Indicators show good quality of life

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The tax burden for residents of the Pikes Peak region is remarkably low and housing is relatively affordable, but the suicide rate is double the national average and incidents of domestic violence have more than quadrupled since 2001.
Those statistics are just some of the highlights contained in the Pikes Peak United Way’s “Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak Region” report, which was released yesterday and focused on nine areas, including economic, social, environmental, and cultural indices, as well as transportation and public safety.
“The report makes a conscious effort to present only facts,” said Howard Brooks, vice president of the United Way. “It shows trends, but does not attempt to evaluate these trends as positive or negative. The goal of the entire effort is positive action. There are hundreds of places around the country that used to be great places to live, but they aren’t any more. That’s because local leaders didn’t recognize and address (the problems).”
Whether the report will be the basis for action and achievement in the community is unknown, but it presents a fascinating and exhaustive statistical snapshot of the community. Some highlights:
Taxes: Compared to 10 similar Colorado counties, El Paso County’s property taxes are the lowest, as are combined sales and property tax revenue per person.
Environment: Pollution in Fountain Creek appears to be a continuing problem. During 2005 and 2006, levels of E. Coli were above the Environmental Protection Agency recreational standard for one-time, non-swimming contact (235 col/100 ml) more than 50 percent of the time. During and after storms, readings were as high as 40,000 col/100ml — more than 170 times the safe maximum.
Health: While most indicators are at or below national norms, the overall suicide rate in El Paso County was double the national rate. Suicides among people 15-24 also were twice as frequent, and suicides among the elderly were three times the national average.
Public Health: The El Paso County Department of Health and Environment is, compared to its counterparts across the state, seriously underfunded. Receiving only $6.40 per person to provide mandated health protection services such as restaurant inspections, EPCDHE lags Pueblo ($11.41) and Boulder ($19.30).
“We’ve lost over 20 percent of our funding in the last three years — nearly $1.2 million,” said Rosemary Bakes-Martin, executive director of the department. “This means that, almost on a daily basis, we can only concentrate on the highest-risk areas.”
Education: Almost every metric in the report mirrored Colorado’s overall statistical profile. One exception: teacher salaries, averaging $41,666 in the largest six districts, are nearly 10 percent below the state average of $46,025.
“Our mill levies are lower than most school districts across the state, so our local property tax revenues are proportionately less,” said Elaine Naleski, communications director for School District 11. “State funding levels differ from district to district, and teacher length of service can also be a factor, so there are multiple reasons for the lower compensation levels.”
Transportation: During 2006, 27.6 percent of the 1,638 miles of paved roads in Colorado Springs and nearly 38 percent of the 998 miles in El Paso County, were rated “poor.” The report did not offer figures for comparable cities.
“Clearly, we have more work to do,” said County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, “but since voters approved the PPRTA (Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority), we’ve been able to mount an aggressive program to improve roadways.”
Public Safety: By most measures, the Springs is a safe city with a law-abiding population. But there’s one exception. From 2001 to 2006, domestic violence crisis contacts received by TESSA, the nonprofit agency whose focus is domestic violence, grew from 2,241 to 8,096.
Part of the increase, according to executive director Michelle Valdez, is attributable to mandated changes in the way contacts are counted; but contacts grew substantially regardless of measurement systems.
“It’s a problem everywhere,” she said. “To combat it, we need increased community awareness — people are reluctant to report it, or get involved. But it’s not just a private family problem that we can ignore.”
Community Engagement: Sixty-three percent of eligible voters cast ballots during 2004, higher than the 1960 national high water mark of 62.8 percent. Compared to national norms, residents also contribute generously to nonprofits and give freely of their time.
But Pikes Peak region residents appear not to be particularly religious, at least compared to residents of Denver and Pueblo. Membership in religious congregations in El Paso County fell from 38.9 percent during 1990 to 37.1 percent during 2000. Pueblo, by contrast, grew from 50 percent to 56 percent, while Denver grew from 46 percent to 53 percent.
“It’s mystifying, isn’t it?” said Sally Ziegler, deacon of Grace Episcopal Church. “It’s sort of a floating balloon of a statistic that doesn’t seem to resemble the city we know.”
The Rev. Canon Lou Blanchard of the Colorado Episcopal Church speculated that community’s transience might have something to do with lower church membership.
“While these numbers are a bit surprising, we know that over the last 10 or 15 years, Colorado Springs has experienced a number of population and cultural shifts that may have made the population a bit more fluid, and that may have made it more difficult for individuals to stay connected to a faith community,” he said. “But we believe that people in Colorado Springs are just as interested as other Coloradans in finding communities where they can listen to and participate in God’s movement in their lives, and in the life of their community.”
John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com