On May 17, I had the privilege of representing the city of Durango at the Chamber of Commerce forum on “The State of the Community.” I explained that the state of the city is evolving and building on a solid foundation.
That foundation includes collaborative attitudes among city councilors, as well as dedicated staff throughout the organization. It also includes long-standing stability in the city manager’s office, in which just three individuals have served in about 58 of the last 60 years.
To understand our city’s evolution, I will look at the recent past, look at present issues and look ahead to the future.
Looking back, I point to the long and compelling list of accomplishments cited by outgoing Mayor Christina Rinderle in her last “From the Mayor” column (Herald, April 8).
Sometimes, it appears that the wheels of government turn at a glacial pace because so many are turning at once. In spite of this, Rinderle’s list demonstrates significant evolution in just eight years.
Looking at the present, homelessness and panhandling have become acute issues that will require broad-based efforts to mitigate. The city has largely escaped the extreme fiscal stress imposed on La Plata County and other entities by plummeting natural gas property tax revenues. Even so, while tourism remains robust, shoulder season sales taxes last year and again this year have been sluggish, likely because many local residents have less money to spend.
At the same time, Durango remains an extremely attractive place to live, maintaining pressure on home prices and increasing the challenge of affordable housing.
Looking ahead, the recently updated Comprehensive Plan provides the city’s framework for future evolution. Following statements of vision, core values and guiding principles, successive chapters address the many wheels of our local government: natural environment; community development; housing; character districts and area plans; transportation; utilities; parks, open space, trails, and recreation; arts, culture, and creative economy; and, finally, public services and facilities.
For each of these elements, the document narrows its focus to specific goals, objectives and associated policies that will guide city decision-making in the coming decade.
In last month’s “From the Mayor” column (Herald, April 22), I highlighted five of these key areas that will require large capital investments. Because of space limitations here, I will elaborate on just one.
Utility infrastructure, for sewer, water, stormwater and also telecommunications, is essential to the physical and economic health of the community.
On May 10, the city broke ground on the $60 million Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility. Wastewater management is a less than glamorous, but utterly essential, component of community sustainability.
Likewise, water is a key development resource, and thanks to the foresight of earlier civic leaders, the city operates on a foundation of water rights adequate to support about 40,000 residents assuming that climate change does not diminish the annual storage in our mountain water towers.
The city is planning to partner with the La Plata Archuleta Water District to construct a new water treatment plant on Airport Mesa to process water stored in Lake Nighthorse, storage rights the city purchased after the 2002 wildfires that simultaneously compromised our water sources in both the Florida and Animas Rivers. The new plant also will enable refurbishment of the 60-year-old College Mesa Water Treatment Plant.
In addition to expanding water and sewer demands, stormwater management challenges have grown along with the community. A three-year stormwater study City Council authorized in 2106, to identify needs and potential resources for meeting them, will be presented to us next year.
Finally, virtually invisible internet infrastructure facilitates almost all commercial and personal business. Regional partners in the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments, including the city of Durango, are addressing so-called “middle-mile” fiber-optic connections between communities. Provision of “last-mile” connections to businesses and residences will fall to private sector providers, likely facilitated by local governments, particularly in hard-to-serve rural areas.
Full implementation of the plan will entail very large capital costs, split among the city and partners in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Some projects will not happen soon; some may not happen at all.
However, the whole of our community is greater than the sum of these parts, and one of Durango’s defining characteristics is the very high level of civic engagement.
I intend to use my term as mayor to catalyze discussions around community needs – both within and beyond the city limits – to establish priorities, as well as acceptable ways and means of meeting them.
Dick White is the mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. He was re-elected to the council in 2015 and will serve as mayor until April 2018, when he will be succeeded by now-Mayor Pro Tem Sweetie Marbury. Reach him at DickWhite@DurangoGov.org.