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Mixed bag 

Council looks familiar, but city loses two of four ballot issues

The outcomes were clear early in the night, and without any surprises to dissect, the victory parties started to clear out soon after.

Tuesday's municipal election wrought little change on Colorado Springs City Council. Bernie Herpin, the only new member, defeated perennial candidate Tony Carpenter — albeit by a narrower-than-expected 844 votes — after having received endorsements from most Councilors, with whom he'd served as an appointee in 2006 and 2007. In the only other competitive race, incumbent Jerry Heimlicher beat progressive candidate Dave Gardner, 57 to 43 percent.

Heimlicher talked about looking forward to another four years of working on improving certain areas and making the most of the city budget. Gardner said he planned to remain involved and run for Council, or possibly even mayor, in future elections. He said support from the community in his first bid for office had been "phenomenal."

Meanwhile, voters' calls on ballot issues will set the course of the city in the coming years.

1A — Jobs

With 1A's convincing failure, city leaders will have to look for new ways to attract jobs in an ailing economy. 1A's vocal opposition, after saying the measure (which would have raised $3.2 million annually) was a slush fund, already has ideas about how that ought to be done.

Local conservative activist Daniel Cole says the city should cut its business personal property tax and use tax in order to stimulate the economy.

"We've got to change the conversation from what taxes can we pass to what onerous taxes can we eliminate," Cole says.

Sean Paige of Local Liberty Action agrees, saying his organization has commissioned a survey to define problems for businesses in the community. Results should be released late this month. Paige says he hopes that after 1A's demise, a divided business community will come back together to search for other answers.

Meanwhile, City Councilors are already looking toward November. Many are interested in asking voters again to retain the soon-to-expire mill levy that would have funded 1A; this time, though, perhaps the revenue could be used for different purposes, such as funding essential city services. Mayor Lionel Rivera notes that the narrow passage of 1B shows the voters are concerned about the rapidly deteriorating city budget.

Re-elected Councilor Scott Hente, who ran unopposed, says the city needs to put a revenue question on a November ballot — whether it's the "son of 1A" question or something else.

"I think the voters are saying, 'Come to me with a better idea,'" Hente says.

1B — TABOR surplus

The 2009 budget has already shrunk by about $40 million. Up to $1.2 million in funding provided by 1B — which allows the city to retain its TABOR surplus for essential city services — could prove to be a life raft for portions of the parks, police, fire or transit budgets, especially since the city anticipates needing to make more budget cuts come summer. But it won't be enough money to make much of a dent.

1C — TOPS

1C would have allowed using Trails, Open Space and Parks money to help maintain city parks. TOPS supporters say it would have prevented the fund from making major land purchases with property prices at record lows. But without the funding, the city parks budget is so decimated that a dry summer could kill under-watered turf, which would have to be replaced at a great expense later.

"It could be a classic case of penny-wise and pound-foolish," Hente says. "It really depends on the summer you have."

Meanwhile, a cheerful Dan Cleveland of the TOPS Coalition, which opposed 1C, says his group will work to get more volunteers into parks this year. But he says watering remains an issue.

"Water is one of the biggest problems, and I don't have a really good solution for that," Cleveland says. "I don't think anybody does."

1D — Federal funds

The city scored a major victory with the landslide passage of 1D. The win most notably means that the Colorado Springs Airport will be able to accept federal grants without falling out of enterprise status. (TABOR could have deemed the airport was receiving too much of its budget from the government.)

Losing enterprise status would've stopped the airport from taking on debt without first asking voters, and would've forced the city to stow away more money in its TABOR-mandated emergency reserve, which is very hard to access. The airport has lost its enterprise status before, and was certain to do so again after a recent $6.2 million federal stimulus grant to fix concrete taxiways.

"I've said this all along," notes Hente, "but I thought 1D was just as important to the city as 1A."

stanley@csindy.com

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