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Join the county’s discussion on growth

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Community Voices By Kevin O’Malley, Clear Creek County Commissioner

There were a number of columns and letters to the editor in last week’s paper concerning growth and development, historical resources and the county’s recent survey to get some ideas about our residents’ opinions.  The opinions expressed in the paper are a wonderful example of why being a Clear Creek County commissioner is always interesting.  There are a few things I’d like to comment on.
First, from reading former Commissioner Dale’s comment about survey question 9, one might think he wasn’t part of developing the questions and didn’t sign off on them. The truth is he was fully involved and approved all the questions. In fact, there were multiple, public work sessions regarding the questions on the survey.  Many questions were modified, added or removed based on the opinion of representatives of people who live on Floyd Hill. The fact that he didn’t like the answer to one or more of the questions doesn’t mean they’re bad questions or they shouldn’t be asked.  
The scenario laid out in question 9 is inevitable for Clear Creek County. The current mining industry will deliver less tax revenue to the county, either because the minerals run out or because there is less global demand for those minerals. If there is a different possible answer to dealing with a loss of revenue, I’d love to know what it is. Try as I might, I can’t come up with a different answer.
Whether it’s a household budget, a budget for a business or a government budget, when income goes down you either have to find new income or spend less. The services that take up the largest percentages of tax revenue are Road & Bridge, Law Enforcement and Emergency Services (Fire and Ambulance).  If spending cuts are implemented, those are the areas that will be most impacted.
Harry is right about one thing. Not all development pays its own way. Because Colorado assesses commercial property at almost four times the value of residential property, it is difficult to find exclusively residential developments that pay for themselves. Widely dispersed residential property, which is the type of property most Clear Creek residents own, is the least likely to pay for itself. More dense development that includes residential and commercial has a better chance to pay for itself.  
Fully commercial/industrial development does pay for itself. But, because of our location on the edge of the metro area, our relatively small population and the lack of usable land, significant fully commercial/industrial developments are not likely at this point. The exceptions to that may be new mining ventures or utility scale renewable energy. Those industries have their own sets of environmental and financial issues to work through before they can prove to be viable.  
One thing that some people seem to be forgetting is that Clear Creek County’s population will likely grow no matter what we do. Clear Creek’s population grew from 2,793 people in 1960 to 9,322 in 2000. That’s a 234 percent increase over 40 years or an average of 5.9 percent per year. The state demographer’s office estimates our population growth will slow to an average annual rate of 1.7% percent between 2000 and 2040. That growth rate includes a small drop in population between 2000 and 2010.
Even that reduced growth rate will add approximately 6,500 residents to Clear Creek County. At the current average household size of 2.3 people, that means about 2,800 new households will be added to Clear Creek. If we take the hands-off approach that some advocate, then those homes will be built on the many parcels that currently have residential building rights.
Almost all of those parcels fall into the widely dispersed residential category.  The vast majority of them will cost more in services than they generate in taxes. So, they will make a situation we know is coming even more difficult. As much as some may want Clear Creek to stay as it is, that just won’t happen.
It is our right as a community to say, “no” to any new development that would require changes in zoning or land usage. And that is the message we have sent with some of our recent decisions. But, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that these decisions are without expensive consequences for our residents in the future.  
Decisions we make as a community should be responsible, realistic and reasonable. That means that both current and long term impacts have to be considered. Just letting growth happen without being thoughtful about it may be realistic. It may even be reasonable. But, I don’t believe it is responsible. It is definitely irresponsible to just pretend it won’t happen or to believe we can keep people from developing their privately owned land.  
Regarding the debate about historic and cultural resources, that will make for another robust and interesting discussion when the analysis of cultural resources we have ordered comes before the Board of Commissioners. Several years ago, Clear Creek County adopted “Honoring our past, while designing our future” as our motto. Finding the balance between our past and our future is our task, and we are confident that we will find the right balance. I suspect that neither the ‘preserve no matter what’ nor, the ‘stay the heck out of my life’ factions will be satisfied with the results.
Please come and join the discussion.