In what was shaping up to be a marathon budget mark-up session on Tuesday, City Council
gave preliminary approval to fill a $1.13 million
hole in Mayor Steve Bach
's 2014 budget for parks watering by taking money from the police budget and city reserves.
The solution seemed to enjoy only a narrow majority in favor — there was no formal vote, only head nods. But Council sounds united in wanting to find a way to perpetuate the city's parks and protect them from becoming dirt wastelands like they did during 2008 and 2009, when declining city revenues triggered massive cuts.
"Year after year, there's a diminishing commitment to take care of parks," Councilor Joel Miller
It's unclear what a long-term solution might be. A push by Miller to add $250,000 to parks maintenance didn't win support. City-owned Colorado Springs Utilities isn't able to give the city a price break permanently due to restrictions contained in borrowing documents. And Miller added that the city, like any customer, should pay going water rates anyway, even as they increase to pay for the Southern Delivery System
As for 2014, Councilors generally sounded fine with dipping into the Police Department
's budget to cover half the shortfall. That department's budget is going up as much or more than any other in 2014, from about $95.5 million this year to $100 million next year.
Councilor Helen Collins
noted that during a recent announcement about Alaska Airlines at Colorado Springs Airport
, "I saw five cops. I think the police budget can be better allocated." And Miller noted that carving a portion from the police budget isn't a cut, "It's a decrease of the increase."
Still, Council President Pro Tem Merv Bennett
was reluctant to raid cop-shop funding too much. "I hope we don't start looking at the police for the bank on everything," he said. "I think that could be very dangerous."
In other developments:
• Despite Miller's protests that the program's results are unknown and the city is worried about staffing a new fire station, Councilors kept the community health clinic
at Fire Station 8, which costs $400,000.
• Proposals from Council's Budget Committee
to move money from the city attorney's budget to Council's budget failed to win support, because a majority didn't think Council needed to be in charge of all funding for outside counsel (although some disagreed). This came as something of a surprise, given that they had fought for that authority.
• Ideas that didn't get backing included $100,000
for a Council-sponsored intern program
proposed by Council President Keith King
, and moving $150,000
for an economic vitality officer, unfilled since summer of 2012, into the General Fund balance.
It's unclear how many of the Council changes will pass muster under a legal opinion from City Attorney Chris Melcher
, who's said that Council, even with a six-vote veto override majority, can't dictate how the mayor runs the city and spends money, unless the issue involves a major legislative budget item.
Council will consider its budget changes in a work session on Nov. 12
. On Nov. 26
, it will hold a first reading of the appropriation ordinance; second reading is slated for Dec. 10
Bach has proposed a general fund budged of $246.6 million, up from this year's original budget of $232.7 million.
As a footnote, Miller made several references during the budget mark-up about his being able to take unpopular positions due to his future political plans. He has none. He said he'll serve only one four-year term, a decision he made during the campaign last spring.