If all goes as planned under Mayor Steve Bach's proposed $394.8 million budget for 2014, bus riders will be able to access the Powers Boulevard corridor, and travel on Sunday. Police officers will show up faster for high-priority calls, grass in some neighborhood parks will be replaced with low-maintenance artificial turf, and the exterior renovation of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum will continue.
Altogether, Bach plans to spend about $21 million more next year on city services, ranging from basic services to self-supporting city enterprises such as golf courses, cemeteries and the parking system.
A subset of the all-funds budget is the general fund, which is supported by taxes and provides police, fire, city administration and other basic services. Bach plans to spend $246.6 million from the general fund next year. That's about $14 million more than the original 2013 general fund budget, though in '13 Bach has decided to dip into the city's reserves for specific needs, such as drainage work, security measures in the City Administration Building and an $8 million settlement for a transit lawsuit.
Bach's increased spending next year would be funded by an $11.5 million rise in sales tax revenues, a $1.8 million increase in property tax revenues, more money from charges for services (such as youth sports programs and inspection fees), and a new charge of $1.6 million in fees and reimbursements from the city's emergency ambulance provider. There's also the expectation of receiving $31.7 million in "surplus revenue" from city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities.
But for all the additions — which, it should be noted, include $200,000 allocated for communications related to the "City for Champions" Regional Tourism Act proposal — there are subtractions, too. For one thing, Bach is planning for a net loss of 47 jobs citywide, with the biggest hits coming from outsourcing fleet maintenance and a 20 percent workforce reduction — 25 jobs — at Colorado Springs Airport.
Monday's budget announcement began a big week for the mayor, who is expected Wednesday to unveil his financing plan for addressing the city's dangerous, nine-figure stormwater project backlog. Within the general fund budget itself, Bach is proposing to spend just $5.6 million on stormwater, roads and bridges, part of $12.4 million in capital improvements.
Meanwhile, more conventional "public safety" interests will get a boost. The Police Department would gain 35 positions in a $100 million budget allocation, up from this year's $95.5 million. Chief Pete Carey says he'll hire more officers to help speed up response times for high-priority calls to the department's goal of eight minutes, and more non-sworn community service officers who respond to low-level issues, such as cold burglaries. He'll also add personnel to the emergency communications center and replace 52 of the department's 86 worn-out vehicles.
Firefighters will gain six positions in a budget of $62.2 million, up from $58.5 million this year. The city's emergency ambulance provider will reimburse the department $300,000 for three positions — an ambulance contract administrator and two lieutenants — under a contract now being negotiated, says the department's financial planning and analysis manager, Leslie Hickey.
That doesn't include $1.3 million noted in the budget's revenue section under "ambulance contract," which Hickey says "may" go into the city's general fund. Bach broke ties with the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency this year, which contracts with American Medical Response for service throughout the region, in order to extract a franchise fee from a newly chosen service provider. The contract hasn't been finalized, and the city won't say how many bids it's received.
Firefighters will host monthly neighborhood health clinics in their stations and help seniors continue to live independently. Chief Chris Riley says his department also will tackle more wildland mitigation projects, and hopes to open Station 22 in the fall of 2014.
The 2014 transit budget, which is $800,000 more than this year, will use grants and Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority money to expand service to Powers and to add Sunday service and more paratransit service. Transit also will look at downsizing buses when appropriate.
Of course, the most notable downsizing has to do with personnel. The airport will lose, as will finance (two people) and information technology (nine) as the city looks to outsource some functions.
Chief of Staff Laura Neumann says city workers who will lose their jobs next year have been made aware of those cuts and that no additional layoffs are hidden in the budget. This year's budget didn't target fleet and IT for outsourcing, for example, but in recent months it became clear that 70 to 80 people would go from those departments.
And consider this from Bach's budget letter: "The General Fund Financial Forecast suggests that we will need $2M and $4.3M in 2015 and 2016, respectively, in additional, as yet undefined, operating efficiencies to achieve balanced budgets."
Fireworks to come
Bach told reporters at a Monday news conference that his goal is to make city government more "efficient, sustainable and business-friendly." And multiple sources noted that in the afternoon, he'd take his budget presentation to Penrose House at The Broadmoor for an invitation-only gathering of business heavyweights; the Independent wasn't allowed in the door, but did catch glimpses of Downtown Partnership executive Susan Edmondson, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance chief Joe Raso and developers Steve Schuck and Chris Jenkins, among others.
Another important group that Bach must face is, of course, City Council. For one thing, the mayor has left a $1.13 million hole in the parks budget by failing to budget for a water rate increase that kicks in next year; he notes in his budget letter that Council, which serves as the Utilities Board, has been asked to give the city a break to fill that gap.
Bach and Council are already at odds over whether the latter can hire its own outside attorney to get advice on stormwater funding. Bach says Council can't hire its own attorney under the mayor-council form of government, because the city attorney represents the city and all its boards, commissioners and enterprises. Council disagrees and, unhappy with City Attorney Chris Melcher, adopted a resolution last month asserting its authority to hire outside counsel.
Speaking of that fight, it's unclear where money for outside counsel would come from in 2014. But Council has authority to amend Bach's budget, if it has six veto-override votes and the desired change deals with a "legislative major budgetary determination," as defined by City Attorney Chris Melcher in a legal opinion.
Council begins scrutinizing Bach's budget (which is available at springsgov.com) at 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, kicking off a series of work sessions that continues Friday, Monday and Tuesday and concludes with a public hearing and e-town hall meeting on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
All the sessions are open to the public, but comment will be taken only on the 17th. To speak, sign up starting at 3 p.m. that day and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message at 385-5961 beginning Monday, Oct. 14.
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