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Noted: Memorial lease available Friday 

Document will go before Council next week

Locals will get their first peek Friday at the proposed lease of city-owned Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health. The lease document will be part of backup materials for Monday's City Council meeting on the city's website, springsgov.com, under Monday's agenda. Council will discuss the lease Monday and hear public comment on Tuesday. Consideration of approval is set for June 26.

The lease outlines the amount UCH will pay to the city up front (its proposal called for $74 million), its annual payments, and a plethora of other provisions. Council has seen a draft of the lease but won't see the final version until Thursday.

Voters will decide the lease's fate in a special mail election ending Aug. 28. The lease would be effective Oct. 1, according to comments made last week to Memorial employees by UCH's CEO, Bruce Schroffel. He also told workers they no longer would be included in the Public Employees' Retirement Association. — PZ

AFA probes cheating

The Air Force Academy is investigating up to 90 cadets for cheating in the math department, according to sources. It's unclear how the alleged cheating occurred or whether any of those under investigation graduated two weeks ago.

An academy source who spoke on condition of anonymity, because the information has not been officially released, confirmed an investigation is underway. The last widespread AFA cheating investigation took place in 2007 when 27 freshmen, including 25 athletes, were investigated for possible cheating on a military knowledge test. — PZ

Panhandling, FREX on table

At the Mayor's Counsel meeting May 30, Mayor Steve Bach and City Councilors hit on a number of big topics. Among them:

• No Man's Land: The area along Colorado Avenue, west of 31st Street, has become a crime-ridden haven for aggressive panhandlers. It's been plagued by patchwork ownership among the city, county, state and Manitou Springs, and some Councilors feel the city should annex the area. But property owners haven't agreed to annex in the past, and they would have to approve.

Councilor Tim Leigh suggested that the area could be acquired through a process of condemnation, saying, "What I'm trying to figure out is, how do the good guys get control of that land?" Instead, the city plans to ask residents how they'd feel about banning panhandling there.

• FREX: The city hopes to decide this month whether to keep the Springs-Denver bus route. Many see its value, since it attracts "choice" riders, and the state could fund it soon. But Bach warned that if FREX stays, other city bus routes will be cut because of budget problems.

• County Road and Bridge Tax: El Paso County began keeping most of the tax in 2009, reducing its payment to the city from about $3 million annually to around $700,000. The county says it's legal, but others feel it violates state law.

Bach plans a meeting with county leaders to discuss the issue and hopes the city soon will get its share again. Councilor Bernie Herpin noted that state law appears to require the county to remit the city's share. Leigh said the city should seek past-due money, earning cheers from the audience. — JAS

City names new CFO

Mayor Steve Bach has chosen an internal candidate as the city's chief financial officer. Kara Skinner, who has been with the city since 2006, has served in interim finance and budget director roles. She will earn $135,000 a year if City Council confirms her nomination.

"After a nationwide search and a competitive two-stage interview process over several months, Kara rose to the top of a field of more than 125 national and local candidates," Bach stated in a release, calling her "a well-known and widely-respected leader" among staff.

Skinner replaces Terri Velasquez, who was fired last year by the mayor and subsequently lobbed accusations of corruption at the city and sued for $1 million. Velasquez had worked 24 years for the city and made $154,688. — JAS

Gas building doomed

The city plans to spend up to $400,000 demolishing the former Utilities gas building at 25 Cimino Drive, according to a request for proposals. The building has been vacant for several years since Cottonwood Artists School, now known as Cottonwood Center for the Arts, moved. City police and firefighters have used the building for training, leaving it in shoddy condition ("Completely trashed," News, Nov. 18, 2010).

The brick structure sits on the edge of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area. It's owned by the city, which still owes Utilities $3.3 million for the building as part of a land swap years ago.

City spokeswoman Cindy Aubrey says via e-mail: "I called [chief of Economic Vitality and Innovation] Steve Cox and he told me that the City budgeted (2012) for the demolition. He said the building was no longer usable, had asbestos and was a public hazard."

Proposals, due June 29, will be given a higher score if contractors can get the job done by fall. The RFP doesn't call for mitigating coal-tar contamination under the building. — PZ

Ballots in the mail

The El Paso County Clerk & Recorder's Office mailed roughly 203,000 ballots Monday for the June 26 primary election. Ballots went to voters affiliated with the Republican, Democratic and American Constitution parties. Winners will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Contested seats include legislative positions, two El Paso County commissioner posts and the 5th Congressional District race.

Unaffiliated voters who want a mail ballot must declare a party by June 19. After that, voters must appear in person at any Clerk & Recorder's office to declare an affiliation. Those with questions may call 575-VOTE (8683). — PZ

Progress on cemetery

Four area locations have been identified for a national veterans cemetery, according to a Preliminary Environmental Assessment released Monday. According to the office of U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, the assessment was commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs and named Kane Ranch, 4-Way Ranch, Rolling Hills Ranch and Bradley Heights as possible sites for the cemetery. Each site is located northeast or southeast of the Springs. View the document at cem.va.gov. — CH

Historic church honored

On Sunday, June 3, Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church celebrated the church building's inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. According to a church announcement, the building has been around since 1926, and also features prized stained glass windows crafted by American artists Wilbur Burnham and Clement Heaton.

Grace joins a number of area churches, such as First Congregational Church and First Presbyterian Church of Ramah, on the register. A plaque noting the honor will be attached to the church's façade. — CH

Compiled by J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

  • Also: AFA probes cheating; panhandling, FREX on table; City names new CFO.

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