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Coloradans

Here’s what concerns Coloradans most — and what they want to see changed in the next decade

From affordable health care to the growing threat of wildfires, here’s what a group of Colorado citizens had to say about what’s on their mind

Citizens gather at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood in December 2019 at a town hall hosted by Gov. Jared Polis. Here they are discussing education issues in their community. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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What keeps Coloradans up at night? What do they think is going well in the state? What do citizens want to see changed in the future?

Those were the three general questions Gov. Jared Polis sought to answer during his recent listening tour across Colorado. He and his cabinet members traveled to four cities — Pueblo, Grand Junction, Greeley and Lakewood — to get ideas about how to best serve citizens and to understand what they want from state government.

“Connecting the cabinet members that run the agencies with community members is really important,” Polis said. “To make sure they are listening across the state is a big goal of this.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis at Red Rocks Community College on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, for a stop on his listening tour. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Polis said he heard different priorities from different communities. In Pueblo, for instance, people were focused on issues around the State Fair, which is based in that city. In Greeley, participants wanted to talk about agriculture and oil and gas.

“Communities have different aspirations,” Polis said. “Everyone has a different vision for what they want to be (known) for.”

As for communities’ concerns? “There’s certainly some commonalities,” the governor said. “There’s nobody in the state who wants to pay more for health care.”

The Colorado Sun attended Polis’ final listening stop earlier this month in Lakewood to get a sense of how Coloradans are feeling about the state and what they would like to see changed in the next 10 years. 

Roughly 100 people — a bipartisan group from a wide variety of backgrounds — were broken into small groups and shuffled between a host of tables separated by topic areas like transportation, health care and veterans care. The groups then rotated between the tables, each manned by a member of Polis’ office and one or two of his cabinet members, including the heads of the departments of transportation, public safety and education.

Here were the takeaways from what they said at the Lakewood event:

What are you most concerned about? What would you like to see change in the next decade? Tell us here.

Angie Paccione speaks to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis at Red Rocks Community College on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, for a stop on his listening tour. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

On health care

Challenges:

Affordable and accessible health care topped the list on this issue, with people wanting to see more options. Michael Conway, Colorado’s insurance commissioner, said the one consistent concern among all groups “was mental health care, access to mental health care.”

Hopes for the next 10 years:

People primarily wanted to see access and affordability issues addressed. One person said they were hopeful that Colorado will pass a public health insurance option. That policy proposal is gearing up for the biggest fight of the 2020 legislative session. 

What’s working:

Citizens felt that Jefferson County has done a good job of collaborating with surrounding governments on issues like mental health care and suicide prevention. They also said they appreciated the information being distributed in the community about the opioid epidemic and addiction treatment resources.

Housing and economic development

The Eagle River Village mobile home park is shown in Edwards on Aug. 28, 2019. The park is less than 10 miles from world-class skiing at Beaver Creek Resort and represents one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the area. An estimated 100,000 people live across about 900 mobile home parks throughout Colorado. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

Challenges: 

Participants said they were concerned about how many people in their community are living paycheck to paycheck, in part as a result of housing costs being so high. One man said that he knew a fellow college student who had recently donated blood plasma to ensure he had enough money to pay his rent. 

Hopes for the next 10 years:

Citizens want to see Jefferson County have the first school district in the nation that helps house 100% of its homeless families. They also wanted to ensure that people can be able to afford to live near where they work, an issue of increasing focus in the Denver metro area.

What’s working:

On the economic development side, people said they were happy that marijuana is legal and that cannabis businesses have been a good addition to their community. 


Education issues brought up at Gov. Jared Polis’ town hall in Lakewood. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Education

Challenges:

Each group at the town hall said they were concerned about the effects of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights on education and the funding constraints that come along with it. They also expressed worry about higher education costs being so high and a teen vaping “epidemic.” Finally, participants said they felt like poverty is on the rise and that there are an increasing number of homeless students.

Hopes for the next 10 years:

People at the town hall said they wanted to see teachers have all of the support and resources they need, as well as educators who reflect the diversity of their school communities. They also said they wanted to see Colorado be at the top of school funding nationally and for strong links between businesses and education.

What’s working:

“We heard so much about the partnerships and collaboration all the way through (the system), from even preschool through college,” said Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. Participants also said that they appreciated that they feel their kids are safe in Jefferson County’s schools.


Shoshana Lew speaks to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis at Red Rocks Community College on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, for a stop on his listening tour. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Transportation

Challenges:

People expressed concerns over the connectivity of public transit and their ability to make it to and from buses and rail stops to where they need to go, also known as the first mile and last mile. They also said they are worried about too little funding for transportation and a lack of project prioritization. Finally, participants said they also have anxiety over the safety of Colorado’s roads.

Transportation issues brought up at Gov. Jared Polis’ town hall in Lakewood. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Hopes for the next 10 years:

People said in 10 years they’d like to see more mobility options and biking access. Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, said there was one overarching wish for the future: “That there’s nothing to complain about.”

What’s working:

Participants said they appreciated the access to bus lines in Jefferson County and their ability to access pedestrian and cycling trails. 

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Cybersecurity and broadband

Challenges:

People said they’re worried about vulnerable populations not understanding how to protect themselves on the internet. They also wanted to see more information from the state about 5G wireless technology, short for fifth generation, and whether or not it is safe to use. 

Hopes for the next 10 years:

Participants said they’d like to see Colorado figure out how to be a leader in broadband accessibility so that everyone can have safe, secure and fast internet. They also want to be able to control and own their data. 

One person said they’d like to see the state figure out how to stop all robocalls.

What’s working:

People said they appreciated the efforts to bring municipal broadband to their cities and the internet access provided at libraries. 


Natural resources

A trail above Telluride. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Challenges:

Those at the town hall said they were concerned about fire danger in Jefferson County and open space maintenance. They also said they were worried about not having adequate recycling and composting options.

Hopes for the next 10 years:

Participants said they’d like to see public lands expanded and a solution found to prevent further damage from climate change. In 10 years, people said they also wanted to see Colorado have a water preservation plan to keep up with drought and the state’s ballooning population.

What’s working:

People said they appreciated all of the open space in Jefferson County and its accessibility. 


Mental health

Megan Wykhuis, a state grant-funded social worker at Soroco High School in Oak Creek, uses poetry and writing to help students learn to cope with past experiences. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Challenges:

The biggest concerns centered around access and the small size of the workforce dedicated to addressing mental health. People also feel like there’s fragmentation of services, which compounds the problem of people being turned away when they seek help. 

Hopes for the next 10 years:

People said they’d like to see everybody who needs mental health care be able to get good, timely and easy access in 10 years. One person said they’d like to see that “all of the red tape around funding has been eliminated.” Finally, participants said they wanted more of a preemptive focus on mental wellness as opposed to a system focused on solving problems. 

What’s working:

Participants said they appreciated Jefferson County’s mental health court system and the integration of mental health care into childcare. 


Veterans

Challenges:

People said they are concerned the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t know how many homeless veterans there are in the community and that there isn’t enough available health care for women who’ve served in the military.

Hopes for the next 10 years:

Participants wanted to see an end to veterans’ homelessness and a focus on ensuring that former members of the military are able to easily access health care by making sure that it’s available in the communities where they live.

What’s working:

In terms of what’s working in Jefferson County, people pointed to its pair of county veterans service officers and efforts in the criminal justice system to address veterans needs specifically in both court and the jail. They also think that community college access for veterans is good, both in terms of job training and education, as well as vets’ access to mental health care at those institutions. 


Public safety

Clyde Casados, left, a patrol officer with the Denver Public Schools Department of Safety, meets with fellow officer Karina Alavrez to discuss a report they will file at one of several schools Casados visited on April 4, 2019. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Challenges:

Fire danger also came up in this group, with people saying they’re concerned there’s not enough mitigation happening to protect homes. Opioid addiction was another topic that citizens brought up as something that makes them anxious.

Hopes for the next 10 years:

Participants said they’d like there to be no mass shootings in the next decade, as well as a acknowledgement that Jefferson County’s Schools are among the safest in the nation. Someone also mentioned that they’d like the community to be completely healed from the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. 

What’s working:

Collaboration was mentioned as one public safety positive in Jefferson County, but people also mentioned a court system that works well. Residents said they also appreciated first responders’ communication efforts through avenues like reverse 911 calls and alerts and frequent social media posts.


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