Hodge: The sad paucity of economy diversity

By Corinne Westeman
Posted 9/9/20

By David Hodge, Columnist

For those of you who don’t know, Henderson Mine paid 65.3 percent of the property taxes in Clear Creek County in 2009 and 50.42 percent in 2018.

The reduction? …

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Hodge: The sad paucity of economy diversity

Posted

By David Hodge, Columnist

For those of you who don’t know, Henderson Mine paid 65.3 percent of the property taxes in Clear Creek County in 2009 and 50.42 percent in 2018.

The reduction? Due, at least in part, to the fact that the overall total taxable assessed value of property in Clear Creek decreased from $525,620,230 to $395,836,760 between 2009 and 2018, according to the most recent financial report published by the county (2018 if you hadn’t guessed).

The only other taxpaying entities that even came within an order of magnitude (that is, who were even close to paying 1/10th as much as the Henderson Mine) were the Public Service Company of CO (Xcel), the Frei Pit Quarry down by Kermits, Cellco Partnership (Verizon), Loveland Ski Area, Qwest, and AT&T. The only one of those to breach 2 percent of the total tax base was Xcel.

Everybody else (including Loveland!!) were basically rounding errors in 2018 compared with the tax contributions of the Henderson Mine.

For the record, sales tax in Clear Creek is 1.65 percent, and lodging tax is 2 percent of loding sales. That total added up to barely more than 10 percent of the total county budget for 2018. Property taxes, county service fees (like vehicle registration), and state money made up more than 82 percent of the budget. Property taxes alone represented about half of the total county budget for 2018.

Like I said, if you’ve been here for a while, you’ve heard this song and dance many times. But now that we’re all up to speed on how heavily monochromatic the economy in Clear Creek County is, let’s talk solutions.

Really the answer is more economic diversity (i.e. not just a huge molybdenum mine up past Empire paying all the bills). Doesn’t take a genius to see that.

Unfortunately, what economic diversity keeps seeming to boil down to is tourism.

First a disclaimer. I don’t have a problem with sustainable tourism (unsustainable over-tourism is a completely different thing, but a topic for another day). Many of my friends and neighbors earn (or try to) earn their livings in this industry.

The thing is this: Of the roughly 3,000 jobs that existed in 2018 with Clear Creek’s biggest local employers, only 3.2 percent to 6.8 percent of the jobs were in the tourism sector. Of those tourism jobs, roughly half were minimum wage.

In general, the majority of tourism jobs in the mountains are, if not minimum wage, then surely damn hard to live on. After all, the median house price in the county has risen to $392,072 and the cheapest rent available in Clear Creek right now (that I could find) is no less than about $1,000 per month. Don’t even get me started on what health insurance costs; many tourist-industry workers simply go without it.

So. Diversity. Don’t ditch tourism by any means! Sustainable tourism is something to be promoted. It’s simply time to recognize that growing the tourism industry by itself simply cannot cut it. At least all the employees of the Henderson Mine make good wages and get benefits.

What we need is high-tech industry, scientific research and university involvement, even perhaps some more environmentally conscious mining of our rich auriferous chalcopyrite gold ore reserves.

Have I lost you there? Do such things sound like crazy dreams next to the possibility of an ugly condo complex up Soda Creek, or the chipboard manors going up by Georgetown Lake?

To be honest, a few years ago I might have agreed. But one thing that working remotely for close to six months now has taught me is … it works.

Why not incentivize high-tech sectors, like the booming Colorado aerospace industry, to operate here when it turns out that most work doesn’t actually require you to be physically on top of your supply chain anymore?

Why not incentivize Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines to expand their existing research here? Why not turn current adversity into an opportunity to facilitate the growth of a far healthier economic diversity?

Adversity to Diversity. I like that catch-phrase.  

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