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Noted: $17.3 million city surplus


City reports surplus

The city spent less than planned and brought in more than predicted in 2010, according to a preliminary general fund summary. Including mid-year revisions, the city planned to spend $214.2 million and bring in $212.9 million. Instead, it spent just $204.8 million and raised nearly $222.2 million, creating a surplus of $17.3 million. The report cited several reasons for the good news, including an increase in sales and use tax revenue, expenditure savings, and other revenue increases.

Most of the surplus has been applied to the fund balance (savings), though $390,000 will likely go to fix potholes.

According to the financial report: "Based on current projections, the 2010 preliminary year-end available fund balance is approximately $29.7 million, which is 14.5 percent of actual expenditures or 13.9 percent of the 2010 amended expenditure budget."

In the past, Colorado Springs City Council has hoped to save 10 percent of its budget. Lately, city finance director Terri Velasquez has urged larger savings.

"I think that the fund balance at the level where it is will give the new mayor a little more flexibility in planning his 2012 budget," Mayor Lionel Rivera says. "I think we need to be a little more cautious in the current economic situation."

Rivera notes that new firefighters and police are being hired; water and trash cans are coming back to parks; and streetlights are being turned on where they'd been off in 2010. Bus service has also been restored on Saturdays. — JAS

MMJ licensing prevails

Tuesday, City Council passed the initial reading of a new licensure ordinance for medical marijuana businesses by a 7-1 margin. Randy Purvis cast the only vote against the ordinance, which spells out requirements for licensure and sets an estimated fee schedule.

The proposed fees have drawn the most reaction. Critics say the amounts — roughly $4,800 initially per center license and $3,000 annually thereafter, in addition to fees for each center employee — are too high, draining an industry already dry from complying with the state's various regulations. The ordinance faces its second and final reading April 5. — BC

Vineyard goes urban

A 108-acre tract in south Colorado Springs will be developed under urban renewal rules, which could translate to using tax money. City Council voted 5-3 Tuesday to approve the Vineyard Commerce Park, southeast of Janitell Road and Executive Circle, as urban renewal property. Any proposal to use property tax money for infrastructure, allowed in urban renewal zones, will require future Council approval.

The former golf course property is envisioned as a sustainable data center/industrial campus, according to the proposal. The project's owner Vineyard, LLC, purchased the land in 2008 for $5.5 million from a family trust.

Voting "no" were Randy Purvis, Sean Paige and Tom Gallagher. Gallagher complained that details regarding the biomass power plant to be built to sustain the project were too vague. Purvis said an urban renewal designation could give the project an unfair advantage over similar projects.

Necessary public improvements were estimated at tens of millions, including utilities, roads and Fountain Creek work. Half the land is to be used as open space or for recreation. — PZ

Summer concerts return

This summer Colorado Springs will have something that it hasn't had for a long time: a free outdoor symphonic concert. Thanks to a $50,000 gift from the Charles Ansbacher Foundation, the local Bee Vradenburg Foundation will host one concert a year for the next three years. Ansbacher, former conductor of the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra, died of cancer last September at his home in Massachusetts.

Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, says free summer concerts happened from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, but were eventually canceled due to budget cuts.

This summer will feature the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs with the local chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. In 2012, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic is scheduled to play. — CH

State to observe election

The office of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler will send an official to oversee all parts of the Colorado Springs city election, after receiving a letter from five candidates expressing doubts about the election's integrity.

The candidates sent the letter March 15, saying they were unsure the election "will be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner." They cited apparent errors by City Clerk Kathryn Young's office, including initially listing District 2 candidates in an incorrect order; changing the date ballots were sent to voters; creating confusion over the legality of corporate contributions; and tearing up some of District 3 candidate Lisa Czelatdko's petition forms.

Mayor Lionel Rivera and Young say they welcome oversight. "I think our view — whether it's my view, the city attorney, or the City Council — we all welcomed someone from the secretary of state's office down," Rivera says.

In a release, Gessler stated: "I compliment Clerk Young's willingness to be open and transparent. And we also thank the candidates for working to ensure the integrity of the election." — JAS

Boulder eases jail mail

In response to a class action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the ACLU National Prison Project, the Boulder County Jail has decided to put its postcard-only policy to death.

Boulder and El Paso County jails had policies, enacted in 2010, that allowed inmates to send mail only on postcards. El Paso County dropped its policy almost immediately after being sued by the ACLU, but Boulder continued its policy until reaching a settlement with the ACLU that will once again allow inmates to send letters enclosed in envelopes.

"Incarcerated individuals will no longer be forced to avoid personal topics such as medical, financial or relationship issues simply because their words are in plain sight for anyone to read," ACLU state legal director Mark Silverstein says in a release. — JAS

Compiled by Bryce Crawford, Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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