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Noted: A future for Schuck's group? 

Editor's note: The "Talk taxes with sheriff" brief was updated on Sept. 27 to reflect that Maketa's proposal would raise sales taxes, not property taxes.

Schuck's group not done?

City Councilor Merv Bennett was among more than a dozen movers and shakers at a private meeting called by developer Steve Schuck last week, discussing the possible sale of Colorado Springs Utilities' electric division. Monday, he said the group wants to be further involved.

Council, which serves as the Utilities Board, previously authorized studies of retiring Martin Drake Power Plant and figuring the power utility's worth, and revived those studies last Wednesday. Schuck's group met the next day to discuss "how the study should move forward," according to Bennett. The group included Mayor Steve Bach, developers who own property in Drake's vicinity, other business people and members of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC.

Bennett says he thinks the study "will make Utilities stronger. ... I'm not saying we would sell it. I would be shocked if that was the case."

Last Friday, the Drake issue took another turn. Dave Neumann, who invented the NeuStream emissions equipment being installed at Drake, threatened to move his 60-employee business out of Colorado Springs if Councilor Tim Leigh (another attendee of Schuck's meeting) and others continue to disparage the firm publicly and succeed in axing the $120 million installation. — Pam Zubeck

Panhandling talk rolls on

City Council hoped to decide Monday on a no-solicitation ordinance, but with many concerns still on the table, a final ordinance likely will not be ready for an initial vote until Oct. 23, two weeks later than planned.

Despite widespread support for banning panhandling in the core downtown area, many Councilors have concerns about the law being proposed by City Attorney Chris Melcher. Lisa Czelatdko and Bernie Herpin want two zones, downtown and on the west side. (Melcher says two zones would put the city at legal risk, due to First Amendment and state issues.) City Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin has said she'd agree to a downtown-only zone, but only if the city agrees to fund stepped-up enforcement on aggressive west-side panhandling. Other concerns include exclusions for nonprofits and buskers. — J. Adrian Stanley

Downtown cameras not up

Remember those police cameras approved for downtown? Last April, City Council set aside $163,025 to purchase and install 10 cameras, plus an expected $25,000 a year to maintain them.

It's hard to say if citizens — many of whom were furious about the cameras — have felt more self-conscious downtown since then. But the cameras aren't installed, and they won't be until some time in October. City procurement manager Curt DeCapite blames a lengthy bidding process for companies to provide cameras, then a close evaluation looking for "best value," not "low bid." — J. Adrian Stanley

Cimarron interchange closer

The state transportation commission has approved $6 million to design a new Interstate 25 interchange at Cimarron Street, viewed since the 1970s as a high-priority road project. Besides state funds for design, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments has committed $5 million to purchasing needed property including the boarded-up Express Inn, but state employees say the process could take up to two years.

There's also no guarantee that the state will fund actual construction, estimated at $95 million. But Transportation Commissioner Les Gruen, who represents this area, says it's likely: "What the funding for design represents is the beginning of this huge project. ... I'm optimistic from that standpoint." Changes to the intersection of Eighth and Cimarron will likely come after the I-25 project is done. — J. Adrian Stanley

Callicrate vs. Vilsack

Mike Callicrate, rancher and owner of Ranch Foods Direct, has sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, its secretary Tom Vilsack, the Beef Promotion Operating Committee, and others. The federal suit, filed in Kansas (where Callicrate's ranch is) alleges advertising dollars collected from producers for a "commodity checkoff program" have actually been used to hurt independent ranchers, like Callicrate.

"For four presidential administrations the [National Cattlemen's Beef Association] as the contractor for the beef checkoff, an $80 million dollar a year mandatory tax on cattle producers, has been making the decision of who gets the money collected by the checkoff," Callicrate e-mails the Indy. "NCBA controls the board that decides where the money goes, so the money always goes to NCBA, who falsely claims to represent all cattlemen. Their membership consists of less than 3% of U.S. cattle producers. The USDA, who has oversight authority, has always looked the other way at this obvious corruption and self dealing." — Bryce Crawford

SunShare expands

A church gets $1 million in free power and dozens of residents get the chance to cut utility bills as SunShare launches its second community solar garden. Near its first solar garden at Venetucci Farm, the new project will provide Good Shepherd United Methodist Church with free solar power for 50 years in exchange for use of three acres of land for the 2,500-panel solar garden.

One-time payments of $550 per solar panel will save the average ratepayer $1,100 over 20 years, a SunShare release says. That price is based on a solar rebate of $360 per panel offered by Colorado Springs Utilities. Investors must lease at least two panels.

The solar gardens allow homeowners and others to support solar power without having panels on their roofs. Venetucci Solar Garden, which began producing power earlier this year, has 300 households and schools as subscribers. — Pam Zubeck

Stopping the slide

When the Waldo Canyon Fire burned to the edge of U.S. Highway 24, it left behind balding ridges ripe for mudslides, which happened July 9 after heavy rains. Debris flows closed the road for 14 hours.

Erosion has threatened Ute Pass Elementary School, private homes and roads. In another area, six slides since July 30 have caused road closures and damage. Near Rainbow Falls Recreation Area in Manitou Springs, erosion compromised the stability of the slope and eastbound U.S. 24, according to a report. State transportation officials have allocated $5.1 million to accommodate debris flows, upsize culverts, stabilize banks and create retention areas.

"Highway 24 is critical to our transportation network in the Pikes Peak area," says County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, vice chair of the State Transportation Advisory Committee, via e-mail. "It provides the major link between Colorado Springs and the mountain attractions. — Pam Zubeck

Talk taxes with sheriff

County Commissioner Amy Lathen will host a town hall Friday to discuss, among other things, Sheriff Terry Maketa's ballot proposal to increase sales taxes and help his budget. Maketa will be at the event to answer questions.

From Lathen: "This is an important question for voters to decide. It is a public safety question; it concerns emergency preparedness, emergency response, the statutory obligations of our Sheriff's Office to provide critical public safety services to all citizens in the county and the safety of our deputies both in the jail and on patrol." The town hall will take place at Stetson Hills Police Station, 4110 Tutt Blvd., from 6 to 8 p.m. — Chet Hardin

Presidential preoccupation

Candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have been working this region hard. The president had a big rally in the Springs last month, and Romney twice has visited. Monday, National Public Radio reported that the Springs made the top 10 markets for campaign advertising spending.

Next up, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan will speak at 6:00 p.m. today (Wednesday) in America the Beautiful Park. The big question: When are they going to send us Joe Biden? — Chet Hardin

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