COVID funding will keep free tramway shuttle service continuing in two gaming communities
By Don Ireland
The foggy era of Covid-19 has officially lifted in Black Hawk. Black Hawk’s emergency declaration order – issued for the coronavirus in March 2020 – was officially terminated during last week’s Black Hawk City Council meeting. There were a few cheers and collective sighs of relief heard in the council chambers as city aldermen rescinded the emergency declaration order by a unanimous vote.
In March 2020, shortly after the pandemic struck America, Black Hawk Mayor David Spellman issued an order declaring a local disaster emergency, an order that was ratified by Black Hawk’s alderman. The State of Colorado also enacted a similar emergency disaster declaration at that time.
Covid-19 was financially devastating to the City of Black Hawk, which relies almost 100% on gaming for its revenue stream, according to the city’s official 2020 audit. Black Hawk saw a 43.2 percent decline in casino tax revenues in 2020, during which time casinos were shuttered for three full months because of state coronavirus restrictions. When some of the restrictions eased, social-distancing rules resulted in many slot machines remaining inoperative and unavailable to players. According to the city audit, Black Hawk received $4,716,435 in device taxes in 2020, down from $8,304,755 in 2019. Revenue received from Colorado to the city was $5,036,466 for its share of the state gaming tax – a 40.1% decrease from 2019 revenues of $8,403,874.
The city has 15 operating casinos, with the 10 largest accounting for 90.79% of device fee revenues for Black Hawk, the audit said. That includes the five largest casinos – Ameristar, Isle of Capri, Lodge, Monarch and Lady Luck – which, collectively, generate 64.31% of device fee revenues. The casinos occupy 1.5 million square feet of space, including some 232,000 square feet of gaming space.
During the past month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis lifted the majority of the state’s disaster declaration. Black Hawk’s Resolution 49-2021 terminated the city’s previously-issued Covid-19 order. “There’s no need to keep it in place anymore,” said City Attorney Corey Hoffman.
Shuttle Service Coronavirus Grant received
The Black Hawk and Central City Tramway shuttle service received a $411,868 grant that was approved by city council. The grant was part of the federal government’s Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act, administered by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Black Hawk Public Works Director Tom Isbester said he was pleased the city qualified for grant consideration. “We were successful in receiving the grant,” he noted prior to the mayor and aldermen unanimously voting to accept the grant.
The bus service will use the grant to continue operating the little red shuttles that run though Black Hawk and Central City seven days a week. Free shuttle rides are available every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. On weekends (Friday through Sunday), shuttle buses operate every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. until noon, every 20 minutes from noon until 2 a.m. and every 30 minutes between 2 and 3:30 a.m.
Traditionally, the tramway service is funded by device fees collected on gaming devices. Black Hawk received device fees of $190,157 in 2020. The bus service was discontinued in mid-March 2020 and didn’t resume operations until January 2021, as a result of the pandemic. Annually, the transportation fund also receives a portion of its funding resulting from device fees collected in Central City for the shared bus service. Black Hawk budgeted $635,000 for the Tramway service in 2021.
Keeping Black Hawk’s flower displays watered, weeded and looking good isn’t an easy task. During the council meeting, the alderman approved hiring two part-time seasonal workers to help maintain the floral displays. The City plans to hire two employees, who will work 24 hours weekly at a pay rate of $18 an hour for 12 weeks. The number of flower pots and baskets has been growing around the community and the public works department, currently short-handed, needed more help.
Noted Isbester, “Our flowers are taking a whole lot more work than in the past.”
“Live… from New York City”
During the pandemic, remote working became part of the American lifestyle. So did attending meetings. During many of the pandemic months in 2020 and 2021, Black Hawk City Council meetings were held via video teleconference, which is legally recognized and accepted.
Alderman Hal Midcap wasn’t in person for last week’s city council meeting because he was in New York, near the site of the World Trade Center. However, he didn’t miss the meeting because he participated via cellphone, which was transmitted over the speaker system in the council chambers.
Mayor Spellman anchored the call at the Black Hawk end. Midcap participated in all council votes. He also made the motion for the resolution that lifted the Covid-19 pandemic orders.
Guest bell ringer
Prior to council meetings, someone rings the large metal bell adjoining the meeting room, signifying the start of the meeting. (The bell is part of the historic Presbyterian Church now used as a city facility, including the council chambers.) Mayor Spellman invited Gilpin County Commissioner Web Sill to ring the bell, ushering in the July 14 session.