County Gov

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

County tells Black Forest to clean it up

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 4:16 PM

The Black Forest Fire left many homes in ruins. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Black Forest Fire left many homes in ruins.

After the Black Forest Fire, El Paso County Commissioners let some things slide.

A lot of people had burned-up rubbish on their land, construction equipment, and trailers that provided temporary shelter while they rebuilt. Temporary exceptions to normal code in the area allowed residents to keep that stuff on their land for two years, in an effort to give them time to recover. 

But County Commissioners decided unanimously today to let those exceptions expire. That means most residents will need to clean up their act, though the Commissioners did allow exceptions to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Apparently, the decision has made some neighbors — who feel that the area is becoming trashed — happy. But others say the decision puts them in a terrible position, as the continue to try to rebuild their lives.

Read on for more:

Development Code Exceptions for Black Forest Fire Properties Allowed to Expire

Temporary Exceptions May Be Allowed After Administrative Review on a Case by Case Basis


El Paso County, CO, Tuesday July 7, 2015 – The Board of El Paso County Commissioners today confirmed the immediate expiration of code exceptions which were put in place make it easier for residents to rebuild after the 2013 Black Forest Fire. The Board’s unanimous decision allows the Development Services Department to work with individual property owners with extraordinary circumstances on an individual basis to allow them to continue to live in recreational vehicles (RVs) for a limited time pending the completion of construction work on their homes.

The Board heard from a number of Black Forest residents who are in the process of rebuilding bur still living in RV’s due to financial hardships, pending insurance litigation and medical issues. The Board’s decision gives those residents with active building permits, pending insurance settlements or other extraordinary circumstances the opportunity to work with the Development Services Department on a case by case basis.

The Board also heard from residents who expressed concerns that some of the properties burned in the fire are still littered with rusting fire debris, burned out vehicles, multiple trailers and piles of demolition and construction materials creating localized blight and reducing the value of their properties. With the Board’s decision today, County Code Enforcement Officers are directed to resume regular enforcement procedures associated with the rubbish ordinance and all other applicable Land Development Code provisions in the Black Forest area.

Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who represents the Black Forest Area, noted that allowing the two-year old exceptions to expire provides clear direction in establishing a way forward for the entire community. Commissioner Dennis Hisey added, “It’s time to go after the rubbish; the rusting debris from burned out houses that still exists on some of those properties.” Commissioner Amy Lathen added, “We always make a concerted effort to work with those who are suffering but this allows our staff to get in there and begin working with property owners to clear out the rubbish.”

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Friday, June 12, 2015

County lauds volunteer of the year

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 2:43 PM

Ed Dills, left, receives the Volunteer of the Year award from County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Ed Dills, left, receives the Volunteer of the Year award from County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey.
From keeping an eye on road work to handing out toys during El Paso County's Feed the Children event, Ed Dills has given a lot of time to the county over the years.

For his trouble, he got a glass trophy and recognition at the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast recently.

Here's the county's release:
El Paso County resident Ed Dills was presented the 2015 Jack Blackwell Award recognizing him as the El Paso County Volunteer of the Year. The award carries the name of the late Jack Blackwell, who gave countless hours of volunteer service on the Highway Advisory Commission and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Presentation of the Blackwell Award culminates a Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast produced by the Citizen Outreach Group, one of more than fifty boards, commissions, committees, and task forces appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.

“He is a resident of eastern El Paso County who has spent a lot of time behind the wheel on sometimes bumpy county roads,” noted Commissioner Chair Dennis Hisey in presenting the award. “This gives him a special kind of expertise for service on our Highway Advisory Commission,” Hisey continued. “You will see him hard at work handing out toys, clothing and food during our annual Feed the Children event. You will see him planting, cultivating and harvesting on his own land so he can deliver fresh vegetables to the Springs Rescue Mission and these are just a few highlights of his many contributions.”

Before retirement, Mr. Dills worked with Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs. Coke is a valued corporate supporter of the County and has donated truck loads bottled water for wildland firefighters during our devastating wildfires as well as a variety of soft drinks to be served at various county-sponsored events.

Mr. Dills currently serves on the Board of CSU Extension, the El Paso County Highway Advisory Commission, the Citizens Outreach Group, the Community Development Advisory Board, and the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.

Volunteer opportunities with El Paso County cover a very broad range of interests and activities. From regular clean up at the dog park to in-depth analysis of complex budget projections, county volunteers can be found giving their time, talent and labor. To learn more about volunteer opportunities with El Paso County Boards and Commissions go to: http://bcc.elpasoco.com/VolunteerBoards/Pages/default.aspx

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Meeting about controversial wind farm June 18

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2015 at 5:33 PM

KAREN JOHNSON
  • Karen Johnson

A controversial 250-megawatt wind farm planned for the Calhan area is moving along despite the objections of some residents.

El Paso County Commissioners approved the project, which will provide energy to Denver, in December 2013, after years of delays and switches in ownership. Some residents were happy about the project, because many landowners are being paid for the use of their land and the project is expected to bring money into the area. But others were upset about the prospect of huge windmills being scattered across the plains.

A lot of those hard feelings were stirred up again earlier this year, when project-owner NextEra Energy Resources got an amendment to the plan approved that will, among other things, allow for more above-ground transmission lines. In fact, a group of neighbors sued the Commissioners for approving the change. 

Long story short: There's probably going to be quite a crowd for this upcoming meeting about the project:
Meeting Scheduled to Provide Update on Wind Farm Transportation Impacts
NextEra and El Paso County Representatives to Present the Latest Information


El Paso County, CO, June 2, 2015 – El Paso County will host a second informational meeting on Thursday, June 18th at the El Paso County Fairgrounds to give interested residents an update on the progress of the NextEra wind farm project and its transportation impacts as well as the and impacts of recent flooding and road closures to the project and designated haul routes.

The meeting will be June 18 at Swink Hall on the El Paso County Fairgrounds in Calhan from 6:00-7:30 p.m.

This is an opportunity to learn about the progress being made, the work schedule going forward and changes resulting from recent flooding. NextEra, its contractor performing the work, and El Paso County will have representatives explaining the work that is being done right now and the continued safeguards in place to minimize road, traffic and other impacts.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

City Council seeks volunteer food policy advisors

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 12:10 PM

Around the state and country, food and agriculture coalitions are growing, fueled by concerned citizens who seek to influence matters at their local level. 

Here, City Council member Jill Gaebler proposed creating a Food Policy Advisory Board, following in the footsteps of more than 20 other Colorado communities. 

Now that the group has been formalized, the city is calling upon volunteers to staff the board for three-year terms. 

All the details are in the press release below: 

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Yankowski could be interim county administrator

Posted By on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 4:21 PM

With County Administrator Jeff Greene leaving to take the position of city chief of staff, the Board of County Commissioners will consider hiring Pikes Peak Regional Building Department CEO Henry Yankowski to serve as interim El Paso County administrator on Thursday.

Yankowski started his career as a land surveyor, and built a few homes in the 1980s. Before coming the Springs, he was the director of land development for Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before that, he held several similar and related positions across the country, mostly in the South. He has been in his current position nearly nine years. 

Yankowski says he's ready to spread his wings a bit, and learn about other parts of county government.

“I always had a desire to be a city manager or county administrator, but the opportunity never came up,” he says.

Yankowski says he likes the idea of working in local government because it's "closest to the citizens.” He says that the county commissioners don't seem interested in a change agent, preferring someone who can provide a smooth transition. Yankowski says he trusts the existing county staff and feels confident he can provide stability.

The salary for Yankowski, should he be approved to the position, has not yet been set. But he currently makes about $154,000 a year. Greene's salary as county administrator is $146,393.

Regional Building Executive to be Considered for Interim County Administrator

El Paso County, CO, May 28, 2015 – On the regularly scheduled Board of County Commissioners meeting agenda for Thursday June 4, 2015 the Board will consider the appointment of Pikes Peak Regional Building Department (PPRBD) CEO Henry Yankowski to serve as interim El Paso County Administrator. If approved by the Board at that time, Mr. Yankowski will assume the duties of County Administrator when Jeff Greene leaves the County next month to begin his service as Chief of Staff for newly elected Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department administers and enforces building codes, provides required building plan reviews, permits and inspections and serves as the regional flood plain administrator. It was created Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the El Paso County and the City of Colorado Springs in 1966 with the Cities of Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Monument and Palmer Lake joining later. Oversight of PPRBD is provided by a three-person Regional Building Commission with one member appointed from the Board of County Commissioners, one from Colorado Springs City Council and a third from one of the smaller municipalities.

If the appointment is approved by Commissioners during their June 4 meeting, Mr. Yankowski will continue to be available to Regional Building for regular consultation and guidance as he assumes the responsibilities of County Administrator.

“Henry has done a great job with the introduction of new technology that improves efficiency and provides exceptional customer service,” said Commissioner Chair Dennis Hisey who serves as the County’s representative on the Regional Building Commission. “He is a problem solver, an innovator and a collaborator, plus he brings to the table a good deal of experience in community planning, infrastructure and public finance so I really appreciate his willingness to step in and help us to keep things running smoothly at the County as Jeff Greene moves over to the City.”

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Suthers names Jeff Greene as top aide

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 2:33 PM

Jeff Greene says a few words after Mayor-elect John Suthers, right, introduced him this afternoon as his chief of staff. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Jeff Greene says a few words after Mayor-elect John Suthers, right, introduced him this afternoon as his chief of staff.

Mayor-elect John Suthers
today named El Paso County Administrator Jeff Greene as his chief of staff at a salary similar to that of the current chief of staff, Steve Cox, who is paid $186,945. Greene's salary as county administrator is $146,393.

Cox collected $190,545 from the city when he retired as chief of staff/economic vitality chief in mid-2012, including about $90,000 in severance pay, only to return 19 months later as Bach's chief of staff. (The balance was for vacation and sick time.) Suthers says Greene will be paid a comparable salary.

Suthers, elected by a 2-to-1 margin in Tuesday's mayoral runoff, takes office on June 2, but Greene might not transition into his new job at that same time, depending on his ability to put county business in order, Suthers said.

Greene has been in county administration for 15 years and served as administrator for nine years. Suthers says he chose Greene because of his background in government, organizations, budgeting, planning, roads and bridges and law enforcement.

An Army veteran, Greene also served in the Reserves and graduated from the University of Tennessee. He was named Public Official of the Year in 2011 by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce (now the Regional Business Alliance).

Suthers said he also wanted a leader who would bring "a fresh set of eyes" to city government.

Greene, for his part, said that there's no one better than Suthers to serve as mayor of Colorado Springs, an odd comment since one of his bosses, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, ran against Suthers in the general election but didn't make the runoff election. Asked about that comment later, Greene noted he didn't endorse anyone for mayor and that the "citizens have spoken" by electing Suthers. Lathen, asked about Greene's comment, said she's "excited" for Greene and Suthers. "This is the first time in years that we've had an opportunity to work with the city," she said. "I'm hopeful this will put an end to the turf wars."

As for other mayoral appointees, Suthers says he'll take 90 to 120 days to assess various departments before making any decisions.

El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, on hand for the announcement, said he'd just learned of the appointment this morning.

Likely interim administrators to replace Greene are community services manager Tim Wolken, emergency services chief Jim Reid and budget director Nicola Sapp. Neither Lathen nor Glenn would speculate. Commissioners will meet in closed session on Tuesday to kick off efforts to replace Greene.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recycle your trash for free

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2015 at 1:34 PM

click image KY
  • Ky
I remember my family's first color TV: a giant black box that sat in a place of honor in our living room.

By comparison, our old black-and-white with its slightly bent rabbit ears looked puny and outdated. This was the 1980s after all, and our family was living large. 

By the 1990s, my mom had decided that living large wasn't enough. She needed to live humongous. She bought the biggest big screen TV I've ever seen — a monstrosity that looked like it weighed 1,000 pounds. I'm pretty sure the door frame had to be removed just to get it into the house. 

Unfortunately for my folks — and their doorframe —  the giant TV soon went the way of the dinosaur. Those big TVs went to a gullible neighbor to make room for flat screens.

I bring this up because you probably don't have neighbors gullible enough to take an old TV anymore. The thrift stores won't take them, and you have to pay to dump them. Unless, of course, you hit up the county's free Earth Day recycling event.

The county will not only take your old TVs, but also your old paint, antifreeze and batteries. Read on for details:
Recycle and Donate Household Items on May 20

Free Event with EPC Household Hazardous Waste, Goodwill & Salvation Army


El Paso County, CO, May 12, 2015 – El Paso County and Honeywell are partnering to sponsor an “Earth Day in May” event for local residents to properly dispose of household hazardous waste items, and to donate gently used items to Goodwill and Salvation Army. This free event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20, in Honeywell’s upper back parking lot at 1110 Bayfield Drive in Colorado Springs (near Quail Lake and World Arena).

El Paso County Household Hazardous Waste will accept the following for recycling and/or proper disposal:
Paint and paint-related products: stains, strippers, thinners, varnishes, etc.
Household chemicals: aerosols, ammonia, bleach, cleaners, lamp oil, etc.
Lawn & garden chemicals: fertilizers, pesticides, poisons, plant food, etc.
Automotive chemicals: antifreeze, brake & transmission fluids, waxes, bug/tar/vinyl/chrome/engine cleaners, etc.
Batteries: lead-acid vehicle batteries and all types of household batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, watch & hearing aid batteries)
Electronic and TVs (any size)
Not Being Accepted: business waste, fluorescent lights, medicine, or tires.
Hazardous waste must be in labeled, non-leaking containers that can be left at the site.

Goodwill and Salvation Army will accept the following items for donation:
Appliances (large): air conditioners, furnaces, water heaters, etc.
Appliances (small): coffee makers, food processors, microwave ovens, toasters, etc.
BBQ grills
Beds (mattresses & box springs)
Bikes & strollers
Cell phones
Christmas ornaments & lights
Clothing & shoes
Computer equipment
Electronics
Fencing & fence posts
Furniture (small size only)
Household items
Metals (aluminum cans, copper, brass, power cords)
Sinks & bathtubs
Sporting goods
Wheelbarrows

If you have questions, call El Paso County’s Environmental Division at 520-7871.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

County settles cases involving Maketa

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2015 at 1:32 PM

Terry Maketa
  • Terry Maketa
In today's Noted section, I wrote about two settlements being considered by the El Paso County commissioners.

El Paso County Sheriff's Office Sergeants Charles Kull and Emory Gerhart resigned their positions in December 2013, then sued the county claiming they had been harassed and emotionally abused under the leadership of then-Sheriff Terry Maketa

Maketa, of course, has faced a whole host of problems, from the fallout over at least one in-office affair to a Colorado Bureau of Investigations inquiry. Anyway, the commissioners decided to settle the cases.

Read on for the county's take on the situation:


Agreements Settle Two Employment Complaints Against Sheriff’s Office

El Paso County, CO, May 12, 2015 – The Board of El Paso County Commissioners today approved two resolutions which settle of all claims brought against the County, the Sheriff's Office, former Sheriff Terry Maketa and former Undersheriff Paula Presley by two employees of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

Sergeants Charles Kull and Emory Gerhart resigned their positions as sworn personnel with the Sheriff's Office in December of 2013 and subsequently filed claims for monetary damages citing loss of income and benefits due to adverse employment conditions.

Sheriff’s Bill Elder joined County Attorney Amy Folsom and outside legal counsel Glenn Schlabs from the firm of Sherman and Howard in recommending approval of the settlements. “I wholeheartedly support this,” Sheriff Bill Elder told Commissioners. “The mere existence of these issues is a deep distraction so the sooner we can find ways to put them behind us the better.”

“Each claim is different and is evaluated on its own merit. I’m confident that the amounts presented are significantly less than the cost of protracted litigation,” said County Attorney Amy Folsom. “These claims were evaluated by outside counsel from Sherman and Howard and they concur that this is the best resolution of these particular claims.”

-Sergeants Emory Gerhart and Charles Kull resigned their positions with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in December of 2013.

-They subsequently filed claims generally claiming “constructive discharge/wrongful termination” and naming former Sheriff Terry Maketa, Undersheriff Paula Presley, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and El Paso County as defendants.

-Emory Gerhart returned to duty shortly after Sheriff Elder took office in 2015. The proposed settlement agreement for Charles Kull includes an offer of reinstatement and he is expected to return to duty this month.

-The settlements collectively represent approximately $158,000 in lost wages and an additional $40,000 in taxes and benefits. The lost wages will be paid from the Sheriff’s Office salary and compensation funds.

-Settlement of these two claims does not set any sort of precedent. The facts surrounding these two claims are different from each other and different from other claims still pending from former and current El Paso County Sheriff’s Office employees.

-The Board of County Commissioners engaged the law firm of Sherman and Howard to oversee and independent investigation of employment related claims. Attorney Glenn Schlabs of the firm of Sherman and Howard advised Commissioners spoke in favor of the settlements. Schlabs says, “This represents a much better alternative than to deal with ongoing expense and inherent risks of protracted litigation and perhaps, even more importantly, it’s an important step in letting Sheriff Elder restore employee morale and move forward with his plans to ensure that citizens receive the best possible service from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.”

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Good news, bad news in No Man's Land

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 11:12 AM

The roads and sidewalks in No Man's Land just can't. - BRADLEY FLORA
  • Bradley Flora
  • The roads and sidewalks in No Man's Land just can't.

Back in December, I wrote a story about the western section of Colorado and Manitou Avenues, popularly known as "No Man's Land" or "The Avenue."

Overlapped by confusing jurisdictions — county, state, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs — the area has long been generally neglected. I should know. I drive through it every day.

But No Man's Land (or at least some of it, keep reading) is set for transformation, starting with a huge road project that will begin later this year. That's great. But trust me, it doesn't solve the more immediate problem. No Man's Land is basically one big pothole. Seriously, I don't know how the cops catch drunk drivers on this stretch, because every driver looks like a drunk when they're swerving every which way trying to protect their tires and their alignment. I stopped driving in the right lane of the eastbound side of the road month ago — because the lane is nearly nonexistent in places. 

Anyway, enough with my bitching. I come bearing some good news. The county is going to temporarily fix the road starting at 11:30 a.m. today. You see, No Man's Land may have its issues, but it is a major route for tourists. And the county doesn't want all of our tourists going home with horror stories about our roads.

So — and I never thought I'd say this — thank god for tourists.

On the not-so-positive side, Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder is furious that Manitou will apparently be left out of much of the larger Westside Avenue transformation. Originally, the project was supposed to transform No Man's Land starting at the U.S. 24 bridge on the west side. Now, Snyder says that most of the Manitou stretch will be left out of the project. 

"Basically they just moved the goal posts and said, 'You know Manitou, too bad for you,'" Snyder says. "... It's just a real blow for us."

Snyder says Manitou was supposed to get $2 to $3 million for its share of the project, including street, sidewalk and streetscape improvements. It will be much less now. 

Snyder says he also wasn't invited to the kickoff for today's roadwork.
County Begins Maintenance Work Tuesday on West Colorado Avenue
Construction Work on Major Gateway Project Will Begin This Fall With Relocation of Utilities Lines


El Paso County, CO – April 12, 2015 – El Paso County Public Services will begin minor repair work on Tuesday April 13, 2015 to improve the road surface on Colorado Avenue from 31st Street to the U.S. 24 overpass in Manitou Springs. This is a critical corridor for summer tourism.

The maintenance and ownership of this 1.3 mile segment of Colorado Avenue was recently turned over from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to El Paso County. This is the first phase of an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and CDOT that will result in major improvements along this stretch of roadway. But with the start date on the larger project still months away the County will be performing some badly needed maintenance to improve driving conditions on the road surface over the next several weeks.

Major improvements which are expected to begin with the relocation of utility lines this Fall will result in improved safety for cars, trucks and busses and provide badly needed accommodations for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Now known as the “Gateway Project” the “Westside Avenue Action Plan” has taken shape over the past three years and a final public meeting is expected this summer to discuss detailed improvement plans for the area.

A video presentation at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R08PH1ke2hc reviews the area and its huge importance to residents, businesses and visitors.

El Paso County Public Services reminds motorists to pay special attention to flaggers, reduced speed limits and construction zone traffic signs in “cone zones” during the heavy construction months ahead.

El Paso County Public Services is responsible for the maintenance of more than 2,000 miles of public roadway ranging from major thoroughfares in urban areas to gravel country roads and neighborhood cul-de-sacs. 

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County property assessed values up 6.3 percent

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 10:10 AM

news3-1.jpg
On March 25, I wrote about the healthy growth that El Paso County is seeing in property values and the improving economy in general.

At the time, El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker didn't yet have the total 2015 assessed values of properties, but he was able to provide them today.

As you can see, there's a 6.3 percent increase in values countywide (although it's worth keeping in mind that these numbers will change quite a bit during the Appeals and County Board of Equalization periods). 

· 2014 End of Year Assessed Value = $6,439,985,430.00

· 2015 Assessed Value = $6,873,091,140.00

· 2014-2015 Value ($) Difference = +$433,105,710.00

· 2014-2015 Percentage (%) Difference: = +6.3%
Wondering how much the value of your own home has increased? Keep an eye on your mail. Valuation notices go out May 1. 
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Thursday, March 26, 2015

County recognizes 'Friends of the NRA Day'

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 9:12 AM

Commissioners Amy Lathen, Sallie Clark and Peggy Littleton love their guns. - EL PASO COUNTY
  • El Paso County
  • Commissioners Amy Lathen, Sallie Clark and Peggy Littleton love their guns.
It's that time of the year again.

Flowers are blooming, snow is giving way to rain, and our El Paso County commissioners are pledging their support for a fundraising arm of the foundation side of one of the most powerful and divisive advocacy organizations in the nation. On Tuesday, the commissioners formally recognized "Friends of the NRA Day," as they do every year.

Friends of the NRA is a fundraising arm for the NRA Foundation, which promotes the shooting sports. While the Friends of the NRA supports local programs and services, it's kissing cousins with the National Rifle Association, a group that used to be known for its focus on helping hunters and marksmen, but is now a political powerhouse.

Both federally and at a state level, the NRA fights against laws aimed at keeping guns in check. That includes laws that most Americans like, such as those mandating background checks. In fact, when Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, helped pass background check legislation and other gun control bills in Colorado in 2013, the NRA went after him. The Morse recall effort was successful.

Not that any of this should raise eyebrows. I mean, it is spring after all.
El Paso County Recognizes “Friends of NRA Day”

Local Group Celebrates More than Two Decades of Service to the Community



El Paso County, CO, March 25, 2015 – By unanimous Proclamation, the Board of El Paso County Commissioners during its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday recognized March 26th as “Friends of NRA Day and expressed its appreciation for decades of support for local programs and services by Friends of NRA.

Each year, Friends of NRA raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a variety of programs and services, including firearms safety and training, youth hunter education conservation training, law enforcement training and firearms competition and the national youth shooting sports cooperative.

“In 2014, the Colorado Friends of NRA raised $768,074 state wide and distributed $384,037 across 80 grants with $279,730 directed at 57 grants focused on youth programs,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen in presenting the Proclamation. “Six grants totaling $16,326 were given to groups in El Paso County.”

“We believe in the fundamental liberties people have, not just in El Paso County but across the country,” she said.

Friends of NRA are a valued partner with El Paso County, Fort Carson, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and others in the establishment and ongoing development of the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex. The complex, which is open to the public on 400 acres of Fort Carson property, is the largest public range in Colorado.

“Thank you for your all of your support especially for 4-H and the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex,” said Commissioner Clark.

The County Proclamation recognizes March 26, 2015, as “Friends of NRA Day” in El Paso County Colorado and urges citizens who enjoy the shooting sports and cherish the freedom of responsible gun ownership to show their appreciation for Friends of NRA and the important contributions they make to our community. “Our sole purpose is to raise funds for the shooting sports and education,” said Peggy Gray, Colorado Friends of NRA chair.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Colorado Springs Friends of NRA Committee. Commissioner Peggy Littleton encouraged El Paso County citizens to attend the group’s annual dinner, noting that funds raised through the event support grants distributed every year. The gala is Thursday, March 26, at Swan House Manor, 5515 Palmer Park Blvd., Colorado Springs. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the evening includes games, auctions and dinner. For tickets, contact Peggy Gray at (719) 243-4586.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Here's something you could do instead of complaining.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 5:03 PM

EL PASO COUNTY
  • El Paso County

Last year, I wrote a cover story about trash.

Actually, there's more there than you might think, but here's the upshot: It's really tough to get people to stop dumping their crap all over our city. The best solution is probably just to pick it up. And that's exactly what people will be doing on April 25, the county's Tackle the Trash Day.

As you can tell from the expressions on the boys' faces in the picture above (taken at last year's Tackle the Trash event), there is nothing more pleasurable than cleaning up someone else's mess. Trust me on this, I'm married.  

Also, this is something you can do to make your hometown look a little better. You're not going to patch the potholes. (Unless you are, and in that case, god bless you.) You're not going to revitalize the downtown. You're not going to duct tape the mouths of our most obnoxious politicians. You're probably not even going to mow down the weeds in your neighbor's yard.

But you sure can pick up some trash. Here's how:


County-Wide Spring Cleaning Day Set for April 25

Volunteers Invited to Tackle the Trash




El Paso County, CO, March 12, 2015 – El Paso County is hosting the third annual Tackle the Trash, a County-wide “spring cleaning” event on Saturday, April 25, 2015, and encourages civic organizations, churches, scout groups, schools, families and individuals to participate.

Volunteers will pick up trash in seven specific areas around County parks, trails, town centers, public areas, creeks and roadways. This year a new pick-up area in Manitou Springs has been added to the list. County Commissioners will greet volunteers and assist with cleaning chores at various check-in sites beginning at 9 a.m. The County provides trash bags and safety vests. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own gloves, bottled water and sunscreen.

“El Paso County residents are proud of this beautiful place we call home,” Commissioner Chair Dennis Hisey said. “Tackle the Trash is a great opportunity for all of us working together to spruce up the community.”

Last year, more than 500 volunteers tackled the trash. For additional information including map locations of the Check-In sites and to register for the event you can go to www.tacklethetrash.com or call 520-7871. You can also send an email to: info@tacklethetrash.com. Participants younger than 16 must be supervised by an adult.


Tackle the Trash Check-In Sites (all open at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 25, 2015):

· Manitou Springs / Manitou Springs Parks

Check-in at Memorial Park, 502 Manitou Avenue, Manitou Springs

· Monument Area / New Santa Fe Regional Trail

Check-in at 3rd Street Trailhead, between Adams Street and Beacon Lite Road, Monument

· Fountain Area / Fountain Creek Regional Park

Check-in at the park, 2010 Duckwood, Fountain

· Falcon Area / Rock Island Regional Trail

Check-in at Falcon Trailhead, Falcon

· Bear Creek Regional Park / Surrounding Areas

Check-in at the park headquarters, 2002 Creek Crossing, Colorado Springs

· Calhan Area/ El Paso County Fairgrounds

Check-in at the fairgrounds, 10th Street, Calhan

· Downtown Colorado Springs

Check-in at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Judge's findings on recall withheld

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 3:18 PM

Robert Blancken stands at a podium presenting his case against the recall petitions before Judge Hayden Kane on March 2. City Clerk Sarah Johnson sits in the background. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Robert Blancken stands at a podium presenting his case against the recall petitions before Judge Hayden Kane on March 2. City Clerk Sarah Johnson sits in the background.

We thought that by now we'd be telling you about the recommendation from Municipal Judge Hayden Kane regarding the protest of petitions filed to recall City Councilor Helen Collins.

But noooooooo.

Kane turned in his findings to City Clerk Sarah Johnson, who's refusing to release them until she issues her ruling. We haven't been told when that might be, other than "as soon as possible," according to city spokeswoman Kim Melchor.

Melchor's full email response to our request for Kane's decision:
This is not an issue of lack of transparency, Judge Kane's findings is an active document the City Clerk is using to make her final determination.

Sarah Johnson stated to Mr. Blancken that Judge Kane's findings will be adopted as part of her final determination. This document was provided to Sarah Johnson and is a working document until her final determination is made. However, she is working to make her determination as soon as possible. I can enter your request for Judge Kane's recommendation as an official CORA and let that process run its course.

To reiterate, Judge Kane's findings will be an integral part of the final determination and will be released in their entirety when the City Clerk releases her determination.
To recap, Collins is under recall in the April 7 election by a few people led by former Harrison District 2 board member Deborah Hendrix, because Collins hangs out with a tax cheat, Douglas Bruce, (though Hendrix herself is in hot water with the IRS) and doesn't represent the wishes of the southeast District 4. Collins has since been accused of an ethics violation regarding a property transaction involving Bruce.

Hendrix's group is being financed by Colorado Springs Government Watch, run by Dede Laugesen of Monument, wife of Gazette editorial page editor Wayne, to the tune of $14,000 used to pay out-of-state signature gatherers without disclosing where the money specifically came from. As a footnote, Dede Laugesen has called for transparency and accountability in city government.

Whether the recall votes will be counted in the city election hinges on Johnson's decision.

For his part, Blancken isn't very happy with the city clerk's not releasing Kane's findings. Here's a news release he issued on Wednesday:
Robert Blancken was forced to file an official CORA Request with the City of Colorado Springs because Clerk Sarah Johnson refused to disclose Judge HayDen Kane's initial opinion/findings regarding Mr. Blancken's Recall Protest.

Judge Kane's opinion/findings were made available to Clerk Johnson on March 10th, 2015. Mr. Blancken and the Recall Petition Committee were promised immediate access to Judge Kane's opinion/findings during the Protest Hearing that was conducted on March 2nd, 2015.

Mr. Blancken stated, "I spoke with Clerk Johnson and she refused to provided his initial findings. Given this willful disregard for transparency on the part of Clerk Johnson, I had no choice but to submit a CORA Request and notify the public of her egregious misdeed."

Judge Kane did communicate that his findings would be made available to both Mr. Blancken and the Recall Petition Committee, as well as the public.

Mr. Blancken has requested a one-on-one meeting with the Mayor to further discuss these issues. At this time, no meeting has been scheduled by the Mayor's office.

Mr. Blancken went on to say, "It's a sad day in our city when public employees like Clerk Johnson behave in this manner. It appears she is doing everything within her power to ensure this recall occurs despite the legitimate evidence I presented. Clerk Johnson is ultimately accountable to the taxpayers, but her actions continually demonstrate her contempt for the citizens of this city. Perhaps that is why the city wouldn't allow me to address her involuntary dismissal from her previous employment during the Recall Protest Hearing. The powers that be probably do not want the public to know that she is unfit for duty. A bipartisan committee in Kentucky knew that and dismissed her, when will our Mayor and Council do the same?"
The Independent reported Johnson's dismissal years ago.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wind farm faces new challenge

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 10:03 AM

The plains area where the wind farm is planned is home to a lot of wildlife, including golden eagles. - KAREN JOHNSON
  • Karen Johnson
  • The plains area where the wind farm is planned is home to a lot of wildlife, including golden eagles.

Back in January, I told you about how a planned wind farm near Calhan was whipping up emotions.

The 250-megawatt project, which is slated to provide energy to Denver, was already approved. But a new owner wanted a change to the original plan. NextEra Energy Resources wanted to run above-ground transmission lines in one area, instead of buried lines. Many of the people living in the area were upset by the plan for a variety of reasons. Some feared health risks, others thought their property values would diminish, some feared for wildlife, others just hated to see their views disrupted. 

The county's Planning Commission apparently felt those concerns were warranted and voted against the change to the plan. But the Commission didn't have the final say; the El Paso County Commissioners did. In February, during a marathon session, County Commissioners heard from neighbors who didn't want the lines, as well as those who said the project was needed to improve the area's economy. Eventually, they voted unanimously to approve the change, which NextEra said was key to completing the project. (County Commissioner Sallie Clark was absent.)

Now, a group of the neighbors is suing the Commissioners to change the ruling. Read on for more:

County Receives Legal Challenge Seeking to Reverse Approval of Amended Wind Farm Plan

Suit Filed Under Rule 106


El Paso County, CO, March 5, 2015 – The El Paso County Attorney’s Office is aware of a lawsuit challenging Board of County Commissioners approval of changes to the original plan for a wind farm in eastern El Paso County. In addition to asking the court to order the Board of County Commissioners to reverse its February 5, 2015 approval of those changes, the suit contemplates a temporary injunction to prevent the start of construction.

The original wind farm plan, including some 147 turbines spread over nearly 25,000 acres south of Calhan received final approval from the Board of County Commissioners after a lengthy hearing December 19, 2013. Then the project was acquired by NextEra Energy, one of the largest wind farm operators in the country and an application was made for amendments to the original plan. The Board of County Commissioners approved those changes following a marathon public hearing February 5, 2015 during which many citizens spoke both in favor and in opposition to the proposed changes.

The suit challenging the Board’s approval of the changes comes under what is commonly referred to as “Rule 106” in Colorado law. Under “106” local land use decisions can be challenged in court on mostly procedural issues. Plaintiffs in a rule 106 appeal typically argue that the elected officials making the decision did so without following proper procedures and that their decision was “arbitrary.”

The lawsuit does not appear to focus a challenge on the 2013 approval of the wind farm itself. It challenges specifically the February 5, 2015 Board of County Commissioners approval of changes to the original plan. The County believes that the requested changes were a given full and thoughtful consideration, established processes were followed and evidence on both sides of the land use request was considered in making a final determination. The County rejects claims made in the lawsuit and notes a particularly troublesome and erroneous claim that there was executive session involving Commissioners and the applicant. No such meeting ever occurred. However, the County understands that land use decisions often require the difficult balancing of the rights of many different property owners and respects the right of citizens to appeal difficult and controversial land use decisions such as this to the courts through the rule 106 processes.

It is nearly impossible to predict a timetable for court consideration. But if a request for a temporary injunction is submitted, it might be heard in a matter of weeks while a full appeal through the rule 106 processes could be pending into next year.

NextEra has indicated that it plans a job fair in the Calhan area later this week and anticipates the start of construction later this month.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

County consultant terms C4C 'of great importance'

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 2:10 PM

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The long-awaited consulting report on City for Champions, commissioned by the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, concludes the four tourist venues are "of great importance," but the county didn't release the full report to the public.

Nor did the press release issued by the county address specifics of the downtown stadium project's financial viability and economic impact on the county. In other words, the release didn't address whether it would be wise for the county to dedicate tax increment financing or other tax dollars to the project. 

The county supposedly sought the study in part because the county is being asked to help fund C4C by assigning $1.4 million a year, or $42 million over 30 years, through TIF — sales tax revenue growth over a baseline set in December 2013.

We've asked for the report itself but haven't heard back.

City for Champions was introduced in July 2013 by Mayor Steve Bach. It includes four projects: downtown Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Air Force Academy visitors center and a downtown stadium.

The consultant, BBC Research and Consulting, concluded the four projects would attract 1.5 million new visitor days to El Paso County and that the museum has the "greatest prospect" of bringing in new tourism money, the news release said.

But there was no data provided specifically for the $97 million downtown stadium project, the most controversial of the projects and the one requiring local tax money to be built. 

According to a report prepared by Economic & Planning Systems for the state Economic Development Commission, which has agreed to give the city $120.5 million to build the four projects over 30 years, the downtown sports and events center can be expected to attract 4.75 million net new out of state visitors from 2017 to 2043. Net new out of state visitors is the goal of the Regional Tourism Act under which the EDC allotted the money.

The report presented today didn't use that term, but rather provided the "new visitor days" figure of 1.5 million and didn't say whether that was per year or over a longer term.

The release:
BBC Research and Consulting, a nationally recognized firm with more than forty years of experience in economics, research and planning has completed development of a financial model to assist El Paso County in evaluating the benefits and financial impacts of City for Champions. The firm was engaged by the County in 2013 for an independent and “county focused” review of various projections, assumptions and conclusions affiliated with the state supported City for Champions economic development initiative.

“The state’s analysis focused on the financial impacts to the state itself, said El Paso County Budget Officer Nicola Sapp. We wanted to focus specifically on the impacts to El Paso County. We asked BBC to give us a fresh look, a different look and a specific focus in order to develop a financial model that we can use to assess the bottom line impacts of the various C4C projects as they evolve and become more defined. We know that some of the projects are well into the design phase while others are still very much conceptual at this time and what BBC has developed is a flexible model to assess the financial and budget impacts on the county as these projects gain greater definition.” Mr. Frick observed that the Sports and Events Center is in conceptual development with a business plan and feasibility study needed.

“It is reasonable to assume that these four projects will bring 1.5 million new visitor days to El Paso County,” BBC Managing Director Ford Frick told Commissioners. “The Olympic Museum has the greatest prospect of bringing new national dollars and the sports and events center also holds similar promise with competitors coming from all over the world and bringing with them coaches and families others.” Frick also noted that the UCCS Sports Medicine Center will have benefits beyond just new visitors to the area because local residents using the facilities will be bringing the insurance premiums they have paid out back into the local economy. He went on to tell Commissioners that the model focuses on new dollars, adjusts out local attendance by residents and takes into account the fact that visitors from other parts of the state will typically stay for shorter lengths of time and spend less. “These are strong projects, independently financed; bring unprecedented levels of state support and prospects for substantial local benefit,” Mr. Frick concluded noting that the projects are of “great importance.”

Budget Officer Sapp concluded the presentation noting that the BBC review confirms that all C4C impacts are over and above the County’s existing sales tax base and the historic and projected natural growth of that base. “It’s important to keep in mind that the County’s has experienced over the past 30 years annual increases in sales tax revenues of more than 5% and that growth is not fully captured in the BBC analysis making this a more conservative than what we would actually expect. But again, this is a flexible tool for you to use in evaluating these projects as they gain more definition.”
Former City Councilor Joel Miller, who's running for mayor, has been critical of the downtown stadium project and the county's $45,000 study, saying last August it would be useless because it was based on "overly optimistic numbers" for attendance and tax collections.

Miller: The study is useless. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Miller: The study is useless.
Moreover, Miller said BBC officials told him the study wouldn't include include a cost-benefit analysis. Such research, Miller says, would look at the "substitution effect" — consumers' tendency to forgo spending at an existing venue to attend a new one — and "opportunity costs," the "what if" factor of channeling the money elsewhere, such as city infrastructure.

Here's the letter Miller wrote back in August to commissioners and City Council about the study:
August 3rd, 2014
To: The El Paso Board of County Commissioners and Members of Colorado Springs City Council
From: Councilmember Joel Miller

Dear Colleagues and Honorable Members of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners:

I appreciate the BOCC offering the opportunity to sit down with BBC’s Ford Frick. He seems like a good man who’s committed to doing the best work he can within his assignment. That said, after meeting with Mr. Frick, it’s apparent that he’s working with figures that will not provide an accurate City for Champions (C4C) picture for citizens. Mr. Frick’s analysis will take mostly at face value visitor numbers, spending assumptions and multipliers provided from previous analysis conducted by C4C proponents and analyzed in the state’s third‐party analysis conducted by Economic and Planning Systems (EPS).

BBC’s analysis may make some minor adjustments for double‐counting tourists and the number of visitor days spent in the area, but the primary inputs will be proponent data provided to BBC and used by EPS. The goal of the proponents’ data was to show the maximum potential of economic benefit. Because Mr. Frick will base his analysis on proponents’ overly optimistic numbers, as well as other reasons detailed below, I believe the analysis will be flawed.

In recent months, I’ve communicated with several nationally renowned sports economists, including Stanford Economist Roger Noll. In the case of C4C, and the proposed downtown stadium in particular, Dr. Noll has stressed the necessity of conducting a “cost‐benefit analysis” that takes into consideration specific factors, especially the substitution effect and opportunity costs.

The substitution effect considers that visitors to Colorado Springs (and citizens, also) have a limited leisure budget. Money these consumers spend at one leisure activity is money they will not spend at another. If consumers spend money at the proposed downtown stadium, for example, that’s money they won’t spend at the zoo, Fine Arts Center, or a Sky Sox game. In effect, with C4C, government would choose winners and losers by funding projects that would take money away from other businesses and non‐profits via the substitution effect. In some cases, actual business could be taken away by C4C projects; venues that currently hold flea markets, for example, may be forced out of business if future flea markets are held at the stadium.

Opportunity costs are projects that could’ve been funded if the same amount of money being spent on C4C was instead spent elsewhere. Proponents are considering using County and City tax increment financing (TIF) from 90% of the City for 30 years to fund C4C. While I’m not in favor of using sales tax from 90% of the city on any project, a thorough economic analysis should consider the “what if” effects of spending that money elsewhere, especially on projects that fall within the role of government—on road and other infrastructure improvements, for example.

Not only did Mr. Frick acknowledge that his assignment was not to perform a cost‐benefit analysis that includes the substitution effect and opportunity costs, but he hadn’t even been informed that TIF financing was being considered by his client, the County. Furthermore, Mr. Frick will not evaluate whether or not attendance figures given to him by C4C proponents are realistic—he will use those numbers as the primary basis of his analysis.

Given the concerns I’ve cited, I do not believe the BBC analysis will be a useful tool in determining the real costs and benefits of the C4C proposal on our community.
Again, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with Mr. Frick, and, of course, I’m open to discussing this matter further with any of you.

Very respectfully,
Joel Miller

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