As a regional council of governments considers expanding its interstate partnerships, Bayfield Town Board members pointed to the city of Durango as an important – and lacking – voice in furthering the council’s regional improvement projects.
Durango left the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments in 2018 as a result of budget constraints. The council, formed in 2009, is made up of governments pushing for economic programs, like affordable housing and regional broadband, in the Southwest. The council has been working with Farmington, San Juan County and Aztec in New Mexico to explore partnership options and to pursue broadband development.
The potential interstate partnerships reinvigorated discussion around Durango’s decision to leave the council at the Bayfield Town Board meeting July 16. According to Council of Governments board member and Bayfield trustee David Black, Durango needs to rejoin the effort.
“If we could get that (regional broadband), that would be a huge economic drive for every community,” Black said. “Durango needs to be a part of that. They are the biggest community in the region economically.”
The council is considering the idea of partnering with border communities in Utah and Arizona as well. The expansion could give the council access to more U.S. representatives, and thus a boost in political influence that could help fund regional programs, Black said.
The council focuses on regional cooperation between local governments and different levels of government on projects like transportation, tourism and broadband. Current membership includes 13 governments in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties.
“We’re just beginning our budget process, so we don’t have solid info regarding revenue projections,” said Ron LeBlanc, Durango city manager. Once revenue projections and City Council goals for 2020 are set in September, the city will be able to take another look at participating in the council.
When Durango left the council in 2018, it saved $36,000 in annual dues out of a $93 million budget. Dues are based on population and help pay for shared software, expertise on staff and support for city endeavors, said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Council of Governments.
Several other trustees agreed with Black, saying while they wished Durango would be involved, they understood that the city had to make budget cuts.
“I think the CCOG is a great organization, and I do agree with Trustee Black,” said Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka, adding that it’s beneficial for everyone, including Durango, to be involved.
“If we all work together, it might make things cheaper and easier. ... My only thing is when it comes to budget time, if you can’t make budget, where are you going to cut those things?” he said. For the city of Durango, “they’re just trying to cut services all over. That’s happening with a lot of organizations.”
Other communities have also considered leaving or have already left the council, in some cases to pursue cheaper options or to self-manage services, Salka said. Although Bayfield is still a council member, the town left the group’s broadband effort because it was cheaper to work directly with the provider, FastTrack.
For Durango, rejoining the council could be mutually beneficial, especially since Durango is the largest municipal center in Southwest Colorado, said Gillow-Wiles, who as executive director, defers to what the Council of Governments board decides.
Both organizations are working to improve housing affordability, and linking the city’s public transportation infrastructure with surrounding communities could increase Durango’s transportation revenue, she said.
“I think it would be helpful to have everyone at the table because we would have a better regional voice and make better regional decisions,” she said.