Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Showdown coming on city budget

Posted By on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 3:10 PM

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A standoff is about to happen over the 2014 Colorado Springs city budget.

During a work session Tuesday morning, City Council discussed the process of what happens if Mayor Steve Bach vetoes the budget changes Council has made. Changes include allocating $565,000 for parks watering from the city's reserve account and a similar amount from the Police Department. In addition, Council has specified the city have 12 departments, not five as the mayor desires. Council created more departments to prevent Bach from shifting money within the budget without Council oversight.

Or as Councilor Jill Gaebler said at Tuesday's afternoon formal Council meeting: "We have been accused of micromanaging by changing to 12 appropriating departments. I don’t think it’s micromanaging to have us be more transparent as a community. If the executive branch wants to move money from parks to roads, maybe they should come to us and ask so we can communicate that to our citizens."

In the morning session, Assistant City Attorney Wynetta Massey outlined the process, saying that once Council adopts the budget, Council has 48 hours to communicate the action to Bach. The mayor then has five days to take action. He can either approve the budget as proposed by Council, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become effective without his approval.

Council expects Bach will veto the budget changes, and he's scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the City Administration Building, for "2014 budget topics."

Council has scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. on Dec. 18 to take action on the veto, if necessary. The nine-member Council needs six votes to override the mayor's veto.

That shouldn't be a problem, considering the vote Tuesday afternoon on the city's 2014 budget was 8-1, with Councilor Helen Collins dissenting, saying she had recommended several cuts in spending that aren't included in the budget.

Another problem: Notice of action on the budget has to be published 10 days prior to the meeting, which might prevent action until after Jan. 1. Also, if either the mayor or Council files suit over the budget, alleging one or the other over-stepped its authority, that could further delay adopting a budget before 2014 is upon us.

The city has never failed to have a budget in place by Jan. 1. While it's unclear what would happen in the absence of a budget, Massey said it's possible the 2013 budget, plus 10 percent, would take effect under legal authority of the state.

This year's general fund budget started at $232.7 million, but Bach sought amendments, and Council approved, to increase it to $253 million. This included spending from reserve funds on flood control, police motorcycles and lawsuit settlements. The proposed 2014 budget totals $246.6 million. Adding 10 percent to the city's 2013 budget would push spending to $278 million, which is way more than the revenue the city is forecasting. So as you can see, a budget stalemate would throw the city's finances into a tizzy. 
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