Christopher Morson: Charting the course
October 25, 2012
The history of Routt County is filled with people who came over the passes to settle in our valleys and raise livestock. They were followed by many others who came attracted by the area, to provide the services the first settlers needed, to prospect and mine coal and to grow other agricultural products. In the following years, skiing became a more popular sport, and this attracted the same entrepreneurial and independent spirit. The result is we have built a world-class ski resort on Mount Werner. This in turn has attracted location-neutral businesses and families, and other businesses that complete our kaleidoscope.
We have built a very attractive and vibrant community based on our common sense and the independent spirit famous in the West.
All the people who have been successful residents of Steamboat Springs knew how to budget, struggle, persevere, make choices, weigh options, tighten belts, remain optimistic and value the advantages that are obvious to all who live here.
It remains the same today.
We in Routt County are confronted by similar difficulties and challenges: The economy has changed; the weather seems to be changing, if you believe in global warming (will this affect the number of tourists coming here?); many have left the valley, eroding the tax base; real estate tax receipts are expected to fall further; and retail taxes are somewhat better but nowhere near the peak. We have tightened our belts, but we still are confronted by difficult choices.
Do we want to lose money on the Iron Horse Inn to replace it with a police station? Should we sell the existing buildings to Big Agnes? Did we need to build a new Justice Center at $22 million? What have we learned from this? Should we go into our financial reserves? What to do about our roads and bridges, some of which are in pretty poor condition? Should we raise wages for those who plow and maintain our roads? Where will the funds come from? Should we reopen or open new gravel pits to avoid (the absurdity of) trucking it in from out of county, and even state, while incurring extra diesel, labor and wear and tear costs? Do we have a bloated government? What can be done to further streamline it without losing all the advantages we recently have enjoyed? Oil and gas, water, Internet/broadband infrastructure and airline service are among many other questions that need to be addressed.
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These and many other questions are what this election is about. We have to cut our coats according to the cloth available. We all need to be responsible publicly the same way we make decisions and budget at home. If you can't afford the best cut of steak, then, like those who have lived here before us, we need to adjust and live within our means.
We need to elect those who know hardship and have adapted and survived. We need to elect those with the talents and expertise to navigate through budgets, who understand how to prioritize, pragmatists who listen to all voices and make reasoned decisions communicating these reasons back to us. Some of these may be incumbents or have political experience, but this is not necessarily a qualification for public office. Sometimes, a new broom sweeps clean. Sometimes, political neophytes are more capable than the established political class. Sometimes not. Sometimes, these neophytes see things clearer, are not beholden or sensitive to entrenched interests, are more sensitive and better able to listen and weigh the pros and cons. Perhaps they have a reservoir of greater energy and passion that has eroded and diminished in those who have become "career" politicians. Above all, we need fresh ideas, vigor, discipline and vision.
It is up to us to chart the course of our community for the next years. It is up to us to choose the representatives who will help guide us on that journey. If we don't do it this election and choose wisely, there can be no regrets, no whining about the outcome.
We all need to get out there and vote.