In small towns, things like a government office closing matter – a lot.
Because it can be seen as a signal of disinvestment, and movement in the wrong direction, local governments and the residents who depend upon them will do what they can to avoid closures.
In an important display of civic responsiveness between residents and Town of Bayfield and La Plata County officials, that’s what happened last week as county clerk Tiffany Parker announced that the Bayfield clerk’s office will remain open one day per week, at least for another year.
Though the commissioners’ and clerk’s hand-wringing over the potential closure began months ago, a local petition to keep the office open garnered 1,600 signatures and is likely what made the difference in the end.
Some may think it should not have taken the petition effort, but that is exactly what was necessary to demonstrate the community’s priorities and deliver policy-making guidance to elected officials.
It was, perhaps, an imperfect example of our democracy in action, but a good one in problem-solving for which elected officials and the citizens they serve should be credited.
We just finished an election that saw a successful mill levy increase request by the Durango Fire Protection District and a failed request by the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1. Fortunately for DFPD area residents, the district will have the funds to slowly retire and replace its aging fleet of fire trucks.
The Re-1 school district was not as lucky, or perhaps not as successful as the fire district in demonstrating and communicating its needs and running a campaign.
Those opposed to tax increases say government should be tightening its belt and La Plata County officials are trying. Clerk Parker’s offices are currently staffed at 1992 levels and she has enrolled the county (one of ten and the smallest participant) in a state-funded pilot program for three years to operate a registration renewal kiosk at the Pine River Library and, by month’s end, at the Durango office.
She has also replaced a 1988 DOS-based software motor vehicle title and registration system to streamline transactions and procured new election and voter tabulation software that reduces the time staff and election judges need to process ballots.
At some point though, there will be no more to trim nor technology to upgrade. Maintaining and increasing levels of service as the population grows will demand a revenue increase.
For now, we have an engaged public and resourceful and responsive county officials to thank for doing more with less.
The public is demanding it.