by Rick Langenberg
Veteran Commissioner Comes Out Swinging
If President Obama hopes to win any support for his job stimulus programs, capped by extended times for unemployment and additional training options, he won’t win any support from Teller County leaders. In fact, local officials have one basic message to those who want extended unemployment pay: Get a job.
Last week, veteran Teller County Commissioner Bill Buckhanan, who rarely makes bold statements in public forums, came out verbally swinging. Buckhanan took aim at certain federal assistance programs, coordinated locally by training efforts conducted by the Pikes Peak Workforce. In the past, the Pikes Peak Workforce, which serves both Teller and El Paso counties, generally seeks funding approval for various training and resource-related grant programs that usually assist people who have lost their jobs, been displaced or who are looking for work in the area. These requests are usually quite mundane and rarely feature any debate. But at last week’s regular meeting of the Teller County commissioners, Buckhanan didn’t attempt to hide his distaste for programs that may facilitate people accepting unemployment benefits for extended periods or that may open the door for out-sourcing technology workers from India and other countries. “I have to answer to 23,000 people in Teller County,” stated Buckhanan on several occasions. “How does this help the people in Teller County?”
The commissioner, who has represented the District One area for nearly eight years, was especially outraged over the allotment of $261,000-plus in training funds to help individuals who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. Through the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, people can obtain unemployment benefits for 73 weeks under certain conditions. One of these conditions would require extended unemployed individuals to seek job-hunting advice from professionals at such organizations as the Pikes Peak Workforce. Case workers would then be assigned to them.
This overall system of extended unemployment raised the ire of Buckhanan and several other residents who attended last week’s meeting. “I don’t agree with the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act,” said Buckhanan. “This is not something we should be doing as a country. The middle class does not employ a lot of people.” This is taking away from the rich and giving to the poor. We don’t want to enable these people to stay unemployed,” he added. Similar sentiments were echoed by other citizens. “If people can’t find a job in 26 weeks, they don’t want to work,” blasted Brian Walker, a candidate for the Teller County Commissioner District One seat, who also owns a construction company. “We need to change the system.” As a business owner, Walker described the extended unemployment compensations costs for private companies as difficult for some small businesses to absorb. “I pay for that,” blasted Walker. He cited the system in Japan, which has no unemployment benefits but favors a tradition that encourages families to bear these costs. “Your family is going to make sure you get a job,” quipped Walker. “We have become an enabling nation,” said Deborah McKown of Florissant. She thanked Buckhanan for taking a stand on this issue. In response to Buckhanan, several representative of the Pikes Peak Workforce, stressed that the group’s role is to act as a training resource center for unemployed individuals and those who have recently lost their jobs. “We are not job creators,” said Charlie Whelen, executive director of the Pikes Peak Workforce. “We are a training resource for the citizens we serve.” Plus, he reiterated that the group’s offices in Colorado Springs and at the Aspen Mine Center in Cripple Creek are heavily used. He estimated that Pikes Peak Workforce facilities have 90,000 customers. “We are the messenger,” said Whelan, when explaining the group’s involvement in using funds from federal programs.
Another grant funding program discussed last week dealt with specialized training for certain future jobs in the region, so companies don’t have to recruit workers from India and other countries. These would deal with mostly with technology and aerospace-type companies. But the mention of outsourcing jobs and visas for hiring foreign workers irked Buckhanan. He said he couldn’t support any funding program that would displace local employees in favor of foreign workers. But the Pikes Peak Workforce representatives assured the commissioner that this program would produce the opposite result. After much discussion, the commissioners voted 2-0 to accept both grant programs for helping unemployed workers and having better technology training for workers in the area. Buckhanan admitted that he doesn’t have any problem with the work of the Pikes Peak Workforce. He reiterated that his main complaint is with the failed government myth regarding middle class job creation and the continual extending of unemployment benefits. He did, though, ask for more concreted statistics from the Workforce, such as how many Teller residents use the service and data on their success rate.
In other government news, Victor continues to dominate the news with its continual downtown improvements and historic enhancements. Last week, Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker announced that the Lowell Thomas Museum building project has been awarded a nearly $130,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The transportation enhancement monies will be used for roof replacement and storefront restoration work. This building has undergone a number of major improvements. The commissioners approved a new contract with the state, allowing the project to move forward. The only question raised by the commissioners and a citizen dealt with why CDOT is involved in the funding. Decker said she believes their involvement stems from the location of the museum. She admitted that CDOT’s funding role in this type of project is somewhat unusual. But local officials aren’t complaining about the funding allotment.