Friday, November 4, 2011

Councilors question mayor's powers, eliminate slush fund

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 9:24 AM

City Council
  • City Council
City Council had its budget mark-up session Thursday, deciding what changes to the budget have enough support to move forward as proposed final changes.

Any changes the Council makes in upcoming meetings will be added to the budget, which is then sent back to the mayor. Mayor Steve Bach can then use his veto power to override the changes, though Council can add them back in with six votes.

The meeting brought up at least one controversy. Some city councilors, including President Scott Hente and President Pro Tem Jan Martin say the mayor and the police chief overstepped their powers in eliminating the red-light camera program. The program was put in place by city ordinance, and legally can only be undone by a city ordinance approved by City Council. However, the police chief and mayor simply declared the program "over" — apparently taking Council powers for themselves.

Interim Police Chief Pete Carey says the move was viewed as legal by brand-new City Attorney Chris Melcher, apparently due to some glitch in the ordinance's language.

But the fat lady hasn't sung on this one yet. Expect it to come back up.

Council made another bold move today by deciding to drain the mayor's "contingency fund" — $1.5 million the mayor wanted to be able to spend without Council approval.

But, as mark-up sessions go, this one wasn't particularly thrilling. Council has six new members, and many items had to be explained at length. There was also a hesitancy on Council to make large — and even small — changes. Often, proposed changes were discussed thoroughly before a majority of Council decided that the solution was to discuss the item even more — at some later date.

This frustrated Council members who did want to see large changes, such as Lisa Czelatdko, who proposed everything from a steetlight fee, to Fourth of July fireworks, to $200,000 extra for the City Council budget. All those motions, and many others brought by her, failed.

Irritated when her streetlight fee proposal was deferred to a future Colorado Springs Utilities board meeting, Czelatdko exclaimed, "Another conversation? When are we gonna have it?"

The lack of changes was driven largely by a group of Councilors who didn't seem to want much of anything changed in the budget: Angela Dougan, Tim Leigh and Merv Bennett.

However, some changes did make the cut. Here's what's proposed:

* Elimination of the Streetlight program, saving the city $660,976
* Streetlight copper theft replacement, costing the city $520,000
* Streetlight program development standards study, costing the city $120,000
* Elimination of red light cameras, costing the city $530,400
* A change in the method of Stormwater fee collections, costing the city $400,000
* Maintaining current watering in city parks, costing the city $283,834
* The elimination of the mayor's $1.5 million contingency funds
* Adding half a communications position to the City Council budget at a cost of $43,000
* $25,000 extra to North Cheyenne Canyon, Starsmore Discovery Center, and Helen Hunt Falls Visitors Center for a part-time staff person
* $21,653 to Rockledge Ranch to reduce the amount that must be raised by volunteers to $50,000
* Two more code enforcement officers, at a cost of $183,590
* $175,000 to tennis court maintenance
* $24,000 extra to ACT, a coalition of transit service providers that gives the elderly and disabled rides, for grant matches.
*Elimination of the November election expense, at a savings of $480,000
* $10,000 for the Old Colorado Historical Society

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