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A Slow but Steady Rise

Many local folks are feeling the effects of a housing shortage, either not finding a place to rent or buy, or perhaps paying much more than they really can afford.

Fremont County recently partnered with Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments, the Cities of Cañon City and Florence, and a couple of other counties for a formal housing study that truly will tell the story of the types and income levels of housing that are needed here. The study will help attract and entice developers and contractors to build here, because they will have the professional proof that housing desperately is needed.

Even though we continue to see a housing shortage, if construction is any indication of a community’s wellbeing, Fremont County is seeing a slow but steady rise in its economic comfort and security.

Both building permits and construction use tax collections have been on a continuous upswing in the past few years. This year is not only looking good in comparison, but it promises to be the best year in the record books for quite some time.

In an effort to compare actual year-to-year, Fremont County Building Official Mike Cox did some research stretching back a few years for the numbers from January through July, since our latest numbers run through July 31 of this year.

In 2015, through July, the county issued 310 building permits, including 26 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits was about $10.5 million; site-built dwellings were valued at almost $6.5 million that year. In 2015 the county collected just over $376,000 in construction use tax.

The following year, in 2016, the county issued 339 total permits through July, including 29 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits was almost $11.4 million; site-built dwellings were valued at $6.8 million. And, in 2016, the county collected $389,000 in construction use tax.

Last year, 2017, the county issued more permits at 376 total through July, including 29 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits was down just a bit to $11.2 million; site-built dwellings were valued at $5.6 million. And construction use tax collected in 2017 was a whopping $525,078.

This year, through July, the county already has issued 440 total permits, including 39 site-built dwellings. The valuation of all permits is just under $12 million; site-built dwellings are valued at more than $7.2 million. Comparable information on construction use tax in 2018 is not yet available.

It is most interesting to note that the average valuation per dwelling, again January through July, also dropped steadily over these four years. In 2015 the average new home construction was $252,181; in 2016, $237,638; in 2017, $195,292; and in 2018, $185,477 – an almost $67,000 drop in just three years. This indicates the industry trend is toward more affordable housing, which may be a reflection of current consumer needs.

Commercial building permits are much more difficult to compare from year-to-year. For example, one commercial permit alone in 2015 was valued at more than $2.2 million while another, that same year, was $104,000.

However, it is interesting to note that in 2015, the county issued a total of 3 construction permits at a valuation of $2.3 million; in 2016, 24 permits at almost $3.8 million; in 2017, 16 permits at $1.6 million; and so far in 2018, 8 commercial permits at $441,000. Commercial permits range from museums to storage units to reroofing to cabins to toilets. It’s no wonder there is a major difference in year-to-year totals in that category.

As Commissioners, the slow-but-steady rise is the best scenario possible. While not indicative of a boom, which inevitably is followed by a bust, it means our community is building at a rate that is necessary, but sustainable. This is good news for all of us.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at