The city of Cripple Creek is gaining momentum in its legislative push to encourage state officials to conduct a historic preservation audit of the three gambling towns, including its arch rival Black Hawk.
The measure is being dubbed as a pro-transparency effort, and one that would provide more guidance in how the gaming towns can spend their regular annual allotment of state historic monies. Cripple Creek city officials welcome such an audit, contending that their use of preservation dollars is above board and meets the intent of the original gambling legislation.
Recently, the measure (SB-073), passed the House Finance Committee, following a slight change, and got approved by another key vote in the House on April 29 and appears headed for the home stretch. The proposal even got the okay of the main legislator for Gilpin County, KC Becker.
Several Cripple Creek leaders and officials have expressed optimism in the prospects of the legislative effort becoming a law. They have heavily lobbied for the legislation, with Mayor Bruce Brown, Finance Director Paul Harris and City Administrator Ray DuBois testifying previously before lawmakers.
The proposed law has received much support and easily passed the state Senate. However, the measure then hit a few delays, but gained momentum last month. The bill is sponsored by Senator Kevin Grantham of Canon City and Representative Polly Lawrence of Douglas County.
Specifically, it would give the state auditor’s office the right to conduct post-audits and performance audits related to the monies transferred to the state historical fund for the preservation and restoration of the three gaming towns..
For some time, Cripple Creek leaders have tried to get the state auditor’s office to take a more aggressive role in examining the use of these funds. But in late 2015, this effort hit a slight legal snag, with the state unable to do these audits without receiving more direction from state lawmakers.
Ultimately, Creek officials hope this effort could put a clamp on some of the questionable funding pursuits by Black Hawk and Gilpin County. Concerns have mounted that Black Hawk, which receives the lion’s share of these historic funds, has abused this process by using the monies for multi-million dollar infrastructure projects and for enhancing the properties of elected leaders.
For years, Creek leaders have advocated having a clear playing field pertaining to historic funding and in the way casino projects are approved. This historic controversy reached a climax with the 33-story Ameristar resort in Black Hawk, a project that many have compared to Las Vegas-style developments. At times, Creek operators and leaders complain they are dealing with a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle, when it comes to gaming in Colorado.
In another state bill of interest, county and city leaders are hopeful about a pro-active measure that would ban gaming-related devices at race tracks in Colorado. And if such an attempt is pursued by race track operators, local leaders want to make sure that such pursuits would be monitored by the Colorado Division of Gaming and not by the Colorado Lottery. That way, any attempts to expand the current gaming activity in Colorado would require a citizens’ initiative campaign and a majority vote of Colorado residents, which has proven to be an uphill battle for gaming expansion advocates.
“If it quacks and looks like a slot machine, then it is a slot machine,” said Commissioner Dave Paul at a recent commissioners meeting.
He described the bill as a pre-emptive measure to counter gaming devices that are disguised by different names. In the past, Teller County and Cripple Creek leaders found themselves trying to battle attempts by race track operators to legalize video lottery terminals.
County Economy Still on a Steady Course
The Teller County housing market still remains steady, based on limited foreclosure activity.
According to Teller County Treasurer Bob Campbell, Teller County recorded 20 foreclosures for the first quarter of 2016. This is right on par with last year, and indicates that Teller is playing a steady hand when it comes to the economic conditions and real estate activity.
And actually, this figure may be higher than it should be due to many properties impacted by a spree of foreclosures, stemming from the illegal activity of Richard Roop, a former mortgage broker and dealer, and a resident of Woodland Park. In late 2015, he was cited for a bevy of real estate-related violations by the Colorado Securities Board. Many property owners have been victimized by his actions, referred to by Colorado regulators as a mini-Ponzi scheme. “It’s a real mess,” admitted Campbell, who said his office has little control of any situation once it heads into bankruptcy court.
Regardless, the foreclosure stats are good news for Teller County.
During the peak of the recession in 2009 and 2010, the county recorded more than 300 foreclosures on an annual basis. The area was referred to one of the state’s leading foreclosure hubs on a per capita basis. Now, the county averages about 78 to 80 foreclosures per year, putting the Teller housing market on more solid footing.
‘Streets with No Name’ Syndrome Continues
Teller County is moving slowly ahead in trying to give more rural property owners easily identified street names and addresses.
The Teller County Commissioners recently approved an official road name for about 10 residential properties in the Rainbow Valley Ranch area, located off Hwy. 67. By a unanimous vote, the commissioners supported a request for naming a privately-maintained road in the area, as Rainbow Valley View.
This requested change was submitted by Vicki LaBarre. Both the planning staff and the applicant agreed that the change was needed to assist emergency service responders and delivery companies, such as UPS and FEDEX.
Currently, LaBarre’s property, consising of many rental units, is identified as 7522 County Road 61. Many structures are just referred to under such names as “Aspen Cabin,” and “Bear Cabin.”
The commissioner admitted that identifying roads and addresses in rural Teller is an ongoing problem. Currently, the planning staff is encouraging property owners in poorly identified areas to reach a consensus on official road name designations.
“This is one of the biggest challenges emergency responders have,” admitted Commissioner Dave Paul. “It is still a big problem in the county.” The commissioners agreed that it makes sense to formalize official road names throughout the county.
Anti-Caucus Effort Getting Confusing
An effort to replace the state caucus system with presidential preferential primaries is getting confusing, with a variety of legislative bids and even several proposed initiative campaigns.
Last week, another anti-caucus bill (SB 216) surfaced, introduced by a group of both Republican and Democrat lawmakers. However, this version, which attempts to provide a simpler solution, faces a tough deadline.
Ultimately, proponents of these efforts want to eliminate the Democratic and Republican caucus format for the presidential picks and allow more voters to participate by allowing them to cast ballot tallies during primaries, instead of attending neighborhood caucus meetings. Complaints circulated during both party caucuses held on March 1. Democratic party-goers were besieged with big lines, inadequate meeting areas and a confusing registration system, even in the lower Ute Pass and Woodland Park. Many Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the meetings because they didn’t permit presidential straw polls. These tallies usually determine the delegates selected at the state assembly.
However, the big question surrounds the role of unaffiliated voters in these future primaries. This is one issue that is still being debated, with some legislators wanting an open primary, in which unaffiliated voters can cast tallies for either the Democratic or Republican primaries. But some experts worry that this may not be a realistic option.
Also, the costs of a presidential primary, which would be held in the middle of March, could pose a challenge.
In any case, state leaders of both political parties agree the system needs to be changed. And if none of these anti-caucus bills get approved, voters may decide the issue in November through several proposed initiatives.