Issue 1 costly for taxpayers, unnecessary for firefighters 

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click to enlarge COURTESY DIRK DRAPER
  • Courtesy Dirk Draper
At the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, it’s our job to keep the economic engines in Colorado Springs running smoothly and efficiently. Nothing leads to better community outcomes than ensuring its people have jobs that pay well and allow them to care for their families. Creating an environment where entrepreneurship can thrive requires, among other things, efficient and effective local government. On April 2, voters will decide whether to approve unions for firefighters, a proposal our analysis shows is costly and unnecessary.

Colorado Springs has always valued public safety and first responders. That’s why more than half of the city’s budget is devoted to public safety, more than most cities our size. Line firefighters received a 16 percent raise in the last four years, bringing their salaries to $80,000 plus overtime, far exceeding the average Colorado Springs salary of $47,000 and putting their compensation at or above that of other major departments in Colorado. They also receive a generous benefits package that includes lifetime retirement pay.

As further evidence of how Colorado Springs values public safety and first responders, from 2016-2021, the city is adding another 52 people in the fire department, including 44 line firefighters. Our police and firefighters have full access to the mayor and City Council to discuss wages, benefits, staffing, equipment, etc., and are well represented on all city compensation and benefits committees. In recent news coverage, even union advocates themselves have said firefighters are happy with their access to the mayor, fire chief, and City Council and how they’re consistently able to express their concerns and negotiate compensation and safety standards. During the 2008 Great Recession, the mayor and Council worked hard to ensure no firefighters were laid off. As a result, Colorado Springs Fire Department has one of the highest ISO ratings a fire department can receive. This rating measures how well departments are equipped to put out fires.

Voters hire a mayor and city council to carefully review tax revenue and community needs, and set budget priorities with the interest of all citizens in mind.

Issue 1 proposes amending the city charter to allow just one group of city government employees to take a shortcut (get special treatment?), turning a historically collaborative relationship into a highly contentious negotiation between the city and an “exclusive bargaining agent.”

Authorizing unions for firefighters will lead to other city and county government employees unionizing, creating additional costs to the community, and those won’t necessarily be dollars for firefighters. For example, if the firefighters’ bargaining agent and city leadership can’t agree on labor terms, a special election to resolve the dispute would be required, at a cost of up to $500,000 to Colorado Springs taxpayers.

An exclusive bargaining agent’s sole job is to argue for more for a single group of city government employees at the expense of the others. City budgets are zero-sum games: If firefighters get more than the mayor and councilmembers believe is appropriate, other city needs will get less, whether they be adding police officers, addressing affordable housing and homelessness, or maintaining parks and roads.

Colorado Springs has grown and prospered through the decades because it embraces an entrepreneurial spirit, low taxation and an affordable cost of living. We have prospered without unionization of our public employees.

The Indy previously published an editorial (“A little light of day,” Voice of Reason, Feb. 13) wondering why we engage in elections as recipients of city funds. The City of Colorado Springs contracts with the Chamber & EDC to outsource economic development, which allowed the city to decrease its own economic development budget and staff from 11 to two employees. About 80 percent of our funding comes from our business members, who invest in the economic development of our community. Like any contractor, we have specific performance metrics we are held accountable to for the dollars invested in our work. We undertake campaign activities on behalf of our business members, in the same way that paving or landscaping or other service providers do so. Funds for campaigns are raised outside of our operating budget, kept in a separate bank account, and accounted for in our campaign finance reports, which are publicly available on the City Clerk’s website.

— Dirk Draper, president and CEO Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC

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