Concept plan for streetlights OK’d
Heimlicher seeks better deal for OCC

       Despite some murkiness regarding candlepower, costs and local control, the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District Advisory Board July 6 conceptually approved paying Colorado Springs Utilities about $97,000 in a joint-pay plan to upgrade Utili-ties' standard streetlights in Old Town to ones that have a historical style.
        A sample of the two-headed design by Hadco Lighting (a Pennsylvania firm) was recently installed by Utilities on Colorado Avenue in front of Bancroft Park.
       The upgrade, which could be completed before Christmas, would replace 34 lights that have been on Colorado Avenue since 1953 and add 6 on side streets in the historic shopping district between 24th and 27th streets. The remainder of the cost would be covered by Utilities. Its share would be about $6,000 for the replacements plus $20,000 for the six new lights, Jim Thomas, Utilities field engineering supervisor, said at the meeting. A side benefit, he noted, would be that if at the same time the 50-some district-owned, globe-shaped “accent” lights were removed, the district would stand to save $11,000 a year in annual utility costs.
       The board's vote leaves out that action, however. One possibility the board is considering is leaving those lights, at least for now, to augment the city lights. But that would probably be an interim solution - it was the failing condition of those 25-year-old units that started the board considering streetlighting alternatives two years ago.
       The Utilities/district streetlight plan had been brokered in recent weeks by Colorado Springs City Councilman Jerry Heim- licher, in conjunction with Board President Judy Kasten and Ric Geiman, a board liaison from City Parks. Heimlicher got involved after Utilities balked at paying any of the new-streetlight costs earlier this year. The entity had claimed empty pockets following a council denial of a streetlight rate fee increase.
       Going into the meeting, Heimlicher had evinced delight at what he believed was an exemplary agreement. But at the meeting, he repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction about the details that were being presented by Thomas and Andy Funchess, a Utilities accounts manager.
       “I'm tired of Old Colorado City being treated like a stepchild,” Heim-licher fumed, charging that the information he'd heard before the July 6 meeting were “completely different” from what Thomas and Funchess were presenting.
        Specific concerns regarded Thomas' report that the candlepower of the new lights would actually be below city standards (he later said he'd review that information); and Fun-chess' statements that city lawyers are raising legal questions about potential financial precedents in the Utilities-S&M District deal.
       Also touching a nerve was the knowledge that the city's downtown has received a major upgrade in recent years and that Utilities has participated in the work - including installing streetlights that, according to Thomas, some downtowners think are too bright.
       The councilman, whose district includes Old Town, pledged to meet with city legal and financial staff to get answers.
       The district is funded by taxing its property owners. Board members must own property in the district.
        Although the vote was unanimous and the district would be the first in town with such lights, some board members voiced trepidations. Kasten said afterward she was not pleased by the Utilities presentation, especially after two years of negotiations on the subject, but called for the vote because “I want to see us move forward so we can be lit up by Christmas.”
       Board member Ginny Wesley disagreed with the city's interpretation that the district is still constrained by the state Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment. She and other board members said that the district's property owners had legally voted to “de-TABOR” several years ago. She also expressed frustration similar to Heimlicher's that the proposal was couched in terms of being a “special favor” to the district and Old Colorado City.
       “We're a viable shopping entity,” she said. “We shouldn't have to wrangle with this.”
        Lynda Dunne, who coordinates Territory Days, was dismayed to learn that the wattage of the new lights will be no higher than the old ones had. She said that during Territory Days - by far the biggest money-maker for Old Colorado City merchants - it's common to overtax the system because of the electrical demands.
       Thomas responded that to completely redo the system (including beefing up the wiring to the lights), would cost about $330,000.
       No one on the board indicated willingness to move in that direction.
       In the end, it took the founder of the district - Dave Hughes - to suggest financial leverage for the board that it had not previously considered in its dealings with the city on the streetlight issue. Pointing to the success of Old Colorado City since redevelopment started in 1976, he noted that the City of Colorado Springs, as a beneficiary of redevelopment loan paybacks, has reaped at least $1 million from that process (but did not reinvest it into Old Colorado City). Heimlicher said he would explore whether this could be formally identified as a “cash flow” to the city from Old Town and thus be helpful in securing improved Utilities participation in the lighting project.

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