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Where need-to-know meets good-to-know for Springs newbies

Playing 21 questions

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So maybe the game is actually 20 Questions. But the Indy's celebrating its big 2-1 this year, so play along with us, will ya?

Whether you've been here as long as the paper has been, or you're a newbie with plans to make Colorado your home for the long haul, here are some facts and figures so your forays into civic life are less trial-and-error.

Not-so-fuzzy politics

1. Just how Republican is this place? Depends on the day. And who's holding the bullhorn. But according to the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder's Office, the breakdown of active registered voters in the 2012 general election was 45 percent Republican, 32 percent unaffiliated, 22 percent Democrat, and about 1 percent Libertarian.

2. How do I get involved with city government? Start at springsgov.com; it's the hub for all things e-gov. In person, the City Administration Building (30 S. Nevada Ave.) houses many of the operational offices, including those of the city attorney, city clerk, and public communications. City Council holds its "formal" meetings (where actions may be taken) across the street at City Hall (107 N. Nevada Ave.) on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month (unless a change is posted), and the public is encouraged to attend. Typically, comments are limited to three minutes per person.

3. Who do I call in an emergency? 911. In a non-emergency, but concerning situation, you can reach the Colorado Springs Police Department at 444-7000, or the county's sheriff's office at 390-5555. You can also report certain crimes at springsgov.com. Click on "Departments," then scroll down to "Police."

4. Speaking of the county, if I live in the city, what do I deal with the county for? Quite a bit, actually. You'll register to vote, pay taxes, and register your vehicle through the county, among other tasks detailed at elpasoco.com. The Citizens Service Center (1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road) is the starting point for many of these activities, plus food and job assistance. And if you'd like to have a say with county officials, the Board of County Commissioners meets at 9 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday in Centennial Hall (200 S. Cascade Ave.).

5. Can I keep chickens, pigs, bees, insert-favorite-animal-here, in my backyard? If you live within Springs city limits, 10 chickens are allowed. No roosters. And they must have proper housing. The rules beyond that get trickier depending on the type of livestock and where you reside. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region oversees Animal Law Enforcement and keeps a list of helpful "Laws & Ordinances" links at hsppr.org. In addition, you can search the blog at righttothrive.org, a local source for Front Range urban farmers.

Edu-ma-cate me

6. What is school choice about? Colorado passed the Public Schools of Choice Act in 1990, which allows students to attend public schools outside of their neighborhood, even outside of their district. And it applies not only to "regular" public schools, but to charters. Details on the law and each district can be found at the state Department of Education's website, cde.state.co.us. For more on area public education, the Indy publishes a K-12 Education Guide each year, which is available online at csindy.com.

7. Why are there so many school districts in the area? According to Roy Brubacher, who retired in 1988 as an assistant commissioner with the state Department of Education (and passed away recently), there was mass redistricting in the '50s and '60s. Generally, people believed consolidation would ensure the strength of academic programs, and make more activities available to kids. However, some smaller districts and those in El Paso County insisted on keeping their schools under more localized control. (Apparently, there were also some superintendents who worried about losing their jobs under a new plan.) So here, redistricting was never brought to a vote.

8. Is Colorado really behind in school funding? Yes. A 2012 report by the Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education found Colorado's adjusted per-pupil state and local funding to be $8,727, or 35th in the nation. And district-by-district, even that varies. In Lewis-Palmer District 38, total state and local per-pupil funding is $17,106; in Falcon District 49, it's $8,422. The Indy reported on this issue last December; the full story can be found at tiny.cc/vnqqcx.

9. How are town-gown relations? Pretty good, we think. There are five flagship colleges in the region, and more than a dozen other higher-ed institutions. The main five — Colorado College, Colorado State University at Pueblo, Pikes Peak Community College, the United States Air Force Academy, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs — are well-respected and, aside from classes, offer numerous activities for community members to join in on, including author talks, art exhibitions and sports competitions. UCCS (uccs.edu) in particular is going through a ton of growth that will benefit the broader community, from the recently opened Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences to the in-progress Visual and Performing Arts Complex.

God, guns and greener pastures

10. Just how religious is this area? Being home to Focus on the Family and New Life Church, we tend to get labeled as more religious than we are. (At least, we land in national media for that reason more often.) A 2012 Gallup poll determined that at a 34.3 percent "highly religious" rate, we did come in higher than Denver (31.7 percent) and Boulder (17.3 percent), but the Springs still only rated 134th out of 189 metro areas around the country.

11. Why are people marching and carrying signs near Centennial Boulevard and West Fillmore Street? In two words, Planned Parenthood. Since 1993, religious protesters have taken up outside the organization. The group moved from a much more public venue in Old Colorado City to this location in 2010, and now that it's located on private property, marchers have to stay at least 200 yards away from the building.

12. Can I pack heat around town? Local government can prohibit weapons in public facilities, and you cannot carry a concealed weapon on your person on public school grounds. Beyond that, there are various statutes and regulations around concealed handguns of which you should be aware before wandering around the Springs. The county sheriff's office oversees the concealed handgun program, and details can be found at shr.elpsoco.com.

13. Where are all the pot shops? Though the possession and sale of recreational marijuana is legal for those over age 21 in Colorado, and sales brought in $3.5 million statewide in tax revenues and fees in the first month, Colorado Springs City Council has banned the sale of it locally. You'll have to visit Denver or Pueblo County for the nearest shops — at least until Manitou Springs gets its licensing figured out. Officials there have approved two stores for sales. See here for more on marijuana locally.

14. OK, but I can still buy marijuana locally for medical purposes, right? Yes. You'll need to consult with your doctor to determine if your ailment fits within state guidelines and, if so, apply to receive an ID card. All the details can be found at colorado.gov. Now, really, we should leave weed behind and move on.

Other stuff

15. Is the Springs really the nonprofit capital of Colorado? About 2,000 nonprofits are housed in Colorado Springs (including 800 churches), and according to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, nonprofits comprise 6.7 percent of the local economy, or twice what tourism represents. However, a recent study by the local Center for Nonprofit Excellence determined that 84 percent of those nonprofits are small (with annual budgets under $1 million) and of those, 47.3 percent carry budgets lower than $100,000. The Indy's annual Give! campaign supports many of these organizations. See more here.

16. Is the city still on fire ... or flooding ... and how do I know what the risks are? As we write this, thankfully, no. But there's no knowing for sure what the seasonal weather will bring. The city's Emergency Management team keeps an extensive collection of information on how to be prepared, and what areas are of heightened concern, at springsgov.com. The county has similar resources at elpasoco.com.

17. There's a collarless dog wandering my neighborhood. What do I do? As mentioned earlier, the Humane Society (hsppr.org) oversees local animal law enforcement, so a call to them at 473-1741 is the best option. They're the ones you'll go to also if, God forbid, you lose a pet.

18. I'm young. And a professional. And I'm feeling a bit lost. We've reported on how local government hasn't been the most supportive of young professionals, but that doesn't mean everyone's down on you. Colorado Springs Young Professionals is the largest group in town and hosts regular networking sessions, fundraisers and events. Find them at facebook.com/cosyoungpros.

19. My car can't handle all the potholes. Does anyone care? Yes, some government officials do care, though we can't promise how long it'll take to fix the problem. That said, if your car is tripping over city roads, call 385-7623; county roads, 520-6891.

20. I'm curious about the history of the Front Range. How do I learn more? Pikes Peak Library District hosts a regional history section on its website at ppld.org, and houses extensive research materials in Special Collections within the 1905 Carnegie Library, a section of the downtown Penrose Library facility. Books, maps, photographs, manuscripts and the like will keep you plenty busy.

And your plus-one question ...

21. I'm addicted to social media. How do I find all things Springs? It's all about the hashtag — #cosprings. 

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