county and by all means, the citizens of Steamboat and Routt County -- to achieve a win-win solution which the community proved possible with the Ten Plus Two Committee. I have hopes that the Routt County Commissioners will open up to spirited, positive communication and revisit the downtown alternative to disturbing wetlands for their mission.