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John Colson: Hit and Run

Well, we’re in it now.

In case you were still wondering, the Roaring Fork Valley now knows for certain that the worldwide recession has arrived with a vengeance, and the ride will be no easier for us than for the rest of the human race.

OK, maybe a little easier, if the trends continue as they have gone so far.



A headline in last week’s paper said it all ” “Recession is the talk of the town.” The shocked expressions on the faces of the populace reflect the fact that even real estate agents, whose arrogance and self-confidence have long rankled the less fortunate sectors of the local economy, are waking up to their own vulnerability.

A survey of local businesses thought to be doing a little better than others showed that it just ain’t so (see the Feb. 17 Inside Business edition). Businesses that cater to the lower-cost amenities ” clothing, fast food delivered to your door, used sporting gear ” all said their cash flow has diminished, their flow of customers has slacked off.




The Aspen city government has reacted to the recession by freezing wages and putting a halt to hiring new employees, although, like the big banks that everyone loves to hate, bonus checks are said to still be in the offing.

The city’s plans to close the town’s historic Aspen Ice Garden, which has been around for far longer than the people in charge of its operations and is looked upon like a reliable old war horse of recreation, is being turned over to the private sector in the hope that it can at least stay open.

Pitkin County, which seemingly is less susceptible to the vagaries of the economy than, say, the city of Aspen, nevertheless is talking about taking advantage of its cash reserves to pay bills that can’t be covered by the normal sales tax receipts.

Some experts on governance might view this as a desperate and ultimately ill advised move, given their insistence on retention of such reserves as the last resort of a government in trouble. But it may truly be the case that the trouble has arrived, and it’s time to pull out all the stops.

A radio report on the collapse of the gas-well boom in Garfield County left the impression that Rifle, alone among local governments, is maintaining an optimistic view and believes its sales tax revenues actually will rise by a respectable 5 percent in 2009.

But Rifle has been battered by booms and busts so often that its leaders might be excused for a Pollyanna-style outlook on the future. Between successive oil shale booms culminating in the disastrous debacle of Black Sunday in 1982, and this current gas bubble, the town’s fortunes have been an economic roller coaster ride of exceptional extremes for decades.

So perhaps it’s only natural that Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert would do his utmost to put everything in a positive light. Reality has proven to be no friend to the community, so maybe fantasy is his best option. Time will tell.

No part of the region’s society is untouched, including the newspaper you now hold in your hands. Some local journals have been closed, and others have cut staff, eliminated perks, trimmed production budgets and dropped less profitable special sections in an attempt to stave off the wolf at the door, with more and even less welcome changes likely to come.

Yep, there’s no doubt about it, we here in our own private Shangri-La are feeling the pinch of an economic malaise that has roots in some of our most cherished myths and systems. A little greed here, a strong dose of denial there, and all of a sudden the props have come out from under what is increasingly seen as a financial house of cards roughly the size of the entire Earth.

And even as our leadership, from the local city councils up to the White House, struggle to stem the flood of red ink threatening to engulf us all, a nagging suspicion just won’t go away.

It seems to me that we’re trying to use too much of the same old invalidated ideas and methods to solve a uniquely new kind of puzzle, when what we really need is an entirely new way of doing business.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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