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Noted: Memorial pushed for ballot 

Memorial issue pushed

A city task force is urging for a measure on the Nov. 1 ballot asking voters whether to change Memorial Health System's business model. While task force member and Councilor Tim Leigh says the measure should wait, task force chair Jan Martin, Council president pro tem, says the matter has been studied long enough.

"I'm still working as hard as I can to get it on the ballot," says Martin, who hopes Council can vote Aug. 23 on submitting a question. "The truth is, we've been at this for 18 months. I believe it's time, as we see Memorial slip with their numbers."

City-owned Memorial has watched patient counts and market share decline as its competitor, Centura Health-owned Penrose-St. Francis, makes gains. Memorial executives say that to be successful, the hospital needs to run as an independent nonprofit like Centura, free from government requirements. Meanwhile, the City Committee, a group of business leaders, on Monday called for the city to solicit offers from potential buyers after sales criteria are established. — PZ

Aztec program in danger

Springs Rescue Mission has plans to serve more homeless people — though not as many as Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, had hoped.

After having become its main funder in April, the Rescue Mission had planned to take over management of the homeless program that Holmes has headed at the Aztec Motel on East Platte Avenue. The idea was to move it to a different location in spring 2012, and make room for 50 families.

But the charitable funding that has kept that program afloat for several years will end Oct. 31, so the plan's been scrapped. Holmes says he's scrambling to find money to keep the Aztec's current 75 residents, including 34 kids, off the streets.

"I'm putting everything into high gear, trying to get funding to keep the program going," he says. Holmes is seeking grants and asking the city for help.

The Rescue Mission, meanwhile, will launch a nine-month transitional housing program to serve 12 families, hoping to expand later. It's also doubling the capacity for its program for alcoholic men, serving up to 50. — JAS

City Committee weighs in

The city's expenses will outpace revenues in coming years if nothing is done to curtail spending, the City Committee reported to City Council on Monday. After studying city budgeting for 14 months, the group of business leaders found the biggest culprit is compensation, roughly 70 percent of annual spending.

Uniformed employees (police and fire) earn an average of $102,000 annually in total compensation, including wages, health insurance and pension benefits. Civilian employees average $76,000 a year. Fire and police pension costs have risen 300 percent in the past eight years, according to committee member Bob Cutter.

"There's only one thing to do: jobs, jobs, jobs," he said Monday, alluding to the idea that with more jobs, people will spend more, and sales tax receipts will grow.

Councilors expressed skepticism, with Bernie Herpin wondering how the city can attract business without pumping money into quality-of-life factors such as parks, roads and public safety. In response to suggestions that the city think outside the box, Herpin said, "I think we're in a box."

Mayor Steve Bach noted the city is falling woefully behind on needed stormwater and infrastructure projects, which total $700 million to $1.1 billion with no source of money. Councilor Jan Martin chimed in that the city provides services to 50,000 more people than 2003, with a budget that equals spending that year. — PZ

Watch your dog

El Paso County has vowed to step up security at Bear Creek Dog Park after a 2-year-old pitbull was stolen July 21. Tom Szczech says Geisha got separated from him and his other dog, and went to the main gate to wait for her owner, as she commonly does. But a stranger took the dog before Szczech reached the gate, according to a witness.

The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region's Erica Meyer says Geisha is the second dog swiped at the park this year — the first was a Shih Tzu stolen in February. But she warns people to keep tabs on their dogs, saying, "Be aware of the people around you, and make sure you can get to your dog in a moment's notice."

County public services director Tim Wolken says the county will take action: "We will have our park security officer increase his presence at the site and encourage dog owners to visually monitor the location of their dogs." — PZ

No politics in pentathlon

Eli Bremer, chair of the El Paso County Republican Party, has been in the news lately due to a conflict between "establishment" and grassroots Republicans. Heading a GOP stronghold in the early run-up to the 2012 elections, he's been immersed in politics.

But this weekend, you can see Bremer doing what he's best known for, as the 99th USA Pentathlon National Championships take place here at the Olympic Training Center. Bremer was on the 2008 Olympic team and is aiming to get there again next year in London.

There are five events in pentathlon: shooting, fencing, swimming, running and equestrian. Competition begins at 8:30 a.m. both days, with the women Saturday and men Sunday. Admission is free. — CH

Singing for a record?

City Councilman Tim Leigh and local arts and business leaders want to put Colorado Springs on the map ... for singing the hell out of "America the Beautiful." A group has formed and is laying groundwork for a mass singing of the classic, penned by Katharine Lee Bates after visiting the summit of Pikes Peak.

Leigh says he wants to film people around the city singing the tune on Flag Day, June 14, 2012. A video montage will be compiled for YouTube and advertising purposes. Leigh thinks Colorado Springs can break the record for the most people singing "America the Beautiful." Whatever the record is, "we're going to claim it," Leigh explains with a humorous tone. "I'm a Realtor. I lie. And I'm a politician. I lie."

The project was inspired by a similar one in Grand Rapids, Mich., in which the city lip-dubbed "American Pie." Look for it on YouTube under "The Grand Rapids LipDub (NEW WORLD RECORD)." — JAS

Continuing education

If you're interested in public education and haven't attended one of Lewis-Palmer's DIRECTION 38! forums, this coming Tuesday's event will be a good one to check out.

The Aug. 16 forum will be broken into three panels focusing on government-business, school budgets and school choice. Participants will include El Paso County commissioners Peggy Littleton and Darryl Glenn, and state House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, as well as superintendents from a number of local districts.

After the panel discussions, the forum will move onto an open discussion between the presenters and attendees on how to solve problems facing education.

The forum is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Lewis-Palmer High School cafeteria, 1300 Higby Road in Monument. — CH

Compiled by Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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