Working together, Craig and Moffat hope to accomplish more

Welcome to Craig sign on I-40 east of Craig, Colorado on Dec. 17, 2021.
Billy Schuerman/For the Craig Press

A pot of money and a renewed sense of urgency has the city of Craig and the county of which it is the seat looking forward to working more closely together.

Moffat County commissioners and Craig city council are aiming for a “sooner-than-later” joint meeting that representatives of both bodies hope will become a regular practice. That’s in part because of the city and county’s uniquely intertwined destinies, in part because of the turning point in their shared histories in which they find themselves, and in part because of several million dollars in outside funding they have to decide how best to use.

“We’ve got this money that has been or will be awarded to us,” said county commissioner Melody Villard by phone this week. “How do we best use that to support our community into the future?”

After an informal conversation between Villard and Craig city manager Peter Brixiusin late January, Brixius spoke to council members at its most recent meeting about the possibility for increased communication and collaboration between the two elected bodies.

“The conversation is priorities with the city and county, about not doing those in a bubble,” Villard said. “How do we share that communication?”

The council responded very favorably, with all present members noting how critical they believed this opportunity was to work together and row in the same direction, so to speak.

“The thing that prompted this was (American Rescue Plan Act) funding, that potential pot of money that’s coming to the area from the federal government,” said Craig mayor Ryan Hess by phone. “What ways can we maybe jointly use those funds to participate in some projects?”

The ARPA funds aren’t the only millions coming to the region. Both the county and city are set to receive money individually from the feds in ARPA and, presumably, future Build Back Better dollars, as well as from the state’s Office of Just Transition.

“We’re a small community, and the city and county are so integral to people’s lives,” Hess said. “If you live in the city, you still use county services. And if you’re out in the county, the city still affects you. The more we start to work together and the more conversations we have on the same page, especially with multi-million dollar funding coming, the best way to utilize those funds is to make sure we’re going in the same direction.”

Neither Villard nor Hess wanted to identify specific agenda items that might appear on the first meeting’s docket, hesitant to speak out of turn given the numerous other elected officials involved — two more for the county and six more for the city. But both were animated about the possibility to join forces more intentionally.

“It’s so important right now to have priorities and know where we can align and get the best bang for our buck,” Villard said.

Hess, pointing out that combining the $2 million or so received by each entity gives any joint effort greater purchasing power, not to mention more cohesive direction, said that money is only part of the equation.

“If it looks like we’re a shattered community, not unified, it’s not good for potential projects or developerse,” Hess aid. “It’s also wasted effort. To get in a tug of war or go in opposite directions on an issue or project — or even going different directions to get to the same conclusion — that’s what you fear happening. A lot of this is one-time-shot stuff. This isn’t sustainable funding.”

The uniqueness of the moment underscored the need to pull together. Functionally, that will look like public work sessions between both full bodies — Hess and Villard both mentioned that drips and drabs relayed to the larger bodies from small-group conversations are less effective than everyone getting together face-to-face — in which unofficial decisions and directions can be made. Thereafter, according to legal requirements, each body will vote on appropriate measures in their own regular sessions.

“We have some glaring holes in our portfolio,” Villard said. “There are services we’re not able to provide, and I think being able to target those places is critical.”

As far as how exactly to make it work, the details are less critical than the direction, both officials said.

“Just do it,” Villard said. “We’ve got to schedule the time, make sure everyone can participate, and then just have the meeting. Once we’re there we can discuss goals and thoughts, get input. We’re all intelligent individuals, we can work well together, and we can communicate. But just do it.”

Hess added one more thought to that urgency of action.

“It’s got to be pretty frequent, too,” he said. “The interval can’t just be here and there. We need to be in a room, face-to-face. If there are issues between us, get those discussed and off the table. If there are things to work on, we’ve got a short timeline. We need to start putting one foot in front of the other and start doing.”

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