2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Black Forest fire cost city of Colorado Springs nearly $650,000

    Fri, July 19, 2013 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Colorado Springs activated its Emergency Operations Center the day the Black Forest fire started and ran a 24-hour operation for the next four days.

    The city’s response and support for the Black Forest fire cost is $650,000, a report expected to be given to the city council July 22.

    Bret Waters, the city’s division manager, Office of mergency Management, will detail for the council the city’s support role and the cost of responding to the Black Forest fire. In August, the council will be asked to use some of its reserve fund to cover about $260,000 of the unbudgeted costs.

    The Black Forest fire started between 1 and 2 p.m. June 11, near Shoup Road and Highway 83 in El Paso County. The fire burned 14,280 acres and about 41,000 people from 14,000 homes were evacuated. Of those, 13,000 homes and 38,000 people were in El Paso County and 1,000 homes and 3,000 people — mostly from the Flying Horse neighborhood – were in the City of Colorado Springs.

    The City’s Emergency Operations Center was activated June 11 and remained operational until June 15, after the mandatory evacuation orders were lifted within city limits. The fire was declared 100 percent contained June 20.

    Support came from the city’s fire department, police department and the streets division. It also included the staff who worked 24-hours a day in the Emergency Operations Center and the Fire Department Operations Center.

    The total cost of these resources is estimated at $649,660. Of that amount, $411,204 went toward personnel, fuel, and EOC supplies and food, for the city and county’s efforts in support of those fighting the fire. Of this, $148,760 was already appropriated in the 2013 budget; while $262,444  for the overtime, purchases, supplies and food was not in the budgt.

    The city is eligible to be reimbursed from the state for other expenses, not included in the expenses the council will be asked to pay for in August.

  • Is it time to ease lawn watering restrictions? One council member will ask

    Thu, July 11, 2013 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Council member Joel Miller has asked Colorado Springs Utilities water experts to give an update how much water is now in the city’s reservoirs.

    The report is expected at the July 17 utilities board meeting.

    If the reservoirs are up to 1.75 years of storage then Miller would want to consider easing watering restrictions for the remaining summer months. As of July 1, the city had 1.7 years of water in storage.

    No doubt, it is a controversial question to pose. Council members, who are also the utilities board members, have been getting pummeled with phone calls and emails about the summer’s lawn watering restrictions and the higher water rates for use of more than 2,000 cubic feet of water per month.

    Miller said he might be the only board member who wants to consider lifting the ban, but he said it’s worth asking the question.

    “What’ I’m hearing, is people are doing the best they can and getting hammered regardless,” he said.

    Utilties water chief Gary Bostrom said that as of the beginning of July, the city is out of runoff from this past winter’s snow pack. That means the only way to keep water in the city’s reservoirs is not to use it, he said.

    He wants to stay the course with the two-day a week lawn watering restrictions and the higher rates for water use over 2,000 cubic feet.

    Now, the city’s reservoirs are about 55 percent full. From 1970 to 2011, those reservoirs were 74 percent full. It’s that drop to about half full that made the city nervous, Bostrom said.

    Recent rain showers have some residents wondering why the city couldn’t ease up on the watering restrictions – maybe limit lawn watering to three days a week. Bostrom said the city relies on snowpack, not rainfall, to fill its reservoirs. Rain does help residents use less water, but there hasn’t been enough. In June, precipitation was .60 inches, or 24 percent less than normal. So far this year, precipitation has been 3.33 inches, ore 44 percent less than normal, which is about 7.4 inches.


    “If we went to three days we would be back in the hole and have a hard time getting out,” Bostrom said.



  • Balloon Classic a go for 2013, but still up in the air for future years

    Wed, July 10, 2013 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Colorado Balloon Classic will be held in Memorial Park this Labor Day weekend.

    But organizer Patsy Buchwald said she still is looking into other locations, including out of the state,  for the annual balloon event.

     “I’m not trying to play a game,” she said. “I’m trying to stay in business.”

    The Colorado Balloon Classic, a for-profit business,  got a boost Tuesday when the city agreed to pick up the tab on barricade fees. The fees were new this year, added when police said the would prefer to barricade some streets near Memorial Park for safety reasons. Buchwald said the added cost — an estimated $6,596 – was more than she could afford and could jeapordize the event.

    Buchwald just returned from a trip out of state, where she said she was scouting other locations for the annual event. She’s run balloon events in many other states, she said.

    “If it is not going to be financially feasible to stay, we won’t stay,” she said.

     Council member Helen Collins was behind the initiative to get the city to pick up the tab for barricades. The annual event brings in millions of tourism dollars, something the city is constantly talking about, she said.

    The expenditure, which comes from the city’s Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund, brings the city’s total commitment to the Balloon Classic to $38,146, which includes $21,350 for police services; $1,800 from Colorado Springs Utilities sponsorship; and about $8,400 for fire department medical support, parks and recreation fees, street sweeping and city engineering services.

     The Colorado Balloon Classic is a mainstay of events, beginning 37 years ago. In 2005, the Balloon Classic was designated as “city-sponsored” event. At that time the city waived all costs for city services for 2005 and 2006. In years that followed the city capped its support to $21,350. Any police costs over that were to be covered by the Balloon Classic. In 2009, the Balloon Classic paid $1,382; in 2010 it paid $5,890; in 2011 it paid $4,738 and in 2012 it was supposed to pay $7,450 but was never charged due to an error in the finance department.

     Buchwald said she was grateful for the council’s support of the 2013 event.  But she anticipates a higher police fee bill next year because officers were awarded pay raises earlier this year.

    “We are still scheduled to have the event,” she said. “And then we will re-evaluate to see if its financially practical. We have to see where we are with all that.”