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Noted: Protests of property values sink 

Tax protests plummet

Protests of property values set by the El Paso County assessor sunk this year to the lowest number since at least 1985, after Assessor Mark Lowderman dropped values to reflect a sagging market. Only 3,740 protests were received, compared to more than 10,000 in 2009, when the last reappraisal period pre-dated the tanking of home prices.

"I think the property owners were looking to my office to react to the market, and we did," Lowderman says. "The sales, of commercial and residential and vacant land, showed decreases in value."

The latest reappraisal was based on sales between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2010. Most protests came from people who think their property is still valued too high, but some are asking for their property's value to be raised. Lowderman speculates those 40 to 50 owners might have their properties listed for sale, or are upside-down in their mortgages.

The reappraisal, for a period when home values declined by up to 35 percent, wiped out $480 million in assessed value across El Paso County. It translates to a drop in property tax revenues for various government agencies starting in 2012, unless they ask voters to raise the mill levy. — PZ

Stormwater fees on hold

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach pulled from City Council's Tuesday agenda an item to submit 18,100 Stormwater Enterprise bills to El Paso County for collection on property tax bills. The enterprise was disbanded in 2009 following passage of Issue 300, which barred payments between the city and enterprises.

City Attorney Pat Kelly wrote in a memo to Council that if the city fails to try collecting unpaid bills, which amount to nearly $1.7 million, people who had paid could file claims to have all their fees refunded. That would total approximately $45.1 million.

The county has said it can't attach bills to property taxes without a court order. Council President Scott Hente maintains the city has the right to have this done, as it does with snow-shoveling costs for homeowners who don't take care of their sidewalks within the specified time.

After Bach's move, the county issued a press release saying it wants to "keep the lines of communication open" with the city, and not have this issue become "a stumbling block" to future relations. — PZ

Trees coming down

Drought has dealt a fatal blow to many downtown-area trees, so the city's forestry division will take chain saws to them starting June 21.

In all, 100 elm, ash, silver maple, white fir, spruce and Ponderosa pine will be removed over several months in an area bordered by Fillmore Street on the north, Fountain Boulevard on the south, Wahsatch Avenue on the east and Cascade Avenue on the west. The trees are primarily located in medians along Cascade, Nevada, Wahsatch and Willamette avenues.

City officials said in a release that the damage can't be reversed, and that dead trees left in the ground can attract infestations of bark beetles that can spread to neighboring trees. The city will spend $56,000 to remove, prune, stump and replant.

Some downed logs will be auctioned off at publicsurplus.com, with proceeds going to the city's tree-planting fund. Other logs will be processed for the city's mulch bins and offered free to citizens at the Forestry Operations Center, 1601 Recreation Way. — PZ

Olympic branding survives

With several major sporting events coming here this summer, City Council has hoped to promote the city's link to the U.S. Olympic Committee and hype its brand as a sports mecca. Council originally wanted temporary signs along Interstate 25 and other roads, Olympic rings added to our "welcome" signs, and a mural on a prominent warehouse rooftop in the Depot Arts District.

The state nixed signs along I-25. Money was privately raised to add rings to the welcome signs, but Council has no input into what goes on the signs, or when they're put up. Finally, a vinyl product that was to be used for the rooftop mural won't stick to the surface.

However, all is not lost. City Council will pay to paint the rooftop; it'll cost around $21,000, versus the $28,800 budgeted for the vinyl. Mayor Steve Bach is talking to Gov. John Hickenlooper about approving signs along I-25. And Lamar Advertising Co. has offered billboards for some ads.

So the package may come together before the U.S. Women's Open in early July, making nearly all the city's leaders happy except Councilor Angela Dougan, who says the whole thing is a waste of taxpayer money. — JAS

Dropout lessons learned

Why do more than 6,000 Colorado teen girls a year fail to make it through high school? The Women's Foundation of Colorado set out three years ago to find the answer. What it found, says president and CEO Louise Atkinson, is that girls, unlike boys, drop out based almost entirely on social pressures outside of school.

"Even though the girls' dropout rate is lower than boys'," she says, "the research shows that boys are pushed out of school. That includes behavior and academic performance."

Girls will be pulled out of school, says the "Girls' Dropout Prevention Report," by the need to get a job, provide care for family, or by a family disruption such as divorce or illness. Sometimes, they're pulled out by parents who don't feel the girls are safe at school.

But the biggest determinant, Atkinson says, "is poverty. ... Students from the bottom fifth of socioeconomic status in the country are four times more likely to drop out than the girls whose parents are in the top two-fifths." — CH

Teens lose out on jobs

Recent data from the Employee Policies Institute reflects that Colorado sits above the national average for teen unemployment rates, registering at 25.7 percent. Nationally, it's 24.2 percent.

Michelle Graham, director of business and community initiatives at Pikes Peak Workforce Center, reports that over the past couple years, more teens have been displaced by older workers who run out of unemployment benefits and are willing to take traditional teen jobs. The Workforce Center doesn't have local statistics, but Graham says, "The response from employers that are willing to mentor, train and hire young people has been more significant this year than in years past."

The Workforce Center helps teens by offering workshops covering essentials of being a good employee. In addition, through a state initiative called the Governor's Summer Job Hunt, it searches for employers who appeal to teenage workers and have a reputation for hiring them, then tries to connect the employers with potential hires. Learn more at ppwfc.org. — DB

Suit challenges Gessler

Watchdog groups Colorado Common Cause and Colorado Ethics Watch have filed a joint complaint in Denver District Court against Secretary of State Scott Gessler, claiming Gessler overstepped his powers.

Gessler apparently thought a rule requiring reporting for campaign contributions or expenditures of $200 or more was too restrictive. So he unilaterally changed the rule, requiring disclosure only for transactions of $5,000 or more. Gessler also altered rules so that the first $5,000 of contributions and expenditures of an issue committee never need to be disclosed.

"The secretary is under the mistaken impression that he has authority to rewrite campaign finance laws, not merely make rules to enforce those laws," says Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch. "Disclosure thresholds are clearly not within the authority of the Secretary of State to change."

On Tuesday, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Gessler held a hearing trying to change a requirement that all candidates for public office report campaign finances every two weeks. Gessler wants to eliminate all reporting during primaries, further infuriating groups advocating transparency. — JAS

Naleski leaves D-11

The first thing that Elaine Naleski plans to do is clean her basement. July will be set aside for doing very little, she says, other than working around her house. After 13 years, she is retiring as communications director for School District 11, effective June 30.

Waiting in the wings is Devra Ashby, who has worked for the city of Colorado Springs as a communication specialist and for D-11 as an instructional media specialist. She has a broadcast journalism background. "She's ready to dive in," Naleski says of Ashby. "She knows exactly what she is doing."

Naleski says she wants to start a business with her daughters, called Lessons on Life, which would help teen girls. She plans to fly to California to work with them on that project, and also plans to consult on communications and strategy. — CH

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

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