Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Colorado Springs Council votes 6-3 to ask voters for excess money

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 2:48 PM

Mayor John Suthers' ballot measure seeking voter approval to keep up to $12 million in excess revenue flushed out the guy who wrote the measure that made a ballot measure mandatory:
click to enlarge Douglas Bruce speaks to City Council against a ballot measure asking voter permission to keep excess revenue.
  • Douglas Bruce speaks to City Council against a ballot measure asking voter permission to keep excess revenue.
Douglas Bruce.

After serving prison time for a probation violation in an earlier tax evasion case last year, Bruce has been back in Colorado Springs for several months and today showed up at the City Council meeting to put in his two-cents worth.

The measure seeks voter permission to keep $6 million from 2016 excess revenue collected above caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and another $6 million from any excess raked in during 2017. All the money would go to stormwater projects.

First, Bruce noted that although government officials frequently bemoan TABOR's effect of not allowing revenues to grow, nothing could be further from the truth. He said the city's general fund has increased by 150 percent since TABOR, which he authored, was passed by voters in the early 1990s. That doesn't include the city's other taxes dedicated to public safety and trails, open space and parks, he noted.

He also cited salaries of several city employees: $159,000 for the budget director, $192,000 for the city attorney and $190,000 for the chief of staff.

Then he launched into the mayor's and council's 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to sink $460 million the city stormwater system to better control flooding and help water quality, notably in Fountain Creek.

"Even if you get $6 million every year for 20 years, you’re still $320 million short of your self-inflicted wound of this illegal obligation," he said. "We’re being told to give up our tax refunds in order to benefit Pueblo County, because of an illegal obligation you made in violation of your oath. I don’t think that’s a very strong selling point to make to your voters."

Councilor Tom Strand piped up saying, "I want to make it clear my motion is to ask the electors, not to tell them. This will be on the ballot to freely choose how they want to use these excess funds."

Three councilors voted against the measure: Helen Collins, Andy Pico and Bill Murray.

Murray railed against the measure, saying that public safety needs are taking a backseat to stormwater. He noted the mayor himself has said police pay needs to increase to prevent an exodus of officers to other departments and that response times are lagging. He also noted firefighters could use some new equipment to keep them safe.

"None of these are addressed in this ballot measure," he said.

Murray also called the measure a precursor to a stormwater fee to be imposed later. "This ballot issue is nothing more than a BAND-AID which will be followed by a fee, guaranteed."

The measure includes language stating which flood control projects will be completed with the money and that the excess revenue spending is above and beyond the $460-million deal with Pueblo County.

The city election is April 4.

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