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Noted: Council approves Utilities' bills 

SDS: pay now and later

In approving Colorado Springs Utilities' $1.11 billion budget, City Council this week allowed the city-owned agency to use water rate money to fund $75.8 million in projects over 10 years. The projects will satisfy regulations imposed on the Southern Delivery System pipeline that will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir.

Money for those projects is included in the rate base starting in January, although roughly $64 million in work won't begin until after 2010. The idea is to spread the cost over 10 years, rather than coming up with all the money now, says Councilman Randy Purvis, adding that amortizing payments spreads the cost to future ratepayers.

Projects include dredging Fountain Creek, developing wetlands and erosion control. The largest sum, $49.7 million, comprises five annual cash payments to the Fountain Valley Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District formed this year to improve and preserve the corridor.

The Utilities budget contains rate increases that will raise the typical residential bill by about $1.90 a month, which would have been larger but for reductions in gas charges due to falling fuel costs. — PZ

Civil war not coming

President Obama has ordered Northern Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base, to add 1 million troops and prepare for civil war due to the economic crisis, according to a report in the European Union Times that has sent bloggers into a frenzy.

Problem is, it's not true.

Citing "Russian military analysts," the Times says NorthCom Commander Gen. Gene Renuart has been ordered to build his force by Jan. 30 to prepare to quell a civil war that will arise from "the expected implosion of his Nation's banking system."

Renuart dismisses the report as hogwash: "There is no truth to the EU Times story of a massive troop increase under my command, US Northern Command," he said in a prepared statement after the Indy's inquiry this week. "In fact, I was surprised myself when I first became aware about these reports just a few weeks ago. I can assure you that the notion that I have been asked or directed to stand-up any 1-million-sized force is completely without fact." — PZ

Blemished CSI hires Hyatt

You know what they say about birds of a feather. So maybe it should be no surprise that the state's Charter School Institute has lured Mark Hyatt away from the Classical Academy to be its new director.

CSI, which charters 17 schools in Colorado, recently found itself in hot water over its lack of control of Cesar Chavez School Network. One Chavez school was taken over and shut down by a renegade administrator, the network's top administration was fired, a Colorado Department of Education audit found rampant cheating at one Chavez school, and another CDE audit of network finances is pending.

Classical Academy schools were once considered pure gold: high test scores, orderly students, good leadership. Then, earlier this year, parents lodged complaints with the state alleging TCA officials ignored bullying, racism and even sexual assault. (Hyatt said he didn't feel it was necessary to call police when a little girl complained that a boy had violently molested her.)

TCA has also been accused of religious bias, and bringing Christian teachings into the classroom. The CDE was concerned enough to launch a formal investigation this year. Hyatt's response: People were attacking TCA because it had such high standards. CDE's investigation, however, found merit in the complaints and concerns about accounting practices. — JAS

County puts off privatizing

County leaders looking to run an "experiment" this winter by hiring a private contractor to run snowplows in the Cimarron Hills area are looking for a better price.

"I hope they come down a little bit," Commissioner Dennis Hisey says, referring to the current leading bid of $86 an hour. The county estimates its own price for running snowplows is about $66 an hour, leaving out the cost of facilities or replacing aging trucks. The price disparity may have cooled some attitudes, but Hisey still hopes to see if it makes sense for the county to privatize more snowplowing in the future. He expects commissioners to revisit the issue in January.

Also, commissioners adopted temporary regulations for marijuana dispensaries looking to open shop in unincorporated areas. They aim to keep dispensaries 500 feet walking distance from any schools, parks, churches or homes, and also require them to have sales tax licenses and set operating hours. — AL

Hospital rules unchanged

Before you haul the whole family to a local hospital to visit Grandma during the holidays, be aware that visitation rules imposed due to the H1N1 virus are still in effect.

At Memorial Health System, visitation is banned for anyone with flu-like symptoms and children 12 and younger. Memorial limits healthy visitors to four per room, and visitors may have to wear a mask.

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services hospitals don't allow ill visitors or children 17 and younger, including siblings. Like Memorial, visitors are limited to four per room and might have to wear a mask.

Both hospital systems discourage anyone with weak immune systems and women who are pregnant from visiting. — PZ

AFA sexual assaults down

The Pentagon's annual report on sexual harassment and sexual assaults at the service academies, released last week, shows a drop at all three schools, taking the total from 42 in 2005 to 25 in 2008. (The "2008" period actually ran from June 1, 2008 through May 31, 2009.)

The Air Force Academy's sexual assault reports fell from 24 in 2007 to eight in the most recent school year. That figure of 24 was the highest number among the academies in at least a four-year span.

Academy spokesman John Van Winkle says the message from the study is fuzzy, because it's nearly impossible to know whether there were fewer assaults or fewer people reporting them. He does, however, note the academy has aggressively trained cadets in how to report sexual assaults and how to get treatment. — PZ

Feds accuse locals of fraud

A Denver grand jury has indicted eight current and former Colorado Springs residents on suspicion of fraudulently claiming $214,000 in unemployment benefits under a program for ex-military members. Prosecutors say the group gave false names, birthdates and other information, supported by fake documents including discharge certificates, and collected more than 200 checks between November 2006 and January 2008.

Earl L. Hall, Renita L. Blunt, Conslyn L. Hall, Terrance R. Wray, Demetrius L. Harper, Corey D. Ladson and Eric G. Adams have all been arrested or are in custody; Jermaine L. Hall is reportedly still a fugitive. They face charges of conspiracy, which carries up to five years in prison, and receipt of government property, which could get them up to 10 years. — AL

Sheriff: Tweet, tweet, bang

Concerned citizens and compulsive rubberneckers alike have a new option for staying up on local law enforcement activities: The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is now on Twitter.

The office, tweeting under the name "EPCSheriff," started off last week by posting links to holiday shopping tips and information about the sheriff's citizens academy.

The Colorado Springs Police Department jumped on the Twitter bandwagon first; it's posted snippets about local mayhem under the name "CSPDPIO" since May. — AL

Compiled by Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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