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Noted: Express Inn closes


Ex-homeless lose again

The 207-room Express Inn at 725 W. Cimarron St. has closed in the midst of a foreclosure. The property has played home to the formerly homeless, and to residents who live paycheck to paycheck. Rent for many costs around $550 a month, though some had their rent subsidized by the C-C Boarding Home Annex, which ran two housing programs out of the motel.

Express Inn, owned by GROT Cimarron, LLC, was foreclosed on in March 2009, but that motion was later withdrawn. The current foreclosure was filed March 3. Records show that GROT owes $1.339 million on its $2.19 million mortgage, held by Peoples National Bank.

C-C Boarding Home Annex previously has expressed interest in buying the property; for now, though, residents must vacate the premise, and the vast majority are already gone.

The shuttering of the motel came with little notice. Dave Mersman, court-appointed receiver for the property, says a judge ordered the quick shutdown because the motel's bills surpassed income and it has bed bugs, exposed asbestos, crumbling concrete on stairwells, and electrical issues. Mersman says the hotel's management company helped many residents find a new place to stay, and churches and other motels offered to help. — JAS

Legislature wraps up

Colorado drivers who are medical marijuana patients should be relieved after a bill limiting THC in a driver's blood to 5 nanograms — which MMJ advocates feared could criminally implicate most patients, whether they'd recently medicated or not — was killed Monday night in the state Senate.

House Bill 1261 had undergone several changes in previous days. After passage in the House, it was essentially gutted in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which added language mandating further study. But that was taken out by the Senate Appropriations Committee, before the whole bill was killed once it reached the floor for a vote. "What a lousy day," bill co-sponsor Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, wrote on his Facebook page. "Senate Republicans voted to kill my bill which would have created objective standards ... this is the time in the session when crazy things start to happen."

Speaking of: Dog the Bounty Hunter was outmuscled by Springs Sen. John Morse and Rep. Mark Waller, who successfully shepherded through an alternative bonding bill; and GOP Rep. Amy Stephens fought her own party to move through a bill establishing a health care exchange in Colorado (see p. 17).

But left on the table was the controversy surrounding congressional redistricting. With no resolution, the Legislature might return for a special session, or the issue will go to court. Also, Colorado's primaries are moving from August to June, making it easier for the state to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. — BC & CH

$80,000 for city brand

A mayoral task force charged with rebranding Colorado Springs has agreed to pay local company Stone Mantel $80,000 for the job, which will wrap up in October. The money was set aside in the Convention and Visitors Bureau budget.

The effort may seem to come at an odd time, as the two mayoral candidates have said they have ideas of their own about how the city should be branded. CVB spokesperson Chelsy Murphy agrees the timing isn't ideal, but says the project has been in the works for quite a while, and the new mayor will be part of the process.

Murphy says that compared with other cities, $80,000 is a small price for the service, which she says will include an examination of current assets and other complex analysis. "People think a brand is a slogan, and it's not," she says. — JAS

Locals accept assessments

Is anybody out there? That was a question on El Paso County Assessor Mark Lowderman's mind after receiving only 400 protests of revised property values — "which is nothing," he says. It's the lowest number in 16 years for the first week of the month-long protest period, which began May 1.

By Wednesday morning, Lowderman's office had received 650 protests. In 2009, more than 10,000 protests were filed; that year, as the market tanked, people were getting reappraised values based on a 2007-08 period when the market was relatively healthy.

This reappraisal period spanned July 2008 through June 2010, as values fell across the county by 6 percent on average, but ranging from 3 to 40 percent. No neighborhoods gained in value. Several homeowners filed protests requesting an increase in value, Lowderman says, the opposite of the vast majority of protests through the years. — PZ

Council OKs sharrows

After lengthy discussion, City Council voted Tuesday to install "sharrows" along heavily bicycled streets. Different from striped bike lanes, which are for bike use only, sharrow markers remind drivers to expect and yield to cyclists in the shared-use lane. State law already allows cyclists to use the outside lane of a road, meaning sharrows clarify current standards. Sharrows are currently being considered for 30th Street and for Colorado Avenue.

Council heard a long-winded objection from a Council of Neighbors and Organizations rep, who said more public process was needed. But Council wanted new markers in place in time for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge here in August. "I would like to ask, at what point we become the deciding body, or if we're submissive to CONO," irritated Councilor Tim Leigh said.

The sharrow project is being funded by a state grant, a $4 tax on new bicycles and funds from the dedicated Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax. Leigh is raising dollars privately for sharrows that would stretch from Manitou Springs to downtown Colorado Springs along Colorado Avenue. Each sharrow costs $106, and the total amount needed is about $20,000. Leigh is requesting that donations be sent to The Sharrow Project, in care of Tim Leigh, 4445 Northpark Drive, #200, Colorado Springs, CO, 80907. — JAS

City gets cheaper water

After an especially dry winter, both Prospect and Quail lakes are running low on water. But they'll soon be filled: City Council has agreed to pay Springs Utilities $178,095 to top off the lakes. That was a price reduction of $77,000 from the original quote, made after Utilities agreed to charge the city its winter rate, instead of its pricier summer rate. — JAS

Forte cashes in

Before turning over the reins to new faces, the former City Council handed Utilities CEO Jerry Forte a bonus of $76,383 for his work in 2010. That's a 7 percent increase over his 2009 bonus of $71,263, received in 2010. Both bonuses consist of an annual performance component and a long-term performance payment.

Council last year abolished Utilities' performance-pay system, which cost ratepayers up to $12 million annually, and salaries were adjusted to compensate for missing bonuses. However, some employees' pay declined. Forte is the only Utilities employee still on the bonus program. His bonuses are based on more than a dozen performance ratings, which include budgeting and reliability of electricity, gas, water and wastewater. — PZ

D-11 makes a deal

The bargaining teams for Colorado Springs School District 11 and the Colorado Springs Education Association have produced a contract pretty much on schedule, after months of negotiations. For the next step, the school board and the union will vote on the document, finalized last weekend. Details will not be made public until after those approvals.

In January, complaints started early about the closed-door negotiations. D-11 board members, such as Al Loma, and activists like Jeff Crank with Americans for Prosperity argued that was unfair to the public. The union countered that bargaining is messy work, best done with privacy, as its contract stipulated. Eventually, the union agreed to a day of public bargaining.

Making the process more complicated was that the entire teachers' contract was being redrawn. — CH

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

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