Live in the country? Know the Code of the West


ALAMOSA — Alamosa County’s Code of the West has been in effect since 2008, but it’s not widely known by newcomers. Here is a refresher for those unaware of the decade-old policy that outlines what one could experience when living in the rural countryside.

According to Alamosa County Planning and Building Director Rachel Baird, the purpose of the 11-page document is to inform residents that live far away from the city that they likely won’t have access to the usual utilities and amenities such as fast internet, a sewer system or plowed roads.

“The trade off on having incredible views of the mountains is that you have to have a P.O. box,” Baird said.

The reason for the code’s existence mainly comes down to lack of funding and resources. In the 723 square-miles of Alamosa County that houses roughly 15,000 people, the county can only maintain 690 miles of road. Not a single cent of property tax goes to the county’s road and bridge department for upkeep and it is instead funded by the state’s Highway Users Tax Fund, 12 percent of the county’s sales tax and federal Payment In Lieu of Taxes dollars.

For 2018 the county budgeted $2.6 million for the department, with an estimated $2.1 million coming from the HUTF. Those dollars go to road grading, pothole patching, asphalt, culvert and bridge replacement, fuel and weed control as well as equipment repair and salaries for staff.

“There’s no way to manage it all or have enough infrastructure with that little of a population,” said Baird. “Things should get better as we get bigger and we have more tax revenue.”

A similar code can be found in counties throughout the state such as Larimer, Mesa, Freemont, Huerfano, Montezuma, Gunnison and more. Along with telling people that their unpaved roads could be tricky to use in inclement weather, the policy states that a person could encounter slow emergency response times, wildlife and flash floods.

The onus is on individuals to figure out what is and isn’t available to them by calling power companies, school districts and the post office for bus and delivery routes, along with other agencies.

“It’s why I put so much energy as a planner to encourage development by the city. And it’s also why when people call me and want to subdivide 15-20 miles outside of town, I very carefully and conscientiously talk them out of it.”

However, Baird and her staff are ready and willing to help in any way possible.

“To live in the country you have to be a pioneer at heart. It’s about individualism but it’s also about self-reliance.”

A map of roads maintained by the county can be found at here and a copy of the Code of the West can be found here. The public can also call Alamosa County Land Use and Building Department at 719-589-3812.