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Homelessness easing, potholes tax headed to ballot, and more


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Tax hike headed for ballot

It's a bumpy ride on Weber Street south from Uintah Street. But if voters approve the city's proposed .62 of a percent, five-year sales tax hike for roads, it would get fixed. So would a long list of other road projects valued at $250 million or more.

In any event, City Council was expected on Tuesday to refer a measure to the Nov. 3 ballot asking voters to raise the sales tax rate to bring in about $50 million more per year to fix the city's pothole-riddled streets. The ballot measure calls for the work to be contracted out, rather than hiring city personnel, and for money raised by the new tax to be exempt from limits imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

A separate ballot measure, also expected to win Council approval, would allow the city to keep $2.1 million in excess revenue from 2014 to be spent on city trails. As of the Indy's press time, no "vote yes" or "vote no" committees had been formed around the measures. — PZ

Stuffing the school board?

El Paso County Republican Party Chair Jeff Hays issued a letter last week seeking candidates to run for Colorado Springs School District 11 nonpartisan board seats. He said the party, which supports vouchers that frequently work against public schools, wants to recruit "strong, thoughtful, and bold conservative leadership," Hays' letter says.

"Let's help elect people who believe that educational standards should emanate from their own communities instead of from Washington," Hays writes.

Local GOP executive director Daniel Cole downplayed Hays' appeal, calling it "merely" an effort to stimulate interest. "We believe that civic engagement is a positive good even when it involves Republicans," Cole says via email, adding the party is "discussing to what extent, beyond this initial outreach, to involve ourselves in these elections." — PZ

PERA lawsuit dismissed

U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by two Memorial Hospital employees who alleged their right to benefits from the Public Employees' Retirement Association was undermined by the lease of Memorial to University of Colorado Health.

Brian Matise of Englewood, who represents plaintiffs Kathryn Romstad and Margarethe Bench, wouldn't comment, saying he needed to consult with his clients about the next move, if any, in the case. In the ruling, Arguello noted that while the plaintiffs contend their contract for employment included PERA benefits, there was no "signed employment agreement." Rather, the plaintiffs relied on the employee handbook as saying PERA benefits would be provided, and Arguello noted that the "Handbook is not a contract as a matter of law."

Romstad and Bench had contended that they stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension benefits after the hospital lease began in October 2012 and Memorial workers were forced out of PERA and into other retirement programs. The city paid PERA $190 million in September 2014 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the removal of the Memorial workers was illegal. — PZ

Homeless headcount down

El Paso County's annual count of homeless people, a requirement for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, shows some improvements.

In the January count, 1,073 people were homeless in the county compared to 1,219 in 2014. The number of homeless people without shelter decreased from 269 in 2014 to 243, and the number of chronically homeless people dropped from 327 to 291. The number of veterans in permanent housing programs rose from 285 to 475.

Despite reports of homeless people moving here from other states, 72 percent of homeless people were from El Paso County, 83 percent from Colorado. The number of beds available to the homeless rose from 1,616 in 2014 to 1,719 in 2015. More than 93 percent of the beds were used at the time of the count. — JAS

Collins issue in limbo

Two months after City Council cited Councilor Helen Collins with two ethics violations on June 9, no hearing officer has been chosen and no hearing date set.

The case stems from Collins' land transaction with tax limitation author Douglas Bruce. Bruce deeded his late mother's condominium to Collins, who in turn sold it to a third-party buyer. The transaction had the effect of preventing the city from collecting an unrelated judgment from Bruce, but the lien wasn't filed against the property until after Collins sold it.

Collins has maintained she's innocent and that the city filed the complaint to help advance a recall effort against her, which failed. Council has hired a New York lawyer, Suzanne Dugan, who tells the Indy the search continues for a hearing officer. — PZ

County confirms Yankowski

He's been doing the job since June on an interim basis, but now it's official: Henry Yankowski is the new county administrator. Commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the former Pikes Peak Regional Building Department CEO for the county's top job, replacing Jeff Greene, now chief of staff for the city of Colorado Springs.

"We are looking at tremendous opportunities working together on a regional basis and that means everyone; the County, the cities within the county, non-profit organizations, business leaders educational institutions and citizens," Yankowski told the Independent via email.

"When you look at regions of the country where business is growing and unemployment is low you generally find that your community leadership has a shared short list of high priority community investments and objectives that are all designed to encourage economic growth. I'm honored to be given the opportunity to serve as County Administrator and to be working regionally to do everything we can to grow our local economy and keep this a great place to live and work."

Yankowski will be paid $176,500. Greene was paid $146,393. — JAS

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