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Important elections, important issues

There are two important elections on the horizon; they warrant voter turnout and attention to details.

Voters in the Town of Pagosa Springs will elect three at-large members of the Town Council on April 3 as well as consider changes to the town charter.

We’re at a critical point in the town’s evolution, and the council will be called on to make a number of decisions and confront situations that will shape what Pagosa Springs will be for years to come.

Members of the next Town Council face the daunting prospect of invigorating an eroded downtown business district. They will be called on to make decisions regarding plans for Reservoir Hill development that have produced consternation in some quarters. They will consider questions of vested rights for development, and should deal with whether or not council members sit on town commissions. They will, at some point, need to deal with the topic of appointed bodies wielding significant amounts of money and undertaking projects with little involvement of the council.

Voters living in the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District boundaries will elect three members to the board of directors on May 8. Once the Dry Gulch Reservoir topic left center stage in the public eye, many residents put the organization on the back burner, to a traditional identity — a boring entity whose importance is obvious only when service is disrupted.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does the PAWSD board operate with significant taxpayer dollars and debt, it is one of the key elements determining the character and potential of Pagosa Country. PAWSD provides critical infrastructure to a majority of the local population, infrastructure basic to the quality of life here and it is a major player in the economic development of the area. A current PAWSD project — a cooperative effort with the town to provide wastewater treatment services to the area currently served by the Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District— is an example.

A number of government services must be in place and be adequate in order for healthy growth to occur and be maintained. Government must provide streets and roadwork, recreational amenities, schools, planning services, licensing, fire protection, law enforcement, a level of social services, among others. None is more important than water.

Water, in fact, is the baseline controlling factor when it comes to growth, particularly in the West. Water has always been the most valuable commodity in this part of the world, fought over in many ways, and control and delivery of water (and, to a lesser extent, services such as wastewater treatment) determines how much growth, and what kind of growth, is possible.

Both bodies are critically important to the future of Pagosa Country. Voters must step up and select those who will embody their interests.

And, once elected, those representatives should put one more item on their plates. On the surface, this does not seem palatable, in a political sense, but we believe it is a consideration whose time has come.

We believe members of the Town Council and the PAWSD board should consider pay for service.

At present, members of both boards serve on a volunteer basis. We believe citizens elected to these boards deserve remuneration. It doesn’t have to be much, but even a small amount — for example, $250 per month — lends more gravity to the position, gives the officials “skin in the game.” To do the job well involves spending a considerable amount of time at certain junctures and we think a salary deepens accountability and emphasizes the sense of responsibility that must be part of the service.

Karl Isberg

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