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Ernest LuningErnest LuningDecember 21, 20173min4379

A Republican vacancy committee on Thursday elected Shane Sandbridge, a Colorado Springs investment consultant and former police officer, to become the next representative of House District 14. Sandridge will replace state Rep. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, who is stepping down in January to take a job as regional administrator of the Small Business Administration.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 21, 20178min642

Picture six Broncos games getting out at the same time on the same stretch of road. That's what traffic generated by Monday's total eclipse of the sun — a once-in-a-century event in these parts — could amount to, the Colorado Department of Transportation is warning state motorists. And for those stuck in traffic between Friday and Monday, AAA Colorado has some tips and a musical playlist guaranteed to brighten even the darkest day.



Jared WrightJared WrightJune 16, 20176min438

A major step forward for transportation occurred earlier this year with the approval of the Central 70 project by the federal government. This project involves the reconstruction of a 10-mile stretch between I-25 and Chambers Road and the replacement of a 50-year-old viaduct on Interstate 70. With the approval, the Colorado Department of Transportation could begin work in early 2018.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 15, 20176min321

We put the question a bit differently earlier this week: Can a community spend too much on law enforcement when there are underfunded, competing needs?

Perhaps not — at least, for the two Douglas County commissioners who nixed a proposal by the commission’s third member late Wednesday to ask voters to shift some of the county sheriff’s generous revenue stream toward widening DougCo’s chronically congested stretch of Interstate 25. Now, their three votes are the only ones that will be cast on the idea.

Freshman County Commissioner Lora Thomas had wanted to go to the ballot with a plan to reconfigure a long-standing county sales tax that has poured funding into wide-ranging law-enforcement upgrades. A little over half of the revenue from the 0.43 percent Douglas County Justice Center Sales and Use Tax, approved by voters in 1995, would have gone to upgrade I-25 south of Castle Rock and improve other roads in the burgeoning county.

The county was a very different place when the tax was enacted — essentially, a vast expanse of scenic open space with then-sleepy county seat Castle Rock as its hub. In the decades of explosive growth since then, DougCo from Castle Rock north toward the county line has become a sprawling suburban flank of metro Denver.

That has put increasing demands on law enforcement as well as the regional transportation grid. Law enforcement has been able to keep up — to say the least — because of the dedicated sales tax. Transportation has fallen ever further behind.

And because of that same growth, which has fostered a booming retail sector that includes the likes of Park Meadows Mall, the sales tax is pumping far more revenue into the sheriff’s coffers than voters back in 1995 likely ever imagined possible. As Thomas pointed out in a fact sheet on the issue:

Since 1996, the Justice Center tax has raised over $360 million; over $26 million was raised in 2016 alone.  It has financed the Justice Center to include courtrooms, jail cells, a dispatch center and a state-of-the art coroner’s facility, the Highlands Ranch Sub-station, a jail infirmary, an employee parking garage, a driving track, a regional crime lab, an evidence warehouse, radios, radio towers, body cameras and cameras throughout the facility.  In fact, the last two courtrooms at the Justice Center were just finished but remain unused.  The mission of the Justice Center Sales Tax Fund has been accomplished.

In that light, Thomas’s proposal arguably sought to inject some balance into the county’s fiscal priorities.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock didn’t like the idea. He maintained that without the full revenue stream, he couldn’t ensure public safety, and he and his staff showed up to a two-day hearing before commissioners to make that point. So did a number of citizens who saw it the sheriff’s way and mobilized to turn out for the hearing.

It may be reasonable to assume the two commissioners who wound up voting with the sheriff Wednesday probably were inclined to see things his way, as well. One, David Weaver, is himself the immediate previous county sheriff; Spurlock was in fact his undersheriff before becoming sheriff. And the other commissioner, Roger Partridge, acknowledged in the course of the hearing he has two sons who work at the sheriff’s office.

No conflict in any of that, of course; it’s just politics. But it also may say a lot about an institutional mind-set: Law enforcement is sacrosanct; I-25 is the state’s problem.

So, maybe the outcome was inevitable.

Yet, is that the kind of political establishment that can look at the longer-term needs of a growing county in which law enforcement can’t always be the top priority?

Thomas, reached for comment, was philosophical: “While I’m very disappointed that the citizens in Douglas County won’t be allowed to vote on how their tax dollars are spent, I’ve been assured that fixing I-25 and our other county roads are a priority.”

Commuters certainly must hope so — whatever voters would have said if they’d had the chance.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20175min412

A proposal now on the table in Douglas County attempts to find a balance between two perennial public-policy priorities: law enforcement and transportation. Freshman County Commissioner Lora Thomas wants to ask burgeoning DougCo’s voters to shift some county revenue from the former to the latter.

Her pragmatic solution, up for consideration by the commission on Tuesday: Reconfigure a long-standing county sales tax that has funded wide-ranging law-enforcement upgrades so that it can help widen I-25 south of Castle Rock and improve other county roads.

The solution answers one question that has daunted policy makers in the legislature and across the state — how to raise more highway dollars without raising taxes? — while posing another: Can a community sometimes spend too much on law enforcement amid underfunded, competing needs?

It’s a politically ticklish point, but then Thomas arguably has the cred to bring it up: She is a former county coroner and a retired major with the Colorado State Patrol after 26 years of service. No squish on public safety.

However, she has watched the stretch of I-25 through her county grow more congested year after year even as the county sheriff’s budget and infrastructure have benefited steadily from the revenue-churning, 0.43 percent Douglas County Justice Center Sales and Use Tax, approved by voters in 1995.

Thomas points out in a fact sheet on the issue:

Since 1996, the Justice Center tax has raised over $360 million; over $26 million was raised in 2016 alone.  It has financed the Justice Center to include courtrooms, jail cells, a dispatch center and a state-of-the art coroner’s facility, the Highlands Ranch Sub-station, a jail infirmary, an employee parking garage, a driving track, a regional crime lab, an evidence warehouse, radios, radio towers, body cameras and cameras throughout the facility.  In fact, the last two courtrooms at the Justice Center were just finished but remain unused.  The mission of the Justice Center Sales Tax Fund has been accomplished.

As Thomas told Denver Channel 4 News’s Brian Maass:

“Somehow related facilities has morphed into a driving track and a crime lab and I don’t think that’s what citizens thought they were voting for when (the 1995 ballot issue) said ‘Justice Center.’”

Earmark a tax for any public agency, of course, and it’ll find needs to spend it on. And by all indicators, the sales tax has generated way more money than voters likely could have imagined over 20 years ago.  Booming DougCo’s thriving retail economy has seen to that.

Thomas wants to take a little over half of that generous revenue stream and shift it to roads.

Ask motorists who routinely thread the needle along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs, and they’ll tell you Colorado should be spending more on highway expansion and other upgrades. Ask about hiking taxes to pay for it, and they get squeamish, as polls show.

So, how would they feel about taking it from an existing tax, instead? We’ll find out if Thomas’s proposal makes it onto the ballot.

She needs at least one of her two fellow commissioners to agree with her in order to put the measure to voters in November. Will her peers go along? One, David Weaver, is a former Douglas County sheriff, and the current sheriff, Tony Spurlock, has come out against Thomas’s proposal.

As is so often the case, law enforcement seems to have a built-in lobby to safeguard its turf. Will Thomas’ own extensive law-enforcement credentials be enough to carry the day?


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningFebruary 2, 201710min505

Colorado could get some help from the federal government to speed up highway construction projects, including the nettlesome bottleneck on Interstate 25 between Castle Rock and Monument, but transportation officials caution against expecting the pedal to hit the metal on the projects. Gov. John Hickenlooper this week told the Colorado Department of Transportation to come up with a list of projects to submit to the feds for a potential “high priority” designation, the governor’s spokeswoman, Holly Shrewsbury, told The Colorado Statesman. The list will include the Monument-to-Castle Rock stretch, known as “The Gap,” she said.