Livability index in 2nd year

Routt County data can be compared with last year’s baseline

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— In its second year, the Routt County Livability Index can now begin to do what its creators intended.

Last year’s index established a baseline to provide a basis of comparison for future years, said Grant Fenton, the project manager for the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative, the group that put together the study.

The index, which is available in today’s Steamboat Today, compares Routt with nine similar Colorado counties in four categories — civic, social, economic and environmental — using a number of weighted areas. For example, weighted areas of the civic category include citizen involvement and public safety. The social category includes health care and education.

Noreen Moore, business resource director for the Economic Development Cooperative, said the intent of the index was to update the same information each year. The information was collected from public secondary sources, such as the Internal Revenue Service master file.

Moore said it serves as a measurement tool not only to assess what Routt residents value, but also how the county is doing compared with nine other counties. The index compares Routt with Chaffee, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Gunnison, La Plata, Pitkin, San Miguel and Summit.

In this year’s index, the measurement of livability in the county decreased 1 percent from last year. That is a composite of all four categories. The economic category increased 11 percent — the only category to increase.

While the other three categories decreased — civic by 7 percent, social by 7 percent and environmental by 1 percent — the county remained in the top four counties in each category with the exception of civic, where Routt was ninth out of 10.

“I think we’re really at the beginning of the usefulness of the product,” Fenton said. “As the years go on, we’ll see differences as the numbers change. The value of the product increases every year.”

Scott Ford, who helped compile much of the data as a consultant for the Economic Development Cooperative, said the index already is a valuable tool.

It provides quantifiable measurements and shows trends and the velocity of change, he said. Ford, who said there’s nothing else like the index in Colorado, added that it could be used to evaluate planning county residents would like to see.

“This is absolutely the puzzle piece that fits in on Vision 2030,” he said.

Ford said Vision 2030 outlines a number of long-term goals, but there was no way to measure the county’s progress. The index provides that, he said.

And it’s not just for government policymakers, Ford said. Residents can measure the county government’s progress, hold it accountable or just see how what affects them is faring compared with other Colorado counties.

The area that stuck out the most to Ford in this year’s index was public safety, which indicated that Routt had the highest crime rate of the 10 counties, up from ninth last year.

Fenton said areas in which the county isn’t faring as well as others represent opportunities to improve.

Fenton added that the index could provide a road map for Routt to see what other counties are doing better.

Ford said he hopes the index will provide the information for stakeholders to make informed decisions. In the past, he said, sometimes there has been a wait-until-next-year mentality locally.

“This is going to make us a whole bunch smarter,” Ford said. “Are we going to do something about it? I certainly hope so. I think so because we can see it.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@steamboatpilot.com

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