Under the Dome: The best solutions are local
During the legislative session and even before it starts as legislators envision new bills and my Joint Budget Committee structures spending, the legislature looks for solutions to big statewide problems like housing, education funding, and health care.
But during the offseason, when I visit my far-flung rural and western district, I realize that local governments, nonprofits and citizen’s groups know their local issues best and are taking action often without state government involvement. That realization gives me a newfound sense of humility and an understanding of the dramatic differences in the problems and solutions in widely separated and demographically diverse communities. One size definitely does not fit all.
I was proud to be a sponsor of the “reinsurance bill” in the last session. That bill will reduce private insurance rates by up to 30% throughout my district. But in Summit county, the local initiative Peak Alliance, led by CEO Tammara Drangstveit, will add another 11% for a total savings of 41%. A remarkable achievement after years of unaffordable health care. Using this local model, consumers started by banding together. They got the best deal they could from hospitals, and then they asked insurance companies to bid for their business. The more people in the alliance and the more leverage they can exert, the better deal they get. Can other communities use this model? Several are now investigating the possibility.
Along with health care, housing costs are a growing crisis in the lives of our working families in Colorado. Although the problem is statewide and affects urban cities, resort communities and rural towns have some unique issues and answers.
The Town of Granby scored big by purchasing property and water rights from a failed development. Led by Mayor Paul Chavoustie, Granby then put out a request for a buyer, proposing an RV resort with a mix of camping sites and cabins. The plan was to cluster as many visitors as possible on a portion of the parcel and retain the rest as open space for recreation and perhaps affordable housing for Granby citizens. The town sold the property and another parcel at a profit with an agreement that it would include 310 affordably priced homes in addition to the RV and cabin resort.
“It worked out really well for us,” said Granby Town Manager Aaron Blair in a recent news article.
In my own Roaring Fork Valley, there is an acute need for housing for middle-income workers who provide vital services to our community. Scott Gilbert who heads Habitat for Humanity in my neighborhood has led an extraordinary collaboration with the Roaring Fork School District, Pitkin County, and the Town of Basalt, to build the Basalt Vista Housing Partnership which will provide 27 affordable homes for teachers and others in our local workforce. This may be a model that could be adopted in communities throughout Colorado and across the country.
- Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is the builder and will facilitate access to mortgages, raise funds to cover the $75,000 gap between construction costs and the reduced sales prices for each home through donations from individuals, foundations, and local businesses; as well as proceeds from the ReStore.
- Our school district provided seven acres of land adjacent to Basalt High School; valued at $3.2 million. Pitkin County funded the infrastructure costs (roads and utilities) totaling $3 million. The Town of Basalt contributed in the form of reduced fees.
These are just three examples of local action with a high payoff. Colorado’s constitution specifies local control and our 64 counties and 178 school districts, as well as thousands of special districts, insist on the maximum flexibility from state laws and regulations. And they have good answers. We should always look to local leadership and solutions as a first choice.
Tell me about your local solutions and how I can help from Denver as I continue to have the honor of representing you.
Senator Bob Rankin writes the monthly column “Under the Dome” hoping to inform and engage the constituents in his district and the Western Slope. He serves on the Joint Budget Committee and represents Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Grand, Jackson and Summit Counties.