Monday, October 1, 2018

Mayor John Suthers presents record-high Colorado Springs budget for 2019

Posted By on Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 1:35 PM

click to enlarge Mayor John Suthers discusses his proposed 2019 budget, saying revenues are rising due to a vigorous economy. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Mayor John Suthers discusses his proposed 2019 budget, saying revenues are rising due to a vigorous economy.
Mayor John Suthers unveiled a $302.1 million general fund budget on Oct. 1, a record high.

Under Suthers' plan, which requires City Council approval, the city will spend $15.4 million more next year than this year, an increase of 5.4 percent. The increase comes as the city rides a wave of rising sales and use tax revenue, which comprises 60 percent of the general fund budget, or $182.3 million. Other sources are property taxes, charges for service, fines and intergovernmental payments.

click to enlarge Most city employees work in the Police Department. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Most city employees work in the Police Department.
That increase, projected to be 4.5 percent more in 2019 compared to this year, is due to a rebounding economy, which will slow to 1.5 percent growth in 2020 and 2021, the budget forecast shows.

Suthers' increased spending also is made possible by voter approval in November 2017 of stormwater fees, effective July 1, 2018, that are charged to residents. The fees raise about $16 million annually and are exempt from TABOR caps. That allows the city to shift general fund money previously spent on drainage projects and maintenance to other needs, notably more public safety workers and employee raises.

The budget presented by Suthers, a former district attorney and Colorado Attorney General, calls for $4.5 million to fund 61 more police officers and eight more firefighters, as well as "$9.9 million to bring police and fire sworn position compensation to the market average" and give raises to other city employees as well.

Suthers says in an interview he hopes that two classes of 48 police recruits in 2019 will increase the force by 26, considering 35 will merely replace veteran officers who leave or retire. His goal is ultimately to grow the force by 120 officers, he says.
Of the $9.9 million in compensation money, 75 percent will go toward bringing police lieutenants and below and firefighters at battalion chief and below to the market average. A portion also will go toward moving civilian employees to the second step in a multi-year effort to achieve the market average as it compares to seven other cities in Colorado, he says.

click to enlarge Most city revenue comes from sales tax, making the city's budget susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Most city revenue comes from sales tax, making the city's budget susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy.
(Apparently, Suthers has no taste for bringing back the Police Department's helicopter unit, which has been under study in the past as a force multiplier, especially for a city that sprawls over 200 square miles. He says there have been no serious discussions of reauthorizing a helicopter program presented to him. "I would have to see a cost benefit analysis," he says.)

But Suthers' budget states that although the city collected more than $8.6 million in excess revenue above caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 2016 and 2017 ($6 million was retained with voter approval, with the balance refunded to voters), there apparently isn't any excess expected in 2018 or 2019.

"What you're starting to see happen is you're starting to see new construction, expansion," he says. "It's very much a reflection of good times."

As for parks, the mayor's budget calls for increasing park maintenance funding by $950,000, including adding a new forestry crew, as well as adding $1 million for parks water.

He also wants to bolster funding by $1.36 million for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, (the city recently settled a lawsuit over the ADA), and add $1.1 million for city fleet replacement.

Other additions:
· $171,000 in increased funding for an additional Quality of Life/Camp Cleanup crew
· $209,000 increased funding to Mountain Metro Transit
· $1.8 million increase to address Information Technology core infrastructure, applications, and cybersecurity improvements and sustainment
Suthers doesn't foresee significant pushback from City Council during the budget process.

"We have really dramatically changed the process," he says. "I don't just sent them the budget on Oct. 1. They have a budget committee that gets a lot of input."

The complete proposed 2019 budget is available at here.

Budget dates:
Oct. 15 – Budget presentations to City Council (all day)
Oct. 18 – Public input meeting (5-7:30 p.m.)
Residents may also provide input via email to allcouncil@springsgov.com
Nov. 13 – Introduction of 2019 budget ordinance at City Council work session
Nov. 13 – First reading of 2019 budget ordinance at City Council regular meeting
Nov. 27 – Second reading of 2019 budget ordinance at City Council regular meeting

The mayor's letter to Council:

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