Mayor John Suthers
has submitted his 2017 city budget proposal to City Council. It contains something for everyone, including more money for transit, raises for city personnel, including police officers and firefighters, and flood control.
The tax-supported General Fund budget is $272.4 million, $5.7 million or 2.1% more than the 2016 budget due largely to a projected increase in sales and use tax revenue.
In a phone interview on Monday, Suthers was upbeat about the direction of the city, a turn-around from his predecessor, Steve Bach, who more than once said the city was doomed to insolvency by 2019 without an infusion of cash.
The city has gotten an infusion of cash from a voter-approved sales tax that started this year and will generate $250 million over five years.
Asked about the city's financial picture in the near future, Suthers said:
It depends on whether we have any kind of economic downturn or not. The increases in revenue [from sales taxes] allowed us to basically give raises, spend more on stormwater, transit and pensions.
What the dooms-dayers would focus in on is if we have another downturn we’re going to have problems again, and I think that’s true. Not unlike the private sector, you have to lay people off and strategically deal with a downturn. I would love to give more relief to the Police Department, given what their staffing issues are, but this is all we could afford this year.
We also asked his thoughts on whether the presidential race's outcome will impact the city's finances. Wall Street and the financial markets are on edge about a possible Donald Trump
presidency, with stocks falling sharply on Sept. 26 before the first presidential debate; they've since bounced back after Republican candidate Trump's poor performance, which some say boosted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton
My personal feeling is it won't [affect the city] a lot. The city’s revenues are a little property tax that won’t be impacted too much; sales tax, that, obviously, if people start laying people off and you have a recession, you have a significant impact.
My sense is Colorado Springs is on a bit of a roll economically. We were slow out of the recession but now we've got some momentum. If there’s a national downturn, it will affect us. I feel pretty good about how we’re attracting new business, we’re adding jobs and I don’t think those are going to disappear because people are nervous about who’s elected.
On another election issue, we asked Suthers why he agreed to be a spokesman in favor of Amendment 71, which would make it more difficult for citizen-driven initiatives to amend the state Constitution. He's appearing in statewide television ads urging support for the measure. Is this an effort to raise his profile for a possible run for governor?
I’ve been harping on our constitutional issues for a long time. All the time in my tenure as attorney general I said that our constitution is a mess, and we’ve made it so easy to amend.
So I think when the folks behind Amendment 71 thought I’d be a pretty good spokesman. I'm willing to do it because I feel strongly about it. I would not make the assumptions that I’m seeking a higher profile. My profile is high enough.
You can sift through the entire budget here: