Noted: Unemployment could increase 

Holiday hiring looks bleak

Hiring for the holiday season has started locally, but it could be a brutal market, economists say. Fred Crowley, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor who is with the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, says holiday spending will increase only 2 percent to 3 percent over last year, at best.

"The side effect of that is, we expect unemployment rates to increase toward the end of the year," Crowley says. "For every retail job out there, there are probably 50 to 100 people applying for it. It's a tough market. This is a market that usually is filled with college and high school kids looking for a holiday job. Now it's becoming a need-it-to-survive type of job."

Tom Binnings, senior partner with Summit Economics, a local economic research and analysis organization, says he isn't hearing much from retailers about seasonal hiring. "They're still feeling pretty negative compared to two years ago." He also predicts some retailers will wait longer to see how sales shape up before hiring temps.

Pikes Peak Workforce Center doesn't track holiday hires, nor does it handle many postings. While 163 jobs were posted last week, the highest number in two years, only two were seasonal, spokeswoman Jeanne Cotter says. She notes that holiday jobs affect unemployment benefits, so some might hold out for full-time work.

Still, Federal Express was to take applications for seasonal drivers Wednesday, while Honey Baked Ham is hosting a seasonal hiring event Nov. 2 — both at the Workforce Center. — PZ

Four seek solar gardens

Though local company SunShare has gotten publicity for creating a community solar garden, it's not the only game in town. Four entities have submitted five applications to Colorado Springs Utilities to reserve a portion of the 2 megawatts of power the city has authorized for solar gardens.

The entities and their proposed garden locations: Colorado Springs School District 11, Doherty High School, 4515 Barnes Road; CS Solar1 LLC of Carbondale, Templeton Gap landfill located east of Powers Boulevard and south of Woodmen Road; Solar Synergy LLC of Colorado Springs, 5709 E. Pikes Peak Ave.; and SunShare, which put in two applications, 3918 Janitell Road and 5210 S. U.S. Hwy. 85 (Venetucci Farm).

Each entity asks for 500 kilowatts, so one could be denied. If any approved entity fails to build its garden within 120 days of design approval, the applicant next in line will move up, Utilities officials say. CS Solar1 is last in a first-come, first-service scenario.

"The way this program is established," Utilities attorney Ken Burgess says, "it really allows customers of CSU to choose any one of the four or five."

But he warns that Utilities won't rescue a struggling project. The business arrangement is strictly between the solar garden company and the customer. "People need to know they can work with the provider over the long haul," he says, which means companies should make provisions for long-term operations and maintenance costs.

"Before you jump," Burgess says, "look at this stuff." Customers can expect to save roughly $68 annually on electric bills at the minimum investment required. — PZ

Myers-Manitou: no match

Little Manitou Springs, not even a year after the death of former city administrator Verne Witham, is once again facing big changes. The city will soon need to replace two more high-profile positions, with finance director Mike Leslie and Police Chief Mary Jo Smith retiring Dec. 31. (Smith's husband, Gary, is running for Manitou City Council.)

Rumors have been flying that former Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers will pursue the Manitou position. However, Myers tells the Independent that he isn't planning to apply. — JAS

Six bidders eye Memorial

A half-dozen entities care enough about bidding on the lease of city-owned Memorial Health System to sign a non-disclosure agreement and poke around in Memorial's finances.

As of late Tuesday, the following agreed to use financial data for bids, but not to disclose it to others who could exploit the information: Memorial Health System management, signed by board chairman James Moore; Centura Health, which owns the Penrose-St. Francis system; the University of Colorado Hospital Authority; Nashville-based HCA-HealthOne LLC; Banner Health of Phoenix; and Community Health Systems Professional Services Corp., of Franklin, Tenn. Community Health Systems and HCA are for-profit. — PZ

Time running out to vote

It's too late to have a ballot mailed to you, and it's nearly too late to mail your ballot. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 1.

If you haven't received a ballot by mail, visit one of four clerk and recorder's offices to receive a ballot or to vote in person on a touch screen. Offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day. The Union Town Center Branch is also open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Offices are located at: Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, on the second floor; Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave.; Union Town Center, 8830 N. Union Blvd.; and off Powers Boulevard, at 5650 Industrial Place. All ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on election day.

As of Tuesday evening, just 50,807 ballots had been collected. — JAS

Utilities ups spending

Colorado Springs Utilities is asking for City Council approval to increase spending next year by 8.6 percent, to $1.11 billion. The budget, which doesn't include an across-the-board pay increase, contemplates rate hikes for gas, electric and water, increasing average residential bills by $8.22 a month, or 4.3 percent.

The $87.8 million increase in spending stems from two areas, Utilities spokesman Dave Grossman says: "The two big drivers for the budget in 2012 are to improve air quality with the regulations we have to meet on Nixon and Drake power plants, and water supply for our future."

Utilities will pay Neumann Systems Group $73.5 million for pollution control equipment at Drake. The technology will cost $39.5 million to install. — PZ

Give budget input tonight

Every year, the city holds an "e-town hall" to take input from citizens on the upcoming budget. If you'd like to comment on the proposed 2012 city budget or Memorial Health System's budget, you can do so Thursday, Oct. 27, whether or not you're in City Council Chambers in City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

The meeting runs from 7 to 9 p.m., but those wanting to speak start signing up at 6. You can also send ideas and comments via phone (385-5961), e-mail (2012springsbudget@springsgov.com), Facebook (facebook.com/springsgov) or Twitter at @springsgov or #COSBudget.

You can watch it all live on SpringsTV, channel 18, or at springsgov.com.— JAS

Clerk promotes aide

Alissa Vander Veen, who ran El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams' campaign, has been promoted to chief deputy following the resignation of John Gardner ("Issues of oversight," Sept. 25, 2008), who is moving to California.

Thirteen days after taking office Jan. 1, Williams hired Vander Veen as special projects manager, a position he created with a salary of $57,500. Since then, her pay has risen to $60,637. The promotion to chief deputy increases her salary to $72,536, but she'll keep the duties of her old job as well her new one. — PZ

Mayor has new site

Perhaps the mayor is trying to unfurl his "transparency" banner again.

Mayor Steve Bach has launched bachsoffice.com, a website keeping citizens up-to-date on mayoral activities. According to a release, "The web site will be updated frequently and includes messages from the Mayor, news releases, event calendar, photos and more. Citizens will also be able to learn about and get involved with various initiatives being launched by the Mayor, including Spirit of the Springs and Solution Teams." — JAS

Compiled by J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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