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Build a bridge, cross a border

In last week’s Letters, a writer used the term “our town” in his comment. The writer lives in unincorporated Archuleta County and the remark illustrates a reality people on all sides of a number of hot issues need to understand  — one all parties must learn to deal with in a cooperative and civil fashion.

There are two communities in Pagosa Country. There is a broad community defined by lived experience, comprising all of Archuleta County, and there are communities as defined by law.

The unified community is one in which our experiences as residents flow freely. Our social relationships, education system, commercial and recreational activities in that community are not confined.

Then, there is the legally divided community, comprising the Town of Pagosa Springs, and everything else in the county. There is no wall, no moat, no fence, but there is a border.

Colorado law defines that border.

The reality: the Town of Pagosa Springs is one legal entity, Archuleta County is another. The two overlap when governments cooperate, but the difference is concrete. It has been this way since 1891. It is not going to change. If we do not live within town boundaries, Pagosa Springs is not “ours” in significant ways: We do not own the public property, we cannot vote on town matters.

The only recent chance residents of Pagosa Country had to change this situation — a move to create a Home Rule county in the late ’80s — was rejected by the people. It will not happen.

Residents in both communities have gripes. Many in town voice the complaint that they pay a full share of tax to the county, but receive less in the way of several key county services — law enforcement, road and street services among them.

Complaints from county residents who work inside town limits, many of whom own commercial property there, and from those who recognize the town as a center of the greater community, emphasize they are cut out of the decision-making process in Pagosa Springs.

That is the law, and there is nothing that can be done about it, absent a move, or annexation. The boundary is there; it can’t be erased, but it can be crossed. A bridge can be built.

Those living outside town limits can have an effect on the internal workings of the municipality only if they approach the situation realistically and with respect for the fact the town’s elected officials must first represent their constituents. Aspersions cast upon the town’s elected leaders by residents of the county do not serve to build a bridge, they serve only to widen the gulf. Many county residents have sincere and worthy ideas; those ideas cannot take root in a hostile atmosphere. There is a measure of deference called for, and it will pay off if extended.

The town’s elected officials must serve their constituents, but should recognize the reality of the greater, lived community. Decisions can be made with that greater community in mind that do not damage the interests of town residents; consideration can be given to ideas originating outside the border in a civil interaction with those who offer them.

There is no doing away with the legal boundary. The only way to effectively cross the border is with respect — especially when opinions differ. If you live in the county but care about the town, do so recognizing the legal realities and obligations of officials, and your limitations. If you live in town, know that sincere concern and valuable ideas exist across the border and that the greater community might be the more real community, the genuine Pagosa.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on January 17, 2013.