Funds go to North Nevada
Back in November, voters allowed Colorado Springs to keep $600,000 in property tax revenue collected over the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights-mandated limit. Council planned to use the money for federal grant matches to repave Academy Boulevard from Union Boulevard to Vickers Drive, and to repair large holes in the decks of North Nevada Avenue bridges with steel plates.
Those grants instead went to the Cimarron Street and Interstate 25 interchange project. So, Council decided to spend all the TABOR money on the North Nevada Avenue bridges. Paired with existing funding, there is now $2 million for that work. Construction should start around April and take six to eight months. The bridge decks, built in 1949, now carry 25,000 cars a day. The decks' average lifespan is 50 years. — JAS
No eminent domain yet
Noting a somewhat rigid approach in dealing with landowners, City Council this week sent Colorado Springs Utilities back to the negotiating table with owners of 15 Pueblo West properties in the pathway of the Southern Delivery System. Utilities official Dan Higgins had requested eminent domain after failing to reach agreement on temporary and permanent easements, some crossing home sites.
Several landowners complained they deserved more money, because the pipeline corridor would be like, as one man put it, "a two-lane highway through my backyard."
Utilities has acquired 167 easements for the pipeline, which will provide water for Pueblo West and Colorado Springs, but officials wanted permission to use condemnation for holdouts. No dice, Council said, with Randy Purvis noting it could cost more to litigate than to pay more to owners. The city had offered only a few hundred dollars for some easements. — PZ
Kids' breakfasts may return
After voting against funding $124,000 to Colorado's Smart Start Nutrition Program, which provides free breakfasts for needy school kids, Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee are backpedaling. Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, tells the Denver Post that Republicans "are not looking to starve the children of Colorado" and are open to reconsideration. She says her vote was due to questions on how the money would be spent, not financial constraints as she initially cited.
Not that the funding matters for one local school district. Harrison School District 2 spokeswoman Jennifer Sprague says, "We are going to continue to give free breakfast to our free- and reduced-lunch students, even though we don't get that reimbursement."
D-2's $1,500-a-month reimbursement from the state, Sprague says, is incidental "because we receive so many other federal and state funds." About 70 percent of its 11,100 students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Democratic Rep. Cherylin Peniston of Westminster has introduced legislation to restore breakfast funding if the JBC doesn't reconsider, and Minority Leader Sal Pace of Pueblo anticipates the bill would receive some Republican support. — CH
Beetles spread further
Bark beetles have devastated 4 million acres of forest in Colorado and Southern Wyoming since 1996, but with limited effect on the Colorado Springs area. The bugs normally infest mature lodgepole pines.
Lately, however, they've attacked other kinds of pines, including the ponderosa that dominates this region. In Boulder, the U.S. Forest Service reports, 36,000 acres of mostly ponderosa were ravaged in 2010, compared to 1,600 acres the year before.
Jeff Underhill, timber program manager for Pike National Forest, says the beetle is "spotty" around the Springs. He thinks our distance from highly infested areas like Grand County, as well as our large number of mixed-age trees, has helped local forests ward off the threat. But, he says, "It's a possibility [they could spread] with ... very dry conditions and warm winters."
The forest service is working with partners like Colorado Springs Utilities to thin thousands of acres of forest — allowing the remaining trees to fend off the beetle. — JAS
Anti-immigration bill pushed
Last week, state Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs introduced legislation borrowed from Arizona that would encourage local police to track down and detain undocumented immigrants, and criminalize undocumented workers' employment. The bill closely resembles Arizona's bill, which was blocked by a federal judge because it pre-empted federal law. That ruling has been appealed.
House Minority Leader Sal Pace of Pueblo tells the Indy: "Democrats were committed to sitting down and talking to Republicans about bipartisan, common-sense solutions to immigration issues in Colorado, but I don't need to go down to Arizona to learn how to legislate." Pace says Arizona has incurred considerable legal costs, and "some projections show that it has cost them $100 million in tourism dollars from boycotts. Tell me how that helps jobs and the economy."
The Colorado bill has little chance of passing, and if it does, though Gov. John Hickenlooper hasn't taken a stand on Lambert's bill, he has said in the past he would veto similar bills. — CH
No-tax pledge? No way
"Silly." That's what a community leader calls the idea of asking City Council and mayoral candidates to promise opposition to tax increases. Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., says the pledge means "to not allow the voters to decide what's best for them. They're not giving me the voice to invest in my community, in order to follow some ideological principle that may hurt our kids and our community."
The comment referred to Republican activist Jeff Crank's request that candidates for mayor and Council pledge to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."
Kazmierski declined Crank's offer to appear on his radio show, responding in an e-mail, "You won't change your mind, because you have made a pledge not to. I on the other hand could change my mind because I have made no pledge."
For the record, there are no tax increases on the April 5 city ballot. — PZ
Waller eyes sentence reform
A bill that state Rep. Mark Waller introduced last week would recommend parole for prisoners convicted of drug use. Just don't call it progressive. "It is a smart sentence reform bill," says the El Paso County Republican.
The bill would create "a pilot program establishing a presumption in favor of granting parole for an inmate who is parole-eligible and serving a sentence for a drug use or drug possession crime that was committed prior to August 11, 2011." It will, Waller says, extend the savings of reduced sentencing through parole.
"I think that we are through those years of more and more and more sentencing," he says. "One, we can't afford it. And two, does it make the citizen safer? I mean, ultimately that is what it is about."
Last year, Waller sponsored a bill that lowered felony drug sentences, which passed with broad bipartisan support. — CH
City building in stalemate
Yet another attempt to lend a helping hand to the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area fell flat Tuesday, when City Council narrowly defeated a proposal to give a former Colorado Springs Utilities building back to Utilities.
The building at 25 Cimino Drive, which the city is buying from the city-owned Utilities ("Completely trashed," News, Nov. 18), is key for urban renewal and has been targeted for a hotel and parking garage, although the sour economy has deep-sixed development plans for now. Councilor Scott Hente wants the city to give the building to the Urban Renewal Authority.
Mayor Lionel Rivera urged approval to hand off the property, saying Council will lose control of the building to a new strong mayor, following April's election. But Council voted 5-4 not to turn the building back over to Utilities in consideration for the $3.3 million the city still owes on the $6 million purchase. — PZ
Election field jammed
More and more people are becoming candidates for Colorado Springs mayor or City Council, with two weeks until the filing deadline. As of Wednesday, there are 11 candidates for mayor: Steve Bach, Brian Bahr, Kenneth Paul Duncan, Buddy Gilmore, Phil McDonald, Dave Munger, Kelley Pero-Luckhurst, Richard Skorman, Mitch Christiansen, Tom Gallagher and Martin Venson Jr.
Another 14 are running for five at-large Council seats: Councilors Sean Paige and Jan Martin, Tony Exum, Daniel Reifschneider, Tim Leigh, Tony Carpenter, Merv Bennett, Brandy Williams, Ed Bircham, Dawn Lloyd, Bill Murray, Daniel Freysinger, Christopher Sharkey II and Richard Bruce. Three are vying for the Council District 2 seat: Michael Terry, Angela Dougan and Larry Bagley. In District 3, Lisa Czelatdko and Michael Merrifield are dueling. — JAS
Solar savings at UCCS
More solar panels went up in December at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, this time a 25-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system atop Centennial Hall. The system will provide the building 3 percent of its electric needs and save approximately $2,900 annually in utility costs, according to UCCS' student newspaper, the Scribe.
At that rate, the installation will take 23 years to recapture the initial investment of $143,000, less a $75,000 Colorado Springs Utilities rebate. Students help fund the program by paying $5 each per semester for five years. — PZ
Cliff House progresses
After a detour, the Cliff House at Pikes Peak hotel's expansion into the historic Wheeler House appears to be back on track.
The expansion was approved by the town's Council in 2009, but the Cliff House's parent company allowed the approvals to lapse, meaning the process had to begin again. This time, the city's Historic Preservation Commission required some aesthetic changes to the design of Wheeler House and the very large addition that will be built beside it. However, the Cliff House has weathered the process and, after receiving another conditional approval last week from Manitou City Council, now must only conduct a traffic study this summer before asking for final approval. If all goes well, construction could start later this year. — JAS
Policy for personnel
Since the strong-mayor initiative passed, the city human resources department has been changing personnel policies; any mention of a "city manager" had to be deleted, and some policies had to be changed. Even in other years, policy changes are common for clarity or because of changing federal laws. In 2009 there were 40 policy changes; in 2010, 60.
Changing policy is a tedious task, but there was a bigger problem: The strong mayor initiative requires two City Council approvals for every change to policy. Every time a word changed, Council has to pass an ordinance.
Council, however, has directed human resources to make changes at will, informing Council in case changes need further review. Policies and procedures will now be approved once a year by ordinance, saving a lot of hassle. — JAS
Compiled by Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.