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We're No. 1? 

Mayor touts rankings but spends little time on budget, other problems in State of the City address

click to enlarge Mayor Lionel Rivera and City Council may consider - freezing city employees wages. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Mayor Lionel Rivera and City Council may consider freezing city employees wages.

Just before Mayor Lionel Rivera delivered his annual State of the City address Tuesday at the Antlers Hilton, another No. 1 ranking rolled in. Men's Health magazine designated Colorado Springs the top city ... for dogs.

That announcement was followed by a speech littered with ratings and outside praise. No. 4 city to live in, from Frommer's travel-guide company. No. 16 among "America's smartest cities" from CNNMoney. "One of the top job-generating cities in America" from the Milken Institute. And "one of the country's top places for business and careers" from Forbes. All this, on top of the much-touted No. 1 "big-city" grade from Money Magazine.

We owe it all, Rivera said, to the people who work here.

"It truly has been a community-wide collaboration that has helped our city garner so much recognition this last year," Rivera said to about 350 people at the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored luncheon. "And it starts with great city, utility and hospital employees."

As to the actual state of the city, Rivera hyped public safety, health care and transportation. And he glossed over the problems the sluggish Southern Delivery System plans, the lack of a discount airline at the local airport, and a water fight with Pueblo to circle back to Colorado Springs as a "leading-edge" and "world-class" place.

Another thing Rivera barely mentioned and what might impact those very people he praised is a serious budget shortfall.

Due to lagging sales tax revenue, the city is looking at a projected $7.4 million deficit in 2007. Next year's projection looks even worse $12.4 million in the red.

In order to remedy the 2007 budget woes, the city delayed certain capital-improvement projects and implemented a selective hiring freeze in early May. (It doesn't affect public safety and some public-works personnel.)

City officials might take more serious steps to avert the 2008 prediction. Over the past six years, salaries and benefits have increased for city employees, while sales-tax revenue has failed to keep pace.

According to Lisa Bigelow, the city's budget director, Colorado Springs may cancel its anticipated $4 million wage-increase package for city employees in 2008.

"We would not be able to pay our employees at what the policy is," says Bigelow, adding that Colorado Springs pays its employees the national median wage for the previous year.

The wage-package cut and other recommendations will be presented to City Council in October.

It was only toward the end of his State of the City speech that Rivera speculated on the budget problem.

"I mentioned that sales-tax revenues fund 55 percent of our general fund, and that they have been slower than expected," he said. "A lot of that leakage is large retailers locating their facilities outside the city limits to service that growing population base."

The key, Rivera said, is encouraging development within city limits, from revitalizing downtown to promoting growth on both ends of Nevada Avenue.

Until that happens, though, it looks like the city's own employees might bear the brunt.

naomi@csindy.com

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