Local Government

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

City Council denies appeal of Broadmoor expansion

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 11:27 AM

The Broadmoor’s main hotel, which dates back 101 years in Colorado Springs. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Broadmoor’s main hotel, which dates back 101 years in Colorado Springs.

With a 8-1 vote, City Council denied an appeal May 15 of the Broadmoor hotel's plans to more than double the size of its exhibition hall.

Councilor Bill Murray was the sole dissenting vote.


The Broadmoor's plan to expand stemmed from the need to accommodate more exhibitors at the annual Space Symposium, which it's hosted for 35 years. The hotel also envisions a facility that could host multi-day events and conferences during "off-season" periods in the winter.

Since city staff approved the expansion plans Feb. 19, they've been appealed twice by residents of the neighborhood surrounding the hotel — first to the planning commission, which denied the appeal March 21, and then to Council.


Broadmoor neighborhood residents supporting the appeal took issue with the resort's exclusion of additional parking from its expansion plans, which would require running shuttles every 20 seconds at peak times. And they said the expansion doesn’t take into account evacuation needs, should there be a wildfire or other emergency.

The Broadmoor countered neighbors’ concerns about traffic and parking with a study that concluded shuttle use for the largest events — those drawing 9,000 attendees — would “create no negative impact to traffic operations for the surrounding roadway network and existing site access.”
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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Mayor John Suthers gets a $10,000+ raise

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 2:42 PM

Suthers: "My raise is this big." Actually, Suthers makes a gesture while discussing the city's 2019 budget on Oct. 1, 2018. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Suthers: "My raise is this big." Actually, Suthers makes a gesture while discussing the city's 2019 budget on Oct. 1, 2018.
Having won a second term on April 2, Mayor John Suthers is due a raise. And it's a healthy one required by City Charter.

Effective April 16, the day Suthers took his oath of office, his annual pay increased to $114,159 from the previous $103,370 a year, which was set in 2015.

Under the strong mayor-Council form of government, the mayor's salary, which began at $96,000 in 2011, must be adjusted every four years and take into account "the most local consumer price index for all urban consumers published by the U.S. Department of Labor," the city says in backup materials for a May 13 City Council work session agenda item.

The city relied on the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood consumer price index to compute the raise of $10,789.

But it would appear Suthers' salary sits well below those of many other mayors.

The Business Journals reported in 2018 on bizjournals.com that mayors in the nation's largest cities knock down a lot more. Some samples:

San Francisco, $301,000

New York City, $258,750

Chicago, $216,000

Denver, $171,197

Miami, $149,999

Here's the formula the city used:

2018 annual CPI-U minus the 2014 annual CPI-U divided by the 2014 annual CPI-U times the mayor's current salary equals the pay raise amount.

Thus:

((261.958 - 237.200) / 237.200) x 103,370 = 10,789.

Council is expected to act on the ordinance on May 14, the same date Council will consider a proposal to give City Auditor Denny Nester a 13.1 percent raise, from $151,920 to $171,797 a year, effective Dec. 30, 2018.

City staff noted in backup materials to the agenda, "The proposed salary is within the range for City Auditor as established by the City's 2019 salary structure for civilian and sworn municipal employees."
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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

El Paso County traffic enforcement trailer trashed by vandals

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 10:15 PM

PHOTOS COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Photos courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office no more than got its traffic apparatus set up for traffic enforcement before someone trashed it.

If you know about that, collect $1,000 in reward money by providing information to the Sheriff's Office that leads to an arrest.

The office set up the EPSO SMART Trailer near Highway 83 and Northgate Boulevard on May 2 for targeted enforcement.

"Upon returning to the location on May 7, 2019, it was discovered the trailer had been vandalized and significantly damaged," the office said in a release.
Damages included:

Two slashed tires
Two tail lights broken
One radar lens destroyed
Radar gun destroyed and dislocated
Radar wires severed
Hitch cable severed
Door locking mechanism damaged
License plate removed
Tempered glass window shattered
Locking mechanism for speed limit sign destroyed
Damage to door cabinet
"Despite obvious efforts to try and pry open the door, the subjects responsible did not acquire access [to] the trailer’s mainframe; subsequently, there was no damage to the computer," the release says, noting damage is estimated to run into the thousands of dollars.

To report tips, call 520-6666.
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City launches housing survey for affordable housing plan

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 10:19 AM

COURTESY OF APARTMENT LIST
  • Courtesy of Apartment List
The city's Community Development Division launched an online housing survey to gather information from residents about affordability and other challenges related to finding a place to rent or own.

The anonymous survey, accessible online, will remain open until June 16. It's meant to inform the city's forthcoming comprehensive housing plan, which will lay a framework for adding 1,000 units of affordable housing each year. That plan is due for release later this year.

For more information about the survey, contact Community Development staff at communitydevelopment@coloradosprings.gov or 385-5912.

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs is $1,240 — higher than the national average of $1,180, according to a recent report from Apartment List. Rents here have increased 1.7 percent over the past year, a growth rate below the state average of 2.2 percent (but above the national average of 1.5 percent).

COURTESY OF APARTMENT LIST
  • Courtesy of Apartment List

In May of 2014, median rent for a two-bedroom in Colorado Springs was just $957, according to Apartment List's data. That means the city saw rent increase by 30 percent over five years.

Meanwhile, the city's median household income increased by 7 percent between 2012 and 2017, the last five years for which the U.S. Census Bureau has data available.

A 2014 housing needs assessment funded by the city and county predicted a shortage of almost 14,000 units for households making up to 80 percent of area median income — now calculated at about $65,000 for a family of four — by 2019. The comprehensive housing plan will include reassessing housing stock to determine whether the 2014 predictions were accurate, Community Development Division Manager Steve Posey has said.

Posey told the Independent in March that the city is looking at incentives for developers to reduce the cost of building affordable housing. Those could include breaks on tap fees (charges for connecting new housing to water lines) or building permit fees.

The Colorado Assembly recently passed House Bill 1228, which increases the amount of available Affordable Housing Tax Credits from $5 million to $10 million annually. That will free up more funding for affordable housing projects across the state, awarded through a competitive application process.
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Monday, May 6, 2019

El Paso County value notices shock property owners, but there's more to them

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2019 at 2:42 PM

UPDATE:

County Assessor Steve Schleiker says the assessment rate for residential property is 7.15 percent, which is accurately represented on notices of value. The rate was initially thought to go down to 6.95 percent, but now that's not going to happen, Schleiker says, correcting his earlier statement.

—————————ORIGINAL POST 2:42 P.M. MONDAY, MAY 6, 2019————————-

Got your new property notice of value yet? Hope you're sitting down.

Values skyrocketed this reappraisal year, with calculations of values based on sales between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018, as we previously reported here.
Assessor Schleiker: Expecting lots of appeals. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Assessor Schleiker: Expecting lots of appeals.
Social media messages are swirling in El Paso County as people received their notices, one of which showed an increase in value of $100,000.

And already, 500 property owners have filed appeals, which isn't as many as in 2017, when 3,200 appealed their property values. But notices of value just went out on May 1.

El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker is bracing for the worst, expecting an avalanche of appeals, but before you go that route, Schleiker wants taxpayers to understand a few things:

1. The notice of value does NOT include the senior exemption calculation for taxes, because Governor Jared Polis has not yet signed the budget bill, called the Long Bill, which includes the exemption. Schleiker says the value notices couldn't assume the exemption would, in fact, be funded, but all signals point to its funding. The senior exemption allows seniors 65 and older to pay reduced taxes on their property.

2. The notices of value also didn't include a reduction in assessment rate, because Schleiker is also waiting for the state to approve a decrease in that rate, which would have the effect of lowering the tax bill.

3. Exact mill levies to be applied to the assessment rates won't be known until December, after various agencies, such as the city, county and school districts, set their mill levies.

"A lot of folks are not liking their taxes," Schleiker tells the Indy. "They say, 'My value is going up 20 percent, but I don't like the $300 increase in taxes.'"

It's true that values took a leap due to increasing real estate market prices. Residential values went up by 11 percent in the Briargate and Gleneagle areas to a whopping 37 percent in southeast Colorado Springs. Commercial property values rose by 15 to 20 percent.

But take heart: increases zoomed higher in some neighboring counties.

Schleiker shared these value increases:

Denver County: Single family, 20 percent rise; multi-family, 24 percent; commercial, 31 percent.

Douglas County: Single family, 14.5 percent rise; multi-family, 20 to 35 percent; commercial, 15 to 20 percent.

Single family values also rose in Arapahoe County by 22 percent and in Elbert County by 16 to 37 percent.

Schleiker held a series of town halls to explain the reappraisal, and is going to do it again for the southeast sector. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, at Hillside Community Center, 925 S. Institute St.
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Colorado Springs locals advocate for clean cars

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2019 at 3:17 PM

From left: Retired Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, energy consultant John Duprey, medical and public health student Jake Fox, and City Councilor Tom Strand speak in support of clean car standards. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • From left: Retired Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, energy consultant John Duprey, medical and public health student Jake Fox, and City Councilor Tom Strand speak in support of clean car standards.

City Councilor Tom Strand was among a group of locals who spoke out against the Donald Trump administration's rollback of clean car standards at a press conference April 24.

Strand, along with retired Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, energy consultant John Duprey, and medical and public health student Jake Fox, urged action to oppose the move.

"I'm just asking everyone, in particular our two United States senators, Sen. Bennet and Sen. Gardner, to do what they can to ensure that these rollbacks are reconsidered," Strand said. "I think that if we continue on with the clean-car standards into the second phase that we'll in fact have more jobs in our state, we'll in fact create a much healthier environment."

The clean car standards Strand referred to were implemented under the Barack Obama administration in 2012. They were aimed at cutting down on harmful pollution from vehicle emissions, and came in two phases: 2012-2016 and 2017-2025.

But the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have moved to roll back the initiative, freezing emission standards at 2020 levels.

Fox emphasized the public health risks of the rollback.

"In El Paso County it's estimated we have about 13,000 children, and 60,000 adults with asthma and chronic lung disease," Fox said. "When they breathe polluted air, they are much more likely to land in our emergency departments and intensive care units. It's imperative that we keep our air clean to protect these vulnerable populations in our communities."

In response to the proposed rollback last year, Colorado — along with 13 other states and the District of Columbia — will adopt its own Low Emission Vehicle Program standards for cars and trucks, modeled after California's. Gov. John Hickenlooper began that state rule-making process with a June executive order, which was finalized by a unanimous vote of approval from the state Air Quality Control Commission in November.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association sued the state government over the new standards in February, alleging that they would hurt working families by increasing automobile prices. Colorado Senate Republicans released a statement supporting the lawsuit.

Duprey, a local energy consultant and the owner of The e-bike Company, called such state and local environmental policies "the last line of defense for the health and the economies of our communities."
"Colorado, D.C. and 13 other states have exercised their rights under the Clean Air Act to establishing strong pollution standards to protect our citizens and our environment," Duprey added. "Having clean air to breathe is a basic human right. It does not belong only to those who are wealthy enough to live in environments where they're not affected by that."

Retired Lt. Col. Bidlack emphasized that rolling back emission standards could increase the harmful effects of global warming.

"Back in 1998, I was asked to write the first draft of the Department of Defense's statement on  the effect of climate change on the U.S. national security, and then I had two major conclusions," he said. "The first is that it will cause new conflict and the second is it will act as a force multiplier and will make other situations worse in traditional combat."

On Jan. 17, Gov. Jared Polis ordered the Department of Public Health and Environment to also develop a proposal for a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, which would require manufacturers to supply dealers with a certain number of electric vehicles. The state's Air Quality Control Commission will decide in May whether to approve CDPHE's proposed ZEV program.

After the event, Strand expressed more caution when asked about his support for a ZEV program.

"I think that technology needs to be worked on very carefully," Strand said. "In terms of zero emissions, that's a great goal, but I don't think we ought to jump into that too quick."

Strand called himself "kind of a moderate," saying that was why he didn't mention climate change in his remarks, "because I know that there are different sides to that argument."

"But I do think that the clean car standards just make eminent good sense, that we continue along that path," he said. "And I think since we're, as a city and a state, we're kind of a right-to-rule kind of a community ... to have these things pushed down on us by either the federal EPA or the National Transportation Agency is something that I think we ought to take a hard look at."

A video of the event was live-streamed on the Facebook page of Defend Our Future Colorado, a project of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. However, Ashley Lynch, a senior account executive with Resolute Consulting who publicized the event, said it was not organized by Defend Our Future or any one organization but was the product of concerned citizens coming together.

Defend Our Future, which has team members on college campuses in Colorado, Arizona and Pennsylvania, is focused on "building a diverse coalition of partners that share the goal of finding actionable and common sense solutions to solving climate change," according to its Facebook page.
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El Paso County launches two-year master planning effort

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2019 at 3:08 PM

What do you like and not like about living in El Paso County? Take the survey. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • What do you like and not like about living in El Paso County? Take the survey.
El Paso County has launched a two-year project to develop a county Master Plan, the county said in a news release.

Part of that effort involves an online survey, that you can access here. The survey, which includes a version for residents and one for businesses, asks what you like and don't like about the way things are going in the county. Do you want more apartments? Would you like to see more retail, office space, industry?

The idea behind the survey is to help officials map out a future plan, says Planning and Community Development Executive Director Craig Dossey in a release.

The website link above also will take you to information about public meetings and other material.

From the release:

The Master Plan development process will take about two years to complete and will include dozens of opportunities for citizens to voice their views. However, the online survey is a fast, effective, and convenient way for citizens to participate in the planning process.

The County Master Plan is broad and will examine County land use, infrastructure, water capacity, transportation networks, government services, and other important topics. The aim of the Master Plan is to better serve and accommodate the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors to the County. The Master Plan will integrate and expand on concepts from the current Countywide Policy Plan and several recent plans and studies. Examples include the Major Transportation Corridors Plan (2016) and the Parks Master Plan (2013), as well as other ongoing County initiatives, like the Water Master Plan (2018) and broadband strategic plan efforts. 
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Pikes Peak Avenue opens one lane in each direction

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2019 at 3:06 PM

Remember when Pikes Peak Avenue looked like this? On Feb. 27, it was barely recognizable as a road. But now, the avenue will reopen on April 29 to one lane of traffic each way. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Remember when Pikes Peak Avenue looked like this? On Feb. 27, it was barely recognizable as a road. But now, the avenue will reopen on April 29 to one lane of traffic each way.

At 7 p.m. on April 29, the city opened Pikes Peak Avenue from Wahsatch Avenue to Printers Parkway, although the normally four-lane street was reduced to a single lane of traffic in each direction.

No closures of Pikes Peak Avenue, which has been under construction since September 2017, are scheduled for the remainder of the project, the city says in a release. Be aware, however, that as construction continues, traffic signals at the intersection of Pikes Peak Avenue and Hancock Avenue, and at Pikes Peak Avenue and Institute Street, won't be operational, the release said. Rather, the city will rely on four-way stops to control traffic.

Also, some side streets remain closed to turning and through traffic.

From the release:
The Pikes Peak Avenue Reconstruction project is funded by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority Fund. Through this project, the roadway and aging utilities are being replaced or reconstructed. Construction of the two yearlong project began in September 2017 and is scheduled to be complete summer 2019.

For more information, contact the project hotline at 719-593-9239 or email at PikesPeakAvenue@gmail.com. Information and traffic impacts are also available on the project website at www.coloradosprings.gov/PikesPeakReconstruct.
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Friday, April 26, 2019

Springs firefighters had to overcome big obstacles at lumberyard fire

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 4:28 PM

Firefighters at the scene of the April 13 blaze. - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • Firefighters at the scene of the April 13 blaze.
When Colorado Springs firefighters rolled up to Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber Company, 4005 Interpark Drive, on April 13, they faced several obstacles before they could battle the fire.

First, the security gate was locked; then they encountered several unusable hydrants, including privately owned hydrants, meaning Colorado Springs Utilities, which maintains the city's hydrants, isn't responsible.

But in the end, firefighters made lemonade out of lemons by relying on some backup methods designed to handle difficult circumstances, Colorado Springs Fire Department public information officer Brian Vaughan says via email.

They've also since talked with officials at Foxworth-Galbraith, who are cooperating to fix the problems. As Foxworth-Galbraith manager Hugo Montez tells the Indy, "All their concerns have been addressed already."

Here's an account of what happened, as provided by Vaughan.

About 3:25 a.m., firefighters responded to an alarm at the lumberyard with an engine company. When they arrived, they found a padlock of the security gate and no Knox box (which contains keys) or other way to enter without damaging the chain and lock.

Firefighters forcibly entered by using tools to break the lock, shortly after which the engine company declared a working structure fire. That signals a need for more equipment, including engines, trucks, hazmat and rescue vehicles.

Firefighters then found signs of fire in several places inside and outside the 12,000-square-foot metal building.

"The fire extended vertically in the wall until it hit the floor of the second level (platform framing) and began to move laterally across the room when the activation of two sprinklers halted the fire's advance on the interior," Vaughan reports. That, in turn, activated an exterior sprinkler.

When fire crews tried to find usable fire hydrants on site, which were private, the Engine 9 crew found threads of the five-inch connector were either damaged or filled with debris, "making the connection laborious and time-consuming," Vaughan says. They then tried a three-inch connection, which was achieved, but water delivery was diminished due to the smaller lines.
A city hydrant near the front gate was found "dead," as Vaughan calls it, meaning firefighters couldn't access water.

In another case, manufactured trusses blocked access to another private hydrant, "making its use impossible with large diameter hose unless chainsaws were used to cut away the stacks of trusses."

Meantime, firefighters entered the building with the smaller lines and hand tools and put out the fire.

Vaughan explains the CSFD always prepares for the worst case, leading them to connect to multiple hydrants on every active fire scene. Had the lumber company fire exploded into a large blaze, firefighters would have been stymied by having to move the trusses to access the hydrant.

"Command called for a second alarm during the incident while the search for working fire hydrants was becoming increasingly difficult and due to the size and type of structure," he says. "However, due to the sprinkler activation and the small amount of active fire left to fight, the second alarm companies remained in staging."

Vaughan called the sprinkler system "a success story," noting that the building could have been a total loss without it.

No injuries resulted to civilians or the 48 firefighters on scene.

Colorado Springs Utilities spokesperson Steve Berry tells the Indy eight private hydrants and six Utilities-owned and -maintained hydrants dot the vicinity of the lumber company. Utilities inspected the city hydrants at intervals according to Utilities policy. But when Utilities workers inspected the malfunctioning hydrant after the fire, they found a blockage at the valve and removed it.

Utilities oversees 16,000 hydrants across the city. Of those, officials consider about 2,200 to be "critical" due to their locations, mandating inspection every two years. Inspectors check on the non-critical hydrants every five years. Officials base the designation of critical on population density, access, spacing and pressure requirements, among other things.

Utilities notes that individuals and contractors use hydrants. "If someone uses the wrong tools to activate a hydrant, the risk for damage is high," Berry says. "With so many hydrants and so many potential sources for damage, a hydrant can be inspected one week and fail the next. We cannot offer the community a 100% guarantee that all 16,000 hydrants will work as expected every single time."
Hydrants are rated throughout the city as critical or not so critical, based on factors such as population density. This is one of three hydrants within a block of the Independent's downtown office. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Hydrants are rated throughout the city as critical or not so critical, based on factors such as population density. This is one of three hydrants within a block of the Independent's downtown office.
Vaughan says investigators later determined the fire ignited from "careless disposal of cigarettes."

The Fire Department is working with the Foxworth-Galbraith to assure hydrants aren't blocked by materials, he says. The company also will update the keys within their Knox Box to allow firefighters unrestricted access.

Asked about the situation that confronted firefighters, David Noblitt, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5, says in an email, "This would not be the first time that we found an issue with a public hydrant. We have been concerned with the hydrant situation for a long time and that CSU [Springs Utilities] seems to not be keeping pace with the service work necessary to maintain dependable water supplies."

He added the Fire Department employs "redundant strategies" precisely for that reason, and said the fire marshal tries to assure private hydrants get checked every five years but "sometimes it just doesn't happen."

Here are some redundancies used by the Fire Department, according to Vaughan:
• Each fire engine carries 1500 feet of 3 inch supply line specifically to overcome such obstacles where the fire company has to access the next nearest hydrant in-line to supply a fire engine at the scene of a fire.
• CSFD fire engines carry 500 gallons of water on board. Five hundred gallons buys time for life safety when there is a delay in obtaining a fixed water supply.
• The CSFD has 22 fire engines in service each day.
• In the most extreme cases, the CSFD apparatus known as the “Hose Wagon” carries 5,000 feet of large diameter hose (LDH) and may be summoned to create water delivery conduit.
• The experienced fire officer on the scene was able to “read” the smoke and knew (by the color, speed, and pressure) that the sprinkler had extinguished the overwhelming majority of the fire prior to arrival. He initiated preparation for “Plan B” in case there were to be a failure of the sprinkler system and firefighters had been faced with fighting a lumber fire inside the structure.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dems abandon paid leave program, Denver Post reports

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 5:47 PM

click image SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns. - ROBERT R GIGLIOTTI
  • Robert R Gigliotti
  • SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns.

A contentious bill to create a paid family and medical leave program has been abandoned by state Democrats, the Denver Post reported April 24.

Senate Bill 188 was due for a vote of the full Senate this week, but never got that far. Instead, the Post reports, state Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, will introduce a new proposal to establish a series of studies into how the state should develop an insurance fund for paid leave.


The latest version of the bill would have required employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Republicans and business groups largely opposed the bill, labeling it as a tax increase that should be subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that any tax increase be put to a vote of the people.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC were both among the bill's vocal opponents.

This was Winter's fifth attempt to pass a bill creating a paid family and medical leave program. Despite the trifecta of Democratic control in the House, Senate and governor's office, the Colorado Sun reports she feared the bill would not draw enough support without major amendments. However, it represents the closest the state ever got to implementing mandatory paid leave.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Suthers comes out against paid family and medical leave bill

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:05 PM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
Mayor John Suthers came out in opposition to a state bill that would create a paid family and medical leave program, ahead of the Senate vote scheduled for April 23.

In a statement, the mayor said, “I’ve spoken with businesses of all sizes and they’ve made it loud and clear that State Bill 19-188 will be an imposing detriment on the vitality of their operations. Though well-intentioned, the FAMLI [Family Medical Leave Insurance] proposal is the largest and most expensive program of its kind in the nation. The cost imposed upon every employee and employer in the state, as well as state government, will significantly harm our economy.”

The latest version of the bill would require employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Other states that have already implemented similar programs include California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York. None of those programs require employers to contribute.

Supporters of Senate Bill 188 accuse the "corporate lobby" of confusing the public about the bill.

“Despite misinformation spread by lobbyists seeking to sow doubt and confusion, economic experts have proven the program will be fiscally sound and completely solvent," said Judith Marquez, the co-director of 9-to-5 Colorado, an advocacy organization backing the bill. "We all agree that working families need to be able to care for newborns and seriously ill parents, children and spouses without risking their homes and financial security, and passing FAMLI now is the way to do it."

The Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC also released a statement opposing the bill, on April 17.

"Senate Bill 188 is a $1 billion or more tax increase that sets one-size-fits-all rules for paid time off of work, by law, and imposes them on all employers and employees regardless of an employer’s size, location, industry or the specific needs of a given workplace," the statement reads.

A recent amendment does allow local governments to opt out of the program, but Suthers pointed out in his statement that "local government employees could opt in, leaving private sector and nonprofit employees and employers to subsidize their coverage."

You could be eligible for partial wage benefits under the bill if you: have a serious health condition; are caring for a new child during the first year after birth, adoption or foster care placement; are caring for a family member with a serious health condition; have a need arising from a family member's active duty service or notice of an impending call to active duty; or if you or a family member has a serious health condition related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or abuse, or stalking.

Under the bill, an individual would be eligible to receive 90 percent of their wages below the average weekly wage (currently $1,295) and 50 percent of wages equal or above AWW. So, a person making $1,000 a week would receive $758.90 a week while on paid leave, and someone making $1,500 a week would get $1,000 a week on paid leave.

The person making $1,000 would pay about $200 a year into the paid leave program. Their employer would pay $133 a year.

The person making $1,500 would pay about $300 a year. Their employer would pay $200.
Opponents of the bill argue that the bill amounts to a tax increase, and therefore is subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that tax increases be approved by a vote of the people. However, the paid leave program would be created as a state enterprise, not as a payroll tax — which would mean, according to a legislative analysis, that it wouldn't be subject to TABOR.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who sponsored the bill, has argued in the past that the premium amounts to about the same cost as a cup of coffee a week, and is a needed protection for Coloradans.

“Many workers simply can’t afford to choose between a paycheck and caring for a recovering spouse without the risk of being evicted or getting behind on utility bills,” she said in an October statement.
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Regional Building looks to spread its wings to the north

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 11:13 AM

Cash from the sale of this building at 101 W. Costilla St. will be used for expansion of the Regional Building Department into north Colorado Springs. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Cash from the sale of this building at 101 W. Costilla St. will be used for expansion of the Regional Building Department into north Colorado Springs.
The cash-rich Pikes Peak Regional Building Department has found a use for some of the millions of dollars it's amassed over the last several years: It plans to build a new facility amid the super-heated area of development in northern Colorado Springs.

In a news release issued April 16, RBD announced it's negotiating to buy 12.7 acres of land but didn't say where.

RBD spokesperson Greg Dingrando tells the Indy via email the Regional Building Commission has authorized staff to negotiate a purchase on the "north side" of the city and that, "As the purchase is subject to negotiations, the exact location cannot be released."

Nor would Dingrando give a rough estimate of what the project will cost, also citing ongoing negotiations.

"The Pikes Peak region has experienced significant growth on the north side, which is expected to continue," RBD's release said. "The addition of a satellite office will help meet community needs while ensuring Regional Building remains sustainable."

Regional Building Official Roger Lovell noted in the release the satellite office will be located "in the middle of the action."

It's expected to provide core services, including issuing permits, plan review, inspections and, possibly, contractor licensing for its members, which include Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake. Details have not yet been finalized. The public can comment on the new site during the April 25 RBD meeting at 2 p.m. at RBD headquarters, 2880 International Circle.

The project will not lead to higher fees, Lovell said in the release.
That's probably because RBD has amassed more than $13 million in its reserve funds since mid-2016 from the thousands of building permits issued due to damage caused by hail storms, as well as the 2017 sale of land RBD owned in the downtown area.

Dingrando says the source of the money for the new project comes from the land sale.

RBD sold the properties — at 101 W. Costilla St., RBD's former headquarters building which also has been used as a sheriff's office, and its neighboring parking lot, and a vacant lot at 435 Sahwatch St. — to Nor'wood Development Group, master developer of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area. (In August 2016, RBD struck a deal with Nor'wood to partner in developing the two properties, but later backed away after the Indy reported state statutes specify what types of investments are allowed for a public agency, and private land speculation and development aren't permitted.) Nor'wood paid RBD $3,069,100, or 6 percent less than the appraised value, but significantly more than the $2.1 million the Assessor's Office said the land was worth.

Both parcels are a short distance from the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, which is under construction at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street and forms the anchor for an ambitious overhaul of the lower downtown area by Nor'wood.

RBD gave away nearly $1 million in 2016 and 2017 to charitable causes or community projects, despite having no formal policy for such giving. Those activities were suspended, however, until a donation policy was adopted in December 2018.

RBD's headquarters on International Circle is a two-story, 74,202-square-foot building on 18.6 acres owned by the El Paso County Facilities Corp., which the Assessor's Office values at $16.4 million.

The Regional Building Commission is comprised of Green Mountain Falls Treasurer Tyler Stevens, Colorado Springs City Councilor Tom Strand and El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Diana May tapped for county attorney post in El Paso County

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 12:03 PM

Diana May, a 22-year veteran attorney here, has been tapped to become El Paso County attorney, the county said in a news release.
Diana May: stepping into the top job. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Diana May: stepping into the top job.
She's currently serving as assistant county attorney and, if appointed on April 18, would succeed Amy Folsom, who was chosen as county administrator last month.

From the news release:
“Diana May is absolutely the right person to take over as County Attorney,” said the Board of County Commissioner Mark Waller. “Diana has an incredible legal mind. Her 22 years as both a Deputy District Attorney and an Assistant County Attorney will serve her well in her new position. I am grateful we have such talented staff within our organization to take on these important positions.”

The El Paso County Attorney’s Office is among the busiest in the state. The County Attorney’s Office serves as the County’s main legal representation in lawsuits, employment issues, and land use matters. The County Attorney is one of two positions the Board of El Paso County Commissioners hire directly. Diana will replace Amy Folsom, who was recently selected as the next County Administrator.

Ms. May has been the First Assistant County Attorney since 2017. She has been with El Paso County for 22 years; eight with the County Attorney’s Office and 14 with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. During her time with the County, Diana defended the County against lawsuits, advised on employment law matters, and conducted multiple employee and elected official trainings. During her tenure in the District Attorney’s Office, Diana prosecuted felony, sexual assault, and homicide cases, as well as served as a Team Lead and Chief Deputy District Attorney.

Diana serves, or has served, on numerous boards over the years. Those boards include Tessa, Safe Passage, the Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Program, and the El Paso County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. In 2005, Diana received the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s “Women of Influence Award”.

Ms. May is a graduate of Colorado State University and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Kansas School of Law. She is married to her husband Tony, who is a retired Colorado State Trooper. Together, she and her husband have one son Anthony (14).
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Mayor Suthers takes oath for second term

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 11:18 AM

Mayor John Suthers takes his oath of office from Municipal Judge HayDen Kane II with his wife, Janet, at his side. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor John Suthers takes his oath of office from Municipal Judge HayDen Kane II with his wife, Janet, at his side.
Under partly cloudy skies, Mayor John Suthers and three at-large city councilors took their oaths of office on April 16 on the south side of Pioneers Museum.

Suthers, starting his second and final four-year term, began by choking up when noting the Bible upon which he swore his oath was a gift from his mother to his father 67 years ago shortly after the couple adopted Suthers in November 1951. He then joked that his wife, Janet, didn't know what she was getting herself into when she said "I do" 43 years ago, which led her to be the wife of a district attorney, U.S. Attorney, State Department of Corrections chief, attorney general of Colorado, and mayor of Colorado Springs. He noted it was his eighth oath of office in 30 years.

The only applause that interrupted his brief remarks came when he vowed to help Colorado Springs become and remain one of the great cities of America. The crowd of 300 to 400 gave the mayor a standing ovation after his address.

Taking the oath for their second terms on Council were Bill Murray and Tom Strand, while former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams was sworn in to his second term.

The full text of Suthers' speech is below.
Olympic wrestler J'den Cox sang the National Anthem.
  • Olympic wrestler J'den Cox sang the National Anthem.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department and Police Department presented the colors.
  • The Colorado Springs Fire Department and Police Department presented the colors.
From left, John and Janet Suthers, Wayne Williams, Tom Strand and Bill Murray. Jon Karroll, at the podium, served as master of ceremonies.
  • From left, John and Janet Suthers, Wayne Williams, Tom Strand and Bill Murray. Jon Karroll, at the podium, served as master of ceremonies.
Mayor Suthers vowed to make the tough choices to make Colorado Springs the shining city at the foot of a great mountain and challenged citizens to do their part.
  • Mayor Suthers vowed to make the tough choices to make Colorado Springs the shining city at the foot of a great mountain and challenged citizens to do their part.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Winter storm draws warning from CDOT

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 12:42 PM

Heavy snows could snarl traffic in northern El Paso County April 10 and 11. - SHYN DARKLY/FLICKR
  • Shyn Darkly/Flickr
  • Heavy snows could snarl traffic in northern El Paso County April 10 and 11.
El Paso County will close its offices at 2 p.m. April 10 due to the incoming storm, according to a news release.

All El Paso County government offices will close Wednesday, April 10 at 2 p.m. due to inclement weather. The closure applies to non-mission essential personnel.

The closure includes all El Paso County administrative and elected offices and affiliated agencies, including El Paso County Public Health, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, CSU Extension, El Paso County Public Trustee, the offices of the 4th Judicial District Attorney and El Paso County Combined Courts.
City offices also were to close at 2 p.m.

Mountain Metropolitan Transit announced that beginning at 6:15 p.m. all buses will go to the end of their route and then return to the transit facility.

The Colorado Department of Transportation also is urging people to be smart about subjecting themselves to the dangers of the storm and issued this notice:

The Colorado Department of Transportation is strongly recommending that people head home as early as possible today due to the severity and strength of the current storm, and the high potential for major road closures, including to Interstates 25, 70 and 76.

Blizzard conditions are forecast along the entire Front Range, Eastern Plains and the northeastern part of the state, reducing site distances to near zero visibility and highly increasing the probability of crashes. With the potential for these conditions, CDOT will proactively close highways for the safety of the traveling public.

WHAT MOTORIST NEED TO KNOW
• IF POSSIBLE - Avoid driving during the storm.
• Again, if possible, leave early to avoid commuting through the storm this afternoon and evening.
• If you are out, take it SLOW, leave plenty of room behind the plows and the vehicles ahead and make sure you have appropriate winter tires with good tread for the snow.
• Be prepared with an emergency kit, including water, food, blankets, extra clothing, etc.
• Know before you go by checking cotrip.org, Facebook, and Twitter
CDOT’s Winter Driving web page provides tips and other information at:
http://www.coloradodot.info/travel/winter-driving
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