Ed Quillen: Doesn’t Colorado have enough counties already?
June 2, 2011
Does Colorado really need more counties?
California has seven times the population of Colorado, and covers an area half again as big. Yet it gets by with only 58 counties, whereas Colorado has 64 counties and some people are proposing a 65th.
Even so, Colorado is not a national leader in the county department. Texas tops the 50 states with 254 counties, among them Loving, with a 2010 population of 82, making it the least populated county in America.
I’d guess Iowa leads in “counties per capita.” It’s got 99 counties for about 3 million people.
Still, you’d think Colorado has enough counties, starting with the original 17 designated by the territorial legislature 150 years ago and continuing through 2001, when portions of Boulder, Weld, Jefferson and Adams counties officially became the city and county of Broomfield.
Now there’s talk of another new county in that general area, to be formed from portions of Boulder and Weld counties, including an area known as “Carbon Valley.”
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I grew up in Weld County and once lived in Boulder County, and yet I had never heard of Carbon Valley. It’s a relatively recent name for an area we used to call “the tri-towns” on account of Firestone, Frederick and Dacono. They were all coal camps once. “Carbon Valley” does sound more appealing – especially when you’re hustling real estate – than, say, “Methane Vent,” “Spoil Tip,” “Gob Pile” or “Check the land carefully for old shafts before you build.”
Presumably Longmont would be the seat of this “St. Vrain County,” if it comes to fruition. From what I’ve read, they feel oppressed by Boulder County, which isn’t doing enough to promote economic development while collecting taxes for a big open-space program.
There are also complaints that the city of Boulder, which has about a third of the county’s nearly 300,000 residents, unfairly dominates the county government, and thus it’s time to “succeed.” (That’s either a pun on “secede” or a symptom of ignorance.)
Even though I have close relatives in Longmont, I can’t say I follow these matters closely, but it is obvious that many of our current county boundaries don’t make much sense. One classic example is Mineral County. Its seat is Creede, but the county extends to cover the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, site of a controversial proposed development. Naturally, Mineral County approved it, since Mineral would collect the property and sales taxes. But most of the development’s effects would fall on Rio Grande and Archuleta counties, which sit at the feet of Wolf Creek Pass.
The biggest taxpayer in Gunnison County is a coal mine that can’t be reached from the county seat in the winter. Gunnison gets the property taxes, but the miners’ children go to school in Delta County.
There’s a big chunk of Saguache County that sits closer to Gunnison than to its seat of Saguache. Basalt sits in Eagle County, but to get there from Eagle, you need to go through Glenwood Springs, the seat of Garfield County. Granite in Chaffee County is closer to the Lake County seat of Leadville than to the Chaffee seat of Salida, and meanwhile western Fremont County sits closer to Salida than to Canon City. Aurora, the third-largest city in the state, spreads into three counties.
In other words, many of our county boundaries may have made some kind of sense in the late 19th century, but they don’t fit well now. If we were starting from scratch, we’d doubtless draw up a different map.
But starting over would be expensive, time-consuming and fraught with controversy, no matter how sensible the new boundaries and seats. So we’ll continue to see efforts to make local adjustments.