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Bad road? Buy a shovel

Check out the first entry in “Legacies” on Page 2 of this week’s SUN. More than 30 citizens of Pagosa, as well as individuals from Durango and Del Norte, traveled to the top of Wolf Creek Pass on June 3, 1921.

To work.

Free.

Citizens trooped to the crest to blast the snowpack that covered the roadway, and to shovel the debris in order to open the pass to traffic.

Volunteers had cleared nearly three miles of road earlier in the week with TNT and shovels, and they were ready to finish off what remained.

The pass was still closed by snow … on June 3.

Today, a cry goes up if the pass closes for avalanche control for a day or two during the height of winter. The din would be unbearable if the highway was shut to traffic until June.

Fortunately, our tax revenues provide for crews and equipment, and we take it for granted the work will be done. You remember those taxes, don’t you? The ones so many folks resent paying?

Were the tax revenues not sufficient and the work not completed by state crews, how many Pagosans would be up on the pass today, clearing the snow? Any guesses?

We find an interesting and similar situation when we consider our county roads, where our tax revenues do not do the trick, and the complaints are many.

Don’t get us wrong, complaints are justified in many cases. Some roads in the county system are in terrible condition and many are in decline. The county has established a maintenance schedule and officials are in the process of developing a five-year plan. But there are a number of roads in the county system that are the equivalent of the pass in 1921, and they aren’t going to be fixed soon to everyone’s satisfaction. There is, simply, not enough money available to take care of all the problems, and revenues are going to decline in 2012.

To pursue the comparison with the pass, the county road situation is going to need volunteers. Of a sort.

No one will be called to rally with TNT and shovels but, for work to be done on many sections of road, for mag chloride to be applied, residents are going to have to cough up extra money, or do without.

Make all the personnel changes at the Road and Bridge Department you want. Change department procedures. Regardless of what you do, more will need to be done. “More” involves money. The answers for those who care: improvement districts or a road mill levy.

“But, we already pay our taxes. We deserve the work,” some say. They might deserve it, but they probably won’t get it. “Deserves” requires extra these days. Property owners in existing improvement districts know this. They pay their taxes to the county, the residents of Pagosa Springs pay theirs, and none receive county road assistance. They pay more for their roads. The folks in Aspen Springs have good roads because, though they pay taxes to the county, they take care of the roads themselves. Others need to learn the lesson.

We think in cases where residents understand the fiscal limitations the county faces, yet desire improvements to be made in road conditions and maintenance, that the formation of improvement districts is a solution worthy of consideration. A general road mill levy would burden those who already tax themselves extra for road work — another expense with no return. In cases where we want more than the current process will bear, we need to form districts, tax ourselves and solve our problem.

Or buy a new shovel and wait for the worst.

Karl Isberg

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