Town and county to draft planning IGA

Approving an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) draft process last Thursday, the Pagosa Springs Town Council gave the green light to pursuing limited cooperation with the county regarding planning and building departments and, potentially, their respective planning commissions.

“I see this as the first step,” said council member Darrel Cotton, in response to the board’s unanimous vote approving work on the draft.

Short of fully merging the departments and commissions, an IGA would ostensibly commit resources and manpower from the town and county for the purpose of streamlining the permitting process set before developers. Furthermore, the authority of the IGA, as conceived by the town council, would only extend as far as the three-mile boundary of the designated Urban Services Area (USA) and would exclude areas of the county outside that boundary.

Currently, the town has an IGA with the county, health district and fire district for emergency dispatch services, a system that is largely judged to be a success. In fact, the current IGA was referred to, on numerous occasions, as a model for how the county and town could work together successfully.

Meeting earlier in the morning with the county commissioners in a joint work session, council and the BoCC discussed their respective visions for what a merger would achieve along with obstacles for attaining those goals. By the end of the session, the BoCC directed Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte to begin work on an IGA, while council directed Town Manager David Mitchem to assist in that endeavor.

In the work session, county and town officials articulated differences of vision and scope of the proposed merger. Although BoCC members were clearly in support of a comprehensive and complete merger to be pursued with dispatch, most council members expressed diffidence with respect to a swift, categorical consolidation of departments and commissions. Nonetheless, council was not intransigent developing some arrangement with the county.

“There’s a lot of overlap with the USA,” said council member Stan Holt. “We can work together in the three-mile USA. Ninety to ninety-five percent of development in the near future is there. If we didn’t work together, we’d still need to work together in that area, with an IGA. For now, council member Cotton and I feel that would be, after talking to commissioners Lucero and Ranson, the best solution.”

For his part, commissioner Clifford Lucero voiced the BoCC’s view that the two boards ought to at least give the merger a test run, saying, “I think we need to give it a year,” adding, “If it doesn’t work, at the end of the year, we’ll know and we can go back to the way things were.”

“I’m concerned with what damage we could do in a year,” responded council member Shari Pierce. “We need to learn to walk together before we can run together.”

However, given that new construction has virtually ceased in the town and the county, commissioner Bob Moomaw seemed frustrated by council’s unwillingness to embrace a full merger of departments not limited to the boundaries of the USA.

“This is a good opportunity to try this,” Moomaw said, “If you’re talking about the USA, you’re talking about ninety percent of it. It doesn’t make sense to me to say you’re willing to work on ninety percent of it but not the other ten percent. Even if we’re going to work on just the USA, we need a more comprehensive document.”

Council member Don Volger summarized how council preferred to proceed. “If we could agree to enter into an IGA — I don’t care if you call it a merger — if we could hammer out an agreement ... that would be the first step at addressing those problems. And there are problems. I would support a one-year test period.”

Schulte asked for clarification regarding the direction given to him and Mitchem.

“An IGA just represents the intent,” he said, “In order for this to proceed, the two groups both need to move forward with the intent that it will proceed. My question for the town is, what is your vision? What is your intent?”

Schulte would have to travel to Town Hall for a response, an answer that was, for all intents and purposes, terse if not incomplete.

Returning to chambers in Town Hall for their noon mid-month meeting, council briefly discussed the IGA, what such an agreement would mean and how the town might proceed towards those ends.

Council member Jerry Jackson asked, “Is this working towards the one-stop shop?”

The “one-stop shop” concept referred to by Jackson is one of the theoretical advantages touted by proponents of a planning and building merger. As conceived by authors of the merger, developers and builders would be able to process all necessary permits through a single entity rather than having to present the various permits to sundry offices throughout the Pagosa area, as the current system requires.

“What direction I believe we received,” replied Schulte, “was to draft an IGA with the direct result towards one-stop shopping.”

Mitchem elaborated on what his interpretation of that directive, saying, “There are differences (with the county) but agreement within the USA. The vision is not yet solidified. The county and town’s visions are different. I understand that having a vision streamlines the process but there needs to be some common goal.”

“I understand that the ultimate goal is a one-stop shop,” responded Jackson.

With a unanimous vote, the council decided to move forward with the IGA, directing Mitchem and Schulte to develop a draft of the agreement. Until the draft emerges, local builders and developers will continue to navigate a system considered by many to be Byzantine and unnecessarily cumbersome.

jim@pagosasun.com