Woodland Park Election Deadline Looming By Beth Dodd

Elections Matter 2015 9p4 logo
Woodland Park residents should be watching the mail for their municipal election ballots which will be sent out to 5,700 voters early this week.
If residents don’t receive their ballots by the week of March 21, they should contact the city clerk’s office at 719-687-5295, or visit city hall.

This election represents one of the most complex in recent memory in Woodland Park, with a bombardment of ballot propositions and decisions on key races. It will play a key role in determining the future political and development landscape of Woodland Park.

A large number of important questions will be decided including the mayor, three city council seats, nine city charter amendments, and a sales tax for school improvements. Ballots must be returned by mail or dropped off at city hall no later than 7 p.m. on April 5.

The mayor’s race is a three way contest between current mayor Neil Levy and hopefuls Mike Maddux and Noel Sawyer. Levy was appointed mayor in August 2014 following the departure of Dave Turley. He is the owner of the Swiss Chalet restaurant, and a former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. Sawyer owns a local computer business and is on the city council. Maddux is a new comer to local politics and has a background in computers and music.

Three of Woodland Park’s six city council seats are also on the line. Current councilmen Bob Carlsen and Phil Mella are both vacating their seats, while Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey is running for re-election. Harvey was the chairperson of the city’s charter review committee, which recommended the nine charter amendments on the April ballot after a year of careful study.

Three new candidates hope to join the council; Val Carr, Paul Saunier and Bill Loftin. If Noel Sawyer is elected as mayor, the city council will have to appoint someone to take his seat on the council, which could possibly result in four new council members this year.

If you would like to learn more about the candidates, they are all expected to be at the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum on March 16. The forum will begin at 6 p.m. at the city council chambers. Members of the audience will be able to submit written questions for the candidates to answer.

A total of nine amendments to the city charter are also on the April Ballot. There is a complete list on the city’s website at http://city-woodlandpark.org. Look for the link to the Woodland Park Charter Review Committee Summary and Recommendations on the home page. The charter amendments are designed to eliminate redundancy, improve efficiency, save money, and improve service.

The amendment generating the most interest is 9.17, which would allow the city council to give incentives to new developments that they consider of public value. Similar measures have been shot down by Woodland Park voters in the past. Supporters claim this is an important tool for attracting new business to town, while detractors say it creates an uneven playing field for existing businesses. A public meeting on this issue was held last week at the Ute Pass Cultural Center.

Mike Perini, a spokesman for a group advocating passage of this ballot amendment, contends that the time is right to allow the city council more flexibility regarding the use of incentives and waiving fees for projects that provide a public benefit. Supporters argue that this will allow the city more leeway in opening the door for such needed projects, such as affordable housing developments. Moreover, Perini and other supporter say that if the measure passes, the city will most likely establish a detailed application process, with a list of criteria, for potential applicants. “This is not about picking winners and losers. It is about doing the right thing and providing a public benefit,” said Perini, in an interview last week with The Mountain Jackpot. “This could bring in the types of businesses that enhance our community.” (See related letter to the editor in this week’s TMJ and visit www.voteyes917.com).

To date, the pro-9.17 amendment campaign hasn’t encountered much opposition, according to Perini. The main hurdle the group faces deals with past history, as this pro-incentives measure has never been well received during previous votes on changing the city charter. But some civic leaders say the arguments in favor of this issue have never been presented very well. Several key leaders have gotten behind the campaign. And this time, the charter review committee didn’t ask for a complete axing of the anti-incentive law, but merely want the chance to permit flexibility for potential companies that offer a public benefit.

Other charter amendments deal a wide variety of concerns. These include replacing publication of public notices in the newspaper with posting the full text on the city’s webpage, changing the rules for appointments for council and mayor in the case a tie, and updating the term limit rules so that time served during an appointment does not count towards an elected official’s term limit time.

Finally, voters will have to decide whether or not to support a sales tax for schools. If voters give the thumbs up, a 1.09 percent tax would be imposed on groceries and other merchandise sold in the city to pay for school improvements in Woodland Park School District RE-2. Although the language of the amendment was revised in response to public feedback, the improvements are not specifically defined. The amendment includes a mill levy reduction that will reduce property taxes.

Supporters of the school sales tax say it is an important stop-gap measure to replace funding lost to state budget cuts. The district has received $15 million less than expected in the last six years. Opponents claim the tax would place an unfair burden on people who live outside of the community but shop in Woodland Park. Also, residents who rent their homes will not benefit from the property tax savings, but will still have to pay the sales tax.