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News briefs from the Front Range

Carson gets another brigade
There might be a tug-of-war over credit: U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Mark Udall separately "announced" Wednesday that Fort Carson will inherit an additional brigade combat team of about 4,800 soldiers as part of the Army's plan to increase its numbers.

Lamborn's apparently unedited release, which included several grammatical errors, also used the occasion to suggest the new brigade would help justify the proposed, controversial Pion Canyon Maneuver Site expansion. Lamborn's release said "the Army estimates" the brigade would come to Fort Carson by 2010.

Udall's release, quoting an assistant secretary for the Army, said the brigade would be "added by 2011." Udall also reminded constituents that, two years ago, he co-introduced the bill to increase the Army's size. RR

Busy year for homicide unit
No doubt about it, Colorado Springs has had a lot of homicides this year.

When Geraldo Contreras-Tovar died Dec. 13, following a Nov. 18 beating that left him with severe head injuries, he became the 27th homicide victim of 2007 in the Springs.

That's an unusually high number for the city. In 2006, there were 17 homicides. Colorado Springs averages 20 murders per year, and the city has done better than similar-sized cities in the past with a 2006 average of 5.4 violent crimes per 1,000 people compared to the average of 10.2 per 1,000.

Police spokesman Lt. Skip Arms could not be reached for comment, but has said in the past that annual homicide counts can cause unwarranted fear, and that some year-to-year variance is normal. JAS

County cuts services and taxes

Days after approving a tight 2008 El Paso County budget that will mean many offices closed once a week and reduced funding for many programs and services, commissioners approved a slight reduction in next year's property tax rate.

Changing the mill levy from around 7.7 to 7.5 will reduce revenue to the county by about $1.2 million. Commissioner Sallie Clark voted against change, arguing instead to stick with a proposal that would have kept the same mill levy while crediting back $1.5 million excess money to keep the county in compliance with TABOR.

Some commissioners argued that strategy is out of step with the intention of TABOR, the tax-limiting law voters passed in 1992 that was sponsored by Douglas Bruce, who is now a commissioner and is soon to become a state representative. AL

Intel lays off 150, ends chip production

Intel Corp. is one step closer to closing its Colorado Springs plant after dismissing 150 employees and ending chip-making Sunday.

The plant, which once employed 1,000 (and still employs about 250 people), will close its doors for good in mid-2008. Almost a year after Intel announced plans to sell the plant, there have been no offers for the expansive Garden of the Gods Road campus. JAS

Pion Canyon to be studied
Dauntless ranchers and their allies can boast many victories in their all-out quest to prevent Fort Carson from expanding training grounds in southeast Colorado.

But they suffered a major setback in the 2008 defense authorization, which President Bush soon is expected to sign. The authorization contains a provision requiring the Army to complete a report justifying the proposed 418,000-acre expansion of the existing 235,000-acre Pion Canyon Maneuver Site.

Expansion opponents see the study as a way for the Army to revive what otherwise seemed a definitive political death; the House and Senate voted earlier this year to ban any funding for the expansion in 2008.

Colorado's U.S. senators, Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar, along with U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, wanted the study done.

"This requires the Army to justify its needs," said Stephanie Valencia, a Salazar spokeswoman.

The expansion site east of Walsenburg includes an abundance of rare animals, native rock art, American Indian remnants and dinosaur footprints. MdY

Electronic voting gets messy
Clerks in some of Colorado's largest counties face election-year turmoil after the secretary of state reported test results this week showing problems with some common electronic voting machines.

Mike Coffman declared Monday that machines in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties showed reliability and security problems. Machines used in El Paso County were among those that passed recertification tests, says Bob Balink, county clerk and recorder.

The potential problems come four years after new machines and the consolidation of voting places brought chaos in Denver, where some voters faced hours-long lines in 2004. Matt Sugar, spokesman for the state's Democratic Party, says everyone is watching the issue with interest.

"We want and need a safe and representative election," Sugar says. AL

Keeping her lights on for you
A former head cashier for Colorado Springs Utilities was arrested last week on suspicion of pinching nearly $435,000 out of customers' payments, police say.

Donna Inzer is accused of manipulating totals collected by other cashiers before making deposits at the bank, and walking away with the extra cash, according to reports. Utilities officials say all but about $16,000 of the missing funds was reimbursed through insurance. No customers lost money or had account information compromised. AL

No jail for Abramoff pal, Norton backer
Two years later, the stench of the probe surrounding super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff still wafts like cheap perfume on a hot Sunday.

Italia Federici, a Colorado Republican activist now living in Washington, D.C., has been sentenced to two months in a halfway house and four years of probation, the Justice Department announced last week. Federici admitted to helping Abramoff make political inroads to the Interior Department through her then-boyfriend, J. Steven Griles, a White House official also facing sentencing.

Federici once helped fundraise for Gayle Norton's Colorado state Senate race. Norton later became U.S. interior secretary. Federici also admitted to obstructing the U.S. Senate's Indian Affairs Committee during the Abramoff investigation and evading income taxes via her nonprofit, to which Abramoff's Native American clients contributed.

Abramoff and others went to prison because of the scandal. Federici was spared prison because she was a key witness in the ongoing corruption investigation, according to the Justice Department. MdY

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley and Michael de Yoanna.

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