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NOTED: Balink dislikes state proposal 

County Clerk says bill would be costly on election days

A proposed state law requiring counties to let voters drop mail ballots off at polling places on election day drew criticism this week from El Paso County's top election official.

"Why would they want to drop it off?" El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink asked at a Tuesday morning press conference. He argued that the change is unnecessary because voters already can submit ballots by mail or drop them off at any of the clerk's three office locations.

The bill appeared set for a Senate OK this week, but Balink said he hoped for a veto from Gov. Bill Ritter. Balink suggested it could add $40,000 to the cost of El Paso County's elections, because the clerk's office would need extra election judges to watch ballot boxes at all 187 polling places.

A handful of Colorado counties, including Denver, already allow voters to drop mail ballots at polling places on election day, and Democrats backing the measure say those counties have seen little extra expense. Though a box for mail ballots at Centennial Hall during the last election often seemed unattended much of the day, Balink and county election manager Liz Olson insisted that putting boxes at polling places would demand more attention and hiring of more judges.

"Elections are very complicated," Olson said. AL

Guadagnoli empire to expand

Expect to see a trio of new entertainment spots open in tandem around mid-April, courtesy of Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli, owners of several downtown clubs, such as Rum Bay, Blondie's and Cowboys.

First up: Cowboys East at 5869 Palmer Park Blvd., not far from its old haunt at 3910 Palmer Park Blvd. Kathy says she's heard a "big demand" for the club to bring a presence back to the east side. The new spot will include a large dance floor and outdoor patio and will feature national country acts.

Next: Gasoline Alley, set to be downtown's first rooftop club, at 28 N. Tejon St., next to the former Shewmaker's Camera Shop.

Lastly: Bowling on Tejon Street will open directly above Cowboys at 25 N. Tejon St., featuring seven lanes and a pro shop next to an atrium, complete with a bar and food service. Check csnightclubs.com soon for more information. MS

State's 3.2 beer lives on

A bill that would have brought stronger beer to grocery and convenience stores in Colorado was shot down by state lawmakers on March 11, before even making it out of committee.

The bill was being considered after a change of law last year allowed liquor stores to stay open on Sundays. That eliminated the main purpose of 3.2 beer to give consumers access to something on Sundays and led to a dip in beer sales at grocery and convenience stores. Giving those stores the ability to sell higher-strength beer surely would've bumped sales back up, but many liquor store owners say it could have put them out of business.

Jim Little, who has owned the Springs' Coaltrain Wine and Spirits for 28 years, says the bill was unbalanced because it would rob liquor stores of a huge amount of their sales while not allowing them to sell any new products to make up for the losses.

He also notes that grocery and convenience stores have a substantial competitive advantage over liquor stores, because they are legally able to be part of chains. A Coloradan can only own one liquor store.

"They're trying to equal the playing field, but they're not really making it an equal field in both directions," Little says. "I think the Legislature was smart in denying it."

Others were concerned that the bill would have meant teenage workers could handle full-strength beer at stores.

The fight doesn't appear to be over. Supporters of grocery-store sales say they will bring the question to voters in 2010. JAS

City, county explore sharing

Yes, it's a lesson often learned in preschool. But in a sure case of "better late than never," city and county leaders are saying they now want to explore the benefits of sharing.

OK, El Paso County and Colorado Springs do already collaborate in various ways, with a joint building department and shared emergency dispatch, but they are now planning a new task force to look at ways to cut costs or improve services. That makes sense given the millions in recent cuts made by both the city and county. The new task force will be chaired by County Commissioner Sallie Clark and City Councilor Darryl Glenn.

Possible areas for sharing might include fuel purchases, fleet services and vehicle maintenance, contracting and procurement, human resources, parks maintenance and animal control. AL

Canadian sympathy for Long

A former Fort Carson soldier whose respite in Canada ended with deportation and a 15-month sentence to an Army brig just got a dash of warmth from supporters up north.

Two Canadian members of Parliament visited 25-year-old Robin Long this week where he is being held in San Diego,the Associated Press reported. I was very angry that Canada deported him, Parliamentarian Olivia Chow said after the meeting, according to the AP.

About 200 U.S. service members are thought to have taken refuge in Canada to avoid fighting in Iraq. None have been granted refugee status, and an ominous note was struck for the others when Long was deported last summer.

The uncertainty seems to be affecting war resisters differently. Brad McCall, who left Fort Carson in September 2007, has said hes not worried about deportation.

Kim Rivera, another former Fort Carson soldier, is featured in a January story in the Minneapolis City Pages narrowly avoiding deportation. But, with a new court order, she now faces a deadline of March 26 to get out of the country, according to Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada. AL

Don't second-guess SDS

Way back in the days when people were trying to flip homes and most people had never heard of a company called AIG, Colorado Springs Utilities officials justified their proposed Southern Delivery System pipeline as necessary to slake the thirst of a growing city. Now, conveniently, they're touting the $1 billion-plus project as the region's own little stimulus package.

"The Southern Delivery System (SDS) will infuse capital and bring jobs to Southern Colorado during construction," begins a March 17 e-mail update on the project.

Officials are now deciding between their preferred alignment, which takes water from Pueblo Reservoir and runs through Pueblo County, and an alternative that collects Arkansas River water upstream in Fremont County and runs a pipeline along Colorado Highway 115. Pueblo and other communities downstream have long resisted the project out of concern about increased wastewater flows from Colorado Springs.

As conditions for running the pipeline through Pueblo County, officials there have proposed requiring Utilities to pay $50 million for flood control and other projects along Fountain Creek and $75 million for additional upgrades to the city's raw sewage lines. AL

Unemployment jumps again

More and more people are finding themselves out of work as the recession deepens.

Recent numbers from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reveal an 8.1 percent unemployment rate (seasonally adjusted, it was 7.7 percent) in Colorado Springs for January. That means more than 25,000 capable people were without a job that month. It also means unemployment in the Springs is outpacing that of the rest of the state; in January, Colorado had a 6.6 percent seasonally adjusted unemployment rate.

Across the nation, unemployment reached 8.1 percent in February. The worst-hit states so far are California, South Carolina, Michigan and Rhode Island, all of which registered unemployment rates above 10 percent in January. In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, 24.9 percent of America's work force was unemployed. JAS

New venture for Rocky staff

Former employees of the recently closed Rocky Mountain News are hoping to launch an online publication, indenvertimes.com, on May 4. The plan is contingent on attracting 50,000 subscribers to the site by April 23; if they can do it, several Denver entrepreneurs will fund the venture. The site would provide some free news, with additional content available to subscribers. Thirty Rocky writers plan to work for the site. JAS

Wasson won't close

Just when it looked like the Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education was going to approve every school closure on its long list, the group had a change of heart.

Wasson High School was shown mercy last week when the board decided on a 5-2 vote to keep the school open for at least five more years. The school will retain its arts magnet and could add a math/science magnet. Officials say the delayed decision gives Wasson a chance to succeed and the district more time to study the best outcome for the school. JAS

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Matthew Schniper and J. Adrian Stanley.

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