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By Ed Fincher
If Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem had walked into the Ross Aragon Community Center last week carrying a large hornet’s nest full of angrily buzzing insects or a fist full of squirming snakes, he couldn’t have created more shock and confusion amongst members of the Town Tourism Committee.
At their Wednesday afternoon meeting, in the middle of TTC Director Jenny Green’s budget report, Mitchem said, “This committee brought to town council a request to do a development on Reservoir Hill. That request was approved, yet I don’t see any provision for implementation in your budget, and I don’t quite understand.
“I know you are early in the process, but I guess I would say to you that you all have convinced us this development is critically important for our economic future, and we assessed your presentation and your appeal and made the decision you are correct: It will have a significant and positive impact on downtown Pagosa Springs. I would hope that this committee would continue to move that initiative forward and drive to implementation as soon as possible.”
Green looked around the room, wide-eyed, as she gauged the reaction of the rest of the group. Mitchem’s comments were obviously unexpected, and came less than 24 hours after the budget sub-committee had spent the better part of an afternoon trying to hash out an already thin budget.
Larry Fisher, the head of the Reservoir Hill Task Force, said, “We have not yet scheduled a Reservoir Hill Task Force meeting, and we probably need to do that.”
“I have a question for clarification,” Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Jo Coulehan interjected. “So what are the next steps? Is it the TTC’s responsibility? Is it the town’s responsibility? Is it the Reservoir Hill Task Force group? Whose responsibility is it now to move forward with the project and who will incur the fees to get that process moving?”
“The logical answer is all of the above,” Mitchem responded. “We as town staff will assist you, but this is your initiative. You folks are the ones that have brought this forward and convinced us you are correct. Early on, the town council endorsed your initiative and blessed it, and asked you to work out the details. You did that and brought it back, and now they’ve taken the next step and said let’s put a financial packet together and move towards implementation.”
TTC member Jim Smith asked, “So you feel like the ball’s in our court? Maybe some of us thought it was in the town’s court. We don’t have any staff to really implement this kind of deal.”
“I’ve only installed two chair lifts,” Green joked, trying to break the tension. Everyone laughed.
“I think indeed it is a joint effort,” Mitchem continued.
“Do you have any money in your budget for Reservoir Hill?” Smith asked.
“We are early in the budgeting process,” Mitchem responded.
“So are we,” Smith replied. “In my opinion you are throwing something on us, but this is a shared responsibility. So we would like to see a quid pro quo from the town in their budget.”
At another TTC budget subcommittee work session held Sept. 24, Green started the meeting off by saying, “I don’t know that we made a lot of progress last week.” She laughed. “We now have four different working versions of the budget.”
The last column of her spreadsheet was based on Mitchem’s suggestion and showed an extra $100,000 in the capital improvement line item earmarked for the Reservoir Hill project.
“Sorry,” Green apologized as she struggled to get her projector lined up properly on the screen, “I’m making myself laugh on this one.”
TTC Chairman Bob Hart summarized Mitchem’s comments from the previous week for TTC member Morgan Murri, who had been unable to attend the Wednesday meeting. “He wants to see about $100,000 for Reservoir Hill,” Hart explained.
“So, that doesn’t really give money for anything else,” Green added, “signage or fish habitat or anything else in capital improvements.
“I get the sense that town is looking to us to implement this, but what we were tasked with doing was creating a plan, and we did that, so my concern is I don’t think it is this subcommittee’s job to build Reservoir Hill, and I would like to see the town take some leadership on this. We did as we were tasked. If they believe in the plan then maybe they should take the next steps to carry it forward.”
However, since the argument for building on Reservoir Hill revolves around the argument that it will bring in more tourists and bolster the occupancy rates for local lodges, there is some logic or karma in the notion of making the TTC pay for it, since its funding comes from the lodgers’ tax.