Cripple Creek May Operate With 25 Percent In-Person Office Capacity

COVID-19 Claims Another Positive Case Among Local Workforce

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

The state of Colorado isn’t the only entity considering serious reductions, as the coronavirus makes a second major surge since mid-summer, even in southern Teller.

At last week’s regular Cripple Creek City Council meeting,  Interim City Administrator Ray White delivered some somber news: The city staff has received its first positive case of the  COVID-19 pandemic, a development that could signal the red alert button.  As for the good news, the city, according to White, has gone through the proper protocol of contact tracing and no other employees have been infected, at least for now. “We are keeping our fingers crossed,” said White.

No details were provided about the individual or the agency impacted due to the health privacy regulations.

Mayor Milford Ashworth

This comes shortly after the town’s prime elected leader, Mayor Milford Ashworth, got infected by the coronavirus, during a trip in the Midwest.  The mayor then went into quarantine after getting a positive COVID-test. Ashworth, though, has partaken in the last two council meetings in a virtual fashion.

On the upside, Ashworth is recovering quite well and appeared extremely healthy voice-wise, at the Oct. 21 meeting.

To date, the southern Teller region has mostly been spared the wrath of the epidemic, with only a handful of cases; none of which has been traced to the casinos or local businesses.

Nevertheless, with the second wave looming, the city may follow in the footsteps of the city of Pueblo and consider operating with a 25 percent in-person workforce and increase its work-at-home, virtual options.  But no decision was made at last week’s regular meeting.

White said this move to a more remote work option is just being considered as the city wants to reduce its COVID threat and enhance public safety for the community. More government entities in the area may take this route.

The county has seen a slight increase in its COVID-19 positive counts (see related story), and statewide the numbers have taken a big spike. This could put a halt to the effort of the local casino industry and county to reopen table games, as the prospects don’t look good for Teller to achieve the less restrictive rating, called the “Protect Our Neighbors” designation.

City and county officials aren’t happy with this predicament, as table games are permitted in the other two Colorado gambling cities, Black Hawk and Central City. “We feel they changed the rules in the middle of the game,” said White, in regards to the state’s decision to no longer accept variance requests from the individual counties.

On a more positive front, the city may be eligible for more funds through the CARES

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, And Economic Security Act

(coronavirus, aid, relief and economic security) Act, according to Finance Director Paul Harris. He also mentioned another possible mega funding source from the state Department of Local Affairs for economic impacts.

Harris stressed that probably no towns were more impacted from the coronavirus epidemic than the gaming towns.

Budget Grand Finale

The finance director also announced that the next major budget meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4. This meeting will determine whether the town will formally opt to no longer offer any funding for special events and festivals in 2021. This could represent a big change in direction for the city, which has gained a major niche as a leader in the push for family entertainment and historic tourism. The city’s previous event lineup, often dubbed as the “Summer of Fun,” could get gutted entirely, forcing promoters to find other sources of monies if they want to do local festivals in Cripple Creek.

This could put a major strain on such events as the Salute to American Veterans Rally, the Cripple Creek Ice Fest and Donkey Derby Days.

The coronavirus epidemic, capped by major declines in gaming betting devices and games, has put pressure on the city’s finances with revenue drops of $2-plus million, resulting in the smallest annual proposed budget in 25 years. In a recent budget meeting, city leaders mulled the possibility of no longer funding any special events or festivals.

But if the city can obtain some more money, the fiscal blade won’t chop into its special events/marketing and parks and recreation programs as much. A final decision will probably occur at the Nov. 4 meeting.

New Planning/Development Approach

In other action, the city may take a new direction on the planning front.  Recently, former Planning and Community Development Director Bill Gray called it quits to take a job with the city of Colorado Springs.

With the city encountering a lean budget outlook, the city may now contract out the duties previously provided by Gray to a new outside firm, the Golden-based Baseline Engineering Corporation. The firm will handle all planning and development services for the city of Cripple Creek for the next three months.

According to White, the firm, recommended by Colorado Codes and the Colorado Municipal League, will provide an on-site planner one day a week. Plus, the firm will represent the city four days a week in regards to responding to planning and development concerns.

The city will pay Baseline Engineering $5,600 a month for these services.

“There is a definite cost-savings with this approach,” said  White in a later interview.  And with the current budget restraints facing the city, he stated that this is a business model Cripple Creek may explore for other services. White noted that the city has a full agenda on its plate in the planning and development arena, so it needs to take action to fulfill these services. The city is slated to address several key hotel/casino expansions and workforce housing bids.