Economy: mixed local signals 

Every day last week, phone callers flooded KRCC with pledges from $20 to $200 and more, en route to the public radio station reaching its twice-a-year goal of $185,000.

Friday evening, a crowd approaching 500 people flocked to Mr. Biggs Event Center for Cheyenne Village's annual "Vineyard in the Village," spending $75 a head, plus more for auction items, adding up to more than $60,000 raised.

Sunday afternoon, more than 400 folks converged on Crowne Plaza (formerly the Sheraton) for the 20th anniversary of Taste of the Springs, paying $65 each to benefit Care and Share.

Three long-established local nonprofits, three well-known entities serving different purposes and constituencies, three vital fundraising efforts and the people of Colorado Springs and the region responded as faithfully and generously as ever.

If you were involved with any of them, you couldn't help but feel good about the outcomes. And obviously, this was just a snapshot from a typical week.

The point is this: Despite all we hear from the outside world about how horrible the economy is, and other less-publicized stories about charitable organizations suffering as a result, Colorado Springs doesn't appear to be quite so affected. Especially when we're talking about the more entrenched nonprofits.

That conclusion also falls in line with a recent lunch talk by Fred Crowley, the well-known University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economist who spends his life carefully analyzing economic trends, here and everywhere.

Crowley was speaking to the Pikes Peak Advertising Federation, whose success depends on understanding the local business scene. Crowley made it clear, in his final assessment, he doesn't believe the Colorado Springs area is suffering as much as other Colorado cities or the rest of the country. He even noted some data indicating the trends could turn more positive in a matter of months.

"The problem, though, is that people here turn on the news every night, and all they see is how bad it is everywhere," Crowley said that day. "So they assume it's no different here."

We won't delve into gas prices, foreclosures and the upward spiral of food-related costs. It's no secret all of those problems exist at some level in and around Colorado Springs. Yet when nonprofits such as Care and Share, KRCC and Cheyenne Village can continue to thrive, we're not anywhere close to trauma.

That is, unless all we hear is the latest from our El Paso County government. Monday, county commissioners heard a staggering report projecting a mid-year budget shortfall of $8.3 million after the unexpected, painful cuts late last year.

"I was shocked because I didn't expect the number to be that large," Commissioner Dennis Hisey told a local TV station.

Let's be clear on the details: Nicola Sapp, the county financial services director, produced numbers that showed revenue at $3 million short of budget, other expenditures at $4.8 million over budget, and a $500,000 shortfall in what's known as the community investment fund. This story will continue to unfold as commissioners determine what caused the county to lose $4 million alone over budget, already this year in its self-insurance program. The biggest chunk: medical insurance claims, $2.96 million over budget, just in a few months.

One logically might wonder if the county's financial crisis might be a reflection on the tough times. Partially yes, because the reasons include fuel costs and unexpectedly low revenues. But let's not jump to conclusions here. The sky is not falling everywhere for everybody.

Something has to be done about El Paso County's troubles. We need answers about those skyrocketing insurance claims, and rest assured the county will ask voters for help in November. Also, many might suggest the time has come for discussion on combining more city and county services.

Meanwhile, though, Colorado Springs still is supporting its charities and nonprofits. Local businesses are feeling the squeeze in different ways, but we're not seeing an epidemic of collapses.

In other words, perhaps Fred Crowley of UCCS is exactly right. Perhaps the local economy isn't going into the toilet, after all.



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