Town, tribe intertwined

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Town, tribe intertwined

Ignacio, S. Utes grow side by side, forge complex connection
Ignacio utilities prove a benefit and a challenge

The water, natural gas and sewage flowing through Ignacio’s pipelines represent another tricky arena where the town of Ignacio and the Southern Ute Tribe come together.
The town is a customer of the tribe for water, sewer and gas services. The deal works out well for the town, giving it access to modern systems that tribal officials said are the best in the region.
Ignacio likely couldn’t afford that level of infrastructure on its own, but now the town is getting buried under the cost the tribe must charge to keep those systems operating. The town’s water fund has been in the red for at least the last seven years, and the sewer fund has been in the red for at least the last two, according to a report by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
In 2012 alone, expenditures in the sewer fund outpaced what the town collected in service fees by almost $50,000. In the water fund, the gap was $73,126.
Last year, the Town Board voted to increase water fees by $5 per month over the loud objections of many town residents who said the increase will put additional hardship on rate payers, especially those living on a fixed income.
The tribe might be the one raising fees, but the town takes the heat, Town Trustee Alison deKay said.
“I think people know how much the tribe gives and they don’t like to come out in public and lambaste them, so we get lambasted,” she said.
The two entities are negotiating a new rate structure, and town officials are eager to keep the peace with constant reminders that the tribe recently donated $265,000 to Ignacio School District. The money will be used to build a new water line on the west side of town that will increase water pressure to the schools and to areas the tribe and the town identified for future growth.
The deal worked out for all parties involved, Town Planner Miriam Gillow-Wiles said.
“(The tribe) is here to take care of their community, and Ignacio is there to take care of our community, and a lot of times those communities overlap,” she said.
ecowan@durangoherald.com

Town, tribe intertwined

“When it comes to the big picture, it’s all one community,” Emily Meisner, owner of The Patio Restaurant, says about the town of Ignacio and the Southern Ute Tribe. Many of the restaurant’s customers during the lunchtime rush are Growth Fund employees – just one indication of the tribe’s economic impact on the town of Ignacio. At left is former longtime Ignacio resident Lucas Martinez Jr., who now lives in Pagosa Springs.
Sharon Hammack reads with Ruby Tallbird at the Southern Ute Montessori Head Start program. Southern Ute Community Action Programs Inc., a nonprofit formed by the Southern Ute Tribe in 1966, administers the program. Though federal funding for the program goes through the tribe, Head Start serves both tribal and nontribal children across the southeast part of La Plata County.
Mel Silva, owner of Waci-ci Trading Co. in Ignacio, says tribal members are some of his biggest customers. “The thing that brought Ignacio along was totally the tribe and everything they did,” said Silva, who grew up in Ignacio and is president of the Ignacio Chamber of Commerce.
From left, Jazmynn Howell, Trish Jacket and Ernestine Maze prepare meals for local residents in need as part of the Meals on Wheels program at the Ignacio Senior Center. Southern Ute Community Action Programs oversees the Senior Center, which serves about 200 people annually. About half of the nonprofit’s $7 million budget comes from federal money funneled through the tribe.
Faustino Joy and Forrest Vega, both 3, read to each other at the Ignacio Head Start program. Each year, the program serves about 170 children across a region that mirrors Ignacio School District.
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