Local Government

Friday, July 10, 2020

Mayor Suthers notes COVID spike, warns a mask mandate might be coming

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2020 at 4:30 PM

Mayor Suthers wearing a mask in April. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Mayor Suthers wearing a mask in April.
Colorado Springs is "losing ground" in its fight against the coronavirus, and a mandatory mask order might be necessary to stem the spread, Mayor John Suthers warned today, July 10, on his official Facebook page.

His message:
We are losing ground in our effort to fight COVID-19 based on numbers coming in over the last few days. This puts us at risk of losing our variances, which have allowed many businesses to re-open. While I’m reluctant to do a mask mandate because of obvious enforcement challenges, if it comes down to choosing between closing our businesses again, or putting a mask mandate in place, I would likely side with our local business community and enact a mandate to protect them. However, my hope is that people will see the urgency of this situation, and voluntarily wear a mask, so we can move to recovery and not put our City back. (Emphasis added.)
We wrote about the mask controversy in this week's Indy.

El Paso County logged 106 new cases on July 9, the highest total by far since the pandemic struck in February and March. The rolling seven-day average also shows cases have spiked.
EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health

Statewide, 345 cases were reported on July 8, which is less than half the 725 cases reported on April 25 but nevertheless is a spike after cases took a dive in late May and early June.

Here's the latest from Gov. Jared Polis in a release issued today, July 10:
Like most of the United States, Colorado has seen an upward trend in cases and hospitalizations over the past couple of weeks. The administration will continue monitoring the public health situation very closely and will adjust reopening strategies based on the trajectory of the spread of the virus. Last week, Governor Polis announced that bars — settings that are particularly vulnerable vectors for contagion — would remain closed for the time being. The state will continue to be guided by data and science as we all work together to manage this crisis.

While we are concerned with the recent uptick in cases, it’s worth noting that Colorado is nowhere close to reaching or breaching the state’s hospital ICU capacity, which has been our top concern all along. And despite the slight uptick in cases and hospitalizations, Colorado continues to perform better than the national average, and continues to be a positive outlier thanks to everyone doing their part:

Individuals are wearing masks, keeping distance, staying Safer at Home or in the Vast, Great Outdoors, protecting vulnerable populations, and practicing proper hygiene.

The state is working to get more PPE and testing supplies, and providing economic support for businesses and individuals including $250 million in state CLIMBER loans.

Our local governments are stepping up on mask ordinances, repurposing space to allow for more social distancing, and enhancing local public health agency capacity.

The business community is also doing the right thing — requiring masks for customers, being flexible when it comes to teleworking, and taking steps to protect employees and patrons.

As a result, Colorado’s small businesses are performing slightly better than national averages on key metrics, including making payments like rent, payroll, utilities, and loans, the number of employee hours worked, and number of employees retained. Colorado’s unemployment rate, while still persistently and unacceptably high, is three points lower than the national average.

The key to keeping our virus transmission levels down while increasing economic opportunity is to continue maintaining our status as a positive outlier among our neighboring states and throughout the country.
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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Illegal fireworks calls to CSPD spike

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2020 at 11:55 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Bombs bursting in air aptly described neighborhoods across the city on 4th of July weekend, and the Colorado Springs Police Department has the numbers to prove it.

For some reason, Springs residents went wild with fireworks this year, despite fireworks being illegal.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department sent out notices days before July 4 emphasizing that fireworks are illegal to possess, sell and use within the city limits, but thousands of residents shot off firecrackers and aerial fireworks.

The loud bangs continued until well past 11 p.m., as reported on NextDoor and other social media.

CSFD's Michael Smaldino reports via email the department responded to eight calls for service in the 24 hours of July 4. Those included two structure fires in which fireworks were suspected, two grass fires, two smoke investigations, a vehicle fire caused by fireworks and one other fire.

For 30 years, he says, the city has made fireworks illegal, a message the city has conveyed via news releases, social media and on yard signs at fire stations stating, "Fireworks are illegal."

While the department will pursue charges against someone they identify has caused a fire with fireworks, this year the fire marshal issued only one summons in connection with a structure fire.

"As you can see, our calls for service concerning fireworks are relatively low for these 24 hours," he says. "Please remember, we will only respond if there is damage or injury."

Smaldino referred the Indy to the Colorado Springs Police Department for call information. That data shows that fireworks calls doubled in May from last year, increased nearly five-fold in June compared to June 2019, and showed sizable increases in July and on July 4 from the previous year.

Officers were dispatched at a greater pace as well.

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CSPD spokesperson Natashia Kerr tells the Indy that citations are still being entered into the system, so a total is not yet available.

Stating the obvious, she said, "... based off of the number of calls for service and how many reports we responded to this year, the number of fireworks around Colorado Springs was much higher than previous years."
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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

District 38 school board member's Nazi salute vacation picture draws outrage

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 2:48 PM

UPDATE:
This statement is just in from Lewis-Palmer School District 38 spokesperson Julie Stephen:
Our community and country are in the middle of a season that has provided extensive opportunities for growth and awareness around systemic racism and discrimination. D38 remains committed to non-discrimination in relation to race, creed, color, gender, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, and/or disability. We support our students, staff, families, and community with equity. We will not tolerate harassment or discrimination of students and/or staff based on the aforementioned areas.

A picture appeared on our School Board president’s personal Facebook page. Its content was offensive. It was taken down when Mr. Clawson saw it, and he has issued a public apology on his Facebook page. You may also view it on his D38 profile page
—————ORIGINAL POST 2:48 P.M. TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2020————————————-

A photo purportedly of child's play involving the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board of education president and his kids has created a dust-up in the D-38 community, including a demand that the board chairman resign.

Matthew Clawson won't resign, but he issued a lengthy explanation and apology, assuring the public the photo, which showed two people mimicking the Nazi salute, doesn't represent his personal views.

The photo at issue is to the right.
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Clawson issued this statement to the Indy, as well as to several other patrons of the school district who expressed outrage on Facebook:

I owe this community a sincere apology.

During a recent family vacation, a couple of my children participated in a birthday celebration. Sometime during the party, the children were acting silly and performing skits while wearing old Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Brothers type mustaches. The children posed and took pictures during the event. I did not see them do this. After being home from vacation for about a week, I was asked when I was going to post pictures from our vacation. I then allowed a family member to post photos to my Facebook account.

After an hour or so, I reviewed the photos posted and ran across a photo that was inappropriate and offensive and immediately took one picture down. Although the photo was taken in children’s play and without awareness it was nonetheless inappropriate and offensive. This type of picture has no place in our society.

The removal of the offensive picture resulted in significant family conversations. Unfortunately, the photo was on Facebook long enough for it to be viewed by a few of you in the community, despite the fact that it was removed before I was contacted by anyone expressing concern over the picture. My public service role means that my family and I are watched closely. I am sorry that we were not more sensitive to the effect this picture would bring.

I have spent decades fighting for religious freedom and the rights of all — irrespective of race, color, or sexual orientation. I want to take this opportunity to say that I support racial equality, social justice, and equity for all. I do not support the suppression of anyone or acts of racism.

In no way do I take the example I set lightly. I am grieved that this photo may have been construed as a reflection of my beliefs. This unfortunate incident is never appropriate at any time, but during these times it is extremely insensitive. Please accept my apology.

Sincerely,
Matthew Clawson
Not good enough, says Corey Grundel, a former employee of D-38 who also has two children who attend D-38 schools.

"I just don’t think our community can have him on the school board, especially as president," Grundel tells the Indy.

"While I appreciate [his apology], it falls short, because we can’t explain hate as child’s play," she says. Grundel notes that Clawson's apology addresses the mustaches as being reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin but doesn't address the arms raised in what has become almost exclusively associated with Adolph Hitler's Third Reich and Nazism.

"He’s supposed to represent all the families in the district. If his children are doing this and he didn’t see a problem, that’s not play. It’s certainly not play for people who are Jewish or people of color," Grundel says. "I would rather he take responsibility."

Grundel says she actually campaigned to get Clawson elected, which is why the incident has been heart-wrenching and has kept her up at night.

"I kept making excuses and tried to justify it," she says. "Then I thought, 'There's no justification for this.' This is where we need to say, 'Hey, we can do better.'"

Grundel has contacted the superintendent of schools, who is out of town and not available, seeking further action.

If no action is taken, Grundel says she might attempt to recall him from office.

"He is a public figure, and there is a higher standard," she says.

As of mid-afternoon June 30, Grundel's post of the photo had drawn 93 comments. Among them:

"School board president thinks it’s OK to have his kids post with the Nazi salute and Hitler mustache? 🤯🤬 I realize that people have been hypocrites since the beginning of time but it is amazing to me how many people still don’t understand what it means."

"Nothing is surprising anymore but still... so disappointing."

"Whoa."

"...this is one of the worst things I’ve seen on social media recently... and considering what’s going on in the world that’s saying a lot. Absolutely disgraceful."
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El Paso County eyes sales of property, including downtown tract

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 10:55 AM

This large home at 701 E. Boulder St. houses the Family Visitation Center. County commissioners are considering selling it, according to an agenda item on the June 30 meeting. - EL PASO COUNTY ASSESSOR'S OFFICE WEBSITE
  • El Paso County Assessor's Office website
  • This large home at 701 E. Boulder St. houses the Family Visitation Center. County commissioners are considering selling it, according to an agenda item on the June 30 meeting.
El Paso County commissioners were to go behind closed doors today, June 30, to discuss selling four properties the county assessor values at nearly $4 million combined.

The properties and their market values, according to the Assessor's Office:

• The long-vacant former county Public Health building at 301/305 S. Union Blvd., $2,978,129.
In 2016, the county sought bids to remodel the building for evidence storage and other purposes. In 2017, the property was listed for sale at $1.5 million. Public Health moved to the Citizens Service Center, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, along with many other county offices, in 2011 and 2012 in a massive $62 million "strategic moves" initiative.

• A half-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Vermijo Street and Cascade Avenue, $551,387. This tract sits immediately south of Centennial Hall and east of a parcel owned by an entity controlled by Nor'wood Development Group, which is the master developer of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area that contains the Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame and America the Beautiful Park.

• Two properties used by the Department of Human Services — the Center on Fathering and the Family Visitation Center, $411,142. Read the news release about the sale of these properties.
Here's the agenda item:
Pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(a), (b) and (e), the County Attorney’s Office is requesting an Executive Session with the Board of County Commissioners concerning the sale of multiple County-owned properties located at 301/305 South Union Boulevard, 310 South Cascade Avenue, 325 North El Paso Street, and 701 East Boulder Street in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to include addressing the following: 1) The transfer or sale of any real, personal, or other property interest as stated above; 2) Conference with the County Attorney’s Office for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions, to include discussion of a possible contract amendment concerning 301/305 South Union Boulevard and legal questions related to the disposition and sale of real property; and 3) Determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations; developing strategy for negotiations; and instructing negotiators, specifically as to offers received as to 310 South Cascade Avenue, 325 North El Paso Street, and 701 East Boulder Street, and a request for a possible contract amendment related to 301/305 South Union Boulevard. (Emphasis added)
Commissioners weren't expected to take action in open session following the executive session.

No word on how the money from these sales would be spent.
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Friday, June 26, 2020

Utilities Board votes to retire coal at Drake by 2023

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 6:45 PM

The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant came online in 1925. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant came online in 1925.

The Colorado Springs Utilities Board has made its decision: The public-owned utility will retire coal-power generation at the century-old Martin Drake Power Plant no later than 2023.

That's 12 years ahead of schedule, as the board previously voted in 2015 to retire the plant by 2035. As Utilities developed its 2020 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) — a blueprint for energy generation over the next five years — clean-air activists have demanded an early closure for the benefit of the community's health and the environment.

The chosen plan will not require building a new natural gas plant to replace the Ray Nixon Power Plant, the option that had been recommended by an advisory committee.

"Your decision will chart a course to sustainable, continued growth," Mayor John Suthers told the Utilities Board (which is composed of members of City Council) before they voted on a plan June 26.


Both of the IRPs considered by the board that day would have retired coal at Drake by 2023, and at the Ray Nixon Power Plant by 2030. They would also have both retired the George Birdsall Power Plant (which runs on gas, and is used infrequently) by 2035.

"This will attract new business, increase residential development and strengthen our brand as one of the most desirable cities in America to live," Suthers said.

The other portfolio under consideration, Portfolio 16, was recommended by the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, or UPAC, which reviewed and evaluated many different options over the past year. That option would have replaced Drake with temporary gas generators and involved constructing a new gas plant to replace Nixon in 2030.

The chosen portfolio, Portfolio 17, was added to the mix of options in recent weeks — after the draft portfolio options were presented to UPAC in late April, but ahead of the June 3 meeting where the committee decided on which portfolio to recommend to the Utilities Board. It will also require temporary natural gas generators, but replaces Nixon with non-carbon resources, such as wind and solar energy, and battery storage.

"Portfolio 17 says that once we add the 180 megawatts that we're going to be doing very soon, that is the end of fossil fuel that we will be relying on, and we don’t need to add gas in 2030 when we get ready to shut down Nixon," Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin said in an interview after the meeting.

That plan, approved by a 7-2 vote of the Utilities Board (with Board Members Andy Pico and Don Knight opposed), was also endorsed by Benyamin, the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, and the Downtown Partnership.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, praised the move to close the plants.

“This bipartisan decision is a strong step for the Colorado Springs community, for our state and for our planet," Polis said in a June 26 statement. "Colorado continues to set an example for the rest of our country when it comes to renewable energy and climate action, and this announcement comes in the wake of numerous electric utilities across the state committing to a transition to clean energy."

Utilities Board Chair Jill Gaebler says she felt comfortable voting for Portfolio 17 after reviewing detailed information from Utilities, and hearing from many people who spoke at meetings and submitted comments over the last year — many of them young adults who advocated for renewable energy over coal and natural gas.

"Through the public process, we really heard, from  ... people from all over the community, but I think I really focused on [and] a lot of your board members looked to the voices of our future, and our younger folks who really do want to have a cleaner energy future," Gaebler said in an interview following the decision.

The new IRP will have a marginal impact on customers' rates, according to an economic analysis conducted by Utilities staff. It also achieved the highest score (out of any of the 17 portfolio options) for reliability, which CSU customers had rated as the most important plan attribute in a customer survey a few months ago.

Burning natural gas produces about half the carbon emissions of coal, but it's not carbon-free. Clean-air advocates balked at the idea of building a new plant as Portfolio 16 would have required.

During the virtual meeting, around a dozen residents spoke in favor of Portfolio 17, and none suggested they would have preferred UPAC's recommendation.

"The Martin Drake Power Plant is a glaring example of environmental injustice and systemic racism in Colorado Springs," said Mercedes Perez, who along with several others mentioned that coal plants, gas plants and fracking facilities are often built near communities of color, who face the brunt of dangerous health effects from polluted air.

Several Utilities Board members brought up a decision several years ago to pay Neumann Systems Group $110 million to install pollution control equipment at Drake (instead of just moving toward closing the plant earlier).

"I think that we [would be] taking a much bigger risk by having to build a gas-fired plant and leaving a stranded asset," Board Member Richard Skorman said of Portfolio 16. "I mean, we made that mistake with the Neumann scrubbers and look where we are today."

Knight said he feared that Portfolio 17 was too risky, because it foresees adding significant battery storage in 2030 to replace Nixon's generation.

"[Portfolio] 17 is based on wishful thinking that 400 megawatts of battery technology is going to be there," Knight said. "[Portfolio] 16 is based on proven technology."

Utilities develops a new IRP every five years, so the energy blueprint could change before Nixon's planned retirement in 2030.

Once Drake's coal-fired units are retired in 2023, Utilities will begin using six trailer-sized temporary natural gas generators that can be controlled remotely, Benyamin says. They'll be set up at the Drake plant until Utilities sets up transmission elsewhere (Benyamin isn't sure where as of yet).


These generators save costs because running them requires only about four people to occasionally do maintenance, Benyamin says.

"About 80 people run a coal plant, because we have to have trains, we have to have a big dozer to get the coal off, we have to get the coal on a belt and then go crush it and then feed the boiler," he says.

Still, Utilities doesn't plan to fire any of the 200 employees who currently work at the power plant — they'll be employed elsewhere, according to Benyamin.

By 2024 or 2025, Drake will be a brownfield site — "like a park," he says.

What else could go there?

"Almost anything would be better than a coal power plant, to be quite honest," says Gaebler, an advocate on Council for downtown improvements. "I'm sure that there will be a robust process that many people will want to engage on as we begin to have those conversations, and I hope to be a part of that."
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Colorado Springs, Public Health launch #MaskUpCOS as COVID-19 explodes in U.S.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 3:41 PM

If people won't take it upon themselves to help suppress the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, perhaps they'll listen to a Penrose Hospital emergency room doctor, an oncology nurse from UCHealth, a mom with an immunocompromised child, a nursing home worker, a retired Army soldier, a paralympian, a business owner and a pastor.

At least that's the hope of Colorado Springs and El Paso County Public Health officials as the virus spreads across the country, with some states marking in recent days the highest numbers yet for new cases of COVID-19.

Colorado's numbers have remained more moderate, but they're still on the rise.

Officials, including Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, launched the #MaskUpCOS campaign on June 26, hoping to stem the spread of a disease for which there is no treatment and no cure — a disease that's claimed 1,475 lives in Colorado, including 121 in El Paso County. The virus has killed more than 127,000 people across the United States — more than the entire population of Pueblo.

Check out the latest number of cases in El Paso County.

EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health

The MaskUpCOS campaign will rely on social media, other media, editorial pitches and video and tell stories of local residents at risk or those at risk of infecting others.

As city spokesperson Jamie Fabos says in a news release: “There’s been so much information out there about infection rates, hospitalization rates, shifting data, that the whole pandemic has started to feel really sterile and impersonal. But we know the impacts of this virus are actually the exact opposite."

She adds that the spokespersons chosen to make pleas to the public include local residents.

“We’ve been sending the message that wearing a mask may not be about protecting yourself, but if you are able to reduce the risk for just one person — you could have a much bigger impact than you know,” Dr. Robin Johnson, Medical Director for El Paso County Public Health, said in a release. “Also, when you look at our spokespeople, it should strike you that they don’t look vulnerable or unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t, or that they don’t have contact with those at very high risk.”

"My colleagues need for you to help us prevent the spread," Dr. Michael Roshon said during a news conference on June 26.

Suthers, who consistently wears a mask in public, warned citizens that it's impossible to know who's at risk of becoming a COVID victim and who might be a spreader of the disease, but it's up to everyone to help the community stay safe "in these uncertain times," he said.

"We’re prioritizing this messaging in an effort to protect our community," he said, reminding people that state and county public health officials as well as those with the federal Centers for Disease Control say masks provide a layer of protection for those around you.

While someone might not feel sick, they can be a carrier of the disease and not know it; by not wearing a mask, they run the risk of spreading the disease, health officials have said.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, who also serves as deputy director of Public Health, said there's no secret of how to stop the spread.

"Very simple: wash your hands, don’t gather in large groups, stay home when you’re sick and wear the mask," he said.

Meantime, El Paso County Commissioners have pushed to reopen the economy and get permission for groups of up to 175 to congregate.

As Suthers and the others urged, won't you join in helping to protect your fellow citizens, like these:
PHOTOS BY  LAUREN MACKENZIE
  • Photos by Lauren MacKenzie
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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Drought task force activates, Colorado Springs Utilities looks to reservoirs

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 3:37 PM

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As drought conditions deepen, Colorado Governor Jared Polis on June 23 sought activation of the state's Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.

The governor's office said in a release the drought spans 81 percent of the state, with severe and extreme conditions affecting a third of the state, including El Paso County.

Colorado’s Drought Task Force includes officials with the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs and Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The second phase of the plan means the task force will assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and recommend mitigation measures. In addition, the Agricultural Impact Task Force is activated to make an assessment on physical and economic impacts.

Meantime, there doesn't appear to be any plan to further restrict water use in Colorado Springs where customers have been under restrictions since May to water their lawns no more than three times a week.

The Southern Delivery System (SDS), which was activated in 2016, guards against the city running dry. However, the city needs to add other water projects and water resources in years to come to meet the need of an estimated population forecast of 770,000 by 2070, says Pat Wells, Colorado Springs Utilities general manager for water resources and demand management. The utility now serves just under 500,000 people.

Asked why the $825-million SDS doesn't negate the need for restrictions of any kind, Wells says, "A foundational component of our water conservation program for the past couple of decades is focused on outdoor water use and reshaping outdoor water demands — to get people to use the right amount of water."

Wells calls efficient water usage "a foundational practice for water managers throughout the western United States. What we’re trying to do here is set a new normal and create a culture of responsible stewardship."

But usage here continues to climb. According to a report given to the Utilities Board on June 17, usage in May averaged 87.5 million gallons per day (MGD), or about a third more than last May. That pushed up year-to-date demands to an average of 48.7 MGD, which is 7.9 percent more than last year at this time. Also, temperatures in May were 3.6 degrees above normal, and precipitation in May was only 57 percent of normal. So far this year, the region's precipitation ranks at 73 percent of normal.

Colorado Springs currently has more than two years' worth of water in storage, which is good news for gardeners, because more severe water restrictions wouldn't be triggered until the amount in storage falls to a 1.5-year supply, Wells says.
Homestake Reservoir is one of Colorado Springs Utilities essential storage facilities. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Homestake Reservoir is one of Colorado Springs Utilities essential storage facilities.
But things can change. Prolonged drought could deplete that storage. Then what?

"Storage is the cornerstone," Wells says.

Utilities recently completed land acquisition for the 30,000-acre-foot Gary Bostrom Reservoir, the second phase of SDS, which is planned for construction near Bradley Road southeast of the city in the next decade. Another project, called the Eagle River project in the mountains, will create another reservoir, hopefully by 2040 to 2050, Wells says.

"Our system has extreme variability," he says. "We manage that with storage and our complex water system. Even with SDS online there was never any guarantee that Mother Nature wasn’t going to throw us a curve ball."

Some years, snowpack fills reservoirs to the brim and rainfall reduces demand, but not every year.

"What we’re seeing is a lot more variability in the swings," Wells says, noting that water managers study tree rings, climate change models and other data to try to predict what lies ahead.

"While our demand has flattened and we’re serving more customers with the same amount of water," he says, "our supplies are becoming more variable."

As Wells quips, quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra, "The future ain't what it used to be."

Take the Colorado River, which provides water to multiple states and Mexico. It's been in drought conditions for 20 years and provides 60 to 70 percent of Colorado Springs Utilities' supply.

"We are going to reach a point, as demand continues to grow in the West and supplies become uncertain, we’re going to have to use water more efficiently and cut back some of our demand on the Colorado River," he says.

At present, Utilities is capable of delivering 95,000 acre feet of water on demand, but that demand is forecast to rise to 136,000 acre feet in the decades to come.

That's why Utilities is pursuing a multi-pronged approach to expanding its water supply.

"With a growing population, we have to bring in more supplies," Wells says. "Our storage needs grow as our cities grow."

The city spent $1.75 million for water storage in this former gravel pit near Lamar. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • The city spent $1.75 million for water storage in this former gravel pit near Lamar.

Besides storage, Utilities wants to work more deals with agricultural users like it did in the Arkansas Valley in 2018. Another strategy might be to expand the number of non-potable systems used for irrigation. But ultimately, Utilities, like other water providers in the West, likely will be confronted with re-treating and recycling water back into its domestic delivery system.

"In the next 30 to 50 years it may become more technically feasible to do direct potable reuse," he says, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has approved a grant for a Utilities reuse demonstration project in partnership with Aurora, Denver and Colorado School of Mines.

On June 17, the Utilities Board was advised that temperatures are expected to rise above average across the state at the same time when there are no guarantees precipitation will match or exceed a normal year.

And the Drought Monitor, produced by a collection of agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has this to say about the current drought:
Although rainfall deficits only date back a few weeks to a few months, other factors are making things worse, specifically abnormal heat, low humidity, and gusty winds. High temperatures approached triple-digits as far north as South Dakota. All these factors led to broad areas of deterioration in eastern Colorado, southern Kansas, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and adjacent parts of Nebraska. Notably, extreme drought (D3) expanded to cover a large part of southern and eastern Colorado, and adjacent parts of Kansas.
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Two proposals compete for police watchdog group

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 11:48 AM

Council President Richard Skorman: Overseeing formation of a police watchdog group. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Council President Richard Skorman: Overseeing formation of a police watchdog group.
UPDATE:

On June 23, City Council adopted an ordinance on first reading that establishes a Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission (LETAC).

The LETAC's purpose is "to advise and recommend areas and topics of study related to police operations, best practices, and resource allocation, solicit public input, and promote improved relationships between the citizens and the Police Department."

Specifically, the panel will be tasked with:
• Assisting City Council with budget, appropriation, and resource allocation recommendations utilizing data-driven audits of law enforcement performance;
• Providing a conduit to share the concerns and needs of both citizens and the Police Department;
• Analyzing and providing feedback to Council with policy recommendations, and
• Promoting improved understanding and relationships between the Police Department and the public.

The 11-member commission must include at least one member from each of six Council districts and live in the city.

About 600 people have applied. Deadline for applying is 5 p.m. on July 1. To apply: coloradosprings.gov/policeaccountability.

————————-ORIGINAL POST 12:11 P.M. MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2020————————-

When City Council takes up creating a new police accountability committee, members will be looking at two proposals. One came from a group that traveled to Austin, Texas, earlier this year to attend a conference on such matters. The other emerged from a grassroots effort that's been endorsed by a wide range of people.

The former, labeled President's Commission on Police Transparency and Accountability (PCPTA), defines its purpose as:
PURPOSE: This Commission will research and recommend "Best Practices,” procedure changes, new regulations or policy shifts for the Colorado Springs Police Department to the City Council, the Mayor and Police Chief. President Skorman will also bring this work to the El Paso County Commissioners and El Paso County Sheriff’s Department in order to accomplish the following:
• Officer and Department accountability
• Zero tolerance for racial profiling
• Police Department transparency and public records releases
• Internal investigations
• Officer "use of force" and officer shooting procedures, training and policies
• Policies on how police handle protests
• Racial-bias training techniques and procedures
• De-escalation techniques, practices and procedures
• Officer mental health issues policy recommendations, practices and procedures
• Recruitment practices to including more diversity recruitment goals, impediments to recruiting a more diverse police force including civil service exam and other barriers
• Community relations best practices and improvement plans
• The study of and compliance with all pertinent Federal, State and Local laws as they apply to the issues being discussed
• Examination and re-imagining of public safety infrastructure
• Evidence-based recommendations for other positive practices to improve transparency, accountability and relationships between law enforcement and the community
• Police Department budget and resource allocation funding.
The commission would be comprised of "community members and issue experts that represent communities most impacted by harm and/or bring broad expertise in the form of knowledge of the issues and options."

Here's that proposal:
The other proposal, labeled Citizens Accountability Advisory Board (CAAB), calls for the appointment of 11 members for three-year terms chosen like this:

Each council member shall appoint (1) member from their district, and the council as a whole shall appoint (5) at large members from communities disproportionately impacted by policing procedure (e.g. people of color and individuals with lower income.)
Members would have to be registered voters in Colorado Springs and couldn't have ties to law enforcement within El Paso County.

The aim would be to gather data and then make policy recommendations based on that data. As explained in the proposal:
Establish and maintain a system of audits (including an independent external audit) and reporting. Work in collaboration with CSPD and City Council to advise on formation of data dashboard for use by council and for public transparency.
Data shall include, but not be limited to:
Hiring Practices
Training Procedures
Budget
Certifications
Aggregate Data including arrests, disciplinary action, location, demographics, use of force.
Here's that proposal:
Council was to discuss further details of the advisory board today and take action tomorrow, June 23.

This blog has been updated to correctly attribute the proposals to the groups who proposed them.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

COVID-19 update for June 23: Shuttle buses and special events variance sought

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 4:21 PM

Shuttles could carry more passengers under a variance proposed by El Paso County in its effort to reopen the economy from the shutdown due to the coronavirus. - BETHANY ALVAREZ
  • Bethany Alvarez
  • Shuttles could carry more passengers under a variance proposed by El Paso County in its effort to reopen the economy from the shutdown due to the coronavirus.
Shuttle buses and vans, restaurants and private special events could host more people amid the coronavirus pandemic under a variance application unanimously approved by El Paso County commissioners on June 23 and now awaiting approval by the state.

Under current state orders, up to 10 people can travel in shuttle buses and vans, which must have its windows open during transport. Larger vehicles can contain no more than 50 percent of capacity, or less if distancing requirements cannot be met.

Under the county's proposal, shuttle buses and vans would operate at 75 percent capacity or the maximum allowed as long as 6-foot distancing is observed. Riders must wear face coverings and windows must be open. In addition, hand sanitizer must be available to riders upon entering and exiting the vehicle, and the buses and vans must be cleaned and disinfected at least three times a day.

Restaurants are limited to 50 percent occupancy or 50 people, under the state's rules. Counties with a low level of spread can obtain variances up to 50 percent of fire code occupancy or 175 people for confined indoor spaces, whichever is less.

The county wants to change that to 50 percent capacity or 175 people, whichever is less, in restaurants and for private special events.

That would be an important change for hotels that host conferences and other events, notably The Broadmoor.

Jack Damioli, The Broadmoor's president and CEO, told commissioners that shuttle buses serve more than just attractions. "This is important for the economy and for the tourism industry," he said. "The one size fits all doesn’t really apply and should not apply. Those who have larger facilities should have a larger capacity particularly in conjunction with outdoor space."

The Broadmoor's facilities can handle thousands of people under normal circumstances.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf told Damioli, "I look forward to The Broadmoor opening up. I look forward to coming out there [for a meal]."

"We need to get this economy rolling again," Commission Chair Mark Waller said. "Travel and tourism is a big deal."

In other news:

El Paso County has seen an uptick in cases and deaths in the last nine days, compared to the nine days prior to that. From June 6 through 14, 110 cases and four deaths were reported. Since June 15, nearly twice that number, 211 cases, have been tallied, and 11 people have died, according to El Paso County Public Health data.

Altogether, the county has reported 118 deaths and 2,153 cases.

Statewide, Colorado has 30,893 cases as of June 22, the most recent available; 5,366 people have been hospitalized, and 288,079 tests administered. The death count stands at 1,455 for those who died from COVID-19, and 1,665 for those who died with the disease but not necessarily because of it.

Read the county's variance outline here:

As for property values, El Paso County Assessor Schleiker said values of single family homes have actually gone up since January.
screen_shot_2020-06-23_at_1.43.17_pm.png
The number of commercial sales, however, dropped by 80 percent in April compared to January.

Total sales fell by about 10 percent during that time, which didn't surprise Schleiker. "It's not alarming, because title companies had to go through major business process changes to comply with social distancing."

Here's a graphic showing the number of sales:
slide3.jpg
 
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2019 EPC Coroner's report: Nearly 80 percent of suicides are males

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 4:15 PM

Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly says it's time to do something about the large number of males, adults and teens, who take their own lives. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly says it's time to do something about the large number of males, adults and teens, who take their own lives.
For Dr. Leon Kelly, El Paso County coroner, the most disturbing data point in his 2019 annual report came in the category of suicides: 79 percent of the 180 people who died by suicide last year were males. In 2018, 152 people died from suicide.

"If you agree this is something we want to do something about, the truth is, we’re not going to make significant movement in this area without acknowledging we are failing to reach young men, adult men," he told El Paso County commissioners while presenting the report. "It’s time to have more conversations. That’s where our numbers are coming from." Most of the suicides, 102, involved firearms.

Nothing further was said at the commissioner meeting, but an effort to reduce suicides in young and adult males could duplicate, in some form, a push some years ago to stem growing numbers of teen suicides. In 2019, there were nine teen suicides, significantly lower than some years.

In a news release, El Paso County Public Health Information Officer Michelle Hewitt described the program like this:
The Youth Suicide Prevention Workgroup, convened by Public Health, continues to work diligently to address youth suicide in our community. The Workgroup now has over 90 community partners working toward building a comprehensive community-driven solution to prevent youth suicide. Additionally, as part of sustained efforts to enhance youth suicide prevention resources in our community, Public Health continued to partner with NAMI to help expand the “Below the Surface” crisis text line awareness campaign to more than 60 local schools. This campaign aims to increase help-seeking behavior among youth by encouraging the use of Colorado’s Crisis Text Line. Increasing the utilization of this resource is crucial for our community because it means more young people are reaching out and receiving the support they need.
Other issues identified in Kelly's report:

• The drug fentanyl continues to be a top issue.
• Drug-related deaths remained relatively steady from 2018 (133) due to decreases in heroin deaths (47 in 2018) being offset by an increase in fentanyl-related deaths (9 in 2018)
• Homicides declined from 56 in 2018 to 35 in 2019.
• Fifty-six people died while homeless in 2019, a slight decline from 2018 when 61 homeless people died.
• On a positive note, 24 people who died in 2019 donated organs, which were transplanted into 99 individuals.

"They provided life to somebody else, and that’s certainly something to celebrate," Kelly said.

Here's Kelly's report:
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El Paso County commissioners side with residents, reject concrete batch plant

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 4:06 PM

This is an artist's rendering of a line of trees that were planned to obscure a concrete batch plant east of Colorado Springs. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY PLANNING DEPARTMENT
  • Courtesy El Paso County Planning Department
  • This is an artist's rendering of a line of trees that were planned to obscure a concrete batch plant east of Colorado Springs.
In an unusual move, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously sided with residents against a business that proposed building a concrete batch plant next to hundreds of 2.5-acre residential lots in the vicinity of Stapleton and Judge Orr roads.

It's an especially notable decision, considering the county's own Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 on June 2 to recommend approval.

But hundreds of residents signed petitions and flooded commissioners with emails opposing the Pete Lien & Sons LCC proposal, which occupied hours of the June 23 commissioners meeting.

The plan called for the company to build the batch plant, an operation that combines various ingredients to form concrete for use in construction projects, on roughly 20 acres amid a 90-acre tract that would be buffered from residential property with trees and prairie acreage.

Because the land isn't zoned industrial, Pete Lien & Sons was faced with its only alternative to gain approval — seek a variance. To satisfy the county's requirements, the applicant had to show the project would be compatible with surrounding property uses and fit in with the master plan for that area.

Danielle Weibers, a consultant who presented the proposal for the applicant, noted that traffic studies showed the project wouldn't overburden surrounding roads and that rejecting the proposal would prove a hardship, because there's scant industrial property in the county that's suitable for a batch plant.

She also noted, "Compatibility is in the eye of the beholder."

But Bill Guman, a landscape architect who spoke on behalf of dozens of landowners in the area, argued, "It is important for a compatible use to maintain the character of the development within the vicinity. A concrete batch plant is not compatible with rural residential neighborhoods."

Commissioners agreed, citing compatibility with surrounding residential and agricultural uses in refusing to approve the plan.

"I appreciate the applicant trying to put the most positive and best spin on this as possible," said Commission Chair Mark Waller, whose District 2 contains the property in question. He noted that a batch plant at Constitution Avenue and Marksheffel Road, which also is surrounded by homes, is a completely different situation because the industrial use was there first and the homes were built later.

He also took issue with the idea the county has no other potential sites. He suggested looking east along Highway 94, which is home to a shooting range, a garbage dump and other non-residential uses.

"That's the appropriate area to put something like this, not in a residential area," he said.

Commissioner Cami Bremer expressed concerns over the process. "I'm disappointed the variance process has been used to essentially spot zone, something we’re trying to get away from."

Said Commissioner Holly Williams, "You should be able to purchase your property understanding what’s going to be around it."

  
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Monday, June 22, 2020

COS Council gets briefed on plastic bag, excess revenue ballot measures

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 12:43 PM

Mayor John Suthers calls for a ballot measure to retain excess revenue and reset the revenue cap. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mayor John Suthers calls for a ballot measure to retain excess revenue and reset the revenue cap.
Colorado Springs voters could be faced with several ballot measures during the Nov. 3 election.

City Council today, June 22, was to discuss three potential issues and vote in coming weeks whether to refer them to the ballot.

• TABOR retention and exemption measure — Mayor John Suthers wants voters to allow the city to keep $1.9 million collected above revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and also prevent the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic to reset the TABOR cap at a lower rate. The Council's backup material explains it like this:
Under Charter § 7-90 (g), the City’s authorized change in fiscal year spending and property tax revenues are both limited to inflation plus City growth, and any voter approved changes. Under Colo. Const. Art. X, § 20 (7) (b), City spending is similarly limited to inflation plus local growth and any voter approved revenue changes. The Finance Department has determined that the City’s 2019 revenues have exceeded or will be determined to exceed these limitations by approximately $1.9 million, and that there is a potential for property tax revenues to exceed the property tax revenue limitation in 2020 due to the 2019 reassessment, unless the voters approve the retention and spending of such revenues.

Due to the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is anticipated that City revenues and sales tax revenues in particular, will be down substantially for 2020, and likely substantially below the revenues that would be allowed to be retained and spent. However, because under TABOR, the following year’s revenue and spending limitations are based upon the prior year’s actual revenues or allowed revenues, whichever is lower, plus growth and inflation, the TABOR limits would be effectively lowered below the 2019 level and possibly prior levels. This effect during periods of economic recession has been called “ratcheting down”.

The Resolution before City Council would present a question to the voters, allowing the City to retain and spend the 2019 and 2020 revenues, as well as resetting the revenue limitations for 2021 and later years based upon the higher of the 2019 or 2020 revenues.

There is no tax increase of any kind associated with this ballot measure.
Councilor Yolanda Avila: Proposing a fee on plastic bags. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Councilor Yolanda Avila: Proposing a fee on plastic bags.
It's unclear if these two questions would meet the single-subject requirement for ballot measures.

• A measure, proposed by Councilor Yolanda Avila, would charge consumers 10 cents per single use plastic bag. It's described like this in Council backup materials:
Upon passage of the question by the voters, beginning July 1, 2021, stores may sell single use plastic carryout bags to customers for ten cents ($0.10) per bag. Bag fees are to be split sixty percent (60%) to the City and forty percent (40%) to the store. The City will use the bag fees for administrative costs, funding clean up events in the City’s parks, rights-of way and other public properties, educational activities related to the environment, programs and infrastructure to reduce waste, and mitigation of the effects of waste in the City’s public spaces. The store would use the fees for the purposes set forth in the Code provisions, including educational efforts related to the fee, administration and signage.
• Protect Our Parks — This measure has been in the making since 2018, but it's not listed under the ballot measures heading on today's Council agenda, but rather is labeled "Items Under Study."

Advocates want the city to refer a measure to the ballot that would require the city to gain voter approval to sell or trade away park land, as the city did in 2016 when it traded the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor hotel. Advocates have had a hard time, though, convincing Council to simply let voters weigh in on such a measure.
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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Colorado lawmakers fund property tax break for seniors, disabled vets

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2020 at 2:04 PM

Assessor Steve Schleiker: "Great news." - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Assessor Steve Schleiker: "Great news."
When the dust settled on the new state budget last week, a crucial program aimed at helping seniors and disabled veterans that originally was recommended for elimination got funded after all.

El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker says in a news release the senior homestead property tax exemption will be funded for tax year 2020. We wrote about the possibility it would be cut previously.

“This is great news,” Schleiker said in a release. “Many of our citizens and disabled veterans live on fixed incomes and couldn’t afford the Colorado legislature balancing the state budget on their backs. That’s why many local officials and I rallied together to voice strong support for this property tax exemption. It is nice to see our needs and voices were heard.”

The release also noted that on May 19, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to support a resolution calling for the exemption to be preserved. That resolution backed by other elected officials as well, including the clerk and recorder, treasurer, coroner, district attorney, sheriff and surveyor.

The resolution was sent to the Colorado Joint Budget Committee and area legislators. The Colorado Legislature voted to fund the exemption in the budget that was passed before the legislative session ended last week. Governor Jared Polis is expected to sign the budget into law soon, the release said.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Apply for the Police Accountability Advisory Committee in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2020 at 1:30 PM

Protesters march in Colorado Springs. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Protesters march in Colorado Springs.
Apparently, anyone can qualify to serve on the soon-to-be-created Police Accountability Advisory Committee, for which the city announced applications are being received starting today, June 17.

Go to this site to fill out an application.

Notice the city has designated no requirements for serving on the committee, though it does ask applicants for race and ethnicity information, which is voluntary. But make sure you select Police Accountability Advisory Committee as the one you're applying for, or your application won't be considered.

City Council decided June 16 to form such a committee, which will be tasked with "bringing policy recommendations to City Council, the Mayor and the Colorado Springs Police Department," the city said in a news release.

The release didn't state how long the application process will be open, but noted Council is slated to discuss on June 22 the purpose and structure of the committee, such as how many members from the public will serve.

The following day, June 23, Council will hear public comments on the new committee.

Formation of the committee comes amid protests of police brutality after the May 25 death of George Floyd, 46, while in police custody in Minneapolis. Two groups have vied for having a hand in forming the committee — one comprised of young protesters calling themselves The People, and the other of citizens and elected officials who traveled to Texas for a symposium in February on that topic.

It's worth noting that few people of color, and fewer Black people, serve on key boards and commissions to which the Council and mayor appoint members, including the Parks Advisory Board, Planning Commission and Airport Advisory Commission.

Read the Indy's cover story this week in which Heidi Beedle takes you inside the local Black Lives Matter protest movement.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Sheriff's Office outlines nearly $13.6 million in CARES Act spending

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2020 at 12:26 PM

The Criminal Justice Center will suck up most of the $13.6 million the Sheriff's Office will spend from the CARES Act. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • The Criminal Justice Center will suck up most of the $13.6 million the Sheriff's Office will spend from the CARES Act.
El Paso County plans to spend more than $13 million of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation on improvements to the Criminal Justice Center.

The $1.1 trillion bill, adopted by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump March 27, contained extra money for those thrown out of work due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as money for states and counties.

El Paso County snagged $127.5 million and shared it with cities and towns in the county while keeping $84.4 million.

Prisons and jails have proven to be hot spots for the virus across the country, although that hasn't been the case here. An El Paso County Jail deputy died of COVID-19 on April 1 and three other jail deputies have tested positive, but no inmates have tested positive, Sheriff's spokesperson Deb Mynatt says. Five deputies assigned to other areas also have tested positive.

On June 16, the Sheriff's Office announced how it has allocated $13,585,940, which must be spent by year's end.

• $600,000 — replace property conveyor in the El Paso County Jail. This is an apparatus that resembles a dry-cleaner carousel where inmates personal belongings are stored in close quarters. Mynatt says in an email that physical distancing required between these items mandates creating a more roomy situation to avoid cross-contamination. The remedy is to seal property in airtight bags and create a system allowing for more space.
• $4,686,440 — jail security cameras and door control upgrades
• $1,850,000 — jail facility door lock replacement
• $2,200,000 — jail lobby and locker remodel
• $950,000 — sheriff's training facility remodel
• $300,000 — upgrade equipment to improve sanitation and hygiene
• $250,000 — telemedicine equipment procurement
• $250,000 — visitation booth remodel for privacy and security during professional visits
• $1,161,000 — hazardous duty pay ($200 per pay period, which is twice a month)
• $500,000 — office cubicle update and safety improvements
• $200,000 — overtime pay to bring services back to expected levels
• $125,000 — redeployment of school resource officers
• $487,500 — redeployment of work release deputies
• $26,000 — video court expenditures

Mynatt explains these expenditures this way:
In order for us to be in compliance with COVID-19 [regulations], we locked down the jail and due to this we needed additional security, deputies assigned to Work Release were pulled from the Tejon [Street] location to the jail to assist. We also lost income due to the elimination of the [Work Release] program. This program will remain eliminated into the foreseeable future because of COVID-19.

[Overtime] was used due to the need for additional security to remain in compliance with COVID-19.

Because of COVID-19 the 60 different schools that we have placed School Resource Officers all requested for a refund of contract money. This would pay back those costs associated with the early cancellation of those paid contracts.

Other allocations by the county haven't been explicitly outlined, but a portion of the money has been assigned to El Paso County Public Health to hire personnel, to include contact tracers.
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