Last week, a resident sent an e-mail to Colorado Springs City Council in support of City Questions 200 and 201, which basically would eviscerate Colorado Springs government, starting with the Stormwater Enterprise.
"This message says that people want to punish city government," City Councilor Margaret Radford reports, exasperation filling her voice. "The answer to that is simple: No, we don't get punished. If you vote for 200 and 201, you're going to punish yourselves."
Scott Hente, another Council veteran, says he's growing tired of people believing Douglas Bruce when he, the initiatives' sponsor, says that 50 percent of the Stormwater Enterprise's funding goes into overhead not projects.
"I've even had constituents call and say, 'Is that true?' Of course it's not," says Hente, hardened from debates and forums defending the city. "I'm a little worried, though, about how Bruce just keeps throwing up this crap. Because you know, if you repeat a lie enough times, it becomes the truth for some people."
So it has been for local elected leaders, battling misconceptions and bad information about 200, 201 and County Question 1A.
As for 1A, the proposed 1-cent sales tax for public health and safety would impact how well the Sheriff's Office patrols and responds, how often the county will inspect restaurants, and even the county's ability to incarcerate those who have committed crimes. (The Independent endorses 1A.)
Then there are the Bruce Bombshells, 200 and 201, the first stopping the city from forcing residents to pay stormwater fees, the second ending its long-standing practice of taking large payments from enterprises Utilities, in particular for services. (The Indy recommends "no" on both.)
If either 200 or 201 passes, the consequences would create an immediate nightmare for the city. If voters deny Bruce, but kill 1A, you can expect the county to make cuts, maybe selling parks to salvage law enforcement and fire protection. If voters resist Bruce and approve 1A, city and county government would still make cuts but not as many, and public safety would be OK.
Elected leaders have laid out the possible repercussions. But they also are dealing with misconceptions, such as:
Half of stormwater funds are spent on overhead. As Hente puts it, "Bruce is counting salaries as overhead, but that's people doing the actual work on projects. So it's 92 percent going to projects, not 50. Also, one of the biggest stormwater projects, Cottonwood Creek, was $3 million of federal money with just $450,000 local. That's a good deal, the last time I checked."
Voters will punish local officials. Radford: "People losing their jobs 90 in the city and others in the county they are being punished. But the only others being punished would be the citizens. If you lose your community centers, your restrooms in parks and riding buses on the same schedule, that's punishing you."
Our governments have hidden money to save the day. Hente: "I tell people, just go online and see where the city is spending its money. It's all there. If there's an excess, tell me, we'll be glad to fix it. Some people even say we're hiding water. Really? Where would we be hiding it, in an underground river somewhere?" Radford: "If we had double-top-secret slush funds, don't you think we'd already be tapping those now? If we had it, why would we be asking?"
It's the wrong time to ask for more money. Radford: "I would argue, particularly with 1A, that when the economy is bad, that's exactly when you have to do things such as this."
The city should have put the Stormwater Enterprise before voters initially. Hente: "That's what I keep hearing: if we'd just done it the right way. Well, Question 200 is that chance, because people will vote on it. We did this to protect lives and safety, and we did it the same way other cities have done it."
So the battle continues, as our governments hope for the best but have to prepare for the worst.
The strangest part is, those city and county leaders almost always are re-elected, and nobody is demanding a recall. So if most voters trust them, they should know which way to vote: Yes on 1A, no on 200 and 201.
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