Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 12:35 PM
Sam Green/Cortez Journal

The Sleeping Ute rises up behind the Southern Bluffs subdivision in Cortez.

In contrast with last year’s abundance of snow, this winter, so far, has been extremely dry. Water managers, ag producers, skiers and river runners alike are now eyeing the sky and the weather forecast, wondering when the white stuff will start in earnest.

Last year’s wildland fires were manageable. This year could be very different – just look at California to see how bad a fire season can get.

Construction will continue on Southwest Health System’s ambitious hospital expansion and clinic building, which will consolidate services currently spread all around town. The Cortez Fire Protection District also will complete construction on its new fire station. The Pleasant View Fire District also will build a new fire station. Mancos School District RE-6 will launch its renovation project, and Dolores School District RE-4A will build a health clinic. That construction helps keep locals working.

Demolition of the retired Montezuma-Cortez High School building will be finished this summer, and the property will be repurposed for other uses. Work at the historic Calkins Building remains on hold.

Look for progress on the Paths to Mesa Verde multi-use trail between Cortez and the Mesa Verde entrance road and on to Mancos. Ways still need to be found across private property, but the project has momentum.

Public lands will continue to be in the news. Last year, on its first day of work, the U.S. House simplified transferring federal lands to states, local communities or Indian tribes, possibly opening them up for additional economic uses. So far, not much has happened on that front, but expect a move to transfer costs for managing those lands to local governments.

Pay attention to the budgets of various governmental agencies, especially those dependent on property taxes. That’s a boat that the federal tax cut won’t float quickly, if at all.

Energy-related tax revenues are down. Because of residential growth on the Front Range, the Gallagher Amendment is likely to reduce property tax assessments.

Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 needs to find a way to increase teacher salaries in order to fill teaching positions. Good schools are essential for economic growth.

Montezuma County has approved a budget that exceeds projected revenue, and the Town of Dolores has reduced its budget from 2017. The state also is looking for ways to save money.

In the midst of that, federal contributions to state and local budgets are in question. An example is the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Colorado legislators have approved emergency funding so that the program doesn’t lapse in the state, and both parties in Congress say they fully intend to fund it – although they differ on how – but health care providers worry that payments will lag or disappear.

Federal decisions could affect local budgets in myriad other ways as well, and rural agencies are not well equipped to cope quickly with such changes. Tourism may benefit from federal tax cuts, but local public lands agencies need to be adequately funded to provide positive visitor experiences. Raising fees while cutting budgets for campgrounds, restrooms, road maintenance and other improvements may erode visitor numbers if communities don’t create other draws.

This year, eyes have to be focused on Washington, because Congress and the Trump administration have the power to help or hurt so much of what happens in our region.