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“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.”
– Shirley Temple  
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  Volume No. 14 Issue No. 12 December 2017  

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    Clarification: roles of special districts
    Marijuana raids rise in eastern El Paso County
    Four years to the day
    Sporting events on a budget – it's possible with a plan
    Building and real estate update
 
  Clarification: roles of special districts
  By Lindsey Harrison

   According to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs website, special districts in Colorado were created to fill the gaps that might exist with services provided by other entities like the city, county, state and federal governments.
   
   Ann Terry, executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado, wrote in an email to The New Falcon Herald that special districts date back to the early mining camps around the state. “As the camps grew, the residents sought mechanisms to join together to provide certain essential services such as fire protection and sewer service,” she wrote. “Special districts of one form or another have been utilized since that time.”
   
   The Special District Association of Colorado’s website states: “Special districts fill a vital role in providing many of the basic services and public needs of the people in Colorado, including fire and rescue service, water and wastewater treatment and delivery, parks and recreation amenities, hospitals, libraries and cemeteries.”
   
   Terry wrote that special districts are organized under Title 32, Article 1 of the Colorado revised statutes; as such, their activities are subject to strict statutory guidelines.
   
   DOLA’s website states that part of those guidelines require special districts to be publicly accountable by doing the following: holding open meetings; properly posting all meeting notices; keeping minutes and other records that are all open for inspection by any citizen; holding elections for its governing board of directors; adopting an annual budget; and submitting to annual financial audits.
   
   Denise Stepto, director of communications and media relations for DOLA, said generally speaking, a special district’s board of directors oversees the proper functioning of the district and its service provision or provisions.
   
   Stepto said special district directors are held accountable by their constituents, who would likely be the first to determine if the board’s conduct is inappropriate. The state judicial branch would administer any legal consequences based on that conduct, she said.
   
   Metropolitan districts, such as Meridian Ranch Metropolitan District and Woodmen Hill Metropolitan District, fall under the category of a special district and are subject to the same statutory guidelines. According to the DOLA website, there are as many as 29 metropolitan districts in the Falcon/Peyton/Black Forest areas.
   
   “Colorado special districts have been instrumental in providing public infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the state’s population in the face of increasing demands on cities and counties to keep up with the ever-increasing need for urban services,” Terry wrote.
  
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  Marijuana raids rise in eastern El Paso County
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Since the passage of Colorado Amendment 64 in 2012, marijuana has been legal in the state for personal use in limited amounts. The passage of the amendment has caused some unintended consequences, especially for law enforcement agencies.
   
   Jeff Schulz, an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy, has worked with the Metro Vice Narcotics Intelligence Unit for two years. He said one unintended consequence is the uninformed visitor to Colorado who is not up to date with regulations regarding marijuana grow operations.
   
   “The attitude and understanding from people coming from different states is that they think they can come here and grow whatever they want,” Schulz said. When the county sheriff’s office gets wind that an operation is out of compliance with the 99-marijuana-plant-limit, the MVNIU goes out to investigate, he said.
   
   In the last 18 months, the unit has conducted 80 raids with search warrants on properties throughout the county; each time, they have made an arrest, Schulz said. About half the properties were located in Colorado Springs, and the rest were in the outlying areas of the county, he said.
   
   The raids do not include bigger operations handled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, most of those are connected to drug organizations, Schultz said.
   
   Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, said the idea that massive grows housed in Colorado are linked to bigger organized drug operations is a farce. “What we have historically seen with the drug war is that, whenever there is a big bust, law enforcement uses that as a big public relations campaign,” he said. “Families that had legal grows are now getting raided for grows that are suddenly illegal, and they (the families) are getting falsely labeled.”
   
   While marijuana grow operations can be a problem from a law enforcement standpoint, Schultz said there is only so much intervention the agencies can provide. “We have tried everything from posting signs about what would make it (a marijuana grow operation) illegal to town hall meetings with the sheriff,” he said. “The people who are doing this do not care about our community. They are here for one purpose, which is to grow marijuana and then leave.”
   
   That mentality has negatively impacted the housing market in a variety of ways, most noticeably conditions of the properties involved in the grow operations, Schulz said. People purchase or rent out properties for the grow operations, but eventually they become uninhabitable, he said. “They run electrical lines without permits, they do a lot of stuff with extension cords and electrical tape, and there is almost always a mold problem,” Schulz said.
   
   “We have not gotten to the point where a (raided) house could possibly come back to be livable again.”
   
   Warf said growers often feel they need to carry a weapon or hire guards to protect legal marijuana grow operations because law enforcement agencies are not quick to respond to a call for help from any cannabis-related business or property. “People may have noticed that absurd amount of (response) time and taken their own methods to protect their property,” he said.
   
   Schulz said they have not encountered armed guards patrolling any properties, but security systems and surveillance cameras are often used.
   
   At the start of 2017, Colorado drastically reduced the amount of allowable marijuana plants from 495 to 99, which is still higher than any other state, Schulz said. However, a new bill passed in March brings that limit down to 12 plants per residential property; the bill goes into effect Jan.1, 2018, he said.
   
   Schulz said this is a step in the right direction on the war against illegal marijuana grow operations. "Eventually, we'll make an impact on the illegal operations,” he said. “But it is hard to see now."
   
   Warf said there is always the impetus on the grower to be aware of the changing laws, but the newest regulation to limit the plant count to 12 will likely negatively impact people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
  
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  Four years to the day
  Remembering the Black Forest fire
  Bill Radford

   It was a time to reflect on what had been lost, to appreciate what has been accomplished and to ponder what still must be done.
   
   On June 11, a crowd of 60 or so gathered for the annual Black Forest Fire Remembrance; the event was held four years to the day the fire erupted. The blaze, which was the most destructive in state history, killed two people, burned almost 500 homes and scorched more than 14,000 acres.
   
   Laura Benjamin's home –- a log cabin built in 1924 and once owned by Edith Wolford, for whom Edith Wolford Elementary School is named –- was among those that were lost to the fire. "It was an honor to live there, and I felt like I lost a piece of history as well as losing our home," she said.
   
   But her message to the crowd was not of loss, but of resiliency.
   
   "After we were able to go back on the property and see what was left behind, there wasn't much," Benjamin said, adding that even a cast iron skillet that had been on the stove was warped. But she displayed for the crowd one thing that had survived –- a small, ceramic house that had been sitting on the fireplace mantel.
   
   "Other than the fact that the paint has been burned off of it, it is 100 percent intact," she said. It was formed by fire and tested by fire, just as Black Forest has been tested, she said.
   "We will be put through the fires of being tested again in the future, but we will survive; and we will make something positive out of it," she said.
   
   Eddie Bracken, founder of the nonprofit Black Forest Together, warned of future tests as well.
   
   "It's not a question of if we're going to have another fire; we will," he said. "The question is when. Our goal in life is to mitigate, if you will, the potential of that fire being as destructive as it was in the past."
   
   Bracken cited some of Black Forest Together's accomplishments: roughly 40,000 hours of volunteer time, and more than 230 work projects assisting residents in the cleanup, repair and restoration of their properties. A tree donor program in which healthy trees from mitigated properties are provided free of charge and transplanted to burned properties in need of restoration, along with another program that provides seedlings to burned properties to promote reforestation, are helping make the forest green again.
   
   But full recovery will take time, he said.
   
   "We're looking at a 25-year program," Bracken said. "It's going to take that long to mitigate all the green trees in this thing, plus take care of the black trees."
   
   Those burned, blackened trees "are a stigma on this community,” he said. “They're demotivating and they're now dangerous."
   
   Benjamin, who moved into a new home at the site of the old one a year after the fire, said she believes the community has done "beautifully well" in coming together after the fire.
   
   It doesn't seem like four years since the disaster, she said.
   
   "It's gone by really, really fast. The year that we lived away from Black Forest, living in town, seemed to really drag. But once we moved into the new house, things really speeded up,” Benjamin said.
   
   Community spirit and "the fact that we're all engaged with one another, we know each other's names" is the chief appeal of living in Black Forest for her, she said.
   
   "I can't imagine living anywhere else.”
  
A crowd gathered at the pavilion at Log School Park in Black Forest on June 11 for the Black Forest Fire Remembrance event. Photos by Bill Radford
 
Laura Benjamin spoke at the Black Forest Fire Remembrance on June 11. The fire destroyed her home, but she showed the audience a small, ceramic house that survived the blaze.
 
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  Sporting events on a budget – it's possible with a plan
  Nathan Sillan

   Season ticket holder or first timer, watching your team take the field or visiting new teams in a different venue, gripping your seat tightly during the finger-biting last minutes of a close game or cheering on a decisive win — sports can certainly be some of the best entertainment possible. 
   
   Whether you enjoy baseball, football, soccer, hockey or any other sport, the roaring crowd, sights and smells that fill a stadium have something to offer everyone. A little planning can help keep your costs under control, and you can apply the ideas below to almost any sporting event. 
   
   Save money on the tickets. You may be sticking with your home team through thick and thin, but you can still look for ways to save money. Avoiding the most popular games, such as those on the weekends and when you're playing against big-name teams, can be help. To further maximize your savings, consider the following tips:
  • Find tickets on reseller websites. Buying tickets from a scalper could save you money, but it also opens you up to the possibility of getting scammed. Instead, you could look for secondhand tickets on legitimate reseller websites that verify authenticity and guarantee your purchase.
  • Connect with a season ticket holder. Try to connect with a season ticket holder who can't make a game and offer to buy their tickets. Even if they're going to the game, a season ticket holder might be able to get you a good deal. For instance, Major League Soccer season ticket members can sometimes get a discount on additional tickets.
  • Check for an employee discount. Some companies offer their employees discounted tickets to sporting events as a benefit. Government employees and current military members or veterans may also be eligible. However, sometimes you can only choose from a limited list of games.
  • Join the fan club. Becoming a member of a team's official fan club can cost $20 to $40 a year and could more than pay for itself with discounts on tickets or gear and access to special events.
  • Go during the preseason. Preseason tickets can be especially cheap. In 2016, you could buy preseason NFL tickets for less than $10. You may not get to see your favorite players on the field, but it you could still save money while spending quality time with your kids or friends.
  • Try the minor league. A minor league game can be a fun alternative to a major league game. Some of the teams have an enthusiastic and loyal fan base and the stadiums are often smaller, which lets you get closer to the action. The extras, like parking and snacks, are often cheaper as well.

   Timing your purchase can also be important. If you suspect a game will sell out, it may be better to buy early than risk having to pay above face value on a reseller site. With less popular games, ticket prices tend to drop as game day approaches. 
   
   Compare transportation options. Public transportation isn't a guaranteed money saver if you're going with a large group. Carpooling or splitting the cost of a ride from a car-sharing app could be cheaper. If you're driving, look for off-premises parking lots. You may need to walk a bit, but you'll also be able to save money and might avoid some of the post-game traffic. 
   
   Eat before and bring snacks. Everyone knows stadium food is expensive and filling up on a big meal before the game can help you avoid cravings. Unbeknownst to some fans, stadiums might let you bring in outside food. However, there's often a strict bag policy, which could limit the size of your bag and may require bags to be transparent. Check the stadium's policy closely and call the team's office if you need clarification. 
   
   Bottom line: A sporting event can be a wonderful way to build memories and spend a day with your friends or family. However, the expenses from a single game can quickly stack up if you're not careful. Luckily, there are many ways to save money on tickets, transportation and food and still have a memorable experience. 
   

   Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.
  
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  Building and real estate update
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Bent Grass
   The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners approved the final release of credit for public improvements to the Bent Grass East Commercial Filing No. 1 subdivision for $26,365.68. All improvements have been completed and inspected.
   
   The commissioners also approved the final release of credit for public improvements to Bent Grass East Commercial Filing No. 2 for $11,980.60. All improvements have been completed and inspected.
   
   The BOCC approved the final acceptance of certain streets within Bent Grass East Commercial Filing No. 1 and No. 2 into the county road maintenance system. All improvements have been completed and inspected.
   
   Meridian Ranch
   The commissioners approved requests by GTL Inc. for the final plat, planned unit development and preliminary plan of Stonebridge at Meridian Ranch Filing No. 3 to create 164 single-family residential lots. The 51.55-acre property is located at the southeast corner of the Londonderry Drive and Rainbow Bridge Drive intersection and is within the boundaries of the Falcon/Peyton Small Area Master Plan.
   
   Blue Gill industrial
   The EPC planning commission approved a request by R & D Enterprises LLC to rezone 7.98 acres of property from a residential rural general aviation overlay district to a heavy industrial general aviation overlay district. The property is located west of Meadow Lake Airport and southeast of the Highway 24 and Judge Orr Road intersection.
   
  
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