Ballots to decide city’s fate Nov. 3

       Votes will be counted Tuesday, Nov. 3 in a local election featuring two city ballot issues that have ominous implications for services provided to citizens by the City of Colorado Springs.

Firefighter Tadd Mauritson talks to young visitors about fire safety during an open house at Fire Station 3 Oct. 17. A total of 35 uniform positions in the City Fire Department are recommended for elimination in the 2010 city budget if Question 2C fails at the polls Nov. 3.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Also to be determined, for Westsiders and others living within School District 11's boundaries, are three new Board of Education members out of five candidates. There are five candidates for three D-11 board seats. They are Chyrese Exline, Sandra Mann, Al Loma, LuAnn Long and Delia Armstrong-Busby. Only Mann is an incumbent. Two other incumbents, Tami Hasling and John Gudvangen, have chosen not to run again. All D-11 board positions are at-large.
       Voters can return their ballots in person or by mail, as long as they reach city hands by 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Ballots received after that date can't be counted, even if postmarked before it.
       Question 2C, placed on the ballot by City Council, would raise city property taxes a total of 10 mills over five years (with the total property tax increase in 2013 estimated at $210 for people owning houses worth $262,000). Although the added revenue would go into the general fund, city officials have pledged that the money would be used to keep city government service levels from dropping below the levels they are now and to recoup, as much as possible, budget reductions from the previous two years.
       In the event 2C does not pass, City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft has informed City Council that $29.3 million of cuts will be necessary in the 2010 budget, particularly in the areas of parks, police, fire and transit. (See related story, Page 6.)
       Specifically on the Westside, the West Center and Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site would be shut down, and the elimination of the city's preservation planner position would stall the creation of a historic overlay to protect the Westside's older houses.
       Council would make the final decision on what to cut - a city budget schedule shows that occurring Dec. 8 - but “there is no way to avoid these reductions,” Graft cautions in a detailed explanation that appears on the city's website. “The 2010 budget represents a turning point for the City of Colorado Springs. With cumulative reductions the city has already made, the city must now eliminate funding for entire service areas, reduce public safety services, and cut other community development and infrastructure programs.”
       Those opposing 2C have argued that higher taxes will strap the public during difficult economic times, that the city is not as bad off as it says and that without specific uses for the money the city cannot be trusted to spend it wisely.
       Question 300, initiated by long-time anti-tax leader Doug Bruce, would phase out (over eight years) $29.6 million in annual payments to the city's general fund from six of its enterprises. These six are Springs Utilities - which is responsible for more than 99 percent of the total - as well as Stormwater, Cemetery, Human Services Complex, Parking System and Valley Hi golf course.
       The city budget defines “enterprise funds” as those that “account for the acquisition, operation, and maintenance of the City's facilities and services which are entirely or predominantly supported by user charges or those for which the City has decided that periodic determination of the revenue earned, expenses incurred, and/or net income is appropriate for capital maintenance, public policy, management control, accountability, or other purposes.”
       Based on Question 300's phasing plan, the reduction the first year would be $3.7 million, with an additional, like amount tacked on the next year and every year thereafter for eight years - reaching $29.6 million as the permanent annual total reduction at that time.
       A published flyer, mailed to the public by 300's supporters, claims that the resulting savings would constitute less than 1 percent of the city's budget while “saving you $140 per year after year 7.” Advocates of 300 also insist that it will force the end of the Stormwater Enterprise (which has a $15.4 million budget, funded by user fees), but this conclusion is disputed by the City Attorney's Office.
       Opponents of 300 say the city's enterprises have logical ties to the city and that eliminating those payments to the general fund would trigger additional budget cutbacks. What these would be in the 2010 budget has not yet been identified. At the Oct. 26 City Council informal meeting, Council-member Randy Purvis - saying he sees a chance of 300 winning - asked Graft to come up with recommended cuts to equal $3.7 million. He did not suggest any himself, but requested also a list of what the city is paying exempt and non-exempt employees, as well as those that are retirement-eligible by the end of 2009 and those that will be within three years.
       Council has not discussed, so far, whether the city would have any incentive to keep its enterprises if 300 passes. Bruce has alleged over the years (although unsuccessfully in past elections and/or courtroom battles with the city) that the enterprises are not rightfully part of city business and, in the case of the Stormwater Enterprise, that its council-imposed fees circumvent the TABOR law he wrote that disallows tax increases without a vote.

Westside Pioneer article