The discussion was about April ballot measures, but the millions in upcoming budget cuts weren't far from city councilors' minds.
On Tuesday, Council decided to ask voters to keep a tax scheduled to expire, to amend the city's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, to revise the Trails, Open Space and Parks priorities, and to allow the city to keep up to $1.2 million in excess tax collections. (In the same election, voters will also decide who should fill four Council seats.)
Though nothing will bail them out of the current crisis, here are the details of what they'll ask for:
To keep a .665 mill levy set to expire in 2009 and dedicate the annual $3 million it earns to job creation and retention. The small levy had been repaying bonds. Mayor Lionel Rivera thought the money should go to the general fund, helping everything from parks to public safety as well as job creation. Creating a fund specifically for jobs, he said, would be unwise amid the struggle to provide basic services.
"If we need to create incentives, we can do that out of the general fund as we have in the past," he said.
Vice Mayor Larry Small and Councilor Margaret Radford favored a separate proposal from Small to raise property taxes to the TABOR-mandated limit, meaning an extra $9 million a year. About half would have gone to jobs, the rest to the general fund. Small said it was time to act or "the city is going to find itself in a death spiral."
But it never came to a vote, as Council by a 6-3 margin chose the smaller mill-levy measure with its money going only to economic development. In doing so, those on the prevailing side insisted it was the wrong time to ask for a tax increase.
To replace the city TABOR definition of an enterprise with the state TABOR definition, allowing city enterprises to accept federal grants. Currently, a city-owned enterprise must receive 75 percent of its funding from nongovernmental sources; state TABOR has no such requirement. The airport has been close to losing its enterprise status, due to aggressively pursuing federal grants. Without enterprise status, all airport revenue would go through the city's general fund, triggering limits and money distribution issues also related to TABOR.
Council unanimously agreed to ask for the change. Conservative activist Sean Paige supported the measure but worried others would see it as a "Trojan horse" to gut TABOR. Councilor Randy Purvis said, "How replacing TABOR with TABOR would be an assault on TABOR is beyond my comprehension."
Council will ask voters to use up to 15 percent of revenues from TOPS for any park maintenance. Currently, TOPS allows 6 percent for maintenance, limited to TOPS-purchased properties. If passed, the amendment would sunset in five years. Many on Council say the city needs the money to help prevent park degradation in tight budget times. TOPS supporters argue this is the best time to purchase new land, with prices low and parcels available. They say depleting TOPS funds could mean losing some purchases including Section 16, a deal that would include a $1 million Colorado Lottery grant. Responding to that, Rivera said, "We're all working for the same goal: great city, great parks system."
The city will ask to keep up to $1.2 million in tax revenue collected above TABOR limits in 2008. The money would go to "essential city services" such as public safety and community centers.