Noted: Parks to be watered this summer 

Relief for city parks

Those dreading a summer of dead grass in city parks can take heart. Colorado Springs Utilities was to present its board with a pilot proposal Wednesday that would enable more city parks to be kept green.

While a handful of the city's most popular parks have been slated to get all the water they'd need, most parks were to get less than half their recommended amount because of a budget crunch. But under Utilities' proposal, the city and large water users that have conservation plans would qualify for the special rate, which Utilities spokesman Dave Grossman says will be considerably below the current rate.

The parks department is hoping to pilot the program on 19 neighborhood parks. Director Paul Butcher says that a complicated formula would be used to determine the amount of water historically needed to keep a park green. Using significantly less water than the benchmark would result in a discounted rate. Using more than the benchmark would yield an increased rate.

Utilities worked up the new rates at the behest of several members of the Utility Board, composed of the City Council.

If the board likes what it sees Wednesday, a rate case will be filed in March and a public hearing will be held in April, with approval to follow in time for the spring and summer growing season. — PZ/JAS

UPDATE: Recently updated information about watering the parks this summer has been posted here.

Two leave Memorial panel

BJ Scott, who runs Peak Vista Community Health Centers, and businessman Tim Leigh have resigned from a panel charged with studying the city hospital system.

Leigh, who's announced he's running for mayor in 2011, resigned after City Council learned last week that his wife works part-time at city-owned Memorial Health System. Scott resigned this week, citing Peak Vista's reliance on and relationship with the Memorial system. Peak Vista clients often are referred to Memorial for treatment.

"I believe this will present a perception of a conflict of interest that will become a distraction to the important work of the Commission that is unnecessary," she said in her letter. "In addition, as the economy continues to languish, the demand for our services continues to grow as more of our residents lose their jobs and/or their health insurance benefits and Peak Vista must remain focused on our ability to grow our ability to serve more people."

Leigh and Scott were chosen before interviews were conducted, because a majority of Council favored them as members.

Councilman Darryl Glenn says Council should discuss how to appoint replacements to the 11-member panel with due haste. — PZ

Roupe readies for rumble

Republican Catherine "Kit" Roupe announced last weekend that she's seeking a rematch against House District 17 Rep. Dennis Apuan, the Democrat who edged her in 2008. But first, she'll face a primary fight against fellow Republican Mark Barker.

If she wins the primary and beats Apuan, according to a press release, Roupe promises to focus on reversing the "damaging tax measures" that Democrats are trying to use to close the state's budget gap. (Under the current plan, soda and candy purchases, for instance, would no longer be exempt from sales tax.)

One impediment as Roupe tries to get the word out about her campaign could be simple accuracy: The phone number listed twice on her press release belongs a woman who sounded downright irritated at taking Roupe-related calls. "I'm not her," she said, before hanging up. — AL

Local Dems see changes

El Paso County Democrats plan to move ahead with plans to hire an executive director, but they will do so without the leadership of Jason DeGroot, who has served as the party's chair for the last year.

Both developments came out of the local party's executive committee meeting on Tuesday.

DeGroot, who became active with the party after working on Barack Obama's presidential campaign, served as one of its five volunteer officers. First Vice Chair Judi Ingelido, who will serve as chair until DeGroot's replacement is selected, says she is sorry to see DeGroot go: "He just decided that he didn't have the time."

DeGroot could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

The party's central committee — made up of all precinct chairs and officers — held its last meeting Feb. 6, but the group is now supposed to meet again within 30 days to elect a new chair. If a quorum can't be reached, the task of appointing a new chair falls to the state Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the party's four remaining officers will responsible for screening executive director candidates, ideally by the end of March, while also preparing for precinct caucuses March 16. — AL

Marching for higher ed

A group of college students and higher-education advocates is planning on taking to Denver's streets March 3 to bring attention to the state's low and declining funding for higher education.

The marchers plan to meet at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria Campus, and to march from there to the Capitol building. (Details about the group's plans can be found at iamhighereducation.com.)

State funding for public colleges and universities now stands at about $660 million, with more than $230 million of that coming from federal stimulus money in the 2009-10 budget year. The total funding could decline by $50 million this coming year, and then things start looking really grim in 2011-12, when stimulus money goes away and funding could drop to the $400 million range. — AL

'Blighted' land debated

Desperate to create an engine for tax money, City Council is set to designate 200 acres of brush and dirt in north Colorado Springs as an urban renewal area, perhaps next week.

The label would enable the city to grant the Copper Ridge retail development tax increment financing. That would mean that sales and property tax money generated by the development could go to pay for a four-mile, $80 million extension of Powers Boulevard from Highway 83 to Interstate 25.

Councilman Darryl Glenn predicts the project will sail through a vote from Councilors, since they already met in closed session on the project. Glenn also says urban renewal designation, ruled appropriate by a consultant, is needed to enable a project he's sure will keep shoppers, and tax money, here while at the same time provide the city's "last best chance" to finish Powers. He says the state has put off the project indefinitely.

All that worries University Village developer Kevin Kratt and some Urban Renewal Authority board members. They fret Copper Ridge will cut into Kratt's action by luring potential tenants, reducing the traffic and sales tax collections there and thus jeopardizing the $54 million in bonds already issued for the half-done project.

Glenn dismisses those concerns, saying Copper Ridge will attract "a different mix" of tenants than University Village.

To see the Authority's concerns, go to the Indy's blog at csindy.com. — PZ

New day for Rainbow Falls

The once-beautiful Rainbow Falls, just west of Manitou Springs, have lately been known as Graffiti Falls. Long a hangout for rowdy teens, rocks and a nearby bridge have been covered in spray paint, while the sandy bottom of the creek has collected trash and broken glass.

But things may be looking up for the once-scenic area. Longtime owner Mansfield Development Co. is in the process of giving the land to El Paso County, which has plans to clean it up and install benches, picnic tables, parking and signs. Manitou groups and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office plan to help with the effort.

The land deal will likely be complete in about a month.

"We've been doing survey work and some other legal work needed to complete the transfer," says El Paso County director of public services Tim Wolken. "We're excited to get started." — JAS

Energy bill in Senate

A bill that would raise Colorado's goal for generating power from renewable energy sources cleared the state House last Friday and is now in the hands of the Senate local government and energy committee.

The measure, which raises the state's renewable energy goal from 20 to 30 percent by the year 2020, is a key part of Gov. Bill Ritter's agenda during his final year in office.

Environment Colorado and other environmental groups have praised the measure as "groundbreaking."

If the bill becomes law, it is certain to factor into the political debate leading up to November's election. Scott McInnis, the Republican gubernatorial frontrunner, has criticized Democrats for focusing on renewable energy while allowing new rules to go into effect that he says have made it difficult for natural gas companies to do work in the state. — AL

Compiled by Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.


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