Hey, Council: It's raining 

Between the Lines

How rotten it must be these days for the Colorado Springs City Council. Those many thousands of angry constituents out there in Voter-land, who have wished such ill will toward our elected leaders, must be relishing every morsel of this.

All you have to do is turn on your TV at the right time. On Comcast's channel 18, whether the Council telecasts are live or replays, it's the same painful sight. The frustrations and negative news items just keep on coming.

This week has provided an abundance of new material. For about two hours Monday, the Councilors tried to decipher the complex question of whether Utilities might have been under-evaluating its payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) to the city for the past decade, which could have implications on everyone's user rates. There was almost no possible way to achieve a consensus, especially with Measure 300's phasing out of such payments hanging over the controversy.

And that was just a prelude. Next came the question of a proposed new city ordinance that would ban camping by homeless people on public land, along with hand-wringing over the city's inability to take care of all those less-fortunate folks. Thankfully, the Council agreed to put off considering that ordinance until later (if ever). Also, there was the matter of pulling money — as much as $365,000 — out of reserves to save the Pioneers Museum from closure. All that on Monday, with more — including the Stormwater Enterprise's fate and a vote on the 2010 city budget — to come on Tuesday.

Even the most callous onlooker (OK, except for our most irascible and famously scorned Scrooge, whom I refuse to dignify here by mentioning his name) could understand (even while enjoying) just how nauseating, infuriating and excruciating it all was for the Councilors. They didn't sign up for this. Not for that measly stipend of $6,250 a year.

Yet, at the same time, in some ways they were adding to their own agony — and the lack of empathy from the masses — even without trying.

In the month since their proposed property-tax increase went down in flames, the Councilors have provoked voters even more. They had insisted every aspect of city government would be damaged if their Measure 2C lost, and yet, since the election, they have found ways to avoid laying off any currently employed sworn officers from police and fire, and now have voted to continue operating the community centers and indoor pools for three months while other funding sources are being pursued. Oh, and they did save the Pioneers Museum for another year.

To residents who totally bought into all the Councilors' dire predictions — and voted for 2C — all these last-minute rescues are confusing, at best. There is a reasonable argument from the Council's side: During the entire election buildup, the only numbers and projections regarding 2010 were from City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft's originally submitted budget. Not until after the election did Councilors begin their item-by-item revisions, applying different priorities and ideas.

But even if the elected leaders simply have been trying to make chicken salad out of chicken feces, hearing what sounds like a change of tune has driven constituents crazy. Consider last week's comments from Vice Mayor Larry Small, speaking in the context of Pioneers Museum: "We're not broke. We've got $17 million in reserves."

As one sage inside the Independent asked this week, "So what are those reserves for? A rainy day, right?"

Uh, yes. And this isn't just any rainy day. This is our own expletive-deleted Perfect Storm.

Nobody had talked about that $17 million being in play previously. So why not now? There's still one more budget vote Dec. 21 because of changes this week. Why not undo earlier decisions and continue bus service on nights and weekends, especially for the most-used routes? Why not make sure community centers stay open all year for all the kids and seniors, even if hours are reduced? Why not do more to save the parks next summer?

Why not spend up to half of that $17 million to preserve as much of our quality of life as possible, knowing that new ways of operating, funding and economizing must be found by 2011?

That's the best solution. So let's end the storm. Now.



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