Local Government

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Colorado Springs Utilities to add solar panels to power 30,000 homes

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 3:59 PM

Here's an aerial view of Springs Utilities newest source of renewable energy at Clear Spring Ranch south of the city. This project features 42,000 solar panels that will produce enough energy to power 3,000 homes annually. It also moves the city closer to its Energy Vision, which requires 20 percent of total electric energy be produced through renewable sources by 2020. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • Here's an aerial view of Springs Utilities newest source of renewable energy at Clear Spring Ranch south of the city. This project features 42,000 solar panels that will produce enough energy to power 3,000 homes annually. It also moves the city closer to its Energy Vision, which requires 20 percent of total electric energy be produced through renewable sources by 2020.

In the last few years, the buzz about energy locally has focused on when the downtown Drake Power Plant, powered by coal or natural gas, will be shut down for good.

We still don't have a definitive answer, beyond the official Utilities Board action to shutter the plant by 2035, but Colorado Springs Utilities is taking a significant step toward renewables in seeking to finalize a contract for 150 more megawatts of solar power.

This is in addition to an existing solar array at Clear Springs Ranch about 10 miles south of the city.

Here's Utilities' news release about the coming addition of solar panels:
Colorado Springs Utilities (Springs Utilities) is finalizing negotiations and in the coming months will award a contract for 150 megawatts of new solar generation plus a 25-megawatt battery storage system by the end of 2023. At this time, it is the largest energy storage facility announced in Colorado.

“Energy storage is an integral part of our ability to transition from fossil fuels to incorporating more renewables into our system,” says Springs Utilities Chief Executive Officer Aram Benyamin.

“We are changing the way we power the Pikes Peak region and are on a path to reduce our carbon emissions by 40 percent or more from 2005 to 2035.”

The battery project will provide the utility with valuable information about improving solar power integration and reducing the need for natural gas to maintain reliability. For this reason, the utility will negotiate an option to add more storage capacity to the battery system in the future.

“This project will familiarize us with utility-scale battery technology and give us the flexibility to seek better pricing as the technology improves and our load growth materializes,” Benyamin explains.

The battery will be used to store less expensive solar energy during the day so that it can be used during more expensive peak demand periods. With the ability to run for up to four hours at maximum capacity, upwards of 30,000 homes will be powered when the battery is dispatched.

The reduction of carbon emissions will be realized by decommissioning one of the utility’s coal-fired power plants and the addition of more solar power. Beyond the 150-megawatt project, the utility is planning to add another 95 megawatts of solar power by the end of the year.

Once all of these renewable energy projects are online, more than 95,000 homes annually will be powered by this carbon-free energy.
Watch a video of the solar array south of the city here.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Firefighters' Issue 1 pros and cons outlined at public forum

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 11:31 AM

Union representative John Roy and Mayor John Suthers faced off on March 18 to debate the pros and cons of Issue 1 to a nearly full room at Penrose Library. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Union representative John Roy and Mayor John Suthers faced off on March 18 to debate the pros and cons of Issue 1 to a nearly full room at Penrose Library.
About 150 people showed up at Penrose Library on March 18 to hear the pros and cons of Issue 1 at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Citizens Project.

The ballot measure to be decided by voters in the April 2 city election would give firefighters collective bargaining powers, absent the ability to strike.

Speaking in favor of the issue was John Roy, deputy campaign manager with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5.

Mayor John Suthers spoke against the measure.

"When you call 911, you expect a fire truck will arrive there quickly," Roy said. "And that's exactly what this is about."

He said under the current system, firefighters don't have much say in allocation of resources to protect their own and the public's safety. He noted that one fire engine over 20 years old developed a leak that poisoned firefighters with exhaust fumes. All recovered.

The incident underscores that city leadership who call the shots lacks continuity. The mayor, the city's chief executive, is elected every four years, and City Council potentially changes membership every two years, he said.

"We don't know who our next mayor or City Council will be," Roy said. "The problem is, we cannot guarantee our next mayor will offer us an opportunity to sit down with him."

The people who use the equipment, Roy said, should have a say in funding that equipment, as well as staffing and training. Compensation also would come into play in collective bargaining, but Roy acknowledged that a series of recent raises has placed firefighters at parity with similar departments — $80,000 a year for most line firefighters.

Still, the Fire Department today has fewer firefighters than it did in 2008, Roy said.

As for arguments against the measure based on the need for a city election should firefighters and the city stalemate, Roy noted a fact-finder would come into play amid such an impasse and of at least 15 cities in Colorado with similar collective bargaining arrangements, none has led to a vote of the people over a contract. [Whichever side refuses to accept the fact-finder's conclusion pays for a special election.]

"If Issue 1 doesn't pass, it could be a detriment to public safety," he said, and noted the city's response time goal of arriving at a scene within 8 minutes 90 percent of the time is twice the recommended standard by the National Fire Protection Association of four minutes.
Mayor Suthers, right, has become the spokesperson for opposition to the firefighter measure.
  • Mayor Suthers, right, has become the spokesperson for opposition to the firefighter measure.
Suthers argued that if firefighters receive collective bargaining powers, other city employees will also seek such authority, throwing the city's finances into chaos.

Besides, he added, firefighters already have a seat at the table. "Our city has been good to firefighters," he said, noting pay scales have reached competitive market levels and firefighters are given a pension for life.

He also noted when he met with Local 5 officials four years ago, they told him collective bargaining "is not our thing." Since then, the city has purchased several new fire apparatus, raised salaries and funded additional positions.

"If you think this doesn't have a downside, look around the country," Suthers said, pointing to departments who face layoffs in order to fund union demands.

Firefighters could seek a multi-year contract, which would put the city in a dicey spot, he said. Since the city relies so heavily on sales tax revenue, an economic downturn can have significant impact on the city budget in short order.

"If we're locked in [on a firefighter contract] and the economy does tank, everybody else is going to pay out the wazoo on that," Suthers said, meaning money to fulfill the contract would shortchange other departments' needs.

Suthers said he also fears that collective bargaining will translate into a battle between lawyers for the city and for the union, rather than "face time" between himself and firefighters, who he said are now "very well represented" on compensation and benefit committees within the city.

Suthers defended the Fire Department's response time record, saying the insurance rating for the city, which dictates how much people pay for property insurance, indicates response times are "quite good." [The Indy recently reported that through October 2018, the most recent data available at the time of our report, the department fell short of its response time goals in eight of nine zones.]

The city election, where voters also will elect a mayor and three at-large City Council members, is being conducted entirely by mail. For information, go to this link
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Monday, March 18, 2019

Issue 1 draws nearly $1 million in campaign money

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 6:35 PM

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If you haven't noticed, there's a lot of air time on TV and radio stations devoted to convincing you to either support Issue 1 in the city's April 2 election, or defeat it.

Issue 1 would authorize firefighters to have collective bargaining rights but prohibit a strike. Firefighters argue they need a seat at the table to assure their and the public's safety via appropriate staffing and equipment.

Opponents say if it's approved, the measure will lead to other city workers organizing, which would cost taxpayers more.

All those ads flooding into your living room and mail box are coming from two well-funded campaigns.

According to the latest campaign finance filings, due March 15 for the period from Feb. 25 to March 10, committees campaigning for and against the measure have racked up nearly $1 million in contributions.

Citizens Against Public Employee Unions has raised $326,296. Of that, $85,000 has come from Colorado Springs Forward, a business activist group. This reporting period, the campaign spent $229,278.

Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs has raised a total of $537,025, most from firefighters here and elsewhere, though some donations have trickled in, such as $1,000 from the Colorado Springs Education Association. The most recent reporting period saw the committee spend $179,671.

Americans for Prosperity Colorado Springs Independent Expenditure Committee, which opposes the measure, raised $9,084 from Colorado AFP in in-kind services for mailers, digital and canvassing. No cash donations were received.

As for the candidate races, the richest campaigns are those in the mayor's competition.

Incumbent John Suthers has raised $206,486.

John Pitchford, a retired Army colonel and dentist, has raised $105,149, most of it a loan from himself, and recently sent out a notice pleading for donations, saying while he donated some $100,000 to his campaign, "it's not enough."

Candidate Juliette Parker has raised $13,250. Lawrence Martinez hasn't filed campaign finance reports.

Former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams leads in the money category among the 11 candidates seeking three at-large City Council seats. He's raised $43,152.

Others, in the order of their fundraising totals:
Incumbent Tom Strand, $29,996
Terry Martinez, $28,270 (His campaign notes that he's received most of his money, $23,270, from 183 individual donors)
Tony Gioia, $25,402
Former State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, $11,597
Former Councilor Val Snider, $11,637
Randy Tuck, $9,300
Incumbent Bill Murray, $3,100
Athena Roe, $700
Regina English, $600
Dennis Spiker, $450

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Terry Martinez has won the sole endorsement issued by the Sierra Club.

Terry Martinez captured the Sierra Club's endorsement. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Terry Martinez captured the Sierra Club's endorsement.
It said in a news release:
The Sierra Club solicited questionnaires from each of the candidates on a variety of issues important to its 1200-plus members in Colorado Springs, including the candidates’ positions on closing the Martin Drake Power Plant, transitioning to renewable energy, homelessness, support of parks and open spaces, and what steps are needed to ensure our water future.

“Terry Martinez is the only candidate who aligns with the Sierra Club’s positions on water, energy, park funding, and other issues vital to our members,” said Jim Lockhart, Conservation Committee Chair for the local Pikes Peak Group. “Terry is not only committed to closing Drake and replacing it with clean energy, he understands that conserving our water resources is an important component of ensuring our water future.”

Added Dave Bryan, Political Committee Chair for the Pikes Peak Group, “Terry’s support of increased parks funding and a ballot measure that would require voter approval before our parks could be traded or exchanged with private entities were key factors in earning the Sierra Club’s support.”
It's worth noting the Sierra Club Local Independent Expenditure Committee raised $30,000 in the last reporting period ending March 10. So far, it's made no expenditures.

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The El Paso County Democrats have endorsed Issue 1. In a statement, Electra Johnson, party  chair, wrote:
PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
Colorado Springs is a city that you and your family know as being safe. Though the risks of wildfires, traffic accidents and medical emergencies loom, you know your family is safe because you trust the Colorado Springs Firefighters to keep you safe. You trust us that when critical, life and death decisions must be made, that firefighters will make the right call…every time. Now firefighters are calling on you to let us be your voice at City Hall. Your vote YES for Issue 1 shows firefighters that you trust them, over the politics of the day, to fight for public safety.
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State Sen. Kent Lambert made robo calls on behalf of Gordon Klingenschmitt, urging voters to support his bid for a Council seat and noting his devotion to the conservative cause.

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So far, 10,400 ballots have been returned to the City Clerk's Office. The city mailed out more than 262,000 on March 8.

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If you have an item of interest about the city election, send it to zubeck@csindy.com
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Friday, March 15, 2019

ADU ordinance: What to know

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 6:00 PM

City Council will vote on whether to allow accessory dwelling units in single-family zones. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • City Council will vote on whether to allow accessory dwelling units in single-family zones.

Colorado Springs city staff is pushing an ordinance that would expand the use of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, across the city.  The city held a series of open houses on the proposed ordinance in February, and City Council first formally discussed it at its March 11 work session.

ADUs, also known as in-law units, are secondary apartments on a residential lot or within the main home. They might be above a detached garage, in a converted attic or basement, or in a separate unit, and must include a sleeping area, bathroom and kitchen. Currently, city code allows the units within two-family zones, multi-family zones and some commercial areas, but the ordinance would expand their use to single-family zones — thus increasing the number of parcels eligible for ADUs from 9,400 to 68,000.
Such units could theoretically provide affordable housing for aging parents, disabled or dependent adult children, or low-income renters.

But at Council's last work session, Councilors Don Knight and Andy Pico voiced concerns about pushing through the ordinance, worrying that it would essentially eliminate single-family housing zone districts by allowing homeowners to build additional units. They said neighborhoods are worried about preserving their architectural integrity.

Councilors Jill Gaebler and Richard Skorman argued the ordinance was necessary for adding affordable and attainable housing across the city.

One compromise floated by Councilor David Geislinger would be to allow only attached ADUs in single-family zone districts.

Here's a rundown of what the ordinance currently includes:
  • Allow both detached ADUs and "integral" (attached) ADUs in all residential zones. Integral ADUs would require an interior connection in single-family zones. (Individual homeowners associations could choose to prohibit ADUs altogether.)
  • The current parking requirement for ADUs (one off-street space per ADU) would remain the same across all zone districts.
  • Depending on the zone district, roof pitch and whether the property is adjacent to an alley, maximum height could be 20, 25 or 28 feet. (The current maximum is 25 feet for all ADUs.)
  • Increase the maximum ADU size from 750 square feet to 1,250 square feet, or up to 50 percent of the main home's finished floor area.
  • The 20 feet of required separation from a primary home would no longer be required, and distance would depend on Regional Building Department requirements. Principal Planner Mike Schultz says most ADUs would require about 10 feet of separation.
  • In single-family zones, the property owner would be required to occupy either the principal home or the ADU as their primary residence.
If you're interested in knowing where the ordinance stands and when you can comment, here's some dates to know:

March 21, 8:30 a.m.:

The planning commission will vote on whether to recommend the ordinance to City Council at its regular meeting. It could also recommend that city staff make changes to the ordinance. (No opportunity for public comment)
Location: City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

6 to 7:30 p.m.: District 1 Councilor Don Knight will hold a town hall for constituents to ask questions about the proposed ordinance and provide feedback.
Location: Chipeta Elementary Gymnasium, 2340 Ramsgate Terrace

March 26, 1 p.m.:

First City Council reading. (Public comment allowed)
Location: City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

April 9, 1 p.m.:

Second City Council reading. (Public comment allowed)
Location, City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

Here's a draft of the full ordinance:

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What's true and what's false about claims on firefighters' Issue 1?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 10:17 AM

The only issue on the April 2 city ballot asks voters to decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining rights. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The only issue on the April 2 city ballot asks voters to decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining rights.
What's true? What's false? And what lies somewhere in between?

When it comes to political ads, it's hard to discern fact from fiction, so we'll try to help voters by dissecting campaign literature from time to time.

Today, we'll look at the claims made by the Citizens Against Public Employee Unions (CAPEU), a political committee formed by Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC, to oppose Issue 1 on the April 2 city election ballot. The measure would provide firefighters with collective bargaining rights.

(Note to our readers: We also looked at statements made by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 and Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs in their campaign ads, but found that their campaign literature is less specific and, therefore, trickier to fact check. For example, one flier says, "It's time to give our trusted public safety professionals a stronger voice to keep our families, businesses and community safe." Another says, "How many firefighters should respond when you call 911? ... Is our equipment up to date and will it protect firefighters and save lives?" And then the flier states, "...vote #YESon1 to make Colorado Springs Firefighters your voice on public safety.")

Here's a look at the vote "no" literature:

• Claim: If the firefighters' bargaining agent and city leadership can't agree on labor terms, a special election would be required, at a cost of $500,000 to Colorado Springs taxpayers. (It's worth noting that some fliers have a little blue arrow next to the $500,000 figure, indicating "up to" $500,000.)

Actually: A dispute over any number of issues wouldn't automatically trigger an election. Rather, if a stand-off emerges, "the issues are to be submitted to a fact-finder," the ballot measure states. That fact-finder would be mutually agreed to by the parties.

The ballot measure goes on to say, if the city or Local 5 refuses to accept the fact-finder's decision, the issue in dispute "shall be presented to and decided by the voters" at a special election "with the cost of the special election to be paid by the party not accepting the fact-finder's decision."  (Emphasis added.) If both parties reject the fact-finder's finding, then the cost of the election is shared by the city and Local 5.

As for the election's cost, City Clerk Sarah Johnson reports that the April 2 election will cost the city $350,000, though "postage increases, labor costs for election judges, and so on might make the final cost higher."

Incidentally, Local 5 tells the Indy that voters in Colorado have never had to foot the bill for a special election to decide terms of a firefighters' contract.

* CAPEU response via email: Almost all impasse special elections around the country result from the city contesting the arbitration result. According to [El Paso County Clerk and Recorder] Chuck Broerman, the cost of postage alone for a special election is $450,000, plus the labor costs for clerk and recorder staff and election judges. [The county does not conduct city elections; the city conducts its own elections.]

• Claim: More than 50 percent of the city budget is devoted to public safety, which is more than most cities our size.


Actually: There are some cities in Colorado that spend less than half their general fund budgets on public safety. See the CAPEU statement below. But there also are many cities who, like Colorado Springs, spend more than half the general fund budget on public safety. Those include Kansas City, Mo., 76 percent; Dallas, 60 percent; Austin, 67 percent; Phoenix, 76 percent; Fresno, California, 58 percent, and Omaha, Nebraska, about 69 percent.

* CAPEU: Some examples in Colorado: Aurora, Boulder, Ft. Collins.
[CAPEU didn't provide the percentages, but the
Indy looked them up: Aurora, 47.6 percent; Boulder, 37 percent, and Fort Collins, 44 percent. Fort Collins doesn't have its own fire department but rather provides at least 70 percent of the funding for Poudre Fire Authority.]

• Claim: From 2016-2021, the city is adding another 52 people in the fire department, including 44 line firefighters.

Actually: While this statement is true, it suggests the staffing needs for the Fire Department have been dealt with. Local 5 notes, "At the end of 2019, we will have 451 assigned firefighters, 2 less positions than in 2008. We will add 12 more to that total bringing us to 463, but that is due to the addition of the Cimarron Hills fire protection district and their 12 spots. We [are] fundamentally still short of where we were 12 years ago."

* CAPEU: Asked to comment on Local 5's comment, the "vote no" committee provided this:
12 firefighters (1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 3 Driver Engineers, 3 Paramedics, and 3 Firefighters) were added in 2017 to permanently staff Fire Station #22
1 Wildfire Mitigation Maintenance Technician added in 2017
3 Fire Inspectors, one in each year, 2016, 2017, and 2018
8 Firefighters added in 2018
1 Full time Recruiter added in 2018
1 Senior Office Specialist added in 2018
8 Firefighters will be added in 2019, 2020 and 2021
• Claim: Line firefighter pay has increased 16% in the last four years, from $68,000 to $80,000, plus overtime, far exceeding the average salary in Colorado Springs of $47,000.

Actually: These numbers are accurate, Local 5 says, but states the collective bargaining measure is not about pay but rather having a say in various funding and safety issues.

Want to learn more about Issue 1?

The League of Women Voters will host a forum on Issue 1 at 6 p.m. Monday, March 18, at Penrose Library's Columbine Room, 20 N. Cascade Ave.

John Roy, deputy campaign manager for the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters will speak for the measure. Suthers will speak against the measure. Both also will answer questions from the audience.
If you have an item of interest about the April 2 city election, let us know at zubeck@csindy.com
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Panorama Park in the Southeast set for makeover

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 4:13 PM

Panorama Park will get a facelift next year. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Panorama Park will get a facelift next year.

UPDATE:
City Councilor Yolanda Avila tells us this via voice mail:
I’m excited about the Panorama Park. So many of the parks in southeast don’t even have shade or trees, and that park has zero. So we got feedback from little kids to seniors walking with canes. People are really excited about having the park there. I think that’s a great place to start. It’s going to be a large community park."

—————-ORIGINAL POST4:13 P.M. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6, 2019—————————

The long-neglected southeast part of the city will get an infusion of cash to spruce up 13.5-acre Panorama Park, thanks to a $350,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the city said in a news release.

The release called the project "the largest neighborhood park renovation in city history."

The Parks Department will seek more community feedback about the park's renovation this spring and summer, with construction beginning in 2020. So far, the city reports, concepts for Panorama Park, located southeast of Fountain Boulevard and Jet Wing Drive, include a new playground, walking paths, lighting and a community gathering space.

Parks Director Karen Palus said in the release:
We have heard from residents about how much they value Panorama Park and look forward to the final stage of planning for new amenities. The upgrades will not only improve safety at the park, but make it a wonderful destination for our community to gather, play and enjoy the outdoors.
Additional support for the renovations comes from the Trust for Public Land and the Southeast RISE Coalition. Colorado Health Foundation will award a $935,000 grant over three years to The Trust for Public Land for work on the park. Go here for more about the project.

Panorama Park is adjacent to Panorama Middle School. More than 3,000 people live within a 10-minute walk to the park. More information about the park renovation can be found at www.coloradoSprings.gov/panoramapark.

Great Outdoors Colorado has given $54.7 million for projects in El Paso County, including the Legacy Loop and John Venezia Community Park. It is funded by the Colorado Lottery.

We've asked City Councilor Yolanda Avila, who represents southeast District 4, and will update when we hear from her. Avila, elected in 2017, has lobbied for more park projects in her district.
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City campaign roundup: What do the candidates say about recreational pot?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 7:01 AM

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What do the candidates seeking a City Council seat or the mayor's post in the April 2 Colorado Springs election have to say about recreational marijuana?

We asked them this question in our candidate questionnaire: What’s your stance on allowing recreational marijuana shops within the city limits, or referring a measure to the ballot to allow voters to decide?

Here's what each said:

Council contenders
Athena Roe: "I have spoken with emergency room physicians at our local hospitals and it is clear that the potent strains have caused overdoses, and more patients in the ER’s.... I am against allowing recreational marijuana shops in our community."

Bill Murray (incumbent): "Four years ago, I ran on referring a measure to the ballot to allow voters to decide! My position has not changed."

Gordon Klingenschmitt: "Addiction and substance abuse cause a slavery-dependency relationship between pusher and abuser, who trade their money and even bodies for their next fix. Government’s role is not to profit from enablement of slavery or trafficking, but to free the slaves through treatment."

Regina English: "My stance on this is to keep our city dollars within our city and if the shops are within the city limits, then this will be accomplished which will enable the city to use the dollars for the up keep of the city. (parks, infrastructures, amenities, etc.)"

Regina English says recreational pot could help fund city needs. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Regina English says recreational pot could help fund city needs.
Dennis Spiker: "I believe that this issue is one that city residents must have the ability to vote on themselves and should have been done years ago. Manitou Springs has started to bring in an estimated $3 million per year with their marijuana tax. We could use this money to fix our parks, create sports leagues, or even offer grants to local small businesses, and nonprofits. Though I would like to see this passed it must be voted upon by the city’s residents."

Terry Martinez: "I would support referring a measure to the ballot to allow voters to decide whether to allow recreational marijuana shops within the city limits, as long as the vote coincided with the regular election cycle. The people of Colorado Springs deserve to vote on the issue."

Tom Strand (incumbent): "I agree with this decision [by previous council's to not refer a measure to voters] because of the adverse impact more marijuana facilities will have on our children, middle school and high school students... Currently, Colorado Springs has over 120 medical marijuana facilities within our 200 square mile city. I support the marijuana industry obtaining the necessary citizen signatures on a petition to place this important and sensitive issue on the ballot for voters to assess and determine."

Tony Gioia wouldn't oppose a citizen petition fo place a measure on the ballot. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Tony Gioia wouldn't oppose a citizen petition fo place a measure on the ballot.
Tony Gioia: "If a citizen-led initiative came forward to put such a question on the ballot, I would not oppose it. Currently, a large segment of our economy comes from industries that cannot have employees who use marijuana, and these businesses are having a harder and harder time finding employees who can pass a drug screening. For this reason, I would not proactively support bringing such shops to the city at this time."

Val Snider: "I am currently against allowing recreational marijuana sales within the city limits... With my military police background I saw the effects of marijuana on my troops and how it affected their performance... Until there is more science on how the higher THC level affects the minds of youth, I am against increasing accessibility of recreational marijuana within city limits."

Wayne Williams: I support the citizens’ right to petition on this issue... Absent a citizen petition, I would not support referral to change the present mix of medicinal marijuana in the city limits and recreational nearby."

Randy Tuck: "I believe this should have been done 4 years ago. I am for recreational marijuana being approved for Colorado Springs. I believe that it should be referred as a measure to be put on the ballot and let the voters decide. However, we are [wasting] valuable time and revenue's [sic] and this is such an important issue, it should be put to a vote of the council members and get it done! We can no longer watch as we see the profits of our small business people going to 3 other cities as well as the revenue’s attached to the profits."

Mayoral candidates
Juliette Parker says recreational pot should be decided by the people. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Juliette Parker says recreational pot should be decided by the people.

Juliette Parker: "I personally feel that as mayor it will be my duty to put the matter of legalization on the ballot so that the residents can decide for themselves what happens in their city. Giving you the opportunity to vote on it puts the power in your hands, where it should be." [It should be noted that while the mayor can advocate for a ballot issue, City Council, not the mayor, is empowered to refer measures to the ballot.]

Lawrence Martinez: "The City next door collected 1 Million in taxes do you really think they smoked it all? .... So if it is here lets [sic] get whats [sic] due our tax money from the sales to our community."

John Suthers (incumbent): "I personally oppose recreational marijuana sales within the city. Also, reliable polling shows the vast majority of Colorado Springs residents do as well. That's why the marijuana industry did not pursue a ballot initiative in November of 2018."

John Pitchford: "In discussing this issue with people who are rigidly opposed to recreational/retail marijuana, I asked them what we will do about our ALREADY existing recreational marijuana industry. As a result of how we legalized medical marijuana in 2010, we created a homegrown cottage industry of micro marijuana farming... Retail marijuana is for sale throughout Colorado Springs, it is on every street corner, in every apartment complex and in every neighborhood. It is unregulated, untaxed and is controlled by criminals. We currently have 6 members of the city council who favor allowing the people to vote on this issue. I favor allowing the people to vote on this issue."
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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

City campaign roundup: Political ads hit TV airwaves

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 5:55 PM

Terry Martinez, seeking a City Council seat, wants to reach voters through their televisions. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Terry Martinez, seeking a City Council seat, wants to reach voters through their televisions.
Don't you just love campaign season, when political ads flood your TV during your favorite programs? 

Me neither.

But according to filings by two local TV stations, voters can expect to be blasted with ads in the weeks ahead as we approach the April 2 city election.

City Council candidate Terry Martinez made an agreement March 4 for an undetermined number of 15- and 30-second spots for five weeks on KOAA Channel 5. He's the only candidate so far to buy time on that station. He also has a contract with KKTV for $1,865 worth of ads to run the week of March 4 to 10.

Citizens Against Public Safety Unions, a committee formed by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC which opposes Issue 1, the firefighters' collective bargaining measure, has agreed to pay thousands of dollars.

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While its contract with KOAA doesn't give details, the committee has agreed to pay KKTV $91,930 for 30-second spots from March 5 through April 1. The ads will air during news programs in the morning, during The Price is Right game show in the late morning, during Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy in the evenings, and amid both the evening newscast and late night news report.

Those ads will duel with half-minute spots placed by Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs, a committee that supports Issue 1. But the "vote yes" group is spending only $24,060 with KKTV to run ads during similar time slots as the "vote no" group, and only from March 4 to 24.

Both committees also have placed ads with KOAA, but the agreements aren't detailed as to how much will be spent and how many ads will run.

So far, no candidates or issue committees have bought air time with KRDO TV and Fox21News.
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Monday, March 4, 2019

Firefighters endorse challenger John Pitchford in mayor's race

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 12:09 PM

John Pitchford wins firefighters' endorsement in mayor's race. - JONATHAN BETZ PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Jonathan Betz Photography
  • John Pitchford wins firefighters' endorsement in mayor's race.
The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters has endorsed challenger John Pitchford for mayor, a dramatic move in an election in which Mayor John Suthers signed a fundraising letter on behalf of a political action committee that opposes the firefighters' collective bargaining measure, which also is on the ballot.

The April 2 election will decide the bargaining question, known as Issue 1, which bars firefighters from striking, and seat a mayor and three at-large City Council members.

Seeking his second term, Suthers is campaigning against Issue 1, which was submitted to voters after firefighters collected thousands of signatures to force it onto the ballot.

The "vote no" committee, called Citizens Against Public Employee Unions, was co-founded by Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC. The PAC has raised $219,215, including $30,500 from the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, and spent $39,699, according to the most recent finance report filed Feb. 27.

Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs has raised $316,025, mostly from firefighters via the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and spent $234,772, including petitioning costs.

Firefighters have said they want a seat at the table to secure funding for equipment and staffing, which hasn't caught up since the 2008 recession. There are fewer front line firefighters in Colorado Springs today than before the recession. As the Independent has reported, firefighters have seen response times suffer and its fleet of fire apparatus age, including an incident in which firefighters were gassed with exhaust, although Suthers has added several new engines and trucks in the last year and plans to add more.

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Pitchford, a retired dentist and career Army officer, said he is "proud" to received the firefighters' endorsement. In a statement, he said:
I have visited with many of our city employees and heard the same story over and over. Mayor Suthers “will not listen to our concerns,” “our voices are not heard” and “Mayor Suthers will not negotiate in good faith.” When it comes to public safety it is absolutely vital that this city be led by a mayor who will listen to the public safety concerns of our firefighters, police officers and be available to work in good faith with all of our employees.

With the strong mayor form of government, the mayor is the CEO of a large business and no business can long endure with a poisonous relationship between management and its employees.
Pitchford also notes that firefighters' concerns don't focus on compensation but rather staffing, equipment and workload.

"Try to imagine your home on fire and the fire truck breaks down on the way to save your home and your life," Pitchford says. "Our firefighters have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of using firefighting apparatus that is well beyond its replacement age."

Asked about the endorsement, Suthers says via email, "The reality is I’ve worked very hard in the interests of all city employees and that’s reflected in increased compensation. Police and fire in particular have benefited by being brought to market level compensation. But I am steadfastly opposed to unionization of the fire department and that puts me at odds with Local 5."

In a statement, the IAFF Local 5 said:
John Pitchford understands the top priority for government, from federal to local, is guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. His commitment to work with the professionals who provide that safety is non-wavering. He believes that the protection of our community should be immune from political influences. Public safety is not a partisan issue, and impacts each and every one of us equally. Mr. Pitchford supports true collaboration and a team based approach to improving the lives of our citizens. For that reason, the Colorado Springs Professional Fire Fighters proudly endorse the candidacy of John Pitchford for Mayor of Colorado Springs. 
The endorsement, announced March 4, comes without a campaign contribution.

Dave Noblitt, Local 5 spokesman, says via email: "If both sides stand along side each other without exchanging funds, we have not provided anyone any point to make an accusation of donating to expect favors. We both believe that is part of the current problem."

On Feb. 20, Pitchford's campaign gave $2,500 to the Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs campaign, records show, but the PAC refused it, Noblitt says.

Suthers has raised $180,236 for his mayoral run, while Pitchford has brought in $104,314, most of it in a loan from the candidate.

Local 5 also endorsed Terry Martinez and incumbent Bill Murray in the Council race. Those endorsements come with $500 each in campaign money.

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Tony Gioia speaks during a reception March 1. - GIOIA CAMPAIGN
  • Gioia campaign
  • Tony Gioia speaks during a reception March 1.
Tony Gioia was the man of the hour on March 1 at a reception hosted by Walker Schooler District Managers, Steve Schuck, Sen. Bob Gardner, Rep. Larry Liston, political consultants William Mutch and Sarah Jack, and City Councilor Merv Bennett.

Gioia has been endorsed by the HBA and Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. Disclosure: Gioia worked at the Indy for a short time several years ago.

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Forum reminder:

March 7: Council hopefuls discuss environmental issues, hosted by the Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal, Trails and Open Space Coalition, Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement, 6:30 p.m., Packard Hall, Colorado College, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St.

March 9: Candidates forum, hosted by El Pomar Foundation Forum for Civic Advancement, 5:30-7 p.m. followed by a reception, Penrose House Pavilion, 1661 Mesa Ave.

March 21: Council candidates forum, hosted by voters in Precinct 729 (Broadmoor Bluffs), 7-9 p.m., Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School, 5250 Farthing Drive.

March 14: Council Candidate Forum, hosted by the Southeast Express and Citizens Project, 6-7:30 p.m., Sierra High School, 2250 Jet Wing Drive.
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Suthers poll shows strong support for extending city road tax 2C

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 12:49 PM

MAGELLAN STRATEGIES
  • Magellan Strategies
A newly released voter poll shows 59 percent of likely voters in the April 2 city election would support renewing the city's 2C road tax at a rate of .57 percent.

That's lower than the first five-year program's tax of .62 percent. Poll respondents were not asked their opinions of renewing the tax at the full .62 percent level, which voters approved in 2015. The 2C measure was expected to raise $50 million a year, but those expectations have been exceeded, leading to the lower tax rate, which would still generate about $55 million annually.

Suthers: Wants the road tax extended. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Suthers: Wants the road tax extended.
The poll, conducted by Magellan Strategies at the expense of Mayor John Suthers' re-election campaign, asked whether respondents supported the tax "with the understanding that the vast majority of the approximately $55 million ... raised per year would be used to improve residential roads."

Suthers tells the Indy a second five-year 2C program would funnel 80 percent of the money into residential roads, some of which haven't been improved in decades.

"If I'm the mayor," Suthers says in an interview, "I'm certainly going to recommend we renew it for five years, with 80 percent going to residential roads. I said early on, I thought it would take 10 years to catch up." The city's road network has suffered from lack of maintenance over many years.

The first 2C program, which began in 2016, focused on arterial and collector streets, with a goal of repaving 1,000 lane miles throughout the city. The city has 5,700 lane miles of roadways, but the majority are residential.

The poll showed that women are warmer to the idea of renewing the tax than men, and that support by Democrats (72 percent) and unaffiliated voters (72 percent) far outweighs Republican support (49 percent).

Looking at results by age group those 65 and older expressed the lowest level of support, at 54 percent, while those 35 to 44 showed the greatest support at 76 percent.

City Council District 2, which covers the city's southwest sector, and District 5, the city's mid section, expressed the most robust support, at 62 percent. The least support was seen in the city's northwest sector, District 1, at 55 percent.

With all that in mind, Suthers says, if re-elected, he hopes to meet with Council in May to hammer out a ballot measure that Council would refer to the November 2019 ballot. The current 2C program, which has spent roughly $150,000 so far, ends Dec. 31, 2020.

If a measure is on El Paso County's November coordinated election, the city would pay about $250,000 of the election's costs.
  
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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jill Gaebler apologizes for comment at bike lane debate

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 at 2:50 PM

UPDATE:
Suthers emailed us the following statement in response to Gaebler's comment on how he viewed older people moving to Colorado Springs:
Gaebler’s choice of words is unfortunate. What I’m sure she has heard me say is that the current workforce development needs of our high tech companies in Colorado Springs requires us to attract about 4,000 millennials a year to fill software engineering, cybersecurity and other high tech positions. We’re competing with San Fransisco, Boston, Austin, etc. Four years ago we weren’t attracting millennials. Today we are. The retirees moving here cannot fill those workforce needs. I’ve noticed that the bike lane debate is largely a generational one. Many of the older folks contacting me think of us as a retirement community. They don’t seem to understand that to keep really good employers here, we have to be attractive to young people who will fill their jobs. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

——————————ORIGINAL POST 2:50 P.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 27, 2019——————————

Jill Gaebler represents District 5. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Jill Gaebler represents District 5.
City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, who represents District 5 northeast of downtown, seems to have ruffled some feathers with a comment she made at the Gazette's Battle of the Bike Lanes forum Feb. 25. Gaebler's just issued an apology for the comment, which singled out older people, on her personal Facebook page.

Here's what she said at the forum: "The city of Colorado Springs believes implementing safe bike infrastructure is what is best for this community. It is what is safest for this community, and as the mayor has said many times now, and I will just speak his words, it is important for this city to add 3 to 4,000 35-year-olds every year for the next who knows how many years. Because we need them to be our workforce, to take our tech jobs, take those software designer jobs. The mayor will actually go further and say, I don’t care if one more 65 or older person moves to this city, but I need those 3 to 4,000...I’m not quite done. We need those folks to move to our city, and those folks, those younger folks, want bike amenities."

On Feb. 26, Gaebler posted the following on Facebook:

I want to apologize for my recent statement regarding the workforce needs of Colorado Springs and hope to clarify. To continue the City's successful economic growth we need to attract 4,000 millennials a year to fill medical and high tech jobs (which make up the highest amount of job openings in the City). I was referencing workforce needs for the City and had no intentions of downplaying Colorado Springs as a one of a kind retirement destination.

I helped form the City's Commission on Aging and serve as its City Council Representative; the purpose of the Commission is to provide "ongoing and embedded advocacy for older adults in the municipal government of Colorado Springs." I've made it known throughout my six years on Council that my passions for Colorado Springs are a connected community and an accessible, livable community for all.

The Indy has reached out to Mayor John Suthers for comment and will update if and when he responds.

Unlike Suthers, Gaebler is not up for re-election this year. Her term ends in 2021.
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City Council gives $40 million in tax breaks in hopes of gaining $4 billion in economic impact

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 at 9:28 AM

This map shows the two tracts City Council intends to annex into the city limits. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • This map shows the two tracts City Council intends to annex into the city limits.
In a series of votes on Feb. 26, Colorado Springs City Council set in motion development in the north end of the city that officials say will bring a total of more than $4 billion in economic impact in the next 25 years.

But in doing so, the Council also assigned at least $40 million tax dollars over those 25 years to help those developments along.

The first is a visitors center at the Air Force Academy that's part of the City for Champions — four venues designed to attract out-of-state visitors and subsidized by the use of state sales tax revenue. (The other venues are a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the Olympic Museum under construction downtown, a downtown stadium and a hockey arena at Colorado College. All the venues have been pledged $120.5 million in state sales tax over 30 years.)

Council postponed until March 12 votes on resolutions annexing the roughly 180 acres at the North Gate Boulevard entrance to the Academy to accommodate the development of the visitors center, hotels, office space, restaurants and the like. (Some paperwork wasn't completed to enable a vote on Feb. 26.)

But Council adopted ordinances in favor of the annexation, which paves the way for subsequent votes to make the mega development happen, which city economic development officer Bob Cope says will bring $2.6 billion in economic activity, including 1,700 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent jobs.

The 537,000-square-foot complex known as True North Commons is being developed by Blue & Silver Development Partners, formed in November 2017 by Dan Schnepf, and Schnepf's firm, Matrix Design Group.

While a few citizens expressed concern about the development encroaching on nearby Monument Creek and other environmental issues, Academy officials and others advocated for the development. Developers hope to issue bonds in the second quarter of 2019.

Although not yet approved, the True North Commons project will require an infusion of $23 million over 25 years in public money via tax increment financing (TIF) collected through the urban renewal mechanism. The TIF allows tax revenue created by the development to be pumped into public infrastructure.

Councilors Bill Murray and Yolanda Avila expressed reservations, however. Murray said the Council votes were premature before everything is known, while Avila, who represents the city's southeast sector, noted the city appears to be doing "back bends, somersaults and back flips to make this happen."

"Southeast Colorado Springs has not had one urban renewal project, ever," she noted. "And we have been screaming out for that. We have an affordable housing [shortage] situation here. We’re leaving out communities. Residents in my district will not have transportation to the [Academy] visitors center. It’s not going to be open to them. It’s not affordable. I want to really look at what our whole city needs. I want us to have a visitors center, but not at this cost where the city has to do anything."

But Cope said, "There is only one Air Force Academy, and there will be only one Air Force Academy visitors center, so this is truly unique and extraordinary."

Additional Council votes on the project will take place March 12.

See the Power Point presentation:

The second vote approved $16.2 million in city sales tax revenues over 25 years to Scheels All Sports, which plans to build a 220,000-square-foot store in Interquest Marketplace, also in the north end of the city, on land now owned by Nor'wood Development Group, the region's biggest developer. Councilors Murray and Andy Pico dissented, expressing concern the deal gives Scheels an unfair advantage over competitors and will cannibalize existing retailers' business.

The subsidy comes in the form of a Credit Public Improvement Fee that Scheels will be entitled to keep. The city also agreed to waive half of the city's 2 percent sales tax for 25 years. The deal relies on adoption of a new ordinance to enable such an incentive, never before bestowed by the city on a retailer.

The new mechanism can be used for other existing retailer and hotel expansion projects, as well as new construction.

The city contends Scheels will bring $1.5 billion in economic impact and $53 million in net new city tax revenue over 25 years, and 440 jobs with an average salary of $46,250.

In an email to Council, former Councilor Joel Miller (transparency note: father of Indy reporter Faith Miller), who served from from 2013 to 2015, had this to say, in part:
Exempting businesses from sales tax in City Code is a new chapter of Corporate Welfare and these special deals are unsustainable and an affront on the free market. What does this do to retailers at the Chapel Hills Mall? Sears has just closed and now you’re voting to accelerate the demise of other businesses nearby by drawing customers away from them through special treatment.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"Battle of the Bike Lanes" draws large, noisy crowd

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 5:41 PM

About 300 people crowded Studio Bee to hear panelists speak about bike lanes. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • About 300 people crowded Studio Bee to hear panelists speak about bike lanes.

Bike lanes are currently one of the most controversial topics in Colorado Springs, at least in terms of the number of comments and letters-to-the-editor that local media receive on the subject.

So, we stopped by a free public event called "Battle of the Bike Lanes," hosted by the Gazette at the Pikes Peak Center's Studio Bee on Feb. 25. Billed as a "Community Conversation," the event had five panelists debate the pros and cons of the new bike lanes and striping changes that arrived downtown this year. Gazette readers and audience members were invited to submit questions for the panelists to answer.

Around 300 people crowded the room, dozens standing in the back when seats were quickly filled. Bike lane supporters cheered and rang bicycle bells when their ideological counterparts — City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, Cory Sutela of Bike Colorado Springs and city traffic engineer Tim Roberts — defended the lanes that have some residents feeling safer and others fretting that their tax money was misused.

Opponents applauded bike-lane skeptics Edward Snyder of Restore Our Roads, and Rick Villa of SaferCC.com, when they challenged the city's traffic priorities.

The Gazette published a recap here, and posted a video of the forum on its Facebook page.

We reached out to Gaebler and Snyder for comment on the event.

"I appreciate the Gazette offered a forum for citizens to speak about why they do or don't support bike infrastructure," Gaebler said via text. "But I'm disappointed they did nothing to find common ground, and instead asked questions that promoted discord and anger. The forum could have brought all of us together and instead it only fueled the fire."

Gaebler said a group of people in the front row "heckled and booed me the entire time."

"There was at least one comment about finding common ground and I am hopeful we can find some agreement toward understanding each other better," she added. "I also think there are ways for the city to work with citizens to get better data that informs how we build our roads to meet the needs of all users."

Don Ward, a KKTV 11 News anchor, doles out questions to the panelists. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Don Ward, a KKTV 11 News anchor, doles out questions to the panelists.


Snyder told the Indy he was grateful for a platform to express his organization's views, but thought that in the end, it may not do much to change the city's way of operating.

"The city has made pretty clear what they think and what they want to do," he said. "They’re not acting in the best interest of either bicyclists or cars, and more importantly they’re ignoring the majority of the public who are actually opposed to (bike lanes) by any measure."

However, Snyder said he received "a lot of responses" after the panel from people who "finally heard someone express what they’ve been thinking and waiting to hear for some time."

"The public is getting increasingly irritated that the city’s not taking them seriously — the majority opinion or, you know, the data," he added. "I’m not pretending that (the mayor and City Council have) got an easy job, but I do think it could be done a lot more effectively that it’s being done now."

This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Edward Snyder's name.
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AFP steps in to city election, endorsements, websites, and more campaign news

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 11:18 AM

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AFP Colorado Springs has filed as an issue committee with the City Clerk to campaign on Issue 1, the measure that would allow firefighters to collectively bargain, but never strike.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative political advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch of Kansas.

AFP Colorado Springs filed a campaign finance electronic filing authorization on Feb. 22 in the April 2 city election at which voters also will decide three at-large City Council seats and elect a mayor.

Here's the filing:

The group's first campaign finance report will be due in mid-March, it appears.

Issue 1 is opposed by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC, which, with Mayor John Suthers, formed a political action committee called Citizens Against Public Employee Unions.

Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs formed to support the measure.

It's not the first time AFP has made a stand in a Springs election. It opposed the stormwater fee in November 2017, but the fee passed anyway.

AFP also opposed the statewide measure in 2016 to raise the minimum wage. Voters didn't listen to the group then, either, and approved Amendment 70, which increased the minimum wage to $9.30 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017, and thereafter by 90 cents per hour annually until it reaches $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2020.

We've reached out to the AFP to find out more about its campaign and will circle back when we hear from someone.

Athena Roe: Seeking an at-large City Council seat. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Athena Roe: Seeking an at-large City Council seat.
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Endorsements:

The Pikes Peak Association of Realtors has endorsed the following candidates:

Council: Tony Gioia, Tom Strand and Wayne Williams.
“These candidates showed a tremendous understanding of issues that impact the real estate businesses of PPAR members and the quality of life of their clients,” Donna Major, Chairperson of the Board for PPAR, said in a release.

Mayor: John Suthers. “The Mayor has consistently supported issues that positively impact PPAR members and their clients and we look forward to continuing the great partnership that Mayor Suthers has created with the REALTOR® organization,” the group said in a release.

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Candidate websites:

Athena Roe, candidate for an at-large City Council seat, now has a website, which can be found here.

John Pitchford, seeking to unseat Mayor John Suthers, has a new website here.

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Ballots will be mailed between March 8 and 18.

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If you have an item of interest in the campaign for City Council or mayoral seats, or about Issue 1, please let us know at zubeck@csindy.com.
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Scheels All Sports gets $16.2 million incentive offer from Colorado Springs

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 3:18 PM

Scheels All Sports would build a 220-square-foot store on the city's north side under a deal expected to be approved on Feb. 26. - PHOTOS FROM CITY'S POWER POINT PRESENTATION
  • Photos from city's Power Point presentation
  • Scheels All Sports would build a 220-square-foot store on the city's north side under a deal expected to be approved on Feb. 26.
When it comes to incentives, Colorado Springs usually is a minor player in ponying up money to recruit or retain business and industry.

But now City Council has found a tool that will enable the city to extend its first and biggest direct subsidy to a retail outlet by allowing Scheels All Sports to collect, and keep, a sales tax of $16.2 million over 25 years.

The North Dakota-based company plans to start building a superstore this year on the city’s north side on land now owned by the region’s biggest developer, Nor’wood Development Group.

Council is expected to approve the special tax ordinance and a Scheels agreement on Feb. 26, after the ordinance’s first reading drew a 7-2 vote on Feb.12, with Councilor’s Andy Pico and Bill Murray dissenting.

Pico and Murray oppose the subsidy, which they say would place competitors at a disadvantage to Scheels, which has a track record of exacting tax benefits from cities where they build mega-outlets that feature ferris wheels and aquariums.

The city’s economic development officer Bob Cope says passage of the ordinance would pave the way for similar incentive requests from retailers and hotels for new construction or expansions.
screen_shot_2019-02-21_at_2.28.25_pm.png
Scheels was established in 1902 by German immigrant, Frederick Scheels, who opened his first store in Sabin, Minnesota, with his own money. Today, the Scheels company is employee-owned and runs 27 stores in 12 states, several of which have been given taxpayer-funded incentives, according to media reports. Scheels’ practice is to open stores in bedroom communities of larger metropolitan areas.

Scheels opened a store in 2008 in Sparks, Nevada, for example, four miles from Reno, and received at least $36 million in tax incentives. In 2012, it opened a store in Sandy, Utah, 17.5 miles from the Salt Lake City metro area, after winning 25 years worth of property tax breaks, as long as it met employment and sales benchmarks.

In September 2017, Scheels opened a store in Johnstown, 13 miles from Loveland, with the help of $93 million in incentives. Loveland reported in its 2019 budget document a 15.4-percent decline in sales taxes on sporting goods stores in 2018 “due to the opening of Scheels in neighboring Johnstown.”

Some cities have abandoned incentives for retail operations, among them the Reno area.

“We no longer do incentives for retail as that generally cannibalizes business from local businesses at tax payer expense,” says Mike Kazmierski, former economic development officer in Colorado Springs who now serves as the president and CEO of Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, Reno.

Colorado Springs’ deal with Scheels would reduce the city’s sales tax collected by the store from 2 percent to 1 percent, and then authorize Scheels to collect a “credit public improvement tax” of 1 percent for 25 years, valued at $16.2 million. The subsidy is tied to actually building the store.

Cope told Council earlier this month that Scheels’ economic impact would total $1.5 billion over 25 years and that the 220,000-square-foot store would be a “unique and extraordinary retail venue and experience for our citizens.”

Scheels would invest $84 million in land, the building, furniture and equipment and bring in $53 million in net new city tax revenue over 25 years beyond the subsidy. It also would create 400 jobs with an average annual salary of $46,250, and up to 60 percent of sales would come from outside the trade area.
screen_shot_2019-02-21_at_2.28.39_pm.png
But some took issue with the last data point, provided by Scheels’ itself in letters to Cope in which Scheels’ CFO said that “40 to 60 percent of the customers that shop in our current store locations come from outside the municipality in which we are located.”

Councilor Bill Murray predicts Scheels would steal business from existing retailers. “This is cannibalizing what we get tax dollars on,” he said at the Feb. 12 Council meeting. “This just adds to the profit [of Scheels] and not to the benefit of what we need to run our city.”

Counselor Andy Pico agreed, saying if at least half of sales come from outside the city, “that implies that half will come from within, and I’m concerned that would be cannibalized from existing businesses. We’re putting them [Scheels] at an unfair competitive advantage. We’re going to give one [tax incentive] here and next door they don’t get one.”

But Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler supported the incentive. “What makes this whole plan unique and a great opportunity for our city is that we will have so many people coming here from outside and we won’t be cannibalizing other stores,” she said.

Councilor Yolanda Avila, who represents the poorest and most diverse southeast sector of the city, also was amenable. She noted after she posted on Facebook that she’d toured a Scheels store, “I got so many thumbs up and hearts. I just got an email from someone who wondered why it wasn’t in southeast. I am very concerned for my district, but I think this works for all of Colorado Springs and ultimately I am in favor of what will support our entire city.”

Better to have Scheels in the city than compete with it, Councilor David Geislinger said.
“One way or the other this company is going to build this facility somewhere in our area,” he said, “and the question is whether we are going to incentivize it being inside Colorado Springs.”

Read the agreement:
Bass Pro Shop, four miles north of the Scheels site, opened in 2013 amid the Polaris Pointe development, charged with using sales and property tax created by the urban renewal area to fund extension of Powers Boulevard to Interstate 25 from where it now ends at Highway 83. The developer, Gary Erickson, isn’t allowed to simply pocket that tax increment.

Erickson didn’t respond to a phone call and email seeking comment, but if business is sucked away from Polaris Pointe, it follows that the tax money available for the Powers extension would be reduced.

Bass Pro and other sporting goods outlets like Dick’s and Big 5 aren’t the only ones that would compete with Scheels, which also sells footwear, home decor, watches, clothing and a variety of other goods.

Nevertheless, Mayor’s Chief of Staff Jeff Greene told Council on Feb. 12, “This is not about picking winners and losers. This is about securing the financial viability of our city going forward.” The city’s biggest source of revenue is sales tax.

But as Councilor Don Knight noted, after passage of the new ordinance, “It will be open to anybody and everybody. It will be hard to say no to the next person.”

Cope acknowledged that, saying, “For a retailer or hospitality opportunity such as this, City Council would have authority to incentivize an existing retailer or an existing hotel.”

The Scheels site, northeast of Interstate 25 and Interquest Parkway near the Great Wolf Lodge, is on land owned by Interquest Marketplace LLC, an entity controlled by Nor’wood Development Group, a huge player in the local development scene.

Not only will Scheels pump tax money into city coffers, it also will help Nor’wood via the developer’s Interquest North Business Improvement District. The district has issued $11.3 million in debt to fund water and sewer lines and other public improvements and repays that debt via a 50-mill property tax, as well as a private 1.25 public improvement fee applied to all sales in the district.

The district is a party to city’s Scheels agreement, which says the district built water and sewer lines and other public improvements “in anticipation of the execution of this Agreement.”
Scheels must get permission of the city and district to transfer the deal to another operator.

We've invited Nor'wood to comment on the Scheels agreement and will update if and when we hear back.

Read the ordinance:
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