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Noted: Redistricting shakeup


Redistricting hits home

There might be a noticeable shakeup in the boundaries for state House District 16.

On Monday, the state Reapportionment Commission approved new preliminary maps of the House and Senate districts in El Paso County. Former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, who filed last December to run for HD 16's seat in 2012, has been drawn out of the district for now. (The district is currently represented by Republican Larry Liston, who is term-limited.)

Early rumors have had Bensberg facing a GOP primary challenge by Owen Hill, who narrowly lost to Democrat John Morse in a race for Senate District 11 last year. Hill has actually been drawn out of 16 as well.

As the preliminary map stands, Bensberg is situated in HD 21, home to Republican Rep. Bob Gardner, while Hill will be situated in HD 18, which is currently represented by first-term Democratic Rep. Pete Lee.

"I remain hopeful that the commission redraws these lines before the map goes to the Supreme Court," says Bensberg, adding he was surprised by the change to HD 16, as were a lot of people.

Sen. Morse's district was left largely intact, though he'll be term-limited out of office in 2014. According to the preliminary map, Morse's district will continue to contain most of House Districts 17 and 18. As Morse puts it, SD 11 will continue to be the county's most competitive district.

Map updates are undertaken every decade, as new U.S. Census numbers reveal population shifts, and this is only an early stage in the process. Next up, the Reapportionment Commission will take testimony around the state before going back and finalizing the maps by Sept. 5. These will then be sent on to the Colorado Supreme Court on Oct. 7 for review. — CH

AFA solar project criticized

Investigators with the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office aren't impressed with how the Air Force Academy handled the money for its $18.3 million solar array. As first reported by the Air Force Times, the IG's Office has stated that the Academy lost $676,000 in interest because the project was delayed for seven months.

The Academy, the report says, "could have significantly improved planning, funding, and initial execution of the project in accordance with FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] requirements." The Academy instead incorrectly categorized all project costs as a utility company connection charge, and made a single advance payment to city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities.

The report said the payment should have been $1.2 million for connection of the solar array to the electrical grid. But with no financial leverage to ensure timely completion, the project languished behind schedule, the IG's Office said. The project, financed with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was supposed to be completed in mid-November but wasn't finished until this month.

Utilities referred questions to the Academy, saying the city is proud of the project and its partnership with the Academy and contractor SunPower. The Academy remained mum on the IG's findings. — PZ

Gazette loses publisher

Steve Pope, publisher of the Gazette since January 2009, will leave the company July 22 to take a job with Huckle Media LLC as chief operating officer, which both companies announced Tuesday. Huckle publishes a collection of community newspapers in southern Minnesota.

In making the announcement, Huckle said Pope, 61, had been serving on its board of directors since 2008, and as board chairman since 2010.

Freedom Communications, which owns the Gazette, says it will conduct a search to replace Pope. Mike Burns, Freedom's vice president of sales and market development, will serve as interim publisher while continuing in his corporate position.

Before the Gazette, Pope was publisher of the Vail Daily and general manager of Colorado Mountain News Media. (For more, see Between the Lines.) — PZ

More money for kids

El Paso County will get $3.7 million more in state child welfare money, now that the state's tweaked its formula for computing allocations. The county processed 12,000-plus reports of child abuse and neglect last year, more than any other county, but has consistently received $23 million less than Denver County from the state, the county says in a press release.

Commissioner Sallie Clark, a member of the state Child Welfare Allocation Committee, says in the release the county expects to receive more money "to protect our littlest citizens." The money will pay for six new caseworkers and a supervisor.

The county's $43 million allocation this state fiscal year, which begins July 1, funds foster care, subsidized adoption, child protection staff performing investigations and case management in Department of Human Services custody cases, and other services. — PZ

Help for homeowners

Help is on the way for struggling homeowners, thanks to the city of Colorado Springs and a United Way agency.

The city is paying Energy Resource Center Partners $55,000 from the city's emergency repair program, funded with federal Community Development Block Grant money. ERC will use the money to pay for furnace and hot-water heater repairs and replacement for qualifying Colorado Springs residents over the next year. ERC will also provide some residents with a full-home energy audit and energy efficiency upgrades such as insulation.

According to the city's Aimee Cox, the Springs has long had a program to help homeowners with broken furnaces and hot water heaters. In 2010, it helped 42 households with emergency repairs. By partnering with the ERC, which has its own technicians, buys in bulk and doesn't pay sales tax (as a nonprofit), the city expects to get more bang for its buck while providing additional efficiency services; 70 households could be helped this year.

"[The partnership] is just part of us trying to find a way to use our dollars more efficiently," Cox says.

To qualify, you must own and live in your home within city limits. You can't live in the 100-year floodplain, and your gross household income must come in at or below the Department of Housing and Urban Development's area median income limits. For more, visit or call the ERC at 591-0772. — JAS

City budget lookin' good

According to a mid-year revenue and expenditure update, the city will do slightly better in 2011 than was predicted.

If the projections are correct, Colorado Springs will end up with an extra $840,000 at the end of the year. That may seem like a lot to a normal person, but in a budget of $228.3 million, the surplus is minimal.

The mid-year review is a sign that the 2011 budget was estimated correctly, and that Councilors will likely not need to cough up extra dough in order to close out the budget year. — JAS

Suit filed over bad ID

As a kid, Joseph Martinez ran by the nickname Casper. As an adult, he was picked out of a police database of men who go by that name, and charged with dealing methamphetamine within a school zone.

He spent 40 days locked up at the El Paso County jail ("Would you please look at this" News, March 31), losing his job, and spent almost a year after that facing a possible minimum sentence of eight years. The district attorney's office threw out the case when it became clear he was the wrong man.

According to the investigation by an undercover Colorado Springs Police Department narcotics officer, a Hispanic man named Casper, who had a distinguishing tattoo on one of his shins, sold the officer a bag of meth. Martinez has no tattoo.

On June 24, Martinez filed a lawsuit against the city, the police department and the officer for violating his civil rights by arresting him, as the complaint states, when they "failed to do the most minimal amount of work to determine whether the person in the warrant was in fact the person who committed the crime." The city has yet to file a response. — CH

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

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