City of Cripple Creek Betting on Infrastructure Jackpot

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Enterprise Fund Emerges as Big Winner in 2023 Budget

Rick Langenberg

The city of Cripple Creek has wagered its first major bet in the competitive gamble for big infrastructure dollars from the state and Uncle Sam.

If successful, the city hopes to hit a royal flush for $10 million-plus, monies that will be used to upgrade and expand its outdated water and sewer lines and facilities, and set the stage for more development. This push is really centered on the drive for more  workforce housing. The latter issue has already hit a crisis stage in the gaming community, and ranks as the number one challenge facing casinos and the community.

The city took a preliminary gamble more than a year ago by enticing developers through a major incentives program that mainly waived tap fees and other infrastructure costs for a limited period.   This program attracted more housing proposals that the city has experienced in recent years, but fell short of addressing Cripple Creek’s real shortage:  affordable apartments.

The real gap, according to growing reports, has dealt with limited infrastructure capabilities and connecting future projects to its system. As a result, the city wants to bet on future infrastructure grants in a bolder manner than ever attempted in the past.

Last week, in their first major step for infrastructure pay dirt, key city representatives, including City Administrator Frank Salvato, Finance Director Paul Harris and Plant Operations Director Mickey Groves,  made a presentation before the Department of Local Affairs office in Pueblo. They are seeking a $400,000 grant, and plan to sweeten this offer by vowing to provide an equal match from dollars the city is hoping to receive from the state’s revolving loan fund, part of the Colorado Public Health and Environment agency.

More immediately, the money would go for preliminary engineering services for water and wastewater enhancements. “We have a lot of antiquated lines,” said Salvato.

With current grant monies offered by the state and federal government, officials say the timing is ideal for the city to take a much  more aggressive role than it has in the past in securing grant dollars for major projects. That way, the city doesn’t have to use its own limited dollars for funding, dollars that were heavily crippled from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Altogether, the city has its eyes set on $10 million-plus in possible grant dollars.

Investing in potential infrastructure has emerged as the big winner of the 2023 budget, with its enterprise fund dollars allocated for future water and wastewater projects getting increased by close to 100 percent next year.  Overall, the city’s 2023 budget has called for a 10.3 percent hike compared to 2022, with expenditures estimated at close to $14.4 million.

The lion’s share of the increases are occurring in the enterprise fund (infrastructure related) arena, with close to a projected $3 million investment.

But betting on future infrastructure is not a sure gamble.

City officials concede they face plenty of competition in their bid for significant  infrastructure grants.

During last week’s council meeting, Salvato stated that 66 communities are vying for infrastructure dollars from DOLA. “There are a lot of communities asking for money,” admitted the city administrator.

Harris believes the city should know as early as next week regarding their DOLA grant prospects. The city is already making preparations for such an award, in getting the ball rolling for picking an engineering firm.

“It is a long process,” said Salvato.

Ice Fest Becomes Another Big Budget Winner

As far as big budget changes, the 2023 fiscal slate is fairly similar to the current year.

Another minor winner is the Cripple Creek Ice Festival, as the city has agreed to participate in funding this popular event, held every February (see related story) .

The city has opted to loosen its purse strings to the tune of $50,000 for the 2023 event, and has agreed to do more television advertising.

The other events it plans to fund are the July 4th Celebration, along with minimal dollars for a fall event.

No funds, though, have been allocated for the Salute to American Veterans Rally or Donkey Derby Days.

Harris, though, stated that the city would be willing to help out event sponsors, with traffic control and trash removal and other support areas.

The subject of special events has turned into a hot potato locally, previously leading to the exit of the Salute Rally, which now occurs in Woodland Park. Two current council members are the target of a recall election, with the lack of funding for special events, similar to past years, cited as one reason for the ouster campaign.

The city is planning on receiving additional revenue from the advent of retail marijuana and some additional lodging tax dollars.

Still, the bonanza expansion project, the 300-room Chamonix resort, is not slated for competition until late 2023.

The fiscal climate for the city is still quite challenging, according to Harris. That is part of the fact that the city was clobbered by COVID-19 epidemic.  Although the casino industry rebounded well, local casinos learned to operate with fewer betting devices, the primary tool that funds the city government.

This has city officials nervous about the coming year.

“The national and regional economies face significant challenges moving forward into 2023.  Unprecedented high inflation in many segments of the economy is taking a heavy toll on consumers,” said Harris in the budget summary. “Specifically, record high gas prices and overall economic concerns appear to have negatively impacted Cripple Creek’s  vital summer months.  An environment of rising interest rates, continued supply chain issues, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and potential for a recession, are all major storms ahead on the horizon. These factors could negatively impact people’s feelings about their health, safety, jobs, disposable income, and their ability to spend dollars on entertainment, such as gaming.”