Local government usually is viewed as one of a community's most stable components. But that hasn't been the case in Colorado Springs and El Paso County during the past year.
First, let's look at the city. It's gone through a major overhaul since the last InSider, with Steve Bach — the city's first "strong mayor" — taking office last June.
Whereas a city manager used to handle much high-level business, and answer to City Council on it, Bach is now the chief executive who rules over spending and operations. His offices are in the City Administration Building (30 S. Nevada Ave.), as are most city operational offices, including those of the city attorney, public communications, city clerk, human resources and the like. To request time with the mayor (or one of his support staff), try to make an appointment ahead of time at bachsoffice.com, where you'll find a form, e-mail address and phone number.
City Council, a nine-member elected body, still sets policy and oversees the city auditor. It meets the second and fourth Mondays for informal sessions with presentations and discussion but no action taken, and the second and fourth Tuesdays, when Council does take formal action. All meetings, unless otherwise posted, happen at City Hall (107 N. Nevada Ave.). To speak publicly before Council, sign up before formal meetings; Council has been known to limit citizens to three minutes each.
Some things you should know before talking with any city leader:
• The city runs several enterprises — self-sustaining operations that survive on user fees. Those include two golf courses, cemeteries, the Colorado Springs Airport, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Springs Senior Center, parking garages and Memorial Health System, which could become part of the University of Colorado Health System under a lease currently being negotiated by the city. The final lease agreement is expected to go to voters at a special election in August.
• Your city sales and property tax money — property taxes here are among the nation's lowest — fund parks, recreation, street work, police and fire protection, and bus service. Some functions, such as bus service and recreation, are supplemented with fees, like bus fare or softball team charges.
• Also, you may be able to save yourself a trip by visiting springsgov.com or springsgov.mobi on your smartphone. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the city's all-purpose number, 385-CITY. And if you click "on-line services," you'll find information and forms for everything from obtaining a block-party permit to volunteering for the city to paying parking tickets.
Speaking of parking tickets, avoid one by buying an Easy Park card that automatically deducts only the amount of time you use. Buy the card at a city parking garage, the Parking Administration Office (130 S. Nevada Ave., 385-5681) or at easypark.springsgov.com. Cards can be reloaded at the garages and five downtown locations.
The county shuffle
County government's changes have come mainly in the form of a grandiose, $50 million facility reconfiguration. The main part of the plan involved acquiring the monstrous former Intel building, renovating it and renaming it the Citizens Service Center (1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road). Here you'll find the treasurer, assessor, clerk and recorder, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, El Paso Country Health and the Department of Human Services. In other words, come here to register to vote, pay taxes, register your vehicle, sign up for food assistance, look for a job, find out how much your home is worth, or get vaccinations for overseas travel.
If you've got a beef (or a good idea), consider visiting the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, who meet every Tuesday and Thursday in Centennial Hall (200 S. Cascade Ave.). The Centennial space was opened up to commissioners at the beginning of April, so they could join staffers there in budget, administration, legal and public communications.
Other county services include the jail, coroner, parks, road and bridge construction and repair, and development review.
Now, if all this nuts-and-bolts stuff has just fascinated you, you may want to take advantage of citizens colleges, classes that acquaint citizens with county functions. "Last time we had more applications than we could take," Commissioner Sallie Clark said this spring. "The sheriff also does a citizens academy, and clerk and recorder does a citizens academy and DA's office does a citizens college."
Clark adds that hundreds of volunteers are needed to serve on boards and commissions. To get more information, call 520-PASO.
Into the wild
That said, we know that sometimes you and your government are not going to get along. If a city sand truck runs over your car, ora county dump truck wipes out your mailbox, you'll need to file a claim. To do that at the city, call Risk Management at 385-5960 and leave a message; someone will check back with you. For county claims, it's 520-7487.
If you've faced off with a particular pothole, contact the city's Street Division at 385-6808 or email@example.com. The street department fixes thousands of potholes a year. The goal is to respond within a week, but city spokeswoman Mary Scott says the wait currently is about two weeks.
The county has a similar program. To report a pothole, call Public Services at 520-6460. County spokesman Dave Rose says last year the county responded to 450 calls for pothole repairs, and typically 90 percent are filled within a week.
Other people who may be working in the street are employees of Colorado Springs Utilities (csu.org). In the Springs, all four utilities — water, wastewater, electric and gas — are city-owned. That means Utilities answers to City Council sitting as the Utility Board, not the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. It also means rates are lower, because there's no need to turn a profit.
Utilities made news in 2010, when the budget crunch led Councilors to turn off roughly 9,000 of the 25,000 streetlights. Last year, the Council spent about $500,000 to reactivate about 5,800 streetlights, but many lights along major thoroughfares that aren't at intersections remain turned off. To report a broken or burned-out light, call 448-4800. To have a streetlight turned off — hey, some people prefer the dark — call 385-2852.
Also, Utilities can be your friend before you till your yard, or dig a patio foundation. At least three days before any project that requires excavation, call 811. For free, Utilities will locate your underground lines and pipes so you're not out an extra, unexpected bill.
Finally, if your pipes freeze, call 448-4800. Though not in the business of cleaning up a flooded home or business, Utilities might help thaw frozen pipes. The rule of thumb, though, is that if your pipes freeze and break, call a plumber.
Cops and cannabis
In warmer months, you might want a pavilion to have a party. Inquire about county parks at 520-7529, or city parks at springsgov.com.
If someone crashes that party (not likely), you can call 911 or, if the situation doesn't feel emergent, city police (444-7000) or the sheriff's office (390-5555). You won't get a Springs officer for many calls, unless the event is "in progress, the suspect was on-scene, viable suspect information exists, or safety concerns are present," says crime analyst Molly Miles.
That means no in-person response for abandoned vehicles, checking someone's welfare, criminal mischief or damage to property, fireworks, identify theft or fraud, harassment, vehicle theft, trespassing ... In those (and other) cases, Miles notes, residents are told to report the crime at springsgov.com/sectionindex.aspx?sectionid=12, or go to the nearest substation, or file a telephone report.
It's a different story in the county. Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Mike Schaller says a deputy will always respond. "Having said that," he notes, "we do prioritize calls based on threat and risk." Online reporting at shr.elpasoco.com also is available. One reason the office can respond to all calls is that Sheriff Terry Maketa in 2009 created the Sheriff's Citizen Patrol, wherein citizens help with low-priority calls like criminal mischief, motorist assists and traffic control.
One thing you don't need to bother the cops with is worry about marijuana — as long as it's the medical kind. In 2000, Colorado voters approved medical marijuana, and the last few years have brought it to Main Street. You'll notice green crosses around town that signify medical marijuana businesses, where patients must present a state-issued MMJ card based on a physician's recommendation. To learn more, go to cdphe.state.co.us/hs/medicalmarijuana/index.html.