Monday, July 23, 2012

City needs money, as 2013 budget talks begin

Posted by on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 6:30 PM

No surprises here: The city needs money. Lots and lots of it.

At Monday’s informal City Council meeting, City Councilors and Mayor Steve Bach took in the extent of the problem.

For starters, the city has $498 million in backlogged capital stormwater projects, with over $86 million of it listed as “high-priority.” More is needed for maintenance, and given the high probability that water flowing off the Waldo Canyon burn scar will lead to flooding, the needs are more urgent than ever.

The city spent about $3.5 million on stormwater maintenance this year. Bach says he thinks about $15 million a year would be more appropriate — though he has no idea how to fund it. But regional governmental leaders are planning to form groups to look at the issue and search for a regional solution, which might include a tax or fee.

“I think at some point we’re going to have to accept the fact that it’s going to cost money,” Council President Scott Hente said, “and the money’s got to come from somewhere.”

City leaders also heard a preview of the 2013 city budget. Department head after department head paraded in front of Council, highlighting millions in critical needs, from hiring firefighters to watering parks.

Chief of Staff Laura Neumann, who is in charge of the budget process, noted that revenues are expected to increase by $4 to $5 million in 2013 over 2012 budgeted amounts, but overhead costs will increase about $3 million, operational costs will increase at least $5 million, and the city has hundreds of million in unfunded needs, including the costs of overtime for emergency personnel fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire. The latter is expected to run around $3.5 million, with the federal government picking up to 75 percent of the tab.

“It’s kind of staggering when you’re putting together the 2013 budget and trying to consider years ahead,” Neumann said.

Neumann seemed to be looking high and low for ways to save money, noting that the city’s legal department is looking for loopholes that would allow the city to pay an artificially low rate to water parks. A streetlight study is also being performed to determine if the city can do with less light. Lawyers are looking for any way to switch new city employees to a 401k plan instead of a pension. And Neumann plans to see if money could be saved by combining some city administrative functions with Colorado Springs Utilities.

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