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Noted: Traffic cameras will start to issue tickets 

Red-light districts open

Attention, speed racers: Saturday, Oct. 16, the city will start red-light photo enforcement, so you probably don't want to floor it every time you see a yellow light. From now on you could get a $75 ticket in the mail.

Cameras are at four intersections: northbound Nevada Avenue at Bijou Street, eastbound Barnes Road at Oro Blanco Drive, westbound Platte Avenue at Circle Drive, and westbound Platte Avenue at Murray Boulevard. Two police officers will monitor the program. If ticketed, you'll have a chance to view photos and video, and you can always contest the ticket. — JAS

Local candidates fined

Candidates running for El Paso County commissioners in District 5 have been hit with fines for campaign finance violations.

Republican Peggy Littleton's campaign was levied two fines totaling $850 for two delinquent filings. The fines have not yet been paid. Democratic state Rep. Michael Merrifield was fined $1,450 for not listing occupations of 20 contributors on finance reports, according to a complaint filed by former County Commissioner Duncan Bremer, an attorney and Republican whose daughter-in-law, Cami, has contributed to Littleton's campaign. Merrifield paid a reduced fine of $250 and returned the contributions at issue. — PZ

Team Bennet 'revises' attack

In a witty bit of political press-release warfare, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet's campaign staffers got their hands on a critical release issued last week by the camp of Republican opponent Ken Buck and made just a few "corrections."

In his release, Buck's campaign manager, John Swartout, chastised Bennet for his investments in companies "with ties to tyrannical regimes and genocide," calling on Bennet to explain why he would profit "from these human rights violators."

Swartout acknowledged Bennet divested himself of the holdings before taking office in 2009, but Swartout failed to note that Buck himself was (and is) invested in many of the same companies in Iran, Venezuela and Sudan. Bennet's camp took a black marker to the Buck press release, crossing out references to Bennet and replacing them with Buck, then shooting the revised release back to media.

Buck's campaign hasn't responded to the Independent's request for comment. (It's probably busy now that Buck's questionable prosecutorial handling of a 2005 rape case has become a national story.) — CH

Sales taxes still rising

For the past 11 months, city sales tax collections have been consistently higher than in the same month a year prior. September's sales and use tax collections increased nearly 10 percent over September 2009. Year-to-date collection figures for 2010 are 5.8 percent higher than 2009.

It means the 2011 city budget will be less stressed than this year's. Interim City Manager Steve Cox released his proposed budget to City Council, predicting the general fund will grow 4.8 percent. Cox proposes bringing back some Saturday bus service, maintaining neighborhood parks and medians, creating a medical marijuana business licensing and enforcement program, improving police records management, increasing police overtime, refurbishing fire department equipment, and contributing to workers' compensation reserves. The budget will call for closing fountains, recreation centers, pools and visitor centers without alternative funding. — JAS

Utility bills inching down

Thanks to plummeting natural gas prices, Colorado Springs Utilities customers are likely to see lower bills next year. The city-owned utility this week submitted a rate case proposing to increase gas and electric rates, but a sizable energy cost adjustment rebate actually will cause total bills to go down. Utilities overcollected gas bills in the last year by roughly $20 million and is proposing to increase the refund from 8 cents per 100 cubic feet to 14.9 cents.

The typical residential household's gas bill would decline by $12.56 a month, with electric rising by $4.14. A water rate increase taking effect in January will add $3.15 a month. Overall, the average residential utility bill would drop 2.8 percent, from $193.49 to $188.22. City Council is expected to act on the gas and electric proposal next month. — PZ

USAA expands coverage

Financial services provider USAA is expanding employee insurance plans to include benefits and coverage for domestic partners. USAA, with more than 1,000 employees at its Colorado Springs operation, provides services to nearly 8 million current and former military members.

The move reflects growing acknowledgment that such actions must be taken to remain competitive, a USAA spokesman told the San Antonio Express-News. The article said as of last year nearly 60 percent of all Fortune 500 companies, and 83 percent of Fortune 100 companies, offered benefits to domestic partners, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The corporate world has come a long way since 1982, when the Village Voice alternative newsweekly became the first private company in America to offer domestic partner benefits. And it's more progressive than the Colorado Springs City Council, which in 2003 passed but then quickly rescinded the benefits. — CH

Fischer keeps going

After a mixed outcome in appellate court last month Lindsay Fischer, the local attorney who sued the city over its economic development deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee, isn't giving up. Fischer accused the city of unlawfully obligating future City Councils to repay the debt without a public vote. He also argued that the city made an illegal gift to the USOC with a $1-a-year, 30-year lease of a downtown office building, after which the USOC would own the property.

District and appellate courts have ruled against Fischer's first argument, saying future Councils could refuse to pay the debt and forfeit collateral, including the Police Operations Center. Fischer says he won't pursue that portion further.

However, the appellate court ruled a district judge's original ruling against all of Fischer's arguments was wrong, sending the case back to 4th Judicial District Court Division 9 as soon as Nov. 1, though no trial date is set. — JAS

Drainage basin closed

The developer of Copper Ridge urban renewal area, Northgate Properties, LLC, agreed Tuesday to take over drainage projects in the Monument Branch drainage basin in exchange for $603,300 from the city. Another developer, Pulpit Rock Investments, LLC, will get $50,000. The money came from developers who contributed to the drainage basin fund.

In exchange, Northgate, owned by Gary Erickson, agreed to obtain necessary permits to stabilize erosion in the area along Interstate 25 where Powers Boulevard will eventually connect on the city's northern edge. Erickson also agreed to write a master development drainage plan. The city will require drainage work as part of a development agreement, if and when the first phase of Erickson's planned retail center is built. — PZ

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

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