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News briefs from the Front Range

County budget cut passes

After hashing out final details last week, El Paso County commissioners approved plans to close many county buildings for 10 days as part of $4.1 million in budget cuts before year end.

Except for the sheriff's office and other vital county departments, most county offices will close for the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and also once a week during the month between. Those weeks, employees will work four 10-hour days.

Details of the schedule, which are expected to produce $100,000 in utilities savings, can be found at the county Web site, elpasoco.com.

Commissioner Douglas Bruce alone voted against the plan, arguing, among other things, that the office closures are a tactic to convince voters a tax hike is needed.

Nearly $1.5 million will be saved by transferring transportation-related expenses from Department of Transportation funds to the general fund, with the rest coming from savings in individual departments. AL

Some COSMIX progress coming on Colorado

Look for improvement in the morning commute after next week. COSMIX spokeswoman Michele Majeune says plans are in the works to open two more lanes on Colorado Avenue underneath Interstate 25. That will bring the total open lanes to four, or two in each direction.

But Majeune cautions that the two added lanes will open with a temporary surface, meaning there will still be intermittent closures as crews finish the paving.

There's nothing new with the Bijou Street Bridge; COSMIX is still hoping to finish that one around the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, once COSMIX is done, the city will have a go at Bijou, possibly causing more partial closures as it installs lights.

If it seems the bridge projects are taking too long, Majeune says both the Bijou and the Colorado bridges are meeting targets in COSMIX's contract. Bijou was required to have "substantial completion" (four lanes open) by Oct. 1. COSMIX met that.

The Colorado Bridge, including the full opening of I-25 lanes as well as Colorado Avenue, is required to be done by Dec. 31. Majeune says COSMIX hopes to beat that goal. JAS

Eggman initiative closer to ballot

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a proposed ballot initiative that would define a fertilized egg as a person does not violate the single-subject rule.

The ruling means that supporters of the measure may begin collecting the 76,047 valid voter signatures on petitions theyll need to place the issue on the 2008 Colorado ballot.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains responded to the ruling in an email. Quoting Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the email stated the measure would have far-reaching consequences for Colorado. Coward is also quoted as saying Colorado voters would not support the measure because it would call into question the legality of many birth-control pills and in-vitro fertilization.

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado also issued an email saying the measure was an attempt to make abortions illegal, and pointing out the possible legal implications of the measure.

Does this mean that a fertilized egg can sue a pregnant woman if she miscarries? Kathryn Wittneben, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, was quoted asking. JAS

Pion Canyon amendments await final outcome

The fate of legislation delaying the proposed Pion Canyon Maneuver Site expansion, and forcing the Army to inform Congress of all rationale for the project, will not be known until sometime in December, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

The Chieftain story, quoting staffers for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar, said Congress likely will take its two-week Thanksgiving recess (scheduled to begin Friday and last until Dec. 3) without taking action on the 2008 military construction appropriations bill. That bill, in its present form, includes an amendment passed by the House and Senate that prohibits the Army from spending money in 2008 on the Pion Canyon proposal, which would add more than 400,000 acres to the maneuver site southeast of Pueblo.

Another amendment related to Pion Canyon, included in the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, would allow the Army a six-month time frame to produce a report detailing its case for expansion. That amendment, backed by both Sens. Wayne Allard and Salazar, is in the Senate bill but not the House version. A conference committee still has not convened to settle differences in the two versions.

Allard is serving on that committee, as is Rep. Mark Udall. Udall, Allard and Salazar also want the Government Accountability Office to conduct an analysis of the Army's Pion Canyon plans. RR

This church is whose church?
The battle for Grace Church's historic property at 601 N. Tejon St. is moving closer to a legal confrontation. Colorado's Episcopal Diocese filed legal action last week, adding supporters of the Rev. Donald Armstrong to a suit seeking repossession of Grace Church and other church property.

Bob Balink, El Paso County clerk and recorder, and former county commissioner Chuck Brown are among 18 named as leaders in Grace's secession from the Episcopal Church.

Armstrong had been the main figure coming under fire as he and supporters voted in March to affiliate themselves with the Diocese of Nigeria, a group that has condemned ordination of a gay bishop by the U.S. church. Church leaders defrocked Armstrong this month.

Armstrong has continued leading services at the Tejon property, while members who remain loyal to the Episcopal diocese have conducted services elsewhere. AL

Utilities faces IRS problem
Colorado Springs Utilities is in big trouble with Big Brother. Apparently, Utilities may have made some mistakes on its taxes. The Gazette reported that the IRS told Utilities that it violated the tax code on $345 million in bonds issued in 1991. Utilities could have to pay millions, and perhaps could lose its tax-exempt status on those bonds.

Mayor Lionel Rivera has said Utilities is faultless. The issue could take as long as a year to resolve.

City Councilwoman Jan Martin says Utilities will need to work with the IRS to resolve the issue, and take steps to ensure such miscalculations don't recur. Yet, she thinks it's a bit late to start placing blame. After all, those bonds were issued 15 years ago.

"I don't think it serves any purpose to point fingers," she says.

It's not the first problem Utilities has had with the IRS. Due to miscalculation on arbitrage payments on bonds, utilities paid the IRS $402,686 in 2006. That same year, Utilities asked the IRS for a $1.6 million refund on taxes paid on the bonds issued in 1991. No word yet on whether the IRS plans to fork over the cash. JAS

Little election, long night

For some school board candidates and their supporters, as well as candidates in some municipalities, the release of El Paso County election results after 10 p.m. on Nov. 6 was a sure sign something went wrong.

Not so, elections officials say.

"Nothing out of the ordinary happened," explains Liz Olson, manager of the county's election department.

In normal elections, the county releases partial results as different polling places finish the evening's work, she says. But since this was a mail-in election, and all counting was handled at a single location, the results had to wait until final ballots collected at Chapel Hills and Powers Boulevard locations after 7 p.m. could be brought back, verified and counted.

Olson says all went smoothly in counting the 60,408 ballots that were cast.

"We aren't concerned about releasing results as early as possible," she says.

On election night, after the deadline at 7, officials advised that results could be expected by 9. That was later revised to 9:30 and, finally, 10:15. AL

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon and J. Adrian Stanley.

  • COSMIX update, county budget, Grace Church, Utilities vs. IRS, election night.

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