Four El Paso County Commissioners were asked to weigh in on some issues facing the county. Here are some of their responses.
Question: What are the most pressing things the board will face over the next year?
Sallie Clark, District 3: Stormwater; flash flood and emergency preparedness; disaster recovery and fire mitigation; child abuse prevention; and transportation improvements.
Amy Lathen, District 2: Stormwater; the county's fleet of equipment including snowplows, graders, haulers, etc; work on the Land Development Code through the Barriers to Business group; and gain congressional support and allow local government more options related to the retirement programs for their employees. The initiative is called SMART options.
Darryl Glenn, District 1: A growing level of distrust with elected officials, whether or not they are in touch with the needs of the citizens; the need to follow through with the mission connected to two years of fire and floods; creating the economic climate to help create jobs; projected reduction in military jobs in the county and around the country; and stormwater.
Peggy Littleton, District 5: Emergency preparedness; stormwater; City for Champions; military issues, especially the threat of budget cuts and regionalization.
Do you have concerns about the City for Champions project?
Clark: No. I believe it is important that El Paso County is continually involved in the planning and financial due diligence of the projects. As a result of recent discussions with the city of Colorado Springs, increased public participation and information sharing will assist in assuring community support for the proposed projects as the plan moves forward.
Lathen: The project is a tremendous opportunity for our community to lay claim to a meaningful share (13 percent) of state sales taxes above the base and annual growth, that the state is going to charge no matter what, and then use that share to invest in our local economy. It is the economic fertilizer that we need to bring new visitors, revenue and business to our community and all, as proposed, without any new taxes or burdens on our general funds.
Glenn: I have not made a final decision and I'm not in a position of support. We have not done a good job as a community articulating why we should be behind this. We need a third party analysis. We need to be open and transparent. We need an independent legal opinion whether or not this deserves a vote. This community has shown that they will support things if you're open and transparent. Show them the return on investment.
Littleton: I think there are more questions than answers with City for Champions. Were it to be done over again, that there would have been much more emphasis on gaining the public's support and garnering data on their interest on the projects before moving forward. There's been a lot of misinformation out there and it's very difficult to go back and stop the misinformation.
What do you think is most important to help keep El Paso County moving in a positive financial direction?
Clark: Continue to be conservative in our estimated revenue projections, maintain a healthy reserve and use advance budget planning to project possible fluctuations in the economy. Commissioners receive regular budget updates and advance planning forecasts have assisted the county in weathering economic downturns and making necessary reductions when warranted.
Lathen: Continued conservative leadership, business-minded policies, sound staff development and transparency.
Glenn: We need to maintain a primary focus on public policy that is impacting jobs. That really is a lifeline. They're concerned about how they're going to pay their bills.
Littleton: We have got to promote and keep El Paso County as THE military community to be in, garnering the attention and retaining the current military spending that we have here.
In what areas do you believe the county needs to grow for the next year to be a good one?
Clark: Our community does not have control over growth patterns, but the county will continue to be business friendly and aware of potential area forecasts to plan for eventual growth in terms of infrastructure.
Lathen: We need to continue to work on our land development code to root out policies and processes which get in the way of businesses being able to operate and that impede private property owners. We've made great strides here through our Barriers to Business group and look forward to more improvements.
Glenn: When you think about the county, people migrate to the areas they want to live in. The policies that we have in place can't hinder the movement, whether its jobs or people.
Littleton: I think we need to have well-thought-out growth. We need to have thoughtful regulation on how this community is going to be viable with water resources and roads and infrastructure. How do we build those and make it equitable for everyone?
What things in the county do you think were neglected over the last two years with all the focus on the two fires and the ensuing floods?
Clark: There is no doubt that there have been challenges associated with three nationally declared disasters within the last two years. However, I believe that El Paso County has been able to maintain and improve our county services through our collaboration with our area's cities and towns, organizations, government agencies at all levels and our citizens to leverage dollars in mitigation work on post-fire and flash flood recovery and preparedness issues.
Lathen: It was definitely difficult for us to keep up with some of our infrastructure maintenance due to the fact that many of our heavy equipment operators and others actually helped in the firefights and in the flood response and recoveries. They have since made great strides to catch up. Additionally, our IT, finance, DHS, administrative and public services staff - really just everyone at some points - stepped in round the clock to provide not only emergent response, but recovery response and ongoing support. That kind of support takes folks away from their regular duties and just adds so much more work. But our staff has been just incredible and stepped up in remarkable ways.
Glenn: We didn't neglect anything. We don't have the luxury to put something on the back burner. We have responsibilities that have to be done. We have so many people that went above and beyond and worked extra hours to make sure that the job is still getting done on the back end.
Littleton: It is my opinion that nothing was neglected. We not only had county commissioners and regular staff not only do what they regularly do, but they stepped up to the plate and put in the extra oil. We tended to our daily tasks and job and then some.
Now that recreational marijuana sales are coming to the area (Manitou Springs), do you think the county's decision to "opt out" will be reversed?
Clark: No. I do not foresee a change in the Board of Commissioners' viewpoint on the issue of recreational marijuana.
Lathen: No. Not under this existing leadership.
Glenn: You never say never in politics. I think the question needs to push back on the federal government and say, "You guys need to make a decision." This is a federal issue that needs to be dealt with to move forward.
Littleton: I don't think there's the will on this board to do so.
Matt Steiner, The Gazette