Now comes the hard part: Martin begins sales job on mill-levy ballot proposal

       City Councilwoman Jan Martin knows that people's eyes might “glaze over” at city budget-shortfall numbers and her proposed property-tax increase to overcome them.
       “But the bottom line for me,” she said, “when I look at the list of projected cuts is: What's the quality of life we want for Colorado Springs?”
       That's the message that Martin, a Westside resident and first-term council member, wants to sell to voters between now and the end of mail-in balloting Nov. 3. She led a council vote last week to ask the public to approve a 10-mill increase, starting with 6 mills in 2009 (collected in 2010) and continuing with a 1-mill hike annually until 2013.
       At that point, for a home assessed at $262,000 (the “average” in the present-day market), its owner would be paying a total of $210 more per year based on current assessments, Martin's figures show.
       It may be small comfort for property owners, but by the last year, the city would be benefiting from $46 million more than now. Meanwhile, the city's levy of 14.279 “will still put us below both Denver and Pueblo and other Colorado cities,” the councilwoman asserted.
       Noting that it's hard to predict what the money situation will be like a year or more from now, Martin can only offer specifics for the first budget year (2010). The 6 mills this year would pay to “stay where we are,” without having to cut $25.4 million that would otherwise be needed to balance the 2010 budget, she said.
       Those cuts would include shutting down the Westside's Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site and the West Center; eliminating dozens of police, firefighters and park employees; closing pools and ceasing maintainenance in numerous parks; and ending city contributions to mass transit (leaving only what the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority could fund).
       Just to get the gap down to $25.4 million, City Council had to trim from a larger shortfall (it was $37.9 million initially), which even the 6-mill increase would not recover. These cuts include frozen wages and other workforce cutbacks that will still take effect in 2010, Martin noted.
       Contributing to the “glazed-eyes” effect, the ballot measure factors in the sunsetting of a separate .665-mill property tax and the elimination of the city's business personal property tax (BPPT) - the latter action intended to ease the property tax hit for the commercial sector.
       The city's BPPT revenue loss would be subtracted from the $27.6 million that the 6-mill hike is projected to bring to city coffers in 2010. This equals $25.4 million - the exact amount needed to avoid further cuts.
       Asked if salary increases might be included in future years, Martin said she “hasn't given it much thought,” but is open to discussion on the matter, assuming the ballot proposal passes. “We'll have to see how we do [with the additional money],” she said. “We have to remain competitive with other cities. Where it hurts us most is when we lose police and firefighters, because it costs us money to train them.”
       Before Martin brought her proposal to council, “I spent a lot of time working on the formula and trying different combinations, including one that tried to reduce sales tax at the same time raising property tax,” she said. “However, it quickly became very complicated, so I went back to a straight property tax. I wanted to find what I considered to be a 'reasonable' solution that would maintain the city services at the 2009 funding level and increase slightly over the next four years to possibly restore some of the services the city has stopped since reducing the budget by $50 million in the last two years.”
       As for the difficulty of explaining the financial details to everyday citizens, “I'd be surprised if you stopped 20 people on the street if even one of them could tell you how their property tax is calculated and divided between the county, library, city and school districts and how many mills each receives,” Martin said. “So, one of our challenges in the campaign is to help explain it.”

Westside Pioneer article