Local News

State of the Region Address

Commissioner Amy Lathen's take on the future

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo - A business friendly gobbled up a heaping helping of future speak for El Paso county. It was the yearly State of the Region Address delivered by El Paso County Commisioner Chair, Amy Lathen.

Here is the verbatim from the speech she gave on Wednesday to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

State of the Region – Amy Lathen – December 5, 2012:

"I want to thank Joe Raso and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance for hosting today's state of the region. I also want to thank all of the county and city elected officials who are here today. I especially want to thank all of you in our business community who are taking valuable time away from the office, the jobsite and the cash register to come here today.

The state of the region is a much appreciated opportunity to inventory events, accomplishments and challenges as 2012 draws to a close and look forward to the opportunities and challenges just over the horizon in 2013.

For all of us who live and work in El Paso County – this was truly a year like no other because the Waldo Canyon Fire was an event like no other. It was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. Two people lost their lives, neighborhoods were destroyed, 30,000 of us were displaced, our summer tourists changed their plans and our hearts were broken as we watched the angry flames come over the ridgeline and into the city.

Of course the flames have long since been doused, rebuilding is underway, the visitors are coming back and recovery is top of mind so today we won't dwell on the fire, but also cannot be ignored.

El Paso County's incident command center was set up by the sheriff's office in Green Mountain Falls Saturday afternoon, June 23, 2012. Temperatures were in the 90's and the flames which had started not far from the popular Waldo Canyon hiking trail were being whipped into an inferno by the wind. Firefighters from throughout the region responded but it quickly became clear that the dedicated funding, expertise, manpower and equipment available only through the federal Type I incident command structure were needed.

Commissioner Sallie Clark, county administrator Jeff Greene and I went to the sheriff's command center Sunday morning to sign the delegation of responsibility for the firefight to a federal type one incident team. It's an important and necessary step before national disaster resources can be deployed.
Sunday evening the federal Type I incident team assumed management of the firefight. Working around the clock with firefighters from around the country were county departments and agencies ranging from county highways and fleet services to information technology, public health, procurement and public information. El Paso County's I.T. with support from Cisco systems, installed the telecommunications infrastructure to provide the Type I incident command center established at Holmes Middle School critical telephone, mobile radio and wifi communications. County administrative staff copied and assembled thousands of pages of tactical and strategy plan documents overnight, every night so teams on each line of the fire would have the latest G.I.S. and hot spot maps, as well as types and locations of available equipment and support services. County procurement manned the phones around the clock to ensure that fuel, spare parts and supplies were available when and where they were needed. County highway department bulldozers, water tankers, mechanics and operators joined
colleagues from Colorado Springs Utilities, the Air Force Academy, City of Colorado Springs, Fort Carson and others.

At the same time the Colorado Division of Local Affairs and Office of Emergency Management asked the county to stand up a Disaster Recovery Center. County facilities and I.T. personnel had 24 hours to re-open, equip and supply the vacant department of human services building at 105 north spruce which served as a one stop location where evacuees could come for immediate assistance with in terms food, clothing, furniture, childcare, mental health counseling, healthcare, assistance with pets, cash and fuel. The list of organizations and agencies who came together at the El Paso County Disaster Recovery Center is too long to read here in its entirety here today but it included representatives from all of the major insurance carriers to answer policyholders' questions. Verizon and Cisco contributed telecommunications equipment. Regional Building, Colorado Springs Utilities, Care and Share, the Department of Human Services, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the State Insurance Commissioner, the Red Cross, Peak Vista, Set Family Medical, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, El Paso County Veterans Services, Aspen Pointe, City of Colorado Springs, El Paso County Public Health, Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, Housing and Building Association and more.

Nearly three thousand Colorado Springs area evacuees received immediate assistance and valuable information at the El Paso County Disaster Recovery Center thanks to the commitment of volunteers, and the collaboration of businesses, non-profits and government agencies who came together, determined to help.
In its aftermath – the Waldo Canyon Fire has left behind 18-thousand acres of baked and barren mountainous terrain; just add water and flooding is guaranteed. Our first priority was to get information about flood insurance out to all residents living in areas that are now in danger of flooding.

El Paso County's centennial hall was filled with citizens eager for information about the flood insurance program, efforts to mitigate the risks of flooding and steps toward recovery from this disastrous fire. Once again El Paso County, City of Colorado springs, state and federal agencies joined together to get things done. And speaking of getting things done, one of the outcomes of these meetings was federal legislation to wave, for residents in our area, the 30 day wait requirement built into the national flood insurance program.

Less than three weeks after the fire was declared under control, a common summer rain over an upper section of the burn scar triggered a mudslide forcing closure of Highway 24, destroying the playground equipment and Ute Pass Elementary School, washing out numerous private driveways and flooding basements in the Ute Pass area. With fall classes ready to start, Manitou School District 14 asked the county to help with efforts to protect students from the risk of flash flooding. County public services installed a system of trap bag barriers to protect the school from the kind of flooding that will now become commonplace in the Ute Pass area.

The forest service dropped straw and wood chips by helicopter on parts of the scar but it is only small first step toward what is needed to reduce the risk of flooding off the scar. A critical engineering assessment of the burn scar is underway to will determine the types of flood
mitigation structures, and proper locations of those structures. El Paso County, Colorado springs Utilities, city, state and federal agencies are all working together, meeting regularly with federal and state officials and collaborating with volunteer groups to reduce the risks but we look ahead to spring and summer with mixed emotions, recognizing how badly we need a good soaking rain over most of the county and how desperately we need for the rain to fall over the burn scar just a little bit at a time.

I want to thank the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance for its tremendous support for the extension of the PPRTA. Widening, safety, and drainage improvements on El Paso County' s completion of Marksheffel road expansion to 4 lanes north from highway 24 is an important improvement for traffic on the eastside of Colorado Springs and the completion of safety improvements on Hodgen Road is another big project completed this year but there were many, many smaller projects completed across the region including 111 lane miles of new asphalt, 110 miles of chip seal treatment, almost 50 miles of gravel roadway improvements, 8 miles of sidewalk plus curbs and gutters and more than 24,000 potholes filled. With voter approval of the PPRTA extension work is already beginning on safety, capacity and maintenance projects spelled out in PPRTA 2 and all of us at El Paso County will be working hard to make sure that PPRTA's stellar record of ‘promises kept' remains intact.

One important traffic safety improvement I should mention in the southern part of the county was not part of the PPRTA collaboration – El Paso County's new pedestrian bridge over B Street replaces a dangerous crossing where school kids had overcome six lanes of traffic and two sets of railroad tracks just to get to school. It was designed and built by the Corps of Engineers working alongside El Paso County traffic engineers. Now that it's finished, the army has an expanded and much more efficient rail facility to support its mission, kids have a safer walk to school, traffic flows more efficiently and a neighborhood once divided has been sown together. Did I mention it will also play in important role in connecting city, county and Fort Carson trail systems in that area?

We still don't know if they've found oil in El Paso County, but we do know that exploration is being done here. It's being done in a responsible manner, state and local regulations are being followed, and the industry is getting along just fine with El Paso County. After months of hard work by the local government designee from our county attorney's office, our development services department and the board of county commissioners, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has agreed to require testing of nearby water wells before, during and after exploration for oil and natural gas and the county has adopted reasonable rules to mitigate damage to our roads, fugitive dust and visual impacts of drilling operations. Working together with the industry and the state hasn't always been an easy process but it is a highly successful collaboration and is being considered as a model for other areas of the state.

We abide by the 3 rules – reduce, reuse and recycle. So we want to reduce what we buy first, make sure you buy only the amount that you need. Then our second thought is to always reuse it, so anything that comes in here we look to see if it's reusable. It's put out on our drop and swap here where anybody is able to come and take it if you need it – free to the public.

El Paso County's Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Facility is another successful collaboration with industry. The purpose of this county facility is to keep hazardous materials and materials that should be recycled out of our landfills. So far this year it has recycled 154-thousand pounds of old electronics, 68-thousand gallons of paint, 18-thousand household batteries and more than 10-thousand gallons of used motor oil. In collaboration with neighborhood groups, businesses, volunteers and city agencies this facility supports neighborhood clean ups, city-wide Christmas tree recycling, slash and mulch programs and more – all aimed at keeping bad things out of our landfills and junk from piling up in our neighborhoods.
This facility is funded entirely by tipping fees which paid by trash haulers when they use area landfills.

And while we're getting rid of things – Goats are the best way to get rid of noxious weeds in Bear Creek Regional Park. Not mention their hard work in mowing down vegetation which might otherwise become a fire hazard. In collaboration with the Bear Creek Garden Association, the annual return of the goats to Bear Creek Regional Park may not be as romantic as the swallows return to Capistrano, but it's become its own attraction for park visitors.

Across the street at the Bear Creek Dog Park, we have another group of four footed park users, and another group of hard working two footed volunteers supporting the facility. Friends of the Dog Park contribute thousands of hours of labor each year to maintain one of the most heavily used parks in the region. Thanks to their ongoing support and a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, 2012 has seen the completion of major erosion control and drainage work in the park as well as new restroom facilities and fencing.

Thanks to a donated modular building – and the hard work of volunteers out in the eastern part of the county, a new outreach center on the county fairgrounds in Calhan is a place where residents on the eastern plains can go to get help from non-profit agencies like Pikes Peak United Way, the Resource Exchange, and the Alzheimer's Association as well as county affiliated agencies like the Department of Human Services and Pikes Peak Work force center. Thanks to collaboration with many partners the outreach center is up and running with not much more than the cost of utilities.

The county also joined a number of partners in a collaborative effort to make the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex a reality. I hope many of you will add to your calendars on January 23rd the official grand opening celebration for the first phase of the new range. Open to the public but operated by Fort Carson's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Enterprise, this is a ground breaking, first of its kind partnership which had to be approved by the Secretary of the Army. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Lottery, the NRA and others are partners with the Army and the county in making this a reality.

The presentation of a 2 ½ million dollar Colorado Lottery funds grant to build and improve trails and recreation facilities along fountain creek in the southern El Paso County was really a joint effort between El Paso County and the City of Pueblo. In making the grant, state officials acknowledged that they were impressed by the project because it demonstrated cooperation and collaboration across multiple jurisdictions.

Volunteers play a big part in the ongoing success of our El Paso County fair and fairground facilities are being used by more citizens use year around than ever before.  From popular dirt track car races which are scheduled from May to September to a variety of equestrian and rodeo style events, and even trade fairs and meetings, fairgrounds facilities are used year around.
Volunteers also play a critical role in the in success of El Paso County's two award winning nature centers located at Fountain Creek and Bear Creek regional parks. Thanks to private fund raising efforts and support from Colorado Lottery dollars, expansion of the Fountain Creek Nature Center will provide classroom, meeting and exhibit space for the busloads of school children who find the nature centers to be an unforgettable learning experience.

Speaking of volunteers and partnerships – our annual Feed the Children event happens this time every year. It's always been a partnership and collaboration between El Paso county DHS and the faith based community and each year it grows with support from Mercy Springs, Springs Church, the Music Evangelism Foundation, Goodwill Industries and more.
This growing annual event demonstrates once again, that when our community, our citizens, our businesses, our region comes together, and works together we can get a lot done.

This year's feed the children event is coming up this Saturday at Springs Church ? near the Chapel Hills Auto Mall. Truckloads of food will arrive late on Friday night. Volunteers from county staff, churches, non profits and businesses will be there to unload. More volunteers will arrive in the early morning darkness. Home Depot and Lowes will set up stations where kids will get the opportunity to build something. There will be free haircuts, dental exams and photos with Santa. All of us, Commissioners Clark, Hisey, Glenn, Littleton, and I will be there to work alongside all of these volunteers to help direct traffic and hand out toys, clothing and food to families in need.

I cannot begin to thank all of the businesses and organizations who volunteer their time, sponsor special parts of this event and donate money. It is an extraordinary outreach effort throughout El Paso County and we are honored to coordinate it each and every year.
In addition to this generosity, extraordinary contributions of equipment, manpower and money came in during and after the fire. Again, I especially want to recognize Wal?Mart and specifically Gary Peacock, for his contribution, through Wal?Mart, of $100 thousand dollars, to the fire recovery fund and for his ongoing support of El Paso County programs and events, especially Feed the Children.

And, I see others here today who are active supporters of our parks and nature centers, who bid and buy during annual 4?H auctions, who sponsor entertainment at the county fair, or sponsor events like our Citizens College, Volunteer Appreciation events and Feed the Children. Thank you so much for all you do for our entire region. We could not do what we do and serve all the citizens of this county without your partnerships!

Speaking of partnerships, you just saw the beginnings of the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex. Let me remind you that you may be a part of this historic partnership by participating financially if you so desire or are able! There are forms on your tables which provide great information and you really do need to mark your calendars for January 23rd for our grand opening and ribbon shooting!!

Earlier in the video tape I made it a point to thank the leadership of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance for your support of the PPRTA extension but I also want to say thank you for your support of the Sheriff's ballot issue 1?A. The question itself came about with little time, without the benefit of a well organized committee to put out press releases and hammer in yard signs. There was no real budget for advertising, but it passed because of the leadership and support from the business community and citizens who recognize:
? That safety and security is a core function of county government – serving all citizens of this county including all of our municipalities
? That one deputy watching over 100 inmates in our jail isn't enough
? That one deputy, on a dangerous call, with no back up isn't acceptable
? And that Sheriff Terry Maketa wouldn't be asking if it wasn't necessary
(Thank you Sheriff Terry Maketa for what you do for all the citizens of El Paso County.)

I also appreciate the ongoing leadership and support of the Business Alliance in our efforts to streamline county land use regulations. Recommendations from the Barriers to Business Group have led to simplification of our commercial and industrial zone classifications and administrative approval of minor changes to land use plans which eliminates the need for a more costly and time consuming review by the planning commission.  Their work has also led to removal of unnecessary and confusing restrictions on equipment installed telecommunications sites, simplification of home business starts, and the extension of previously approved deadlines for development on approved plats. This group continues to work with our Development Services staff to reduce unnecessary fees and streamline the development review process.

We are the only county in the state which has no countywide business personal property tax and El Paso County continues to have, by far, the lowest cost of service per citizen of any of Colorado's ten largest counties.

The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department is a highly efficient partnership which serves El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs and the smaller municipalities within the county. I want to recognize and thank Henry Yankowski and his team for their response after the fire. They moved quickly to establish a temporary modular office in northwest Colorado Springs where inspectors were accessible, without appointment, to assist homeowners in assessing the damage to their homes and provide needed information to get them on the road to recovery.

I appreciate the leadership and collaboration of the Regional Business Alliance and the University of Colorado in bringing together three prominent U.S. Senators to discuss the damage that would be done to both our national security and local economic viability if the current budget battle in Washington is not resolved. Following that UCCS town hall meeting with senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte, the El Paso County Commissioners passed unanimously and sent to Washington a resolution calling on congress and the President to develop and implement a responsible national budget and put an end to the threat of irresponsible automatic defense cuts that would leave our country weak and vulnerable in a dangerous world.

The commissioners and other county elected officials attended that sequestration town hall meeting at UCCS. We appreciate the university's leadership in putting it together and beyond that we see the awesome potential for economic development that a growing and vibrant university campus brings to our region. We look forward to exploring new opportunities for partnership and collaboration with the university which will benefit the entire region.

We were encouraged to learn from the Quality of Life Indicators report that citizens are responding favorably to our ongoing efforts to improve transparency and increase engagement in county government. Trust has increased; our county website (elpasoco.com) was given a grade of "A minus" from the non?profit citizens group – sunshine review. (I'm working on the minus! Should have that up to a "plus" by the end of the year!) And our El Paso County YouTube channel now offers 64 informational videos on everything from how to become a county vendor to transportation management to where to look for election results.

We appreciate GE Johnson and Olson plumbing for their sponsorship of our Citizens College this year and in the year ahead we will be looking for more sponsors to assist in getting that program out to more students. Just last week we were talking with UCCS about exploring ways we might partner with the university and local school districts to share more about what we do, our constitutional responsibilities and how good, limited governance makes a difference in our daily lives.

Over the past five years more than 22 million dollars in private donations to economic development programs and projects like the Regional Business Alliance, Human Services programs like the Marian House, and arts and culture organizations like the Fine Arts Center have been received through the El Paso County Enterprise Zone. Did you know that in addition to allowable IRS deductions there is also a 25% state tax credit for eligible contributions made through the Enterprise Zone?

Also over the past five years, El Paso County has sponsored nearly 60 million dollars in private revenue bonds for non profits serving our region. These bonds have helped to finance facilities at Colorado College, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Pikes Peak Hospice and Rocky Mountain Healthcare Services. Additionally, the county has sponsored more than $100 million dollars in revenue bonds programs which have provided loans to approximately 800 first time homebuyers and financed 62 units of multifamily housing – all at no cost to taxpayers.

As we look ahead to a new year, we can comfortably predict that it will be filled with both challenges and opportunities. The fiscal cliff is still there. Unemployment is still too high and the numbers on the national debit clock just keep spinning upwards.

Still ?new car registrations at the Clerk and Recorder's office are up, Regional Building is issuing more permits, and we are cautiously optimistic about the future of domestic energy production right here in our own backyard and modest gains in local sales and use tax collections give local economists reasons to be optimistic about our opportunities to grow and prosper as a region in the year ahead.

Toward that goal – El Paso County will continue to look for every opportunity to provide high quality service at the lowest possible cost. We will continue our efforts to make sure that state and national government representatives and agencies understand the needs and priorities of our region, and understand the importance of local control, so that they don't do so many wrong things that wind up working against us. And we will expand our efforts and find new ways to collaborate with other government agencies, business leaders, non?profits, faith based organizations and volunteers.

You've heard me say this before – and I promise I'll say it again – none of us in government can create jobs. CEOs, mom and pops, entrepreneurs – everyone in the private sector ? they are the job creators. Government can either support their efforts or get in the way.   Here in El Paso County, we know our place and we choose to support the private sector and human liberty and then get out of the way!

I hope you leave here today knowing that El Paso County is a committed partner in supporting your efforts to create jobs and build community and I sincerely hope that everyone here is looking forward to a wonderful holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a very prosperous new year.

Thank you so much for your friendships and love of this whole region! Thank you for coming"

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