As we say good-bye to 2016, here is a synopsis of some of the top news stories and trends that dominated the pages and web postings of The Mountain Jackpot during the last year.
Elections of 2016
The last year was an active one for local, state and national elections.
Last spring, the municipal elections in Woodland Park and Green Mountain Falls set the stage for a vastly different group of elected leaders with contrasting agendas. Although incumbent Mayor Neil Levy won easily for another term against Councilman Noel Sawyer in Woodland Park, other elected seats were filled by newcomers Val Carr and Paul Saunier. They presented different ideas regarding the way the town should operate and they received modest support among their peers and by other local business leaders. As a result, council members who are skeptical of the administration of City Manager David Buttery had the upper political hand by the closing months of the year. This could create interesting dynamics for 2017.
In Green Mountain Falls, two-term incumbent mayor Lorrie Worthey lost to staunch opponent, Jane Newberry, a previous trustee member. Newberry, who ran with a slate of candidates that opposed the status quo administration, also presented vastly different ideas on the way the town should run, such as favoring a town manager form of government. Local meetings, which once featured lively exchanges, became more business-like and more mundane.
The election season then culminated during the fall’s presidential election, with a near record spree of ballot issues, including an effort to end term limits for elected officials. But once again, Teller voters made it clear they love term limits for their elected leaders and staunchly oppose most tax increase attempts, such as lodging levies and school district taxes. And not surprisingly, local voters heavily favored Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, in his successful bid to capture the White House, one of the more remarkable upsets in modern history. But in one change from past trends, local voters supported attempts to have more government involvement in efforts to establish better broadband Internet and cell phone service.
Woodland Park Financial Crisis
With the city doing several significant capital projects at the same time, the WP government encountered a fiscal crunch time in a major way.
Budget sessions, normally, quite routine in Woodland Park and other municipalities, turned into an all-out war in WP. The city administration, headed by David Buttery, admitted that they would have limited reserves in 2017 due to the fact that the city was incurring the costs of a nearly $15 million aquatic center project, and the city was completing a Memorial Park facelift that encountered numerous delays. Moreover, they stressed this was one a one-time temporary situation that avoided any potential tax increases.
But this plan generated much opposition from other council members, who demanded that the city government make major cuts and even eliminate a newly-created, Special Projects Department. At the tail end of the year, a slight compromise was reached. But look for this issue to rear its ugly head through much of 2017, with a fairly divided council.
The Missing Marshal
Throughout 2016, the absence of a marshal in Green Mountain Falls, or any regular local law enforcement presence, became the talk of the town and even generated national coverage.
The town’s marshal-less plight began when former Police Chief Tim Bradley stepped down, following the municipal election of 2016, along with the department’s entire reserve crew. Surprisingly, GMF’s cop-less situation commanded national and international attention, with major media outlets such as the Washington Post, raising questions about the town’s security. This created an unprecedented amount of contenders for the vacant position, with many applicants from outside the state. But as the town appeared ready to hire a North Carolina candidate for the position, the would-be town marshal couldn’t complete the final testing and background requirements. This forced the leaders to start the hiring process all over again. By the end of the year, town officials were still at least several months away from hiring a head law officer. Although officials say they are receiving help from neighboring sheriff departments, no code enforcement can occur locally and limited regular patrol activities have occurred in the last year.
Meanwhile, local leaders pursued full-heartedly its plans to hire a town manager/clerk, through a state grant, for a six-month period at a salary (on an annual basis, estimated at close to $100,000). Many locals were outraged by this trend that took elected leaders out of the day to day operations of the government. Others, though, supported the concept. Still, most locals say this salary is way too high for a town the size of GMF.
The news continued to remain quite positive along the economic front, with more signs of an economic recovery.
The Cripple Creek gaming community recorded another solid season, with the town posting bullish betting numbers, casinos generating steady winnings and local visitation increasing. Also, Century casino proposed a major hotel renovation of the Palace, considered one of the town’s historic gems since the 1890s. This $10 million-plus project would provide a much needed hotel revamp in the historic downtown and is expected to fuel other lodging endeavors in town by other casino operators. It received the blessing of city leaders, who also approved a key alley vacation to further close the deal. The town also boasted of more special events, in an attempt to attract more families. And at the year’s end, the idea of further boosting its potential government revenue source, and enticing a younger crowd, through legalizing retail marijuana, became a hot topic.
The Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company, owned by the Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation, also was gearing up for the next phase of its expansion operation, in the backyard of Cripple Creek almost directly across from the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, by the close of 2016. They also opened a new scenic viewing area, located much closer to Cripple Creek, near the Mollie Kathleen Mine, to replace the American Eagles Overlook.
Real estate numbers boomed for the first time in years, along with housing rents. As a result, the push for affordable housing continued to become a repeated rallying cry in 2016. This demand may get partially filled by the Clock Towers Condo project, featuring a remodeling of the vacant Lofthouse motel in downtown Woodland. This project, which began last spring, was the brainchild of Teller County’s Habitat for Humanity group. It should open its doors for a number of qualifying families and individuals next year. Plus, the Charis Bible College, part of the Andrew Wommack Ministries, continued with an unprecedented construction and expansion boom in Woodland Park. This is one of the few ambitious projects in Woodland Park that has proceeded on schedule and has exceeded nearly all of its expectations.
DDA Soap Opera
Television viewers may have Saturday Night Live and Days of Our Lives for comical entertainment.
In Woodland Park and Teller County, WP Downtown Development Authority meetings clearly stole the show. A vastly new board, and one that opposed the spending policies of former director Brian Fleer, created many controversial forums not lacking in soap opera-like drama.
Last summer, City Manager David Buttery was axed as the DDA’s interim director, as the majority members of the board wanted their group to separate themselves more from city hall. This move created much tension between the city and DDA.
More specifically, most DDA members wanted to turn their prime development area, Woodland Station, into a major events hub. But as a result, a major showdown occurred between the board and developer Arden Weatherford, the owner of BierWerks, who wanted to use this area for a multi-use housing project and spot for a European beer garden. For several months, the DDA got involved a huge brouhaha over huge piles of dirt placed on this property, a saga that became jokingly knows as Dirt-gate, with ties back to a former mayor, Steve Randolph, a representative for Weatherford. Near the close of the year, Weatherford filed a lawsuit against the DDA for a breach of contract. But DDA members accused Weatherford of missing frequent deadlines in submitting project plans.
Regardless of differing opinions, their monthly meetings definitely hit the mark for entertainment.
Other notable news trends for 2016
*The Internet wars between Peak Internet, one of the major local providers, and Teller County officials, with questions over the recommendations of a $75,000-plus consultant study.
*The plight of local emergency fire and ambulance district due to an expansion of coverage areas, with no extra tax revenue to cover their costs due to tax restrictions imposed by the DDA district and the reality of more major non-profits, like the Charis Bible College.
*The continued angst over the future of the Salute to American Veterans Rally in Cripple Creek.
*The debate over recreational marijuana, and the amount of revenue generated from legal cannabis, in Manitou Springs.
*The amazing success of the Woodland Park High School golf team in capturing their first-ever league championship, and the early signs of a possible basketball resurgence in the area.