Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New Colorado Springs Utilities CEO pay: $480,000 a year

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 11:02 AM

Benyamin: A CSU customer as well as its CEO. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • Benyamin: A CSU customer as well as its CEO.
Colorado Springs Utilities' new CEO Aram Benyamin has one qualification his predecessor, Jerry Forte, didn't have: Benyamin lives within Utilities' service area.

Forte, who retired in May, lived in Black Forest, outside the service area, meaning he wasn't subject to Utilities policies and rate changes, because he wasn't a customer of the agency he was in charge of. Over the years, Utilities Board members have said privately they hoped Forte's successor would be a Utilities customer. Benyamin owns a residential property in northeast Colorado Springs, according to the El  Paso County Assessor's website.

But that wasn't a deciding factor for everyone. Utilities Board member Andy Pico says via email he didn't recall "any discussion about requiring [Benyamin] or any utility employee to live in the service area" and that he isn't aware of Benyamin's residency. Pico voted against Benyamin's contract for a different reason: his high salary.

On Oct. 2, Benyamin was sworn in to his new position, with an annual salary of $480,000, higher than Forte's $447,175. The salary makes Benyamin the city's highest paid employee. But Benyamin's contract doesn't include incentive pay like Forte's contract, which afforded Forte tens of thousands of dollars per year toward his retirement.

Read Benyamin's contract here. It allows him a vehicle at Utilities' expense, but provides only standard retirement and health insurance benefits provided to other employees. If he resigns, he gets no severance pay. If he is terminated without cause, he could receive up to six months severance pay and six months employer contribution to health insurance.

The contract also includes a non-disparagement clause and bars Benyamin from working for or on behalf of a competitor for two years after his departure, as well as trying to hire Utilities employees for a different employer.
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Land and Water Conservation Fund faces uncertain future

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 9:53 AM

The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PHOTO/ WALKER HALL
  • National Park Service Photo/ Walker Hall
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

Without action by Congress, a fund that's helped to pay for the conservation of public lands since 1965 is on hold.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired Sept. 30, bought and preserved land, water and recreation areas with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

Since 1965, Colorado has received more than $268 million from the fund, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a group advocating for its reauthorization. The money has paid for projects in Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Arapaho National Forest, Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch and more.

As of Oct. 2, U.S. parks had lost more than $3.6 million in funding as a result of Congress' failure to reauthorize it, according to the LWCF Coalition. (The organization has an automatically updating online counter that tracks funds "lost," based on the $900 million deposited annually.)

A total of $40 billion was deposited in the fund over its 54-year lifespan, though less than half of that was appropriated by Congress. Of the $18.4 billion spent, 61 percent went to federal land acquisition, 25 percent went to the state grant program and 14 percent was spent on other purposes, according to the Congressional Research Service. The other funds were diverted elsewhere.

A measure to permanently restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund passed in the House Natural Resources Committee in September, but the measure has not yet reached the chamber floor. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was expected to consider similar legislation Oct. 2.

Both bills would dedicate a minimum of $10 million from the fund each year to "projects that secure recreational public access to existing Federal public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes."

A coalition of more than 70 Colorado business owners and leaders in August signed a letter addressed to the state's representatives in Congress, urging them to reauthorize the fund.

"LWCF funding has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of state, local, and private
matching funds to contribute to the betterment of Colorado and well-being of its citizens,
and its reauthorization is critical to our future," they wrote. "Now more than ever, with the rapid
expansion of Colorado’s population and ever more common water shortages throughout
the Colorado River basin, Coloradans need the tool of LWCF to protect public land access,
critical drinking water supplies, and community resources."

Colorado legislators from both parties have jumped aboard the LWCF train. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are cosponsors of the Senate reauthorization measure, while Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) have signed on in support of the House measure. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), serves on the Natural Resources Committee and voted in favor of advancing the legislation, the Colorado Sun reports.

Gardner and Bennet, original cosponsors of the Senate measure, co-authored a July 24 guest editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera championing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"LWCF is a critical tool for fulfilling our basic responsibility to give the next generation the same opportunities our parents and grandparents gave to us. It is time for Congress to stop the serial, short-term extensions of this program and make LWCF permanent with the full dedicated funding it deserves," they wrote.

Jonathan Asher, senior representative for the Wilderness Society, called actions in the House and Senate "really great signs," but predicted that legislation reauthorizing the fund is more likely to pass as part of next year's budget than as a stand-alone bill.
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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

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.

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.

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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