News briefs from the Front Range

Two-way Tejon a go

Who knew five blocks could mean so much?

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve opening all of downtown Tejon Street for two-way traffic. Since 1971, a five-block portion of Tejon from Bijou Street south to Vermijo Avenue has been open only to southbound vehicles.

The decision didn't come without discussion. City Council sat through a seemingly endless flow of impassioned arguments from business owners, residents and patrons of downtown. Some argued opening the street to two-way traffic would bring in more than $100,000 daily to area businesses, increase safety, create parking opportunities (think valet) and decrease confusion for tourists. Plus, it would create a more logical route for the downtown shuttle, and hopefully draw more passengers to it.

Others argued the two-way street would create more noise, more traffic and a less safe, less attractive environment for retail customers. It also could be more difficult for delivery trucks to safely serve businesses, they said. And while residents adjust, there could be traffic accidents.

Both sides do agree the two-way plan won't solve all of downtown's woes. The conversion of Tejon likely will take place in spring 2008, perhaps to coincide with opening the rebuilt Cimarron Bridge. JAS

Bus fares will increase

Start digging under your couch cushions: City Council agreed Tuesday to raise fares for city buses and paratransit services, despite a public-comment period in which 65 percent of respondents opposed the hikes.

Under the plan, to be implemented in January, regular bus fares on fixed routes will rise from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for paratransit, serving the elderly and disabled, will increase from $2 to $2.50. Front Range Express bus fares will also rise by $2 in February.

City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher argued paratransit fares should only be increased by 25 cents. Tom Gallagher seconded the idea. However, the rest of Council felt the proposed increases were reasonable.

"I think it's about time," Mayor Lionel Rivera said, noting paratransit fares had not changed since 2000. JAS

Memorial feels the heat

Representatives from the city-owned Memorial Hospital got what they came for Tuesday. City Council approved the hospitals $646.4 million 2008 budget, plus $23.5 million to supplement its 2007 budget, which fell short of costs.

The hospital apparently went over budget last year due to construction costs on a new facility, staffing costs, and because it provided more uncompensated care than expected. The hospital is required to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Hospital representatives, including CEO Dick Eitel, suffered criticism. Some Council members questioned the effectiveness of the hospitals governance. Councilman Jerry Heimlicher wondered out loud whether the hospital was lowballing its budget for next year. Several, most notably Vice Mayor Larry Small, criticized the hospital for giving $250,000 to the 2008 U.S. Senior Open golf tournament despite budget problems (a move Eitel called a business expense).

The hospital had at least one defender. Councilman Tom Gallagher said Memorials increased indigent-care costs were a result of bad economic times. And outside the chambers, he told Eitel, (The city) spent more on the U.S. Open than you did, and our budgets tighter than yours. JAS

City leads in hate crimes

Those who relish their chances to designate Colorado Springs as the "City of Hate" received a fresh load of ammo last week. Annual hate-crime statistics reported by police departments to the FBI reveal the Springs led the state in 2006, with nearly twice as many hate crimes as Denver.

Of the 138 hate crimes tracked statewide, 20 took place in Colorado Springs. Twelve were religious, six were racial, one involved sexual orientation and one ethnicity. Denver, by contrast, reported 11 hate crimes. Denver has a population of 568,400 versus the Springs' estimated 376,800.

Centennial, a southern suburb of Denver with a population of 100,100, logged 16 hate crimes, making its per capita rate the state's highest. Overall, hate crimes in Colorado were up 10 percent in 2006 from 2005, according to the FBI. MdY

Free Saturday parking

Downtown and Old Colorado City shoppers will enjoy free on-street parking for the next four Saturdays, until Christmas.

City Council approved the annual request from the Downtown Partnership and Old Colorado City interests, allowing free parking in metered spots on Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22. The break does not apply to off-street garages or lots, and time limits for parking spots will be enforced as usual.

A city release indicates the move will cost the city's parking enterprise an estimated $27,200. Increased sales-tax revenue should cover some of that. RR

Closed buildings bring lines

The line for motor-vehicle matters following Thanksgiving weekend was certainly long at El Paso County's Centennial Hall.

But the residents there even the ones who had been turned away by locked county doors the previous week could find some solace. Lines were much longer at the Motor Vehicle Department's Powers Boulevard location. And the Chapel Hills branch was simply closed.

A county plan cutting utility costs to help plug a $4 million budget shortfall led officials to close most county buildings for the week of Thanksgiving. Many will also be closed each Friday in December and the week of Christmas; visit elpasoco.com for a complete list. AL

Streetlight fee for Manitoids?

Manitou Springs residents could pay about $4.10 extra a month on water bills under a plan being considered by the Manitou City Council.

Eric Drummond, City Council member and mayor-elect, sent a mass e-mail discussing the controversial proposed fee. He says the city needs unreserved funds of about $100,000 annually to pay for emergencies such as the recent Incline fire. The 2008 budget leaves just $6,000 to $8,000 in unreserved funds. Drummond estimates a fee for streetlights, tacked onto bills for Manitou Water and Sewer, could boost the unreserved balance to about $110,000.

The initial vote is set for Tuesday.

Councilmember-elect Aimee Cox is concerned about instituting a fee without providing more or improved service. She also wants the public to be better informed.

"I don't think the holidays are a good time to be pushing through a fee that feels like a tax," Cox says. JAS

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley and Michael de Yoanna.


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