January 31, 2011
Vowing this time will be different, a group of eastern plains residents and business owners has launched a campaign to turn the 120-year-old former railroad community of Falcon into a city once and for all.
Citizens For A Better Falcon plans to bring the question of incorporation to the Nov. 1 ballot, said Mike Hurd, committee chairman. About 5,800 land owners and other registered voters in a 29-square-mile chunk of what is now under the rule of El Paso County will decide the matter.
A similar ballot initiative failed in 2007 by a nearly 4-1 margin.
But this go-around, the grassroots movement is more organized, aggressive and goal-oriented, said Hurd, a business consultant. Also, proposed boundaries for an incorporated Falcon have been redrawn.
“There were fundamental problems with the first one — the message wasn’t clear or consistent, and people didn’t know what was being proposed,” he said.
The new consortium of proponents has sought advice from recent successful incorporations in Colorado, including Castle Pines and Centennial. Steering committees are forming to study a governance structure and vision for Falcon as a city, Hurd said.
Public involvement also is a priority. The group is communicating through social media, and an inaugural town hall meeting earlier this month drew nearly 150 attendees. The crowd was split, with about half in favor and half opposed, Hurd said.
“There are some who do not believe there’s any benefit to incorporation or any threat of annexation,” he said.
Ben Brodnax, who’s lived in Falcon for 20 years, said last week that he voted against the measure in 2007, and he plans to vote against it again.
“The area’s grown up a lot, but I just don’t know if it would be cost effective to have another government,” he said. “I’m not for it.”
Proponents fear that if Falcon, located about 14 miles northeast of Colorado Springs off U.S. Highway 24, does not incorporate, the area will be annexed into the city limits in order to reap sales tax benefits to help Colorado Springs’ crippled budget.
Wal-Mart, in Falcon’s central business district along East Woodmen Road off Highway 24, generates about $66 million in annual revenue, Hurd said. If Colorado Springs were to annex the area, it would collect millions in tax revenue each year by imposing its 2.5 percent municipal sales tax on shoppers, he said.
Falcon’s current tax rate is 4.9 percent, of which 1 percent goes to the county, 2.9 percent to the state, and 1 percent to the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
But Colorado Springs has no current intention of annexing Falcon, Dick Anderwald, a city planning and development team leader, said Monday.
“Most of our annexations are done to fill in irregular boundaries around the city to reduce confusion over police and fire calls and other services,” he said.
Moreover, annexation beyond existing city limits is usually voluntary, he said, and not forced on a community. A group could petition City Council, which would then decide whether to accept the request or put it to a vote of the residents.
“It would be highly unlikely the city would annex an area without the cooperation and support of the people in the area to be annexed,” Anderwald said.
That doesn’t quell the fears of the Falcon residents who want to become Colorado’s 272nd municipality.
“We want to preserve our way of life, and we believe this is the way to do that,” said Chris Wright, a School District 49 school board member who supports incorporation.
The population of Falcon nearly doubled from 1990 to 2000, and the area has attracted major businesses and numerous residential subdivisions. Falcon now offers an eclectic mix of rural and urban amenities.
“You can play golf at Antler Creek and buy livestock in the Safeway parking lot.
Everybody who’s out here chose this way of life for a reason. We want room. We want freedom,” Hurd said.
The proposed boundaries encompass about 13,000 residents; backers say there are 48,000 additional homes planned for the area over the next 20 years, and they want locals to manage the expected population explosion.
As a city, Falcon could establish zoning and land use regulations, develop parks and control law enforcement, road and bridge maintenance, snow plowing and other services now provided by El Paso County.
Hurd said the group believes it could improve services, such as policing, and operate as a city at less of a tax burden than Colorado Springs’ 2.5 sales tax rate. Other small towns do, such as Calhan, which has a city tax rate of 2 percent.
Hurd said Falcon’s current sales tax base is about $120 million, and a 1 percent tax would generate $1.2 million annually — enough to support a fledgling city.
Under incorporation, Hurd said, the Falcon Fire Protection District would remain in place, as would special districts for services such as water, wastewater and roads, including Woodmen Hills, Meridian Ranch, Woodmen Road, Paint Brush Hills, Falcon Highlands, Upper Black Squirrel Creek and Cherokee.
The county would continue its services for one year; Falcon could then contract with the county for road work or law enforcement services, said El Paso County Commission Chairwoman Amy Lathen, who represents the district that includes Falcon.
The group plans to host more public meetings before finalizing proposed boundaries, government structure, taxes and other essentials, Hurd said, adding that the boundaries are open to negotiation.
“We’re willing to consider that if there’s a large enough geographic contingency against incorporation, cutting them out of the boundaries,” he said.
The boundaries and other information is on the group’s website, www.cityoffalcon.net.