Safety and education go hand in hand
There’s an awful lot of tension out there.
Tension between the city and the county over the way the county will split the sales tax increase if its approved. Tension over how the school district is allowed to talk about the upcoming ballot measures, and about whether having public safety and education on the same ballot will split the vote. There’s tension over health care and politics and where all the sales tax revenue from marijuana is going. It’s all economically driven. There’s just not enough money at a time when money is exactly what’s needed. It’s kind of a slippery slope that local coffers have the least available at times when people need the most help.
Despite that tension and the depressing local statistics that have caused it, its still a pretty exciting time to be in western Colorado. After years of declining sales tax revenues, disintegrating schools and rising crime rates, citizens and electeds from all over the valley finally got to work — starting conversations and creating strategic plans in an effort to figure out how to improve outcomes for the people who live here.
These discussions span economic development, health care, arts and culture, education and safety. It’s hard to keep track of all the feasibility studies going on right now. It’s an “all hands on deck” time in our community and while things have yet to drastically improve, there are definitely a few bright spots and an optimism out there that we haven’t felt in the past decade.
Realtors are starting to get excited by the rising home sales, tourism has kept us afloat through the hard times, and the Grand Junction Economic Partnership is courting some serious prospects who appreciate our quality of life.
For so long, the “activists” in our community seemed few and far between — working alone or existing in their own echo chambers — while the majority of people succumbed to a malaise derived from the mentality that things will never change.
Today, it seems we might actually be at the tipping point where there are enough people activating to actually see some serious movement in our economy. The community that Peter Hessler wrote about in his now infamous piece for The New Yorker was about a community that existed in the past, not the one I see today.
I believe that progress stems mainly from local leadership taking a new approach to solutions. We’re no longer an “either/or” economy where we support either energy or tech or outdoor recreation or tourism or manufacturing. Decades of learning the hard way from the boom and bust cycle of relying on one industry have led local leaders to pursue an “and” economy — energy and technology and outdoor recreation and manufacturing and tourism.
We can do it all. This is especially true in conversations concerning our public lands where we’re charting a new course that we can support both energy and outdoor recreation in the same space. If we can navigate that, we could be an example for the rest of the nation. And that’s just one of many efforts to diversify.
These types of conversations are happening all over the valley and organizations that previously didn’t work together are now sitting at the table figuring out solutions to the many issues we face. Some of these tables have experts in their field helping to craft solutions while others are simply well-intentioned people trying to navigate through unknown waters to find a way to make things better. Some of these solutions will be successful and some will not, but at least people are trying and working together to move us all forward.
Of course, the three ballot measures we’ll face in November will tell us a lot about how much we really want to improve things in the valley. The ongoing discussion that having both public safety and education on the same ballot may split the vote is short-sighted. Am I the only one not surprised that underfunded schools result in higher crime rates? Of course we have rising crime — what are the choices for a kid who is constantly told that his or her education is not a priority?
Ask any police officer. On the street, safety and education go hand in hand. They should on the ballot as well. It’s not public safety OR education. It’s public safety AND education.