Gov. Jared Polis talks affordable housing, childcare, teacher retention during visit to Glenwood Springs
Gov. Jared Polis’ campaign trail brought him to Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant in Glenwood Springs on Thursday evening, where he spent time fielding questions from local leaders and activists.
Polis, running for his second term as Colorado governor, was in the midst of a three-day swing, hitting 22 stops throughout the Centennial State.
Topics of discussion included housing, childcare services, a need for more Spanish translators and educator recruitment and retention.
He also highlighted how the state responded to catastrophes like COVID-19, wildfires and the Glenwood Canyon debris slides from summer 2021.
“Amidst all that, I’ve really been so impressed to see the great resilience of the people of Colorado,” Polis said.
The past three years for Garfield County under Polis’ leadership has seen a whirlwind of major events. Eighty nine residents have died from COVID-19, while the Grizzly Creek Fire and ensuing debris slides exacerbated commutes and economic hardship.
And as the cost of living rises, the average sales price for a single-family home in Garfield County continues to hover near $660,000.
Polis’ administration has responded to housing inflation by asking whether the state should do more to push more construction of affordable housing units.
“We’re working very aggressively to partner with cities and counties to create more housing close to where jobs are in a thoughtful, planned way, so that we’re not putting more traffic on the roads, so that we’re not adding more pollution to the air,” Polis said. “We’re excited to help communities like Glenwood have more affordable housing, close to where the jobs are — which is particularly challenging in the high country.”
Garfield County’s high cost of housing and living has also led to challenges in recruiting and retaining educational staff for school districts. The Roaring Fork School district just passed a mill levy override to be used to source up an extra $7.7 million to increase teacher salaries.
On the other end of Garfield County, the Garfield Re-2 district is currently trying to make healthcare packages more affordable.
Polis said the education budget currently put forth by the state is a “record increase.”
It’s close to a 9% increase,” he said. “What that means, it’s about a $13,000 increase for a class of 25 students.”
Polis also touched on other ways the state is trying to bolster education.
“In addition to the increase of 9% of the School Finance Act, we’re separately sending another $90 million to school districts for special education,” Polis said. “So distributed according to special education counts to meet the needs of our learners that have special needs.”
Local Spanish interpreter Jen Quevedo also asked Polis what he’s doing at the state level to offer more Spanish language access throughout institutions, like schools and police departments.
“Our hospitals don’t have interpretation,” she said. “The nonprofits that are accepting money from federal grants don’t have access to interpretation. Counties, municipalities, they don’t have proper interpretation.”
Polis said the state created in 2019 the New Americans Initiative, which employs Coloradans who arrived in the US as immigrants or their children, according to the website.
“They work especially with people who are arrivals over the last couple of decades,” he said. “And so that’s probably our point person on linguistic issues, and I’ll have her reach out to you.”
Local attorney Karl Hanlon asked about health care and how Polis plans to reduce costs for small businesses policies.
Polis, who signed into law new health insurance policies that aim to keep premiums lower for individual and small group markets, said this Colorado Reinsurance Program helps save money for people who either don’t get insurance through their employer.
“The latest thing that we did was the Colorado Options Policy, which includes the small group markets. What the Colorado Public Option does is, it will reduce rates about 15% in the small group market over the next couple years.”
Election for the Colorado governors’ race is Nov. 8.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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