By Amber Baillie

Six mayors from the Pikes Peak region — and the deputy garrison commander from Fort Carson — gathered for the Business Journal’s third annual regional mayors forum July 21 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel to discuss their cities’ challenges and issues — and need to find regional solutions to issues.

The top elected officials from Colorado Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Woodland Park and the civilian head at Fort Carson covered topics that ranged from water and tourism to economic development and vagrancy.

“On a day-to-day basis, what we [mayors] do is dramatically different — with cities of different sizes, different government formats and different types of concerns,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “But I also think it’s clear that we understand we’re from the same economic ecosystem. The fact that Colorado Springs metropolitan area gained 9,000 jobs within the last 12 months benefits all of our communities, making it clear we also have a lot in common.”

“I think it’s absolutely critical that we work together so that we can come up with long-term, sustainable solutions.” 

— Jeff Kaiser

Monument Mayor Jeff Kaiser said collaborating to find new ways to address the area’s water requirements is imperative because water solutions to meet the needs of expanding populations are expensive. He said the issue would only worsen with time.

“As we look for renewable water methods, new water sources and solutions to depleting water systems, I think it’s absolutely critical that we work together so that we can come up with long-term sustainable solutions,” he said. “From Colorado Springs to Denver, we have four aquifers, none of which are being recharged, and there is no single town, particularly smaller towns, that can afford such solutions [on their own].”

MANITOU’S STRATEGY

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Manitou Springs Mayor Nicole Nicoletta said a multi-faceted approach is needed to solve the town’s challenges with homelessness — and not in a way that just pushes the problem to neighboring areas.

“It’s important we collaborate on our resources and brainstorm together,” she said. “We want to provide long-term impact for people who want services, and there are many individuals in Colorado Springs and Manitou offering social services such as food pantries and medical care.”

“We have more children and families hanging out in Soda Springs Park than we’ve had in years.” 

— Nicole Nicoletta

And Nicoletta set the record straight on Soda Springs Park: It’s still open but the pavilion is temporarily closed.

“There are some people in the community who’ve voiced their opinions on being opposed to the vote and action we took, and I can understand that,” she said. “But what I can tell you outweighs all of that is the fact that we have more children and families hanging out in Soda Springs Park than we’ve had in years. I’m beyond thrilled by that. It’s made a huge difference.”

Manitou’s City Council recently approved more than $3,000 to fund a nonprofit called Poetry Heals to bridge the gap between street kids, residents and city government.

“The idea is to create good, positive activities in that space, not drug deals,” Nicoletta said. “It’s drawing in street kids, where they can throw pottery and write poetry, and it’s been very successful.”

Fountain’s water

For drinking water, Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said the area mainly relies on surface water. However, in times of peak demand, has used water from the wells that have shown contamination by chemicals from Air Force fire-fighting foam.

“It’s a two- to three-month process to get systems into place to treat the well water,” he said. “Once that happens, we’ll be in much better position.”

“It’s too soon to gauge the impact from the contamination, but the help we’ve received from the Air Force and EPA has been great.” 

— Gabriel Ortega

The city says it’s too soon to tell if its economy will be affected by the negative publicity.

“It’s too soon to gauge the impact from the contamination, but the help we’ve received from the Air Force and EPA has been great,” he said. “It’s really that collaboration piece, in helping to ensure that we have safe drinking water for our community. It requires everyone to come together to figure out a solution.”

Veterans and Jobs

Fort Carson Deputy Garrison Commander Rod Chisholm said about 70 percent of transitioning soldiers want to continue to live and work in Colorado Springs, and called on local business owners to hire them.

The installation is working closely with different industries including a piping and welding program, and solar panel maintenance to employ veterans, he said.

“Fort Carson is transitioning 400-500 soldiers [every month] out of service, whether for retirement or moving into a new career in the civilian community,” he said. “Whatever business you have, think of ideas where you can partner with a transitioning soldier.”

“Whatever business you have, think of ideas  where you can partner with a transitioning soldier.” 

— Rod Chisholm

And there are construction opportunities at Fort Carson for local businesses, with $186 million of ongoing construction.

“If you’re in that business and understand the contracting, the Corps of Engineers or local contracting nuances, there is an opportunity,” he said. “This is an installation that’s being invested in even though we’re drawing down.”

There are 15,000 job openings in Colorado Springs with about 11,000 citizens currently looking for work, Suthers said, adding the average wage is $64,000 and the most sought-after jobs are software engineers and registered nurses.

“The news is good and I think what we need to work on now is workforce development,” he said. “What we need to do with high schools and higher education is get more people who live here already prepared for those job openings that we have, and will have in the future. We need to make sure we attract who we need to fill those jobs.”

HOUSING IN WOODLAND PARK

American West Housing Solutions, a nonprofit, recently broke ground on a 24-unit affordable housing project off Colorado Highway 67 to address Woodland Park’s lack of affordable housing, said Mayor Neil Levy.

“It’s been difficult for people to move to Woodland Park with the median price on the market for a home at $300,000.” 

— Neil Levy

“It’s going to be integral to our community,” he said. “It’s been difficult for people to move to Woodland Park with the median price on the market for a home at $300,000. With the new unit, hopefully we’ll have more in the future, we can house younger families paying about $500-$800 a month. This is something we’ve needed for a long time.”

Regional cooperation

Nicoletta also suggested closer collaboration for fire and flood recovery.

“There is no way Manitou Springs would be in as good of shape now if it weren’t for the regional collaboration,” she said. “It’s essential with recovery and resiliency, not just momentarily and on-the-spot but also long-term, we could collaborate on that.”

“The news is good, and I think what we need to work on now is workforce development.” 

— John Suthers

And for the first time in 16 years, Colorado Springs is starting a two-year comprehensive planning process. Mayors from other El Paso County cities can help with the process, Suthers said.

“We not only need Colorado Springs citizens to be involved, we need citizens of the entire metropolitan area because we’re talking about transportation planning, such as buses going to Manitou, up the pass or to Fort Carson,” he said.“This is something we all have to be involved in, so as we plan our open space acquisitions and our park involvement, we need to work together to do that.”