by Rick Langenberg:
Money, gaming impacts, elections and pot top concerns
Let 2013 ring in with economic prosperity and more revenue, a state legislature that doesn’t mess with local gaming funds and a mini-resolution to the recreational marijuana and clerk and recorder controversies.
These are some of the resolutions of the Teller County leaders, with the beginning of a new year and session.
Jan. 8. marked the official changing of the guard, capped by the passing of the head leadership torch to Commissioner Dave Paul, along with the first official meetings of new commissioners Norm Steen and Marc Dettenrieder. Veteran commissioners Jim Ignatius and Bill Buckhanan stepped down after serving nearly 20 years of collective service. As a result, the county now must conduct business with a mostly new board, led by Paul, who got the nod as the 2013 board chairman. He was elected as the District Two commissioner in 2010.
Paul, in a recent interview, cited the potential actions of the state legislature as one of their top concerns. “We are going to have to deal with the complete control of the state House and Senate by the opposing party,” said Paul, a strong leader of the Teller Republicans for many years. With Democratic control of the legislature and the governor’s office, Paul is worried about protecting gaming funds. “We have got to make sure they don’t try to take those gaming impact monies away from us, like they tried to do before,” said the chairman.
Plus, it is inevitable that the 2013 state legislature will deal with another video lottery proposition. For the last several years, local leaders and casino owners in Cripple Creek have grappled with an annual legislative plans that would permit thousands of video slots at race tracks. As for other legislative hot rod issues, Paul sees a big pending controversy over the rights of ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) owners to gain more freedom to cruise across main thoroughfares and many forest service trail. The ATV controversy is especially prominent in rural sections of Colorado like Teller County. Finances, and more notably, the challenge of maintaining services with diminishing revenue, are another focal issue. According to County Administrator Sheryl Decker, Teller’s dire fiscal situation has been an ongoing problem for some time. Plus, with the revaluation of properties, capped by the drastic plunge of many commercial buildings, the county government could find itself on an even tighter fiscal leash.
In fact, the Teller government has seen its annual budget drop from $31 million to $25 million over the last five years. This trend may continue, but according to Decker, the county has already started planning for fewer dollars. With declining revenues, Teller leaders are going to be watchful of how the ongoing controversy surrounding the clerk and recorder’s office plays out. “I just hope it resolves itself and the current clerk (JJ Jamison) does the right thing and resigns,” said Paul. The current chairman has shown little desire to ease up on the pressure applied by former commissioner Jim Ignatius in criticizing the clerk for escalating election expenses and financial problems in manning her office. For several consecutive public meetings at the end of 2012, Ignatius publicly blasted Jamison.
At issue are scathing reports the clerk received for the handling of the 2012 primaries and concerns about her ability to plan and recruit judges for the general election, coupled with soaring costs. Teller ended up spending close to $300,000 for election expenses in 2012, when it only budgeted a little more than $80,000. This forced the county to make key financial adjustments and take considerable money out of its capital projects fund, allocated for such things as expanding the sheriff’s headquarters. “Personally, this has been very troubling,” added Paul, who said he previously worked with Jamison on many volunteer boards.
Paul, though, is worried that if the current standoff continues and a recall campaign is mounted, the county could incur even more expenses. On the upside, he is happy with the work of Krystal Brown and Stephanie Fisher of the clerk’s office, who helped resurrect the election process under the direction of consultant Al Davidson. “That is the one bright side to this,” admitted Paul. Both Brown and Fisher recently received the county’s 2012 leadership awards.
Pot and guns
Another big issue in 2013 that could command main stage attention is recreational marijuana, in the wake of Amendment 64. Here, leaders have somewhat mixed views. Paul doesn’t believe the county can take any action until the squabble between federal and state authorities regarding marijuana enforcement gets resolved.
“It is a violation of federal law,” said Paul, when describing the regulations pertaining to using cannabis. These clash with the recent Amendment 64, passed by the majority of Colorado voters, including Teller County.
And even with recent statements by President Obama, indicating that the prosecution of marijuana offenses in states that have authorized the use of the drug isn’t a top priority, Paul doesn’t see any real clear direction for the state’s marijuana landscape. “It doesn’t really matter what he says. He (President Obama) is not the Department of Justice,” said Paul. According to county officials, the state’s previous medical marijuana arena got muddied when the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Colorado informed local officials, including county commissioners, that they could face criminal prosecution if they approved a system that permitted cannabis dispensaries. Others leaders, though, believe the county may want to start doing preparation work and even craft a moratorium and consider taking an official stand. Sheriff Mike Ensminger has announced plans to closely monitor Amendment 64 action at the state level and even partake in advisory meetings, organized by the state association of sheriffs.
Other jurisdictions in the area, including Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and El Paso County, have already started crafting post-Amendment 64 moratoriums and bans. Amendment 64 opens the door the consumption and cultivation of marijuana by adults, but it does permit local governments to ban any type of sales for recreational cannabis in their areas. And in an unrelated matter, the issue of gun control and more school security, with possible new federal and even state laws, could hit home. President Obama released gun control recommendations last week during a highly publicized press conference, dealing with steps his administrations wants to see implemented following a bevy of tragic shootings. Some of these proposals, though, are bound to raise the ire of Teller residents and political leaders.
This year also could be another tough year on the emergency front, with the prospects of more wildfires this summer and the reality of more competition for relief funds. As a result, the county will be under more pressure to continue its fuel mitigation efforts. Also, 2013 could pose more challenges for the Department of Social Services and in dealing with rising health care costs.