Money and jurisdiction will be key issues in 2017

From Bears Ears to courthouse, money and jurisdiction will continue as issues

Keywords: Durango Herald,

The defining moment of the start of the new year has to be President Barack Obama’s protection of Bears Ears National Monument, 1.35 million acres of canyons and plateaus in southeastern Utah. It’s a sweeping proclamation — by comparison, Mesa Verde National Park has 52.485 acres — and it’s sure to be emblematic of the clash between Obama’s administration and supporters and those of Donald Trump, which is likely to try to overturn Bears Ears and other protection measures, possibly including the Antiquities Act. Trump needs to listen to the many tribal voices that have advocated for the monument, and if the declaration stands, well-conceived protective measures need to be funded.

If the new monument does not survive, its reversal may be part of a public-lands free-for-all across the West. Many Trump supporters have urged him to turn federal lands over to the states (which can not afford them), as a step toward eventual privatization. Southwest Colorado’s economy, though, depends on its federal lands in several ways: as attractions for a variety of visitors, from hikers to hunters to archaeology buffs to mountain bikers to drive-through tourists; as employers; and as protectors of the environment and landscape that have attracted residents to this corner of the state. All that may be threatened, and regardless of locals’ opinions about who should own or manage those lands, any transition is likely to bring painful adjustments to this part of the country.

Likewise, environmental regulations are likely to come under attack early in 2017, as is any response to human factors influencing climate change. What will actually happen is anyone’s guess at this point, but it is safe to assume that the new administration will have a strong focus on business and industry.

The incoming president has promised to bolster the energy economy by loosening (or ignoring) regulations, a move which definitely could harm other segments of the western economy. In addition, regulation has not, in recent years, been the most limiting factor. Prices are low, stockpiles are high, OPEC nations have their own agendas collectively and individually, and demand has evolved.

Regardless of who occupies the White House in upcoming years, Montezuma County’s governmental entities will have to survive on less revenue from carbon dioxide, and that is going to hurt. Other taxing entities will face year-over-year revenue decreases as well. Colorado’s complex property tax system means that those entities cannot be particularly nimble in finding other sources of revenue. Voters must approve increases on an agency-by-agency basis, and there is no mechanism for analyzing the overall revenue picture and allocating it among agencies. Education, for example, must be funded adequately.

In addition, the Department of Local Affairs, which grants funding to infrastructure projects in part from mineral severance funds, may not be able to provide as much help as in years past.

New construction is evident, especially in the northern part of town. Southwest Memorial Hospital has broken ground on a project that will convert the existing hospital to medical offices and construct new patient rooms.

A combined courthouse for Montezuma County court and the 22nd Judicial District (Montezuma and Dolores counties) is being constructed near the corner of Empire and Mildred Roads, next to the site of the new headquarters for Osprey Packs.

The city of Cortez (somewhat alone in being financially healthy) is remodeling the former Journal building, south of the Cortez Recreation Center, for use as city offices.

All those projects will spruce up the look of the community, and they all are providing employment for local workers. They are also all expensive, at a time when that’s a little risky.

Also keep an eye on:

What Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 is doing to improve student performance.Opioids and other addictive substances that are causing problems locally.Ongoing developments in the response to bullying and youth suicide. Combating these problems really will require a concerted effort.Property and violent crime, and law-enforcement and court actions.The burgeoning arts community in the county.