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Noted: County kills parks question

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Parks question quashed

While giving lip service to supporting parks, El Paso County commissioners made it clear Tuesday they wouldn't have placed a tax-hike measure on the November ballot for parks maintenance — even if asked, which they officially weren't.

The Great Parks - Great Communities citizen group withdrew its proposal before commissioners took it up Tuesday. Mayor Steve Bach dissed the idea last week, and behind-the-scenes lobbying apparently killed it off. Commissioner Darryl Glenn said the timing wasn't right, and all along, various officials have indicated they'd like to sit out this election cycle, so the county wouldn't share in the election's cost. Of course, it also would keep locals from voting again on term-limit extensions that passed (with tricky wording) last year.

Trails and Open Space Coalition executive director Susan Davies says the Great Parks group withdrew its proposal out of a desire to work with elected officials in the future. Commissioners said greater cooperation and new ideas between the city and county could free up money for parks. "Sometimes you get so attached to the past that we can't look to the future," Commissioner Sallie Clark said.

Meanwhile, the county scheduled two public meetings on term limits: 6:30 p.m., Monday at the Regional Development Center, 2880 International Circle, and as part of the commissioners' meeting at 9 a.m., Thursday, June 30 in the County Office Building, 27 E. Vermijo Ave. Activist Jeff Crank, who supports revisiting term limits, says he notified 6,800 county members of Americans for Prosperity of the meetings.

Commissioners haven't said what final criteria they'll use in determining whether to resubmit the questions to voters. — PZ

Big news for little Manitou

Manitou Springs City Council has named longtime volunteer and environmentalist Coreen Toll as Councilor for Ward 2. Toll owned and managed the Celebration New Age Store in Old Colorado City from 1978 until selling it in 2001.

Citing Toll's volunteerism and steady attendance at Council meetings, Council unanimously selected her over Gary Smith, former Manitou fire chief and husband of Manitou's police chief. She replaces Ingrid Richter, who resigned recently. Toll will serve until January, unless selected by voters in November to serve a full term.

Councilors also agreed to impose Level I water restrictions, because Manitou's reservoir is losing water an average of 10 percent faster than it is gaining it. Even-numbered addresses can do outdoor watering on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with odd-numbered addresses on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Properties south of Manitou Avenue and not numbered must follow the "even-numbered" schedule, with similar properties north of Manitou Avenue following the "odd-numbered" schedule.

Outdoor watering is limited to two hours between 6 and 8 a.m. and 6 and 8 p.m. But filling pools, hot tubs and ornamental ponds, using drip irrigation and hand-watering from a hose with an automatic shut-off, is allowed at any time.

At the urging of Councilors Aimee Cox and Matt Carpenter, the group also agreed to consider whether to make Level I restrictions permanent, because of the limited water supply. Said Carpenter: "I just think we need to move beyond our rainy day plan being, 'It's going to rain.'" — JAS

CSU-Pueblo ups tuition

Students at Colorado State University-Pueblo will be about $500 poorer starting this fall. CSU's Board of Governors has approved a 12.9 percent tuition hike for the 2011-12 school year, according to the Pueblo Chieftain, which means a $250 bump per semester for full-time students. Out-of-state tuition is increasing by $720 a year.

According to a statement by interim president Dr. Julio Leon, this increase was in response to a $2.3 million shortfall in state funding for the coming year. — CH

County reworks jail debt

Refinancing El Paso County's debt on the 2002 Criminal Justice Center expansion will save taxpayers $724,611, county officials said Tuesday. The county has paid down the original $40.1 million debt to $31.8 million. Without changing the remaining 15-year term, the county can save the money by snagging a lower interest rate, 3.97 percent compared to the current 5.05 percent, budget director Nicola Sapp told commissioners.

But the bond underwriter will pick up $338,500 for handling the refinance, and the bond attorneys will be paid an amount "to be determined," according to a spokesman for bond counsel Kutak Rock. County administrator Jeff Greene couldn't say how much those legal fees would be, but emphasizes that the $724,611 savings will be after any cost to refinance the debt. "We are inclined to believe conservatively we will save $700,000 net after all fees are paid," he says. — PZ

Gambling on success

Cripple Creek soon will have another casino: Big Jim's Gambling Hall and Saloon will be taking up shop in part of the old Imperial Hotel & Casino location at 123 N. Third St. The Imperial shut down after filing for bankruptcy in early 2010.

Jim Druck, the co-owner of Big Jim's, told the Denver Post that he plans on a July 4 opening weekend. The Imperial Hotel, now a separate business, is being renovated by the owners of nearby Carr Manor bed and breakfast, Gary and Wini Ledford, and also will reopen soon. — CH

City not looking 'transparent'

Last week, the city released an e-mail to employees that created a media firestorm. It instructed staff that "effective immediately," they were not to give media interviews involving "complex topics, policy decisions, matters under council consideration, other types of controversial issues, or with regional or national media outlets" unless first clearing them through the city communications office. Apparently, this was to ensure "common messaging across the organization and the opportunity for correlation."

The city later said the e-mail simply "restates the current practice," and was meant to encourage employees to think before they speak. However, it did nothing to buttress new Mayor Steve Bach's campaign pledge of transparency, or his inauguration-day claim that he would ignore "the press clippings."

Shortly before Bach took office, the director of the communications department was forced to resign, though Bach has denied that he had anything to do with the decision. Since then, Bach's filled the position on a short-term basis with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce's Stephannie Finley, who's been given the OK to make many changes. — JAS

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

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