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Manitou Springs voters to decide on mayor, controversial firefighter training center

October 31, 2017 Updated: November 1, 2017 at 2:00 pm
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Downtown Manitou Springs on Wednesday April 19, 2017. Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette

Manitou Springs voters will decide Tuesday whether to re-elect or replace their mayor and whether to pay for a controversial firefighter training center.

Mayor Nicole Nicoletta, who won her seat by only 10 votes in 2015, now faces longtime community activist Ken Jaray, a retired lawyer, former city attorney and former member of Manitou's School District 14 board.

Nicoletta said she wants to meet the goals in the city's new Plan Manitou, protecting historic assets, preparing for disasters and resolving traffic and parking issues.

She said she also hopes the city can complete replacement of its aging water system and decide how to repurpose the historic Hiawatha Gardens building.

Jaray said he would focus on "reestablishing the trust and collaboration" between the community and the city government.

"This is something that those of us who have been involved in the community for a long time have been clearly observing and experiencing," Jaray said. "There's a lot of support for changing how we engage our community." Congestion in the commercial center, potholes and deteriorating sidewalks are among items that need attention, he said.

"I think we can strengthen our community if we build neighborhood by neighborhood, and I think the government has a role in doing that," Jaray said.

As of Saturday, Nicoletta had raised about $1,000 in campaign contributions, and Jaray had garnered nearly $9,000, city reports show.

The Centrist Project, a Denver-based nonprofit, had spent nearly $8,000 on mailings in support of Nicoletta as of mid-October, says a campaign finance report filed with the Secretary of State's Office.

The group is working to "ramp up" its cadre of independent elected officials, said Executive Director Nick Troiano.

Nicoletta, who is unaffiliated, released a statement saying, "This organization has nothing to do with our community as a whole."

Jaray previously registered as a Democrat, but he said the affiliation is irrelevant in a nonpartisan race.

Manitou Springs Issue 2b

Issue 2b asks voters to approve a new firefighter training center, which supporters say will improve public safety and opponents say is expensive and unnecessary.

Firefighters now must leave the city about five times a year to train elsewhere, leaving the city vulnerable. While the volunteer fire crew can respond within four minutes, getting help from Colorado Springs can take 15 to 20 minutes, said fire Lt. Steve Schopper.

The bond issue on the ballot would allow the city to borrow $3.9 million, which would be repaid at a cost of up to $7 million.

The property tax increase to cover construction hinges on the interest rate and repayment terms.

If the bond were repaid over 20 years, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay about $96 extra in annual property taxes, while the owner of a $300,000 commercial property would pay about $385 more a year, the Fire Department says.

The agency also would apply for a state grant of up to $1 million, and that could reduce the taxpayers' cost, Schopper said.

The city has spent about $2,200, with a matching state grant, to design the 11,000-square-foot complex, which would have a two-story training tower and a classroom building on Banks Place near the city's public works facility and Crystal Valley Cemetery.

"Training is all about safety. And for our firefighters to be well-trained, we need to have props and an area that's dedicated for us to do the things that we would do in a real firefighting situation," Schopper said.

But opponents say the complex is an inessential luxury for an agency that serves about 5,000 people.

"It just doesn't make sense at this time, and it doesn't fit in with the city's other major capital needs," said Jim Romano, of Manitou Citizens for Financial Sustainability. "It might be nice, but it's not needed."

Voters also will decide on Issue 2c, which would let the city opt out of a state law that prevents cities and counties from bringing in high-speed internet and cable service. Many Colorado counties and cities already have opted out, including Colorado Springs and El Paso and Teller counties.

Three uncontested City Council candidates are also on the ballot: Susan Wolbrueck for Ward 1, Nancy Fortuin for Ward 2 and incumbent Bob Todd for Ward 3.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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