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Off Limits

Show me the money! Show me the money! No, that's not Cuba Gooding Jr. you hear screaming, it's Denver City Councilman Ted Hackworth, now engaged in a dramatic confrontation of his own over the financial condition of Denver International Airport. Specifically, Hackworth is peeved that Mayor Wellington Webb keeps claiming the airport made $27 million last year while Webb's own budget book shows DIA posting a net loss of $72 million.

According to city finance director Elizabeth Orr, the airport did in fact post a positive cash flow last year--but lost money on paper because it took an accounting charge of $107 million to reflect depreciation (also known as wear and tear) on DIA's facilities and equipment. "I think he's a little confused," Orr says of Hackworth. At a recent council committee meeting, airport boss Jim DeLong was more blunt, telling the councilman, "You don't understand accounting."

The dispute centers on Hackworth's insistence that the city's listing of depreciation as an expense without actually setting aside cash to pay for the future replacement of its runways, buildings and other assets represents accounting sleight of hand. If and when the city needs to repave a runway or put on a new roof, Hackworth theorizes, it plans to simply issue more bonds, adding years of interest payments in the process. That, he says, means Denver's dance with debt will never end.

Orr says she agrees that DIA, which operates on fees forked over by airlines, should pay its own way. And, she insists, it already is--even though it may not look that way on paper. "[Hackworth] says if it's showing a loss on its financial statements, that means it's not profitable," says Orr. "That, I believe, is totally inaccurate."

On this one, the city auditor's office sides with Orr. "Depreciation is merely a recording term; it's not actual dollars," notes office spokeswoman Romaine Pacheco. "When Ted talks about creating this fund, where's he going to get the money from?"

That's the airport's problem, Hackworth says--and he contends that his Jerry Maguire imitation, along with his Republican affiliation, explains why he wasn't invited along when DeLong and several councilmembers recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to plead for more federal funds for the airport. "I'm afraid I'd be honest with our representatives and tell 'em we need money because we haven't got money, not that we need money because we made money," he says.

Homeless on the range: Meanwhile, Webb's goal of stationing a herd of buffalo at the airport's entrance before the end of his second term may be in jeopardy. The initial notion was to make DIA the only airport in the world where the buffalo roam, a surefire tourist draw in Webb's eyes. The city has set aside 330 acres along Pena Boulevard as a new home for thirty of the creatures, but there's a problem.

Like development around the airport, so far the native grasses planted for buffalo forage haven't grown as quickly as Denver officials had hoped. The city has seeded the area for the past two years but now predicts it will take another three to five years before the grass can support a herd. And trucking in food for the beasts has been ruled out: "We don't want to have feedlots and all that smelliness," says Wilma Taylor, DeLong's assistant who's coordinating the project.

The land along Pena Boulevard could probably support nine or ten buffalo today, Taylor adds, but the city wants to wait for a respectably sized herd to give visitors a taste of the real West. "We want them to have a home for roaming," she says.

And the loser is...: There are still four more shopping days until that annual orgy of film fandom, the Academy Awards, but it's unlikely the Denver Post will have a new movie critic in place in time to discuss the results. Howie Movshovitz, now a general-assignment arts reporter, has yet to be replaced.

Shortly after Movshovitz was ousted from his longtime critic's slot, two teachers in the film-studies program at the University of Colorado at Denver sent a letter of protest to Post editor Dennis Britton, praising Movshovitz's reviews and "his refusal to pander to the lowest common denominator of the public's taste." They concluded with this: "If what the Post really wants in a film critic is a kind of prostitute who willingly provides whatever is asked for, it is a sorry day for the intelligence, integrity and lovers of film."

To this, Britton replied: "Thank you for your letter on movie criticism in the Post. The sentiments you expressed are precisely why we are making a change."

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