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Helping fire victims vote, moving forward on low-power radio, more 

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About the election

On Oct. 15, the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office mailed 360,827 ballots to county citizens for the November Coordinated Election. But the clerk's office has expressed concern that not everyone will receive their ballot — especially those who lost a home in the Black Forest Fire this summer.

In September, the office sent letters to the most recently updated addresses for those residents, outlining voting procedures for the Nov. 5 election; many were returned as "undeliverable," according to a press release from the office.

Thus, the clerk is asking any fire victim who did not receive a letter to contact the Elections Department at elections@elpasoco.com, or 575-8683.

As for the rest of us, details on mail ballot drop-off locations and in-person voting sites lives at car.elpasoco.com.— J. Adrian Stanley

State leaves testing biz

The state Department of Public Health and Environment's toxicology lab won't resume blood testing for alcohol and drugs, the state announced Monday.

The lab found its reputation for accuracy called into question last year ("Blood and circus," cover story, Nov. 7, 2012), and saw high-level employees depart in the aftermath. But Dr. Larry Wolk, the department's executive director and chief medical officer, says the lab's accuracy has since been verified by retesting (with 95 percent of 800 specimens being OKed). The lab won't resume, he says, because private labs are handling the load, and the cost of gearing up would mean operating at an annual loss. — Pam Zubeck

Radio window widens

One of the very few benefits from the government shutdown is that those of us aiming to start our own radio stations now have additional time to apply for licenses.

As detailed in our Oct. 9 cover story ("Tower of low power"), the Federal Communications Commission is opening up the airwaves to community members who want to start their own low-power FM stations.

On Friday, the back-in-business agency announced that the window for license applications will now run through Nov. 14. In addition, on Thursday, Oct. 24, the FCC will hold a low-power radio webinar from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MDT that will serve primarily as a question-and-answer period with FCC Media Bureau staff.

Interested parties can also go to low-power advocacy group Prometheus Radio's application support page for information and worksheets to speed the application process. — Bill Forman

Utilities seeks rate hikes

Typical residential Colorado Springs Utilities customers will see their bill increase by $9.37 a month next year under a proposed $1.154 billion budget for 2014.

The typical residential customer would see electricity increase by 3.4 percent, natural gas by 2.2 percent and water by 11.7 percent. There's no proposed hike in wastewater rates. That total typical bill, then, would go from $199.17 a month to $208.54, effective Jan. 1, if approved by City Council.

The overall budget figure is nearly $95 million more than 2013's. When unveiling it last week to Council, staff noted the budget contains money for pollution control equipment for the coal-burning Ray D. Nixon and Martin Drake power plants, in moving toward compliance with regulations effective in 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, the water rate increase is the second in two years, approved in 2012 to help fund the Southern Delivery System.

The budget proposal is slated for a first reading before Council on Nov. 12, followed by a Nov. 25 work session and a second reading on Nov. 26. — Pam Zubeck

Working on water deal

A common theme emerged during City Council's Oct. 17 budget town hall meeting: Citizens want parks to get adequate water. And Council President Pro Tem Merv Bennett tells the Independent that work is underway to ensure that happens.

Bennett says he's formed a panel to try to work out a source for filling the $1.13 million hole that Mayor Steve Bach left in his budget for parks watering. Bach wants Council, which serves as Utilities Board, to cut the city a break on water rates, but Council is bound by language in bond documents that says it can't give special rates that would require ratepayers to subsidize another user.

The panel consists of Bennett, Councilor Val Snider, mayoral Chief of Staff Laura Neumann, Finance Director Cara Skinner and Utilities water officer Gary Bostrom.

"We need to investigate and get some legal opinions," Bennett says. Asked if Council might cut other spending to free up $1.13 million for parks watering, he says every option is on the table. — Pam Zubeck

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