Elected officials sound alarm on issues 200, 201

       Scott Hente, Jerry Heimlicher, Tom Gallagher and Randy Purvis - all City Council members representing or living on the Westside - have taken strong positions against local initiatives 200 and 201. Also opposed is County Commissioner Chair Sallie Clark, a Westside resident and businesswoman and former City Council member.
       “Initiatives 200 and 201 are bad for the future of Colorado Springs,” Hente summed up in response to a question from the Westside Pioneer. “They would eventually eliminate $32 million (in current-year dollars) from the city's general fund (about 15 percent in 2006), severely crippling the city's ability to provide basic services.”
       Proposed by longtime Colorado Springs tax crusader Douglas Bruce, the two ballot issues would tighten the controls of his own city TABOR law, approved by voters in 1992.
       One key change would be the elimination of the city's capability to seek a public vote on increasing taxes or retaining excess income (both of which are part of TABOR). The only way a tax-hike proposal could get on the ballot under Issue 200 would be through the initiatitive process. And, the capability of the city to ask voters to retain excess income under TABOR - which they have agreed to five of eight times over the years - would disappear, according to Bruce's Issue 200 “Arguments For” (in the ballot issues' Factual Summary which has been mailed to voters).
       Other major changes in 200 would be phasing out property taxes paid to city government altogether, reducing the sales tax and limiting revenue growth to the rate of inflation. TABOR now limits city revenues to inflation plus growth.
       According to Bruce's Issue 200 “Arguments For,” the plus for homeowners would be a property-tax reduction of $79 a year on a home valued at $200,000 and a sales-tax savings of 10 cents on a $40 purchase.
       If 201 passes, the city would be required to create a 3 percent annual capital reserve fund, which would have to be depleted before the city could issue bonds for additional capital improvements. But any financial obligations could not exceed 10 years. The goal is a “pay-as-you-go” plan that would ease the burden on future generations, Bruce argues. As in 201, the only way this arrangement could change would be through the ballot initiative process.
       The following are statements provided to the Pioneer by the elected officials:
       Hente - “[The ballot issues] would further reduce an already low sales tax rate - the major source of funding for all municipal services - and would eliminate the city's portion of the property tax (about 8 percent of the total property tax bill), which is already one of the lowest municipal property tax rates in the nation. The reduced revenue would seriously undermine the city's ability to build and maintain infrastructure and would negatively impact the city's ability to provide police and fire services, which would put fewer “first responders” on duty and would increase response times for serious crimes and life threatening emergencies. In addition, neighborhood projects, fire and police stations, parks, and recreation centers could not be built because of the requirement to only borrow over 10 years… Potential employers considering Colorado Springs would be alarmed at the community's inability to build and maintain public facilities which would jeopardize new jobs for current residents as well as our children. These initiatives will exert a punitive restriction on the city and future councils that will cripple infrastructure and public works funding forever.”
       Heimlicher - “Imagine getting your family income reduced by just under 15 percent and still being expected to provide all services to your family as you do now. Imagine having an increase in the size of your family (new troops and family members coming to Fort Carson) and being told you can only have a pay increase of the rate of inflation with no consideration of the growth in population. Imagine finding the home you want to buy and being told by the bank that you can only have a 10-year mortgage. These impacts are what 200 and 201 mean to the city if passed. A family would find the provisions I have highlighted to be difficult if not impossible to live with. We are proud of our community and want it to prosper with appropriate financial controls in place.”
       Gallagher - “[Regarding 200] You will definitely see and feel impacts if iniitiative 200 passes. I strongly suspect you won't even notice the 'tax relief' benefits that are the rally song for this initiative. It's the fine print, just like with the city version of TABOR that voters approved (I confess that I was one of the yes votes) in 1992. The great city TABOR refund comes back (all $5 of it the last time voters opted to keep the money) as a credit on your utility bill. [On 201] This is the slick sister of question 200; the ballot title has been wordsmithed to make you believe it is about reining in the spending-way-beyond-your-means city government. Limiting debt obligations to 10 years, paying cash for all capital improvements from a 3 percent reserve fund; city government should have to make the same hard decisions we have to. Again, it sounds good but it isn't good. Initiative 201 means that the Cimarron Bridge doesn't get rebuilt because the cost is more than the cash reserve fund… Tthe only place to get the money should initiative 201 pass [is] payroll and reduced levels of service.”
       Purvis - “Measures 200 and 201 represent a solution in search of a problem. The city budget has grown in proportion to the growth in the community. Fifteen years ago, we were a community of 275,000; now we are about 400,000. Per capita expenditures today are roughly the same as they were 15 years ago. Initiative 200 will prevent the city budget from growing to meet the needs of a growing community. One consequence of initiative 201 will force the city immediately to set aside about $19 million (or 8 percent of the budget) to fully fund sick leave and vacation leave for all 2000 employees, even though there is no likelihood that all city employees retire or leave the city's employment at once.”
       Clark - [excerpted with permission from her column in the Fall 2006 Westside Story] “Before you vote, consider an issue near and dear to the Westside. Remember the fight to save Fire Station 3? The city's recommendation during a budget crunch in 1997 was to close our firehouse and move its firefighters to another part of town. And, as a member of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), you might remember my analogy of the chocolate crème pie - take a scoop out of the middle and the contents run to the center, giving you a thinner pie. This is what will happen if 200 and 201 succeed. The recent ballot issues for public safety and transportation and approved by voters will be diluted, since these funds are committed to supplement the city's current 'maintenance of effort.' Those 177 new firefighters and uniformed police would be at risk, as would critical improvements such as the Cimarron bridge replacement. Don't be fooled by claims that eliminating $35 million dollars from the city's general fund would have no impact; we Westsiders know better. Building additional new fire and police substations would not be possible due to these initiative's limitations on financing these projects.”

Westside Pioneer article