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Gifts wrapped into budget 

The season for generosity is upon us. Citizens are giving to charity, the president is pardoning turkeys, and, on Tuesday, City Council commuted the death sentences for the Pioneers Museum, the city's pools and the Mayor's 100 Teens program.

Vice Mayor Larry Small was the first to ask for a $365,000 appropriation from the city's fund balance — essentially its savings account — to give the museum one year to find new funding. Small envisions the museum being run and paid for by a private foundation, free of political influence.

El Paso County had offered to keep the museum open, but only if the city transferred ownership. That demand peeved many Council members, including Small, who said a proposed agreement was too loosey-goosey to ensure the museum's future.

Eventually, Small swayed most of Council to his viewpoint; only Mayor Lionel Rivera and Councilors Darryl Glenn and Randy Purvis voted against it. The rest may have been softened when museum representatives said they had already applied for a major grant and were working on a business plan.

Pools, meanwhile, were given three months of funding — the same deal earlier given to community centers and other parks and rec facilities — and told to seek other money.

"Sink or swim," Councilor Sean Paige punned.

Parks and rec officials hope aggressive marketing can bring in more users, and that increased fees can help the pools break even.

As for the program to honor local teens, Rivera convinced a majority of Council to keep it afloat for three months while he seeks outside funding.

All three changes represent less than $1 million in expenditures. But not everyone was happy with the revisions.

"This last hour is a free-for all," Glenn scolded. "We're making a mockery out of our whole budget process."

The city budget was approved on a 5-3 vote, with Scott Hente excused. Because of the late changes, though, one more vote must take place on Dec. 21.

— J. Adrian Stanley

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