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Noted: News from the state races

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Welcome, Gov. Hick

Put on your best surprised face: El Paso County voted conservative in the gubernatorial race. Voters in our right-wing pocket of Colorado threw nearly 18 percent of votes to Republican Dan Maes and 43 percent to third-party conservative Tom Tancredo.

Not that anyone cared. The race was called for Democrat John Hickenlooper (and Tancredo had given his concession speech) before a single El Paso County vote was made public. In fact, if El Paso County mattered at all in the gubernatorial race, it was for saving the Colorado Republican Party. With 87 percent of votes tabulated as of press time, voters here had helped Maes collect 11.2 percent of the statewide vote — which would be enough for Republicans to maintain major-party status in the state and avoid big-time embarrassment. — JAS

Bennet pulls ahead

After leading and then trailing late Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet pulled back ahead of Republican challenger Ken Buck by about 7,500 votes Wednesday morning, a number that would double by mid-day. And with 30,000 votes in liberal stronghold Boulder among those still uncounted, the Denver Post projected Bennet as the winner. He then claimed victory at a news conference.

In one of the nation's most expensive Senate races, El Paso County went overwhelmingly for Buck, 60-34 percent, despite a late concerted effort by Bennet to hold his own in this Republican-heavy territory. In his 30th visit to Colorado Springs since being appointed to office 22 months ago, Bennet walked the west side Tuesday, where applause spontaneously broke out at one eatery. — PZ

City issues approved

More than 56 percent of city voters say to take care of basic city services, it's time to raid a dedicated tax.

The passage of Question 2C means that up to 15 percent of the city's dedicated Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax can help maintain all city parks, open space and trails for the next two years. Currently, just 6 percent of TOPS funding can be used for maintenance, and then only for spaces originally obtained with TOPS funds, meaning older parks and recreation areas have been left high and dry by budget cutbacks.

With much of the maintenance budget for parks being restored this year thanks to greater sales tax revenues, City Council members say the extra money will boost maintenance of small neighborhood parks as the city recovers from recession. But some parks advocates (most notably the Trails and Open Space Coalition) say 2C will only harm larger efforts to get voter-approved long-term dedicated funding for parks maintenance.

"I thought it would pass and the reason ... was that people see the need," says Susan Davies, TOSC executive director. "But it's $500,000 for a $9 million problem."

In other news, voters overwhelmingly approved Question 2B (71 to 29 percent) allowing the city to keep up to $600,000 in 2009 property taxes collected above limits set by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. The money will be used to pay for high-priority bridge and infrastructure repairs (think giant potholes) and public safety services. Had the money been refunded, voters would have received a few dollars at most on their utility bill.

"I'm revising my budget markups by the $600,000 already," City Council member Scott Hente says. "My first thought is I want to restore Squad 108, which is a two-person medical response out of the fire department ... I'd like to use part of the $600,000 for that. And I was thinking about getting a jump-start on the cardiac care monitors for the fire department, and there's probably some streets stuff."

Of course, Council members will have to come to consensus on what to do with the money. — JAS

Manitou's largest event ever

Every year, crowds flock to Manitou Springs to watch costumed teams race coffin-shaped parade floats, in strange homage to a 19th-century local whose coffin washed out of its Red Mountain grave years after her death.

However, the 16th annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races, which took place in perfect weather last Saturday, Oct. 30, proved particularly popular. Cars snaked down Manitou Avenue all the way to the east edge of town, well more than a mile from the site of the event, and traffic was backed up onto U.S. 24 from the main Manitou exit.

Manitou's Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau says it was the largest event in Manitou ever, drawing more than 8,000 people to the mountain town of about 5,000.

"We're very lucky, we're humble and very happy to have so many visitors come and have a good time," Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder says, adding that the crowd is also a great reason to continue the conversation about better parking and public transit options for Manitou. Town halls are scheduled to talk transit on Nov. 5 and parking on Nov. 30 at City Hall. — JAS

The pipeline must go on

As news spread last week that the California-based Banning Lewis Ranch owners filed for bankruptcy, questions arose about what that means for our water bills. Not much, it turns out. The sprawling 23,000-acre subdivision, annexed in the late 1980s, is the chief reason Colorado Springs Utilities is building a $2.3 billion pipeline to bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to the city's east side.

Slower-than-expected home construction at Banning Lewis and the sour economy already caused the city to push back the completion date for the pipeline by roughly a decade, to 2016. By that time, water rates will have more than doubled to pay for it.

Councilman Randy Purvis says there's no reason to delay the pipeline again, noting the city's permits are authorized for only a few years. "I don't think anyone wants to go through the brain damage of another permit process," he says.

Without Banning Lewis to add new customers, Utilities might look to speed up water sales to outlying areas. After a policy reversal earlier this year, the city can sell water, not just deliver it, to subdivisions outside the city limits. Those would include Monument, Woodmoor, Cherokee Metropolitan District and a raft of others dotting the eastern plains.

While a bankruptcy is sure to further retard any action out east, Purvis says there's no reason to hit the panic button. "[The owners at that time] went through bankruptcy in the late 1980s," he says. "And the land is still there." — PZ

Hope for Therapeutic Rec

They were men who had lost their legs fighting America's wars. Kids born with disabilities that ensured they would always be picked last in gym class. Adults who had grown up and learned to deal with their special challenges, but still longed for the company of others like them.

Every year, City Council holds one nighttime meeting to give the public a chance to comment on the proposed general fund budget. This year's happened Oct. 28, and with fewer cuts planned, there was not an overflow crowd, as in 2009. But dozens did show up, most asking the city to reconsider eliminating a program called Therapeutic Recreation.

Run by four employees and around 100 volunteers, the program costs $215,000 — a piddling portion of the $222.5 million budget. The program gives disabled kids camps and activities, disabled vets the joys of competition with wheelchair basketball, challenged adults the chance to water-ski, and arthritic seniors better mobility with yoga.

Vice Mayor Larry Small believes Council will add the program back into the budget.

"I'm certainly supporting it," he says. "I think it's something, that in my opinion, never should have been cut out of the budget to begin with. I got a little aggravated last night, because it appeared to me that the most needy part of our community had to show up and beg for support. I didn't see any developers showing up to beg for more planners."

Other requests included replenishing funds for Cottonwood Creek pool, community centers and park centers in North Cheyenne Cañon, Rock Ledge Ranch and Garden of the Gods Visitors Center. Others encouraged further expansion of the bus system. (Saturday service is expected to return after being stopped last year.) The police and fire unions asked that employee benefit costs not be increased. Council will discuss budget changes Thursday, Nov. 4. — JAS

Lawsuit filed in Vegas killing

The family of Erik Scott, gunned down by Las Vegas police outside a Costco store on July 10, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last week against the police department, Clark County, the sheriff, police officers involved in the shooting, Costco and its employees.

Scott's parents, Bill and Linda, live in Colorado Springs. They seek compensatory and punitive damages, alleging that Costco's workers falsely reported that Scott posed a threat and contacted police; that police acted with excessive force; and that the sheriff, county and police department failed to adequately train and supervise the three officers, leading to Scott's death.

Scott, 38, was a U.S. Military Academy grad who sold medical supplies and was carrying a concealed weapon for which he was licensed. Sheriff Douglas Gillespie declined to comment to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Bill Scott says the lawsuit isn't about money, but about finding the truth and holding the cops accountable. Also last week, the family offered a $25,000 reward for the Costco video, which the family says is missing but which authorities allege was inoperable that day. — PZ

CC gets $10M grant

The Walton Family Foundation, established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, has given Colorado College a $10 million matching grant to establish a scholarship fund for high-need and first-generation students who attend the prestigious Colorado Springs school. CC is now looking to raise another $10 million to fully fund the initiative. More than half of CC students receive financial aid.

"This addition to our endowed financial aid will generate a dramatic and sustainable difference over time in what we can provide for prospective students," Colorado College president Richard Celeste says in a press release. "Scholarship support not only opens the door for many students who wish to attend CC, it gives them the freedom to focus more closely on their academics and pursue activities outside of class." — JAS

Diversity forum awards

The Colorado Springs Diversity Forum will host its member, sponsor and volunteer recognition event from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Friday at the East Library's Community Meeting Room, 5550 N. Union Blvd.

The group also will give a community roundtable summary and share the year's highlights. To RSVP: info@cospdiversityforum.org. — PZ

Recycling pow wow

El Paso County will open the Southern Colorado Sustainability Conference this year with a recycling summit at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Antlers Hilton. The conference (ppsbn.org/index.php/features/2010-southern-colorado-sustainability-conference) is hosted by Catamount Institute and continues into Friday, Nov. 19.

The county's summit provides a forum for discussion about how residents can reduce waste. "We want to make it easy for residents to voluntarily reduce, reuse and recycle," County Commissioner Jim Bensberg says in a release. Bensberg will speak at the summit, along with Laurie Batchelder Adams, past president of the Solid Waste Association of North America. Register for the free event at ppsbn.org. — PZ

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

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