The new year will ring in for the Teller commissioners as they face major challenges regarding Internet and broadband enhancements, transportation issues and capital projects, along with lingering questions about government stability.
Plus, with the changing of the guard in Washington D.C., county Republican office-holders hope they can reap some political benefits. On the upside, Teller leaders will deal with an improving, stable economy.
These are some of the major issues confronting the county commissioners and other Teller leaders, as the kick-off the year this week during their inaugural session.
Today (Jan. 10), Teller County Commissioners Marc Detternrieder and Norm Steen will be sworn in for their second and final terms. In the wake of this ceremony, questions will be raised regarding local government stability, and the prospects of preparing future leaders for elected slots.
In the November election, voters said absolutely no way to the idea of doing away with term limits on a ballot proposition, which would have allowed all current office-holders the ability to serve an unlimited amount of terms. This proposition lost by more than a two-to-one margin, with the vote closely following previous attempts to do away with term limits that restrict elected leaders to eight consecutive years in office.
This could set the stage for a slate of new elected officials in the next few years.
Other than the forthcoming terms of Dettenrieder, Steen and County Clerk and Recorder Krystal Brown, the Teller County government will lose most elected leaders within two years or less due to term limits. The current sheriff, assessor, treasurer, county commissioner (for district two) and coroner are beginning their final stretch in office this week. Although no county elections will occur this year, 2017 could become a big transition year for many of these seats, with preparations for who will be filling these positions in the near future. Some would-be future elected leaders could announce their intentions. This will definitely impact the sheriff’s office, which often generates much competition among candidates.
At least for 2017, elected leaders will get a slight political breather.
But county leaders will confront a busy schedule.
Broadband, Transportation and Capital Improvements
The current commissioners must deal with the reality of implementing provisions resulting from another key successful ballot proposition: the passage of efforts to improve broadband Internet and cell phone coverage in Teller County. This measure, approved in Teller County and several local municipalities, releases the government from previous restrictions in crafting lease arrangements and partnerships with private providers for improving telecommunication services.
According to Steen, the county government has no intention to own or operate any type of telecommunications service.
“It allows us to help fill gaps in providing better service,” said Steen, who is a leader of a local pro-technology group in Teller County aimed at addressing the issue. He said some negotiations have occurred between government leaders and Century. More discussions will undoubtedly occur with other providers, resulting from the pro-technology ballot plan approved by the voters last November.
Initially, the county, as part of the recommendations from a previous $75,000 study, would develop a non-profit group, comprised of citizens and government and business representatives, to help spearhead efforts to enhance broadband coverage and to make recommendations.
The county also would support major grant efforts to build extensive fiber-optic lines between Colorado Springs and the Cripple Creek/Victor region. If these plans proceeds as proposed, private providers could hook up to these networks, and craft deals with the government in offering services to actual residences and businesses.
At the same time, these efforts will be scrutinized by some industry operators who question the merits of government involvement in this issue. As a result, these plans will require many public meetings. Plus, concerns have been raised regarding the overall price tag and the feasibility of these plans.
But according to Steen, the broadband situation is becoming more of a state-wide issue, with pending legislation.
The coming year could emerge as an active season for transportation improvements. Plans will proceed this year for an $8.3 million asphalt improvement project for Hwy. 67 between Divide and Cripple Creek, according to Steen. Highway improvements are a big subject this year throughout the region and state.
County leaders are supporting efforts for a major $113 million infrastructure project at the I-25/Cimarron Interchange intersection, expected to improve travel between Teller County and Colorado Springs.
Plans also are getting accelerated for widening I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock. Steen is a big player with the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, while Commissioner Dave Paul serves as the president of the Colorado Counties, Inc. As a result, the commissioners will probably get involved in more regional and state-wide issues.
In addition, the county’s budget has cited 2017 as a beginning point for an expansion of the Harris building, which houses the sheriff’s department. The county is planning on proceeding with previous plans to make the Divide area more of the central hub of the county government. This has been a long-range plan that hasn’t advanced too quickly over the last decade due to current economic restraints. But with better times, these plans may get a real glimpse this year.
With the Trump administration, leaders also are optimistic about the possibility of fewer regulations. This could open more opportunities in plans to open up forest service areas more for motorized vehicles. Also, it could do away with certain environmental restraints.
These types of pursuits will be welcomed by the current commissioners, who are staunch Republicans.
And on the local land use front, the county will deal with another amendment request by the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company, owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation, as part of their ongoing expansion plans. CC&V will be moving forward on plans to start a major project, at the outskirts of Cripple Creek, and will be doing a number of other projects involving the county.
On the upside, current leaders are optimistic about the economy. “The economy is definitely improving, but we have some challenges,” related Steen.