-By Angelica Wedell-
The Annual Colorado Municipal League (CML) Conference continues to be one of the premiere local government events in the Centennial State. A healthy mix of elected officials and staff, from cities and towns all over Colorado, gather for the essential training, advocacy and information they can rely on to move their communities forward.
Picture: The Town of Breckenridge gives CML Conference attendees an affordable, workforce housing tour.
CML’s most recent conference in Breckenridge, CO came at a crucial time for local leaders. As the state ranks among the very top for population growth and economic changes over the last few years, decision-makers face a myriad of challenges related to everything from accommodating working residents to resiliency.
William Bell, CML Executive Board President and City Manager of Montrose, CO, explained the conference focuses on “critical issues that are common to all of us in municipal government.” This year’s sessions covered topics like finance and budgeting, citizen engagement, policy development and implementation, tourism, implications and ethics of social media, marijuana and much more.
Picture: Governor John Hickenlooper addresses the crowd.
The conference also provides a unique opportunity for leaders to learn from their peers through case-study presentations and networking. National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) spoke to several attendees to hear their thoughts on the biggest challenges facing Colorado municipalities and ideas on how those issues may be addressed.
“My biggest concern is housing for the middle class - people who can’t afford a $400,000 house and are looking for a $200-250,000 home. There is nothing like that in our market and that’s a huge challenge. We have to get really creative in trying to find property owners (who might own vacant land they’ve held onto for years) and connecting them with developers who are motivated to create the kind of housing we need.” – John Clark, Mayor of Ridgway, CO
“There has been such a population boom that housing has become one of the biggest challenges, especially for younger people who are coming out of college. It’s very difficult for them to afford a house in certain places. One way that communities are succeeding in that is working with Public-Private Partnership (P3) projects and mixed-use plans to build out into areas of the community that weren’t traditionally zoned for residential use.” – Sarah Clark, Attorney and Policy Advisor at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
“I think one of the largest challenges that municipalities are facing relates to transportation which ties our communities together. Mobility is one of the cornerstones of the livelihood of our state as a whole. We have transit dependent populations among other impacts on the community. When someone loses a job, for example, and they don’t have the income to pay for a car, how does that person get to their new job? We need to look at the resources available for maintaining our systems as well as expanding to meet the needs of the community. Expanding could be mode shifting towards public transit, car sharing, walking, biking – building our communities so that those are viable options.” – Amber Blake, Assistant City Manager of Durango, CO
“I come from a city where we’ve had four major wildfires recently and the 2013 floods. We’ve spent millions of dollars to recover from those natural disasters. We simply cannot afford, as a state, not to lead the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase our resiliency for the extreme weather events we know are going to happen.” – Suzanne Jones, Mayor of Boulder, CO
“We have a lot of aged water and sewer lines, old main streets and old downtowns that need to be repaired. Tearing up those streets to replace them places an economic [burden] on local governments and businesses in those communities. But aging infrastructure needs to be replaced. Otherwise cities will suffer greater economic costs. You need to do it in a fashion that is coordinated [with residents, businesses, contractors, decision-makers and any other stakeholders] so that things can move forward.” – Don Sandoval, Regional Manager for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs
“I’m in rural Colorado and I think the big dragon in our realm is access to high-speed broadband. Right now the best we have to offer on the West slope is the quality of life, the slower pace, more affordable housing and the beautiful views you see in brochures about Colorado. We have all those things, but if we can’t attract young entrepreneurs because we don’t have the broadband infrastructure, [new business] will also continue to be an issue. I think the state should put about $50 million a year to deploy Internet everywhere. And I think the legislature and the governor should help cut the red tape that’s in front of us. For local governments, we’re not trying to make any money on this, we just want to actually give broadband access to our residents and our businesses.” – Shane Hale, City Manager of Cortez, CO
“Economic diversity of industry is a big challenge in small towns. We need to look at how we are attracting businesses that are a good fit, that will provide jobs and stability for our community members so that they can live and stay in our neighborhoods. I think we need to reach out to the industries we want to see set up shop in our towns.” – Erica Young, Town Council Member of Ridgway, CO
“I think one of the challenges in any community here in Colorado is very high expectations by our residents for delivery of services and new programs. [At the same time] there’s quite a large gap between willingness and ability to pay and fund those programs and services. I think the solution is to engage residents in that discussion and [receive] very open, transparent feedback and see if they have solutions. And either we need to lower the expectation, or increase the funding level - or willingness and ability to pay. Related to the ability to pay is the economy. Although there are certain segments of Colorado that are doing extremely well, that’s not necessarily the case throughout the state. Over on the Western slope, we’ve found it challenging to recover from the Recession, and we are really working to diversify our economy and provide jobs. And jobs relate to willingness and ability to pay for services and programs to [meet rising expectations] and improve our communities.” – Greg Caton, City Manager of Grand Junction, CO