"There's a bunch of folks that are looking into how we're going to look when we grow up," City Councilor Jerry Heimlicher says to the crowd at Monday's informal City Council meeting. "Some of them are dreaming of 2020, some of them are talking about leadership ... and it's kind of like they're people that are planning for the future trips of the Titanic after it gets back from its first one."
A few giggles bounce around the room. But for a lot of people, what Heimlicher is talking about simply isn't funny, no matter how clever his words may be.
The life of the next city budget now hinges largely on the November election. That's when voters will get a chance to decide whether to give the city more funding, or face the consequences the recession is inflicting. Councilors expect that without intervention, the 2010 budget will decimate the parks and transit departments, and bring layoffs of police officers and firefighters.
While Council hasn't yet decided what measures to put on the ballot, it did narrow its list of possibilities Monday. Here's what the elected leaders are considering:
Bruce's baby: Councilor Tom Gallagher's proposal would free the city from Taxpayer's Bill of Rights-imposed spending limits and the dreaded ratchet-down effect that is expected to depress city finances even after economic recovery comes. If passed, the measure would repeal parts of city TABOR and opt out of parts of state TABOR, but leave in place its most popular provisions: People would still vote on all new taxes, tax and mill levy increases and tax extensions.
Gallagher says the proposal isn't his idea. Members of the community (including Independent publisher John Weiss) suggested it to him and he agreed to run with it.
"TABOR pits government against the citizen for its very survival," he says.
Jan's plan: Councilor Jan Martin wants to raise the city mill levy by six mills in 2010, and one mill for each of the four years after that. The property tax increase, Martin notes, would prevent the city from having to make cuts this year, and put it on more solid footing in coming years. If her measure passes, Council also would repeal the city's business personal property tax.
Bernie Herpin says talking to desperate bus riders who were losing their only transportation convinced him to support a tax increase.
"I pay a lot of money in property tax to send other people's kids to school," he said. "Why shouldn't I pay some money to send my neighbor to work or a doctor's appointment?"
Two views on .665: Last April, the city asked voters to keep a .665 mill levy from expiring, and to earmark it for economic development. They said no.
Now Council is considering asking for the same tax extension, with other thoughts in mind. Some want to ask voters to keep it for public safety. Others want to ask to keep it so the city can pave the Pikes Peak Highway, which court order mandates. The latter will cost $7.5 million, and there is no budget to cover it; if Council goes this route, the tax would expire after the project is paid for.