A city of Colorado Springs budget guru is warning of possible layoffs and cuts in programs if voters back two measures that Douglas Bruce and his tax-cutting allies have placed on the November ballot.
"I don't think any of us want to cut employees or services to balance the budget, but if this goes through we'll have to make hard decisions," says Vicki Phillips, the city's accounting and payroll manager.
The two measures made the Nov. 7 ballot after Bruce supporters won a protracted legal battle with the city.
They add to a ballot already loaded with initiatives, including one that would raise the minimum wage and another that would ban gay marriage. Unlike those statewide initiatives, the two Bruce measures would apply only to Colorado Springs and may be voted on only by residents.
The first measure seeks to eliminate the city's property tax already among the lowest of major Colorado cities in annual increments over five years, starting in 2007. If the measure passes, the city would lose approximately $3.5 million in property taxes next year a figure made more significant when other factors, such as skyrocketing fuel prices, are taken into account, Phillips says.
The measure also would reduce another stream of revenue that goes to the city's main pot of money, the general fund. The portion of city sales tax that goes to the general fund would be lowered from 2 percent to 1.75 percent over five years, starting in 2008.
Bruce's second measure would require the city to save money for land acquisitions and building projects. Voters would be asked to approve loans for any project, and new city debts would have to be repaid within 10 years.
If both measures were fully phased in tomorrow, Colorado Springs' $231 million general fund, which pays for a vast array of services from police and parks, would lose about $35 million, Phillips says.
That would be a 15 percent reduction in the overall budget, which could mean layoffs, Phillips says.
Half the general fund goes to the salaries and benefits of1,900 city workers, including 1,200 whom serve in fire, police and other public safety roles.
"You have to consider cuts there," she says.
Bruce says the measures would force the city to spend its money more wisely. He says the city is wasting money, citing examples such a $100,000 incentive package paid by the city to Western Forge to help keep the tool manufacturer in Colorado Springs and expand jobs.
A better way to lure business to the city would be to lower taxes, he says.
"It's going to help the city because we're going to be able to say we don't have any city property tax, and that's going to be a real magnet," he says.
But Mike Kazmierski, head of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining quality of life through the economy, says Bruce's initiatives appear bad for business especially if the city is forced to cut critical employees.
"Quality police and fire service make people feel safe and are an important part of our overall power to attract new business," he says.
The EDC is studying the pros and cons of the measure in detail, and its board will officially chime in next month.
Kazmierski adds that perks that appeal to businesses and their workers, such as parks, appear underfunded.
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