In the annual exchange of leadership duties, Commissioner Norm Steen has been handed the head baton as the official chairman of the Teller board of commissioners for 2016.
He replaces Marc Dettenrieder, who received the nod as vice-chairman. Meanwhile, Dave Paul will serve as a regular Teller commissioner.
In making this designation at its kick-off meeting of the year, the board has opted to return to a former practice of alternating the chairmanship duties on an annual basis. Previously, the commissioners often let one person hold the leadership gavel for a several year period.
As the new chairman, Steen announced a desire to continue to increase cooperation between the county and other local governments.
Contrary to local media reports, Steen stated that he believes a strong cooperative spirit exists between the county and the city of Woodland Park. “I believe our relationship is as strong as it has ever been,” said Steen. He cited a number of issues in which the local government entities have worked together, such as with efforts to improve technology and to work on transportation initiatives.
In the past, several colorful feuds between certain elected leaders have dominated the news, including a war of words between Paul and Woodland Park Councilman Bob Carlsen over the fiscal arrangement between Woodland Park and Teller County. Also, the two governments parted ways in 2014 the arena of building inspections, with Woodland Park deciding to hand over these responsibilities to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department and end its long-term contract with Teller County. The two governments also fought vigorously over the Teller County Waste expansion project, and the company’s right to be annexed into the city of Woodland Park.
However, in the last year, the two entities appeared to reach a truce. But when Carlsen alleged that the city was receiving a bad financial deal from the county during a public budget meeting several months ago, he received a strong verbal scolding from Paul. This appeared to reignite a few political sparks, but most leaders and government officials have downplayed the feud in recent weeks.
As for other big issues, Steen cited a desire to pursue its technology study, aimed at improving broadband Internet service for residents and business owners and to enhance cellular phone service and emergency radio communications. This $75,000 study, expected to be completed in April or May, could play a key role in determining the technology future of Teller County and the lower Ute Pass. The main consultant for the study project, the Glenwood Springs-based NEO Fiber firm, has identified many technological shortcomings for the area, including the fact that only five percent of the residents and business operators actually can boast of having broadband, high-speed Internet, based on the stipulations set forth by the Federal Communications Commission. In essence, the consultants have maintained that Teller is living in the Dark Ages, when it comes to technology.
Ultimately, the county and other local governments may decide if they want to opt out of state mandated restrictions that bar cities and counties from financing infrastructure efforts that would allow them to partner more with local and regional telecommunications companies in developing more towers and financing better technology-related optic/fiber connections. A number of significant technology-based grants are currently available to rural counties like Teller. The right to pursue these types of joint government/private enterprise projects, though, would require voter support to override current restrictions.
“It is just a plan,” cautioned Steen, in describing the forthcoming study. But he admitted it could have big consequences. “It is not something to take lightly,” said the board chairman.
Steen also wants to open the door for active enterprise zones within the county. He cited this asset as a big economic development tool for businesses. He said these zones could allow for more tax credits and financial benefits for businesses that may relocate in the area, or for current companies doing expansions, such as adding employees. He said these zones would encompass such areas as Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Victor, along with the communities of Florissant and Divide.
He said preliminary talks have occurred with the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority regarding the benefits of enterprise zones.
Also, Steen wants to keep aggressively pursuing transportation projects in the area. He stated that the $100 million-plus I-25/Cimmaron intersection in Colorado Springs, a key Hwy. 24 route used by Teller residents and by visitors to the area, is moving ahead well. When this project gets completed, it could create much better access between the Springs and Teller County, according to officials
And on the legislative front, Dettenrieder cited an ongoing effort to monitor the activities of state lawmakers for actions that would impact key local signature industries, such as mining and gaming. He said that with the opening of the new legislative session, it’s been mostly quiet politically, with no reports of significant state bills that may impact Teller County. “No news is good news,” quipped Detterieder in discussing pending legislation that may affect mining and gambling activity in Cripple Creek.