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Suthers proposes increased spending due to higher revenues from sales tax 

Budgeting for a good year

click to enlarge Suthers wants to grow our local economy. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Suthers wants to grow our local economy.
Spending on city services in Colorado Springs would grow by $16.3 million in 2018 over this year under a $288.9 million budget proposed by Mayor John Suthers that allots the new money to city vehicles, transit, parks maintenance and employee raises.

The budget proposal assumes the stormwater fee measure on the Nov. 7 ballot will not pass, but Suthers is prepared to submit an amendment to City Council if it does.

A big chunk of the anticipated increase in revenue is from sales tax collection increases. At times, the city has needed to refund sales tax collections that grew quickly, due to revenue growth limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But this year, and in 2018, the city will be able to keep $6 million per year in revenue overage thanks to a measure approved by voters in April. That money is dedicated to stormwater projects. (The city is aggressively dealing with drainage issues, in part, because it’s being sued by the federal government for violation of the Clean Water Act.)

While the 2018 spike in spending is substantial — last year’s increase was $5.7 million over 2016 — Suthers is already anticipating an economic slide. “We’re hoping a downturn won’t come in 2018,” he says in an interview, noting economic indicators show the economy remaining strong through next year. “But everybody is thinking that maybe in 2019 [the economy will falter].”

The biggest single increase in Suthers’ 2018 budget is $5.5 million allocated to pay increases. Suthers’ plan calls for bringing police officers and firefighters up to market level when compared to other big cities in Colorado within two years, because the city is having trouble retaining public safety workers. Even after market rates are achieved in two years, local officers and firefighters won’t be paid as much as those in Denver, because market rates take into account Colorado Springs’ lower cost of living, he says.

How the pay hike looks for individuals depends on what rank officers and firefighters hold. A battalion chief, for example, would see a salary hike of less than 1 percent, to $114,201, because pay for that rank already is fairly competitive. But lower ranking firefighters would see pay hikes in the 2 to 4 percent range.

Same goes for police officers. Lieutenants, who aren’t eligible for overtime, but are expected to work long hours anyway, would see their pay go up by 5.7 percent, to $112,013, while a patrol officer’s pay would increase by 2.45 percent to $51,246.

Civilian employee pay also would increase, Suthers says, but the 2018 raises would get them only one-fifth of the way toward market rates.

“Years ago, the city was at market or above,” Suthers says, noting there is a five-year plan to get civilian salaries to market rate. “That has dissipated over the years.”

Other areas of the budget Suthers wants to see boosted include: $900,000 more for parks, $1.2 million for fleet replacement, $750,000 toward landscaping of the Interstate 25/Cimarron Street interchange, $180,000 more for Mountain Metro Transit (the city bus system) and $300,000 to improve the city’s online services for permitting, land use and licensing.

Citing his goal, when elected, to create more jobs and grow the economy, Suthers says in a letter to City Council that he wants to continue or increase funding for the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC; the Small Business Development Center; arts and cultural groups, sporting events, festivals and parades; and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, via the city’s Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax.

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