Looking forward: Locals offer their thoughts on the top issues facing our communities in 2022
We asked 18 area residents — from the newly named Colorado Teacher of the Year and local government leaders to first responders, community organizers, health care professionals, a student and other personalities — what they think will be the top issues facing our local communities in the new year.
Here’s what they had to say:
Autumn Rivera, Glenwood Middle School science teacher/Colorado 2022 Teacher of the Year
As we ready ourselves for 2022, it is important to first look back on 2021. The first half of the 2021-22 school year has been one of the hardest in teaching. Trying to yet again reinvent the wheel, while helping students feel safe in an ever-changing world, plus all the other regular duties that come with being a teacher, is exhausting. Continuing to support all our educators in the new year will be crucial to the success of the rest of the year.
However, this is not the largest issue I see facing our community in the upcoming year. The largest area of growth in education in our community is to continue focusing on equity in our classrooms, schools and beyond. Students need to learn in an area where they feel safe and they belong. Things as small as which students are represented on the walls of our classroom, to larger institutionalized decisions such as access to resources, must be examined in order to ensure all our students are able to learn to the best of their ability.
We have begun work in this area, but I know we still have a long way to go. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Debra Figueroa, Glenwood Springs city manager
When it comes to infrastructure, a city’s work is never done. Whether building a bridge over the Roaring Fork River, digging a tunnel under Colorado Highway 82 or replacing water lines beneath Red Mountain, Glenwood Springs has a sizable project list for the new year.
The design phase for South Bridge, the proposed evacuation route for south Glenwood residents, is slated to be complete by spring. That will allow the city to move forward acquiring the right of ways and easements needed for the project, but funding the $58.1 million infrastructure package remains a challenge.
The two-year-long reconstruction of South Midland Avenue, with a price tag of about $13.2 million, is slated to wrap up by summer.
The city also plans to partner with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Colorado Department of Transportation, breaking ground on the 27th Street pedestrian tunnel under Highway 82.
This project is being headed up by RFTA. It will increase pedestrian safety as they cross Highway 82, and could relieve some of the traffic pressure at that signal.
The city could pay up to $1 million of the project’s $10 million estimated cost.
Joseph Deras, Glenwood Springs Police chief
Glenwood Springs Police Department is ramping up its recruitment strategies in 2022. Staffing shortages continue to be a challenge. We’ve established a robust recruitment and retention strategy that I think will really pay off in the coming months.
GSPD officers are reaching out to police academies, posting on social media and talking with other law enforcement departments in an effort to attract more applicants.
The department has received about 100 applications for its 10 open positions.
On the community relationship side, the Police Explorer program kicked off in 2021 and has experienced some success with teens around the Glenwood Springs area.
All of our spots are full for that program. We’re excited to see so much interest in the program. They’ll be able to help supplement us for some of the community events in 2022.
The department could also acquire some new vehicles in the new year, introduce upgrades to less-lethal restraint devices like the BolaWRAP and provide training to officers focused on handling mental health crises.
Jonathan Godes, mayor of Glenwood Springs
Addressing affordable housing, planning for climate change and updating the city’s comprehensive plan are high on Glenwood Springs City Council’s to-do list.
We have a lot on our plate in 2022. With all the snow out the window, everyone is sighing in relief that the snowpack will likely be decent this year.
City Council is slated to update its climate plan, which summarizes the city’s intentions in relation to building codes and development, water conservation and progressive energy rates.
The search for funding for the South Bridge Project also continues, but it’s not the only council project in need of revenue flows.
We came very close to putting an attractions tax on the 2021 ballot to fund a robust affordable housing program. The council decided to wait a year, allowing time for a large ad hoc committee to be formed and outline the community’s needs as well as spending priorities for potential attractions tax revenues.
Fire evacuation planning is another big-ticket item. Every year we don’t don’t do something like this, we’re playing with fire — literally.
Crystal Mariscal, New Castle trustee, Latino Community organizer
You don’t have to be an economist to realize that the labor shortage is going to be a topic trend in our valley for 2022.
Businesses struggling with hiring and retaining their employees can have many reasons, including the cost of living, the COVID-19 vaccine, child care and the work environment. Also, it may be that our younger generation is focusing more on graduating with a degree and looking for better opportunities, something that may offer health benefits and/or the opportunity to keep growing. And that’s great.
However, the cleaning, construction, kitchen and landscaping jobs (to mention some) are less attractive but as much needed as a CEO or executive director position. Plus it is hard to compete with the ski towns’ salaries for the season.
As a New Castle councilor, I see many local businesses being impacted by this issue, but as a Latina and resident of this valley, I can see this issue in a different perspective, because the majority of laborers in the hospitality industry are Latinos. This can be a puzzle for many, trying to solve pieces around. The solution is going to create another political debate.
Even though this is going to be a national issue, my intention is definitely to highlight the importance of facing this problem at a local level. In the meantime the local economy is going to struggle.
Ben Bohmfalk, Carbondale trustee
The top issue facing Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley in 2022 is workforce housing. While housing affordability has long been a pressing concern here, the cost increases during the pandemic have fundamentally altered the dynamics. Rents are skyrocketing past anything we thought was possible just months ago, and single-family homes under $1 million are fading into Carbondale’s history books.
Add in a national labor shortage, and you have serious limitations on local employers’ ability to attract enough employees to stay open. In 2022, we need to come together to consider every strategy to address the housing crisis on both a local and regional basis. In Carbondale, this may include regulations to prevent workforce housing from being converted to short-term rentals, adjustments to our codes to encourage more affordable housing and dedicating staff time to focus intently on this issue.
Some may consider the high demand for housing to be a good problem to have; we live in a great place, and many others want to live here, too. But when local businesses can’t expand, police departments are critically understaffed, and artists, immigrants and retirees are getting pushed out of the communities they helped define, we must address this threat to our economy and community.
Leif Sackett, Colorado River Fire Rescue chief
What started out as a year of adapting to a “new normal” due to the ongoing pandemic and continued uncertainty due to financial constraints, ended on a positive note and a sense of excitement for the future of the Colorado River Fire District. 2021 found CRFR focused on securing future financial stability through community engagement.
CRFR will start 2022 with a fresh outlook and new direction thanks to our communities’ support in passing a mill levy increase. Members of CRFR have always been and will continue to be service-minded while fulfilling our mission of “Protecting Life, Home, and Property through Leadership, Education, and Partnerships.” Our continued pursuit of excellence, combined with high level service, sets CRFR and the communities of New Castle, Silt, Rifle and surrounding areas up for success.
Gail Schwartz, Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley president
Will we address the affordable housing crisis in our region — as communities are being transformed by unprecedented appreciation rates in home prices, coupled with demand for affordable rentals and homes that continues to outpace supply?
This year has been a game changer’ for cities in western Garfield County, which historically have been the affordable communities for the upper valley’s workforce, as they are now grappling with their own workforce housing issues.
If we can generate consensus regionally on a range of policies and advocate for them at the state as they deploy $400 million, we can begin to address the housing crisis.
• Funding for land banking in impacted rural cities and counties
• Funds for local governments to develop housing policies for affordable ownership and rental development
• Provide businesses with grants, state tax incentives/ credits to provide housing for their employees
• Expand the housing stock through coalitions and convert units from the free market and protect with deed restrictions
The Western Slope needs our fair share. If we agree that these tools will help us address this crisis over the next decade, then with the help of our legislators, we can work together to address this crisis.
Dr. Kevin Coleman, Grand River Health chief medical officer
You ask what the biggest threat to health care is in 2022? My answer is battle fatigue. Medicine is all consuming in a normal year, and now for two years running add COVID-19 and all the societal intricacies it brings beyond the workday. Hard work deserves a reward beyond money or recognition. The best reward would be an end.
The biggest threat to health care in 2022 isn’t access, quality or cost. It’s making sure health care has the workforce to continue caring for its communities. It is estimated that one in five health care workers has left the profession since the beginning of the pandemic, based on a study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Health care workers want to help patients, and their inability to adequately do so is taking its toll. Providers aren’t exiting the field because they can’t handle their jobs — they’re quitting because they can’t handle being unable to do their jobs,” it states in an article in the November 2021 issue of The Atlantic. The article states that many health care workers believed vaccines would ease the traumas endured in initial surges. However, plateauing vaccination rates, lifted mask mandates and the delta variant, and now omicron, undid such hopes. The unrealized promise of “some sort of normalcy has made the feelings of exhaustion and frustration worse,” said Amanda Bettencourt, PhD, president-elect of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
In a recent internal survey conducted by Grand River Health, findings showed there is still a strong level of commitment to mission and purpose by the staff in their work with their patients and co-workers. It is also good to report that many are continuing to enter the health care workforce in large numbers and through our strong partnerships with Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Mesa University. Grand River is seeing a new workforce entering the market locally, eager to make a difference in the lives of the people they will serve in the community.
Kathryn Kuhlenberg, Roaring Fork School District Board of Education president
In my opinion, the biggest issue we face in 2022 as a community is adequately supporting families and children. The issues facing families in our valley are complex and all encompassing — the incredibly high cost of housing, the accessibility of early childhood education and the infant/toddler care crisis, the inability of families to take time off to care for new babies and themselves after birth, the impacts of COVID-19 on education and work, and the astronomical costs of insurance and health care in our valley, just to name a few.
The continued success of our community is dependent on families and children being able to live and work here comfortably. As our elected leaders (myself included) push forward and make important policy decisions, it is imperative we not only consider these issues but that we prioritize them for the health and longevity of our citizens, our businesses and our community.
Hannah Feeney, Glenwood Springs High School student
The biggest issue that has faced our community and with which we continue to struggle is the spread of misinformation.
Community on every level is hindered by not being able to agree on solutions to issues or the fact that we’re facing issues at all.
If we could decide on what information is reputable, I feel confident in our community’s ability to overcome any challenges we face.
Theresa Hamilton, Garfield Re-2 director of communications
As we look toward 2022, three things rise to the top for the Garfield Re-2 School District.
The main priority for Garfield Re-2 is to keep students learning in-person and teachers teaching in front of students in-person. We know students learn best when they are in school, in person with their teacher, reaping the benefits of all the love and support that our staff can provide. This has been a challenge, not only due to the issues created by the pandemic but also because of the nationwide teacher shortage. School districts, just like private businesses, have had to fight daily for teachers and staff members to support our schools.
The issue of recruitment and retention of staff will also be a high priority for Garfield Re-2. All positions within the educational system are integral to providing support for our families, students, teachers and staff. The affordability of housing and cost of living in our valley does not help us in our efforts to recruit and retain staff. Our district will be conducting a review of all positions in the coming months to help develop a plan to keep our dedicated staff and recruit talented people to join us in loving and supporting our students, families, staff and communities.
Finally, we will continue to focus on helping each and every student close the achievement gaps that have developed in the last 18 months.
Our administrators, teachers and staff continually seek the resources to provide academic and mental health support to meet the individual needs of each and every student and help them become the best learners and leaders they can be.
Crista Barlow, Roaring Fork High School athletic director
Unfortunately, 2022 is starting a lot like 2021 did, the rise of another COVID-19 strain that is looming over us as we come back from winter break. I worry about our students and our sports programs. The previous two years took a toll on our school spirit and the general well-being of our school community. Students and athletes that lack a strong support system have struggled to get back into the swing of school and the responsibilities of being a student.
Our athletes are students first, and their performance as a student determines their eligibility to play a sport. Many of our athletes have been ineligible to play during parts of their seasons, and a few have been unable to play at all. School spirit and peer support influences our student athletes’ desire to stay on track within the classroom and in competition.
Our challenge is to continue to get our students and athletes to be successful in academics, and their ability to participate and compete in sports will follow. We need to find ways to support the students who have little support at home. The continuing issues around COVID-19 threaten to reverse the progress we have made to regain some sense of normalcy for our students and athletic programs.
Gabe Cohen, Discovery Cafe executive director
Traditionally, a person receives support when they are in crisis and finds that the support is removed once they begin to experience stability. That model of emergency intervention and abandonment sets one up for a roller-coaster existence. That is not only cruel in that it locks one into a cycle of intense suffering and failure, it is expensive, ineffective and a waste of human potential. We are embracing a more effective and compassionate system of care at the Discovery Café.
I see the top mental health issues in our community as the lack of affordable housing, the ripple effect of the pandemic and the increasing fentanyl-related overdoses (rose by 50% from 2019-2020, and, according to the national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans died of drug overdoses last year than in car crashes and gun violence deaths combined.)
Discovery Café has a model that meets people where they are on the recovery continuum, engages them for a lifetime of managing their disease, focuses holistically on a person’s needs and empowers them to build a life that realizes their full potential. This person-centered system of care supports a person as they establish a healthy life and recognizes that we all need a meaningful sense of membership and belonging in community.
Since February 2021 we have opened in Rifle and Basalt and will start in the Rifle Correctional Center in mid-January 2022.
Our peer-to-peer recovery, nonclinical support system is making a great impact on many lives in our community, and we hope to continue to grow in order to help transform lives throughout the Western Slope of Colorado.
Samuel Bernal, Radio Tricolor host
I see mental health as one of the top issues facing our communities in 2022. It is a national matter, but in rural communities like ours, it gets more complicated due to the lack of efficient services, not to mention the extra challenges one would face if you are undocumented and/or speak only Spanish.
Inflation, housing, lack of workforce, climate change, COVID-19 — they all have something in common: stress. Although stress is a normal response to everyday pressures, chronic stress is proven to lead to mental health problems.
Mental Health America claims that our state has the nation’s highest rate of adult mental illness and the lowest access to care. This was underlined in a recent investigation by Colorado News Collaborative that also found that state officials stated they don’t know what happens to tax dollars centers received for services they end up not providing, according to journalist Susan Greene.
Stephanie Keister, director of public relations, Mind Springs Health
The biggest challenge facing Mind Springs Health in 2022 is one that is similar to most employers in Colorado — staffing. We have a number of open positions, from clinical positions working directly with clients to support and administrative positions, such as customer service, finance, billing and human resources.
The shortages across the state (and country) in businesses of all types and sizes are putting increased pressure on existing staff. Consumers are frustrated with service issues, whether shopping at the local market or sitting on hold with their bank or waiting for an appointment with a psychiatrist. Increased demands on workers and amplified pressures (work, family, school) on the general population leads to more anxiety and stress.
As a community, we’ll need to support each other and be kind to one another in the year to come. In moments of frustration, take a deep breath. Take another deep breath. Then remember that we’re all human, we’re all in a similar boat, and we all need to respect one another’s individual trauma and stressors.
As individuals, we need to remember the importance of self-care. Looking out for your own mental and physical wellness is truly important in today’s chaotic world.
Angie Anderson, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association president and CEO
As the pandemic trudges into its third year, tourism and local business leaders are focused on balancing health precautions while engaging the area’s visitors with a return to pre-pandemic events.
We are planning to get back to as normal as possible while we remain as vigilant and take precautions as much as we can.
Some of the events being planned include the Spring Gala and Strawberry Days, which is scheduled for summer.
Visitation was high in 2021, despite natural disasters interfering with travel plans. Through October, accommodations tax receipts were up about 18% over 2019 cumulative, and sales tax was up about 18% year-to-date compared to 2019.
This year was a bit of an anomaly, because there was so much pent up tourism demand. We think it could level out in 2022, but it’s too early to tell yet.
Bill Kight, Glenwood Springs Historical Society
The biggest issue facing our community in 2022 cannot be distilled into one word. Scientifically it is known as carrying capacity.
What I’ve determined, from the majority of people I speak with about the issues we are contending with locally, is that they’re as concerned as I am about the quantity of people that our region can support without environmental degradation. Think about our water, air, infrastructure, traffic and more; the resulting social degradation is just as perilous.
What it means to live in the place we call home, our sense of place, differs for every one of us. However, when people feel their individual or collective sense of place is threatened and they’re not being heard, they will push back. And the result, more often than not, isn’t pretty.
Do we have the ability to agree on what kind of future we want in order to effect change before it’s too late? If the people who stock and check out our groceries, the nurses dedicated to caring for us, those taking our garbage to the landfill … if people in service to others cannot afford to live where we live, what kind of community have we wrought?
Glenwood Springs Post Independent/Citizen Telegram reporters John Stroud, Ray Erku, Ike Fredregill and Rich Allen contributed to this report.
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