Teller Gives Thumbs Up To Telecommunications and Term Limits – Residents Deliver Mixed Verdicts on Local Ballot Issues – By Beth Dodd and Rick Langenberg

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Teller County voters have indicated their approval for term limits and for less government restrictions in the telecommunications arena. And Teller County Commissioners Marc Dettenrieder and Norm Steen, who ran unopposed, will remain in office.

Meanwhile, most tax issues took a beating, except for plans for building a new fire station in Green Mountain Falls.

These are some of the main conclusions rendered from the multi-varied, slew of local ballot issues during the Nov. 8 election.

Teller voters widely supported better access to telecommunication services by voting yes on a bevy of city and county measures that give area governments the right to enter into agreements with local and regional broadband service providers. It is expected that this will increase competition and service options within the county. Similar issues were passed in 26 other municipalities across the state, including Aspen, Breckenridge, and Black Hawk.

The vote in Teller County and Woodland Park was closer than in other municipalities, such as Cripple Creek, Victor and Green Mountain Falls and in El Paso County.

Peak Internet owner, Jayson Baker, campaigned heavily against these measures. Peak Internet has spent millions of dollars in the past several years to expand broadband services in Woodland Park. In previous interviews with The Mountain Jackpot, Baker claimed that if the county got involved in providing broadband services, or public/private partnerships, it would reduce their budget for other things like roads. Also, he questioned the realistic claims of the county’s new broadband plan, and maintains that little collaboration has existed between government officials and local providers. He argues that local residents are being sold a bag of false goods, and that government officials are refusing to address the central telecommunications issue: better access to the right-of-ways for local providers. Plus, he says their plan would squander money on duplicating services that already exist.

County Commissioner Norm Steen claims otherwise. He says the new services would be paid for with state and federal funding, and says the county has no intention to get into the telecommunications business. Ray DuBois the Cripple Creek City Administrator, another big supporter of the issue, cited this ballot proposal as a big plus for residents and business owners and a good starting point for improving services.

It is still unclear when plans for a major $10 million-plus fiber-optic network between Colorado Springs and Victor, extending through much of Teller County, may get underway.

Teller voters also said no to ending term limits for county officers in a pronounced fashion, with 70 percent of tallies rejecting this plan, endorsed by Teller County Commissioner Dave Paul. The request to end term limits would have affected eight key Teller officials, including Sheriff Mike Ensminger, Coroner Al Born, Clerk and Recorder Krystal Brown, Assessor Betty Clark-Wine, Treasurer Bob Campbell, and the three county commissioners.

If Teller had eliminated term limits, it would have joined a growing number of counties that have taken similar action. More than a third of Colorado’s 64 counties, mostly in rural areas, have changed or eliminated their term limits.

Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder agrees with the decision made by Teller’s voters in holding onto term limits now, and when they were upheld in the late 1990s. “I have always advocated for term limits at all levels of government,” he said.

According to second-term County Commissioner Dave Paul, the effort to ditch term limits in Teller County was meant to allow voters to keep competent office holders. Paul will now be out of a job when his term runs out in 2020. Paul’s re-elected county cohorts, Norm Steen and Marc Dettenrieder, whose second terms will run through 2020, are now eligible for a generous 30 percent bump in pay. A statewide pay raise for elected officials was approved in May 2015. Steen and Dettenrieder will earn $76,000, up from $58,500 starting, starting on January 1.

Another big loser in the election was the city of Cripple Creek, with local voters rejecting a plan for a 6 percent lodging tax by a 252 to 201 margin. If this levy had passed, the city would have received possibly an extra $600,000 a year for marketing and special events, or other purposes.

The vote wasn’t surprising, as lodging tax pursuits haven’t done that well in the past in Cripple Creek. But with this defeat, the city may have to consider other funding alternatives, and is even mulling the idea of opening the door to retail marijuana (see related story).

In a later interview, DuBois stated that officials plan to get more input from residents, if they try this issue again. “We need to find out from the people what is important to them. It is a lesson learned,” said the city administrator, in discussing the defeat of this issue. “We need to hear more from the residents.”

Other officials concede that they need to do a better job of educating the voters regarding the benefits of a lodging tax. Supporters touted this as a levy that wouldn’t impact local residents, and is a standard fee that most overnight lodging guests expect. But this idea faced opposition from some local lodging and bed and breakfast establishment operators.

Another tax increase plan for the Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School District also got the boot by a substantial margin. This would have provided extra money to offset some of the funding cuts the district has experienced from the state.

But surprisingly, an issue that insiders gave little chance of surviving voter scrutiny, a plan to construct a several million dollar new fire station in Green Mountain Falls for the GMF/Chipita Park Fire Protection District, squeaked through by less than 15 votes. Just prior to the election, some district leaders admitted this ballot plan had, at best, a 50 percent chance of getting approved due to the length of the ballot. But fire department leaders touted this as a long-range plan for the district, and cited the importance of establishing a 24/7 fire station headquarters. Also, many recurring memories of the Waldo Canyon fire and a recent blaze near the Rampart Reservoir may have played a role in support for this tax hike.

Of course, the big news this election season is the surprise victory of Donald Trump, who claimed the winning number of electoral college votes in spite of Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote for president (see related story).

When asked for his thoughts on the president elect, Dettenrieder said, “In broad terms, this will affect us all. This is a great opportunity to stop the progressive erosion of our individual liberties. I would like to see the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act and our military strengthened. I also think it is key that he helps facilitate the trimming of bureaucratic fat at the federal level. He can use his famous line – You’re fired!”