Elections, STRs and More Growth and Traffic to Headline the Local Road Map for 2024
(Editor’s Note: In the next few weeks, TMJ will examine the key issues facing the Teller County/lower Ute Pass area in the next year. This week, we examine the big potential stories for Woodland Park, the RE-2 School District and Teller County. Next week, we will look at the top issues for Cripple Creek, Green Mountain Falls and other outlying areas).
Every leap year, the focus on the nation and the world tends to turn to the U.S. Presidential elections, a time when voter turnout experiences record highs, especially in Teller County.
This year when the country seems to be more divided than ever, the campaigns have already started to get heated.
While it is still unclear regarding the final candidate slate for the race for the White House, most insider predictions point at a Joe Biden (the Democratic president) and Donald Trump (the projected Republican nominee) rematch. Despite moves across the country to keep Trump off of the ballot, he remains the top runner, according to several national polls.
Locally, elections will continue to be the talk of the region for a good part of 2024. Other issues that have received recent attention, such as the lack of workforce and short-term rentals (STRs) will again command much attention.
Woodland Park Council Tasked with Finalizing STR Regulations
After the verdict from the special election late last year, it is now clearer what types of STR businesses will be allowed and where they will be permitted. After the citizens’ ordinance was passed, council will now be tasked to address the regulations and licensing process associated with STR businesses.
This year the council will be tasked with drafting the specific regulations for STRs. The rules for having and keeping an STR business will have to be set as well as the punishments for violating the regulations. The council is wasting little time in addressing the issue and has already set a workshop on Jan. 4. Visit the city’s website for details.
Woodland Park Braces for Council Elections
This April, the city of Woodland Park will hold its regular municipal election, when four city council seats and the mayor position will be up for grabs. Out of the six members who sit on council the only two council members that will not be up for election are Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case and Councilwoman Catherine Nakai.
Over the last couple of years, several issues including the STR controversy has caused a divide with council. It is safe to say that voters can expect candidates to run in two different groups, similar to what has been done in the past.
The next election will decide the council’s fate for at least the next two years and the results could help define which way the city will go. Rising property tax rates and the issue of retaining and attracting city employees are also two major issues facing the new council. The council will also deal with the leadership of a new city manager.
More of the Same for RE-2 School District
Despite a massive effort to oust the “Conservative” school board majority that has dominated the district for the last two years, the conservative board director candidates won enough seats to retain control of the board. Therefore, residents shouldn’t expect too much to change moving forward as the incumbent candidates promised to stay the course during their campaigns.
Newly elected Board Director Keegan Barkley will try to address issues she discussed during her campaign, such as the district’s move towards adopting the American Birthright standards and deteriorating relations between teachers and the RE-2 School Board. But it’s unclear what kind of impact she could have, serving as the sole minority voice. But that said, the more progressive candidates in the most recent election fared much better than most predicted. Still, Superintendent Ken Witt’s job is now quite secure, meaning that there could be other changes in store with a growing focus on student academics.
So far, recently-elected Mick Bates has been appointed as the RE-2 School Board President. Surprisingly, not many new developments have occurred during school board meetings. The district did, however, receive local attention recently when it issued a press release, saying that an interim principal was put in charge of the high school without indicating what happened to former high school principal Kevin Burr.
County Commissioners to Address Taxes and STRs
With rising property valuations striking the county, the Teller commissioners have already had to address temporarily lowering mill levies to offset the unprecedented rise in taxes. Depending on what happens in 2024, the commissioner will have to decide whether they will again lower the mill levies more for 2025, or eliminate the tax reduction, or lobby for further relief at the state level.
Now that the STR issue went to an election in Woodland Park, the county commissioners will now be tasked with deciding what to do with STR businesses in unincorporated parts of the county. The commissioners promised to address the issue this year, so it will be interesting to see if the county takes the regulation route; or if it attempts to ban certain types of STRs, similar to what happened after the election in Woodland Park.
Two of the three county commissioner seats will also be up for election this year. County commissioners Dan Williams and Erik Stone have both announced that they plan to run for second terms, and no candidates have come out of the woodworks to challenge the incumbents. Most likely, they won’t face any opponents.
Teller County Sheriff to Grapple with More Crime and Traffic
Over the last couple of years, the major dilemma facing the sheriff’s office has dealt with having a short-staffed law enforcement agency during a time when crimes in the county are exploding in quantity and the level of seriousness. According to county officials, the entire Ute Pass region has seen an annual uptick in the number of crimes taking place locally.
It is wise to expect this trend to continue in 2024. And despite the fact that the county included more money in the budget for the sheriff’s office be able to afford a new command center for the jail and a fully staffed workforce, employee retention county-wide will most likely become a major issue. Plus, with the added traffic from the Ice Castles attraction in Cripple Creek and growing interest in the city’s new casino resort and a new marijuana dispensary, the agency’s workload could expand dramatically.
And at some point, the ACLU lawsuit and the sheriff’s 287g agreement with ICE could come up once again. With the passage of the Anti-Teller Bill Part Two (HB 23-100) last year, the ACLU and state lawmakers could have more ammunition to put an end to the sheriff’s agreement with the federal immigration enforcement agency once and for all.
And expect 2024 to feature more skirmishes between the county commissioners and state Democratic lawmakers, who heavily control the state House and Senate and the governor’s office. In addition, fire mitigation will become another big battle. 2023 was a mild year on the fire-fighting front, but these trends usually don’t last.