Ballot and budget 

Election will decide just how deep the city's cuts go

Less money for repairs, like those recently completed on the Cimarron Bridge, could mean trouble later. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Less money for repairs, like those recently completed on the Cimarron Bridge, could mean trouble later.

Colorado Springs City Council is waiting.

This year's election will decide the fate of its 2009 proposed city budget, which seeks to mend a $23 million shortfall and correct the city's habit of spending more than it makes. In its current form, it will chop millions in funding from roads, transit, parks and other departments, and leave dozens of city workers without jobs.

It also could very well get bloodier.

Council has scheduled a budget work session for Nov. 5, the day after the election. If voters have cast ballots in the city's favor, it will be business as usual. But if voters have approved city questions 200 and 201 and rejected county question 1A, there will be a lot of scrambling to do.

Until now, Council has shielded sworn police and fire staffers from cuts; in the proposed '09 budget, public safety consumes almost 50 percent of the general fund. But several councilors say they won't be able to protect public safety any longer if they lose millions more.

"Anyone who's accusing us of scare tactics, hold on to your hat," Councilor Margaret Radford says. "It will not be painless. We're to the point where it cannot be painless anymore."

The biggest threats are outgoing state Rep. Douglas Bruce's two initiatives. Question 201, which would phase out the exchange of money between the city and its enterprises, would mean the loss of $212 million to the city over 10 years, officials say. In 2009, the city would lose $3.5 million.

Question 200 would make payments to city enterprises voluntary, spelling the end of the controversial Stormwater Enterprise. But the city is federally mandated to provide stormwater maintenance, and noncompliance could mean fees of up to $27,500 per day. Stormwater's demise could also endanger negotiations on the Southern Delivery System, which is to provide drinking water to Colorado Springs residents in the future.

Meanwhile, El Paso County commissioners have said they may not give the city its expected $2 million for roads and bridges, if voters don't pass 1A, the one-cent sales tax initiative that would boost county funding. (Some councilors Scott Hente and Jerry Heimlicher for sure are saying they'd want to fight that decision in court.)

All told, the city could lose as much as $5.5 million as a result of Nov. 4. Councilors already are brainstorming cuts. Heimlicher and Mayor Lionel Rivera agree with Radford that public safety would have to face the knife. Randy Purvis says that beyond stopping stormwater, they'd have to scale back lots of work on roads and bridges. But he cringes at the idea of cutting parks programs altogether and closing community centers a move assistant city manager Mike Anderson has said would save millions.

Councilor Jan Martin predicts across-the-board cuts, but like Councilor Darryl Glenn, she's crossing her fingers and waiting.

Hente rattles off scenarios: turning off all the city streetlights, cutting deeper into parks and recreation programs, and snow removal. He's also eyeing selling the airport.

Radford isn't so hot on that kind of idea.

"Selling one of the enterprises is a gimmick," she says, adding that it's impractical and legally complicated. "The need is now."

In the meantime, as tensions rise, the councilors are bracing themselves for the public outcry over cuts that are already scheduled.



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