Most voters across the Pikes Peak region consider the 2015 coordinated election as a momentary distraction, with only a few choices to make.
That's not the case in Manitou Springs.
Manitou's 3,566 registered voters will select a new mayor, reshape City Council and pass judgment on 10 ballot issues related to municipal government and a School District 14 funding request considered vital to the immediate future.
The ballot actually is even longer, but the uncertainty isn't. The D-14 school board election is left with just three candidates (two on the ballot, one write-in) for three vacancies after another write-in candidate backed out.
Still, there is much to cover in Manitou, starting with its top elected official.
- Casey Bradley Gent
- Coreen Toll has the edge in experience.
Marc Snyder has served six eventful years as Manitou's mayor, taking office during the throes of recession and leaving amid a stream of record-smashing revenue and an unprecedented $1.6 million general fund cushion. Under Mayor Snyder's leadership, the town has recovered from the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 and flooding since.
Snyder might have been able to wrangle another two years if he had pushed Manitou's murky term-limit rules, but he chose to move on instead. Any report card of his tenure would have to be sterling.
The race to replace him initially looked to be crowded, but in the end it became a matchup of two women now sitting on City Council, Coreen Toll and Nicole Nicoletta. The winner slides into the mayor's seat while the loser remains on Council at least two more years.
Their campaigns have been different yet both positive. Toll has run on her long experience in business and various phases of government, plus her ardent support for the arts. Nicoletta has appealed to younger voters (she is 41, Toll is 67), and pledges to focus more attention on solving Manitou Incline and Ruxton Avenue congestion.
Toll's other priorities include developing new strategies for affordable housing, parking, year-round business and sustainable energy policies. Aside from the Incline, Nicoletta also wants to focus more on landlord licensing, senior services, trash and recycling.
The next mayor will have big shoes to fill, not only dealing with public policy issues, but also learning how to work through, and not around, Manitou's top-notch city administrator, Jason Wells. Once elected, the new mayor will need to follow Snyder's example and avoid prejudging issues and residents coming before Council, while learning how to run effective meetings by leading and not dominating. She also must be willing to represent Manitou and its interests throughout the region, as Snyder has done so well.
There is no clear-cut decision here. Both women have the potential to build on Manitou's many recent accomplishments.
In our view, the person better suited to take on this task is Coreen Toll. The current mayor pro-tem has been more involved for a longer time, and has been more responsive to constituents and their concerns. It's also no small factor that Snyder, who has served on Council with both candidates and knows them well, had planned to stay neutral but now is backing Toll. Others have endorsed Nicoletta, but nobody with as much understanding of what the job entails.
Endorsement: Coreen Toll.
As for Manitou's City Council, seven candidates are running for three at-large positions. Gary Smith and Donna Ford are incumbents seeking a second term. (Randy Hodges, the other at-large incumbent, is running unopposed for the Ward 1 seat.)
But several other candidates are capable and ready to serve, making the choices difficult. It's a good problem to have that there are more good candidates than spaces available.
Jay Rohrer, who formerly operated 1892 Victoria's Keep bed-and-breakfast with his wife Karen Cullen, chairs the Parking Authority Board. David Walker, who lost to Nicoletta in 2013 for the Ward 3 seat, has become more heavily involved with civic activities and makes a strong case. Becky Elder, appointed to the Ward 1 seat in March after Kevin "Sarge" MacDonald resigned for health reasons, brings years of community environmental activism and passion to the table.
Ford, who has served on Council for 12 of the past 14 years, has not campaigned aggressively and didn't bother filling out questionnaires, leading us to wonder if she really wants to continue.
Smith deserves another term and a chance to play more of a leadership role. Elder has done enough in her interim tenure to deserve a full term. And we give an edge to Rohrer for his willingness to be heavily involved with an issue as sticky as parking. Walker's the odd man out, though if Nicoletta becomes mayor, we'd be all for him being named to Nicoletta's current Council seat.
Endorsement: Gary Smith, Jay Rohrer, Becky Elder.
Let's be simple with Manitou's ballot issues: Just say yes to all of them.
Seven of the 10 city questions are simply housekeeping measures for clarifying the City Charter and should be automatic. The remaining three not surprisingly have generated no controversy or active opposition.
• Issue 2E asks for the city to keep $57,993 in excess revenue over projections from the local sales tax on retail marijuana.
• Issue 2F extends an 0.8-mill property tax for open space and parks, in place since 1995, which now would last through 2032, costing property owners about $6.38 per $100,000 in value.
• Issue 2G asks for a similar extension of a 0.1 percent sales tax (one penny on every $10 of taxable purchases), supporting parks, open space and scenic vistas.
That leaves Issue 3B, brought by Manitou School District 14, asking to increase the property tax mill levy from 49 to 52 mills.
D-14 has been squeezed severely by state funding cuts, averaging about $1.5 million annually over the past six years (more than a $1,000 shortfall per pupil each year). Unless this measure passes, D-14 has reached the point where it faces inevitable deep cuts to programs and personnel.
District 14's curriculum has more variety than most smaller schools, including emphases on technology, industrial and visual arts, engineering, music and more. That's a big reason why D-14 attracts a large number of "choice" students from surrounding districts, helping the numbers that equate to as much state funding as possible.
The increased mill levy would allow D-14 to avoid backsliding and instead enhance programs and improve pay for teachers, many of whom haven't had raises in years.
Ballot issues: Vote YES on all of them.