Ute Pass Town Facing Survival Test
As a small town with less than 1,000 residents, Green Mountain Falls sports a slew of amenities and attributes that have become the envy of communities in the Ute Pass.
Among the prized list includes a remarkable trail system, an ideal setting, a small lake, park and gazebo, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, great restaurants, and best off all, unique mountain charm.
But unfortunately, the one amenity the town serious lacks now is money. In fact, Green Mountain Falls is facing a tough survival test for its future as a municipal government and a viable community, according to certain reports.”We keep the lights on with our (current) operating budget,” said Mayor Tyler Stevens, in discussing the growing financial challenges confronting the town. And when it comes to long-term capital improvements or new projects, the mayor admits the town is running on empty and is discovering few outside funding prospects.
As a result, a new community project has been launched with the assistance of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) and state Division of Local Affairs, to help kick-start the local economy and develop a re-branding and marketing campaign for Green Mountain Falls.
During a kick-off meeting last week, no ideas were left off the table, as about 30 residents, town officials and civic leaders explored a laundry list of GMF aspirations. In fact, a few residents unveiled such bold concepts as reliving the town’s former “Big Foot” legend, based on an alleged local sighting that was aired on a national television program.
Some of the other key future plans presented included:
*Developing more special events and competitions at the lake, with a folksy-style similar to what Manitou Springs does with its coffin races.
*Offering incentives to attract businesses to the area.
*Forming a regional economic development council, encompassing the Hwy. 24 corridor and trying to reform a local chamber of commerce organization.
*Rallying behind the push to generate $50,000 in matching funds for enhancing and renovating the interior of the Sallie Bush Community Center.
*Expanding the borders of GMF by exploring the prospects of additional annexation.
*Developing better highway signage to better acquaint motorists with what GMF offers.
*Doing an aggressive marketing and promotional campaign for GMF.
*Emphasizing the benefits of having an incorporated town and educating residents about the needs for a property tax increase.
The brain-storming session was spearheaded by Joe Hanke, a facilitator for PPACG, and the coordinator for the GMF effort, called the “Economic Sustainability Project.” Altogether, the $9,000 project will involve a six-month process and culminate with a final action plan, which will include both short and long-term proposals and specific cost details associated with these economic stimulus efforts. It also will feature a community survey.
“It is a very exciting project. I was pleased with the participation,” said Stevens, following last week’s forum. “I don’t know how many of these ideas we can do. But there were a lot of good ideas presented.”
Mill levy increase
For the short-term, the town leaders may propose the first proposed mill-levy increase in nearly 30 years. If that proposition moves forward, a tax hike may be presented to local voters in 2012. That would be part of the possible recommendations made by the project committee
According to City Clerk Chris Frandina, GMF is facing an economic crunch. “We have an operating shortage,” she said at last week’s town forum. Frandina said the town’s annual budget of approximately $430,000 is stretched thin. This reality is further accelerated by declining amounts of sales and use tax revenue and road and bridge monies. “We are holding our own, but it has been tough,” said Frandina, when the idea of the economic sustainability project was first proposed in the spring of 2010. At that time, a few officials and leaders identified the need for more than $350,000 to meet the community’s long-term needs.
In the past, town leaders have discussed the possibility of proposing a 2 mill tax increase. GMF residents currently pay a property tax rate of 14.6 mills, which is considered quite moderate compared to other cities in the area. Although GMF hasn’t had a property mill hike in several decades, residents previously supported a small sales tax increase and favored a tax to join the Regional Transportation Authority.
Green Mountain Falls Public Works Director Robert McArthur told residents last week that the town’s revenue-generating options are somewhat limited by the fact that GMF doesn’t own any of its utilities. Consequently, it can’t generate any utility fees. Plus, he noted that the volunteer spirit of GMF has reached a limit. “Small communities like this have survived largely because of their volunteers,” said McArthur.
But now, he agrees that GMF can’t continue to have volunteers shoulder these growing civic responsibilities and needs more financial revenue to plan for its future.
Out of the plethora of long-term ideas thrown out last week, most participants appeared to rally behind efforts to reopen the Sallie Bush Community Center, do more special events and to have a local chamber.
“A chamber of commerce is critical,” said McArthur. In previous years, a chamber group represented Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade, but was disbanded due to a lack of interest.
As for the Sallie Bush Center, Frandina told residents that this fund-raising project is being led by Church in the Wildwood Pastor David Shaw. The facility is leased by the nonprofit Ute Pass Community Association through an agreement with the church, which owns the property. But the pre-1950 building has been closed for about eight years and has suffered from much neglect. In its heyday, it once served as a social beacon for the community and hosted many events and functions, according to Frandina.
The nonprofit association recently received the green light for a grant to improve the interior of the building, but this money hinges on coming up with a $50,000 match.
Some residents last week asked about the possibility of a public/private partnership to help generate the needed funds. They view the Sallie Bush as a great asset and local hub to host weather-sensitive events.
Another sensitive topic raised at the forum dealt with annexation, an idea that Stevens and other leaders have presented at previous planning meetings. The mayor noted that with a larger tax base, the town could be better equipped to handle its public safety and infrastructure needs, and could open the door for more businesses. “It would be great to have an enhanced level of coverage (by the marshal’s office) and be able to hire new officers.”
However, how to annex additional property and what potential areas could be targeted, are questions with no real answers. “We would have to study the feasibility of this,” admitted the mayor.
If additional areas are brought into the town, it would have to occur through a voluntary annexation process.
Hanke suggested that the economic sustainability committee consider doing a re-branding campaign for the community. Stevens agreed, noting that the image of GMF among out-of-town visitors is somewhat limited to the Pantry restaurant and the town’s Gazebo.
However, no one is dissatisfied with the current GMF experience, with most citing the trail system and mountain charm as unprecedented. “It is ‘Pleasantville’ in color,” said McArthur, in comparing GMF to the 1998 movie and black-and-white sitcom dealing with an idyllic family
The economic sustainability group will meet again on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in the GMF town hall.