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20 Questions

A pothole-dodging account of how the Springs runs

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If you've just hit town, or been here for awhile and want to engage in civic affairs or just learn more about your region, here's some intel on local politics, government services and officialdom that might make your foray into that world easier.

1. Just how Republican is this place? Well, it's pretty red. According to the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder's Office, the breakdown of the county's 409,346 registered voters is as follows: 41 percent Republican, 21 percent Democrat and 36 percent unaffiliated. The next largest group, Libertarians, number 4,199, or 1 percent.

The city breakdown is nearly the same, with Republicans at about 40 percent, Democrats 23 percent, and unaffiliated 37 percent.

2. How do I get involved with city government? Start at coloradosprings.gov. It's the online hub where you can learn about upcoming events, watch city meetings (fun!), find contact info for every municipal department, and learn the basic ins and outs of how the Springs "works."

In person, the City Administration Building (30 S. Nevada Ave.) houses the mayor's office and many operational offices, such as those of the city attorney, city clerk and public communications. City Council holds its "formal" meetings (where actions may be taken) up 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. Council also meets the second and fourth Mondays in informal session where members are briefed on upcoming issues.

The city operates under a mayor-council form of government, and voters are electing a new mayor this spring, after four years of Steve Bach at the helm. Elected officials across the state are limited to eight years of service in a single stretch in office under term limits imposed by voters in 1994, unless voters have specifically exempted an office.

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 sheriff's office at 390-5555. You can also report certain crimes at coloradosprings.gov. 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.), except for a stretch of time in the summer.

5. Can I keep chickens or other animals in my backyard? If you live within Springs city limits, 10 chickens are allowed. No roosters. And they must have proper housing. Also, City Councilor Jill Gaebler led a successful effort last year to allow residents to keep up to two miniature goats on their property.

Overall, the rules can get a little tricky 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 links at hsppr.org. In addition, you can search the blog at righttothrive.org, a local source for Front Range urban farmers.

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 their district. And it applies not only to "regular" public schools, but to charters as well. Details on the law and each district can be found at the state Department of Education's website, cde.state.co.us.

7. Why are there so many school districts in the area? The story goes that there was mass redistricting in the '50s and '60s, most people believing 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.

The result is that while all districts receive state funding, local funding for districts varies widely. Air Academy District 20 has the highest property tax mill levy (60.216 mills), and Fountain-Fort Carson District 8 the lowest (24.775 mills).

The largest district is Colorado Springs School District 11, which covers most of the city and includes nearly 30,000 students. Its 43.165 mill rate raises nearly $101.8 million.

8. What about higher ed? The region has five flagship colleges, 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 has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. It recently opened its Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences and is putting together a sports medicine center that's expected to draw pro and Olympic athletes.

9. 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 religious reasons quite 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.

The American Bible Society's "America's Most Bible-Minded Cities 2015" ranks Colorado Springs/Pueblo No. 65. The only other Colorado city to rank in the Top 100 was Denver, at No. 82.

10. 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 armed. The county sheriff's office oversees the concealed handgun program, and all the details you need can be found at shr.elpasoco.com.

11. Where are all the pot shops? Possession and sale of recreational marijuana is legal for those over age 21 in Colorado, and it's starting to become big business in the state: The Cannabist website reports $313 million worth of recreational pot was sold in Colorado in 2014. But while local voters favored Amendment 64, the statewide measure that legalized recreational pot, Colorado Springs City Council and the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners have banned sale locally (as A64 allowed). For info on other nearby options, see p. 55.

12. I can still buy marijuana in Colorado Springs 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.

13. 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 (indygive.com), which raised $1.5 million last year, supports many of these organizations.

14. I've heard the city often is burning ... or flooding ... How do I know what the risks are? There were two major fires in 2012 and 2013, the Waldo Canyon Fire and Black Forest Fire, respectively, that claimed a combined 835 homes. The region has dealt with floods in the aftermath as water gushes off the burn scars.

Since the city has one of the highest concentrations of wildland-urban interface in the state, if not the nation, the city's Emergency Management Team keeps an extensive collection of information on how to be prepared, and what areas are of heightened concern — to check it out, see coloradosprings.gov. The county has similar resources at elpasoco.com.

15. 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.

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (cspm.org) also has deep archives and a very helpful staff, and ever-changing exhibits on local history.

16. 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.

17. I'm young. And a professional. And I'm feeling a bit lost. We've reported on how the city 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 goo.gl/NTKZ0f.

18. I don't have a car, so I'm looking to use public transportation. How do I do that? With a lot of patience, unfortunately. However, Mountain Metropolitan Transit (transit.coloradosprings.gov) is working to add more bus service. In addition, the state Department of Transportation is starting a shuttle service between Colorado Springs and Denver, called — wait for it — "Bustang." Check codot.gov/travel/bustang for details.

19. I'm used to getting several utility bills — one for water from the city, another for electric from a company, and so on. Here I get just one. What gives? Colorado Springs owns Colorado Springs Utilities, which provides water, wastewater, electric and gas service. City Council serves as the board of directors. Since ratepayers are the owners, the utility doesn't pay dividends to stockholders, which helps keep rates lower than they otherwise might be.

20. I'm pretty much addicted to social media. How do I find all things Springs? It's all about the hashtag — #cosprings. To follow City Council meetings, use #cscouncil.


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