3 Reasons Towns Die

Consistency – Reliability – Fairness

These are the cornerstones of a three-legged stool that constituents look to government to uphold on a daily basis.  They count on fairness to every member of the community no matter their religion, age, or family connections.  They rely on their knowledge of government and how it works that it will be reliable every day.  They depend on consistency in order to establish their own lives.  In turn they agree to abide by the rules and laws of the place they live.

Government has failed to provide all three pegs of that stool and thus citizenry are reacting.

They are moving out of towns and cities that don’t balance the stool to places that do.  And if they can’t move because of age or finances, they are demanding changes be made to once again balance government and the elected officials seem to have no clue how to fix it.

In our own town of Escalante, Utah, the stool is totally out of balance and the town council and mayor, for whatever reason, haven’t righted the stool.

First, the county school district is concerned about the declining enrollment of the schools.  Long-time residents look to blame the creation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for the decline in the communities.  Yes, it has impacted the cattle grazing and logging and that has resulted in several cattle raising families moving to places where they are welcome.  And yes, the sawmill has closed and all those family wage jobs have gone away, and the children they supported. But that’s just one leg of the stool.

Second, the federal agencies that promote tourism are providing some jobs that could help replace the others, but they can’t replace them all and tourism based jobs are not family wage.  The same employee that worked at the sawmill now has two jobs to replace the one at the sawmill.  In addition, Payment In Leiu of Taxes (PILT) has not been increased in many years.  The town is expected to provide emergency services, water, sewer, trash without the federal government paying their fair share of the costs.  The county Sheriff is now the only  response to 911 since the city police position was removed due to finances. The lack of reliable funding for services puts the total burden on the property owners.

Third, city and county ordinances are not enforced with any consistency leaving people to conclude they don’t wish to move here until they are.  Case in point, the City of Escalante uses the State’s abandoned road facility and the state offers little or no incentive to keep it updated and in good repair.  When the wind storms of last summer took out one of the sheds the debris from was removed and the fences repaired by the state.  However, the contents of the building remain on the ground (pipe parts, old buckets, etc) to this day. The weeds are now growing up amongst them and the highway frontage lot does not say “we care about our City”.  If you drive the streets, there is no enforcement of a number of ordinances and vacant houses “For Sale”  might sell but the neighborhood is in such disrepair it reminds a lot of them of what they’re trying to escape from not a lush, small town where everyone works together.  And the disproportionate number of absentee owners because of “Holiday Home Rentals” is removing the “home town” flavor because of City Government.

The stool needs righting and placing blame elsewhere is not the answer.  The answer is here in our National Historic District Town of 750. Demand the city, county, state and federal government agencies rebalance the stool.  How?

  1. The Federal resource management agencies need to pay their fair share for upkeep and management of facilities their visitors use without cost. Fairness.
  2. The State highway department needs to find a way to transfer management of the old highway dept. facility to the city or enter into an agreement to allow the city to make proposed improvements and help pay for them. Reliability.
  3. The City needs to place a limit on the number of Holiday Homes as a percentage of the total number of homes available in the city. And they need to enforce the building codes, and other ordinances on a regular basis with the same answers for all. Consistency.

It wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it would get this small town well (and many others of all sizes) on its way to re-balancing the three-legged stool.

Until next time – – – – –

Christmas Day Photo Trip

We ventured off on our usual Christmas Day Adventure.  The backroads were mucky from the melted snow and 24° wasn’t inviting to hike, so we took a little road trip.  It was surprising how many foks were stopped at Head of the Rocks with us.  From 4 different countries and 4 nationalities.  It was pretty much a picture of the population that travels through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on an annual basis.  Most visitors are overseas residents with 33% from Germany, 30+% from Europe and the rest Americans.

The view of the snow-capped Henrie Mountains was as crisp and clear as you can ever see them.  The winter days are usually wonderful for clean air and blue skies.  We stopped for a bite to eat overlooking the grand Staircase.  At 8,000′ we expected more snow.  The roads were good and the plows were out cleaning up the wind drifts from the previous nights wind storm.  The storms that come down from the North bring winds and rain/snow to the mountain tops, but rarely to the valley floors.  When the storms come in from the south we can get a great deal of snow on the valley floors.

Just past Mile Post 103 on Utah Scenic Byway 12, there’s a clear view of the Henrie Mountains and the outer cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park.  Their Vermillion walls stand in start contrast to the snow-filled crevices of the surrounding formations.  As the day passes the clear skies revert to brown, the Aspen Grove shadows stretch a long ways across snow-covered meadows, and the temperature begins to fall.  Time to go home.

Hoping your Christmas was full of joy and peace.

JR