Calling for private citizen and business community participation to build a better Colorado Springs, City Manager Lorne Kramer addressed a receptive audience of 200 Economic Development Corporation (EDC) members, politicians, nonprofit leaders and media representatives on Thursday, July 11 at the Colorado Hall. On hand for the event were new Deputy City Manager, Dave Nickerson and newly-named Assistant City Manager, Mary Collins.
Key issues outlined by the new city manager included smart growth and development within the city of Colorado Springs along with maintaining balanced budget and solid infrastructure in light of decreased sales and use tax revenues and relatively low property taxes. Kramer also called for the development of community leadership through education and public service — and for getting out to vote when key city infrastructure issues make the ballot. Recalling last year’s decision by more than 70,000 voters not to approve several million dollars in SCIP projects — voted down by 760 votes — he appealed to business owners to impress upon employees, vendors and colleagues of the importance of understanding what’s at stake. “I was offended that our city’s future and the infrastructure improvements we all need and want were controlled by less than 1 percent of the voters,” he said.
City tax revenues provide the basis for annual budget allocations, and according to Kramer, Colorado Springs’ property taxes are among the lowest 20 percent of cities along the Front Range. “We are all shareholders and are looking at a $250 million backlog in improvements,” he said, noting that flat or slightly decreasing city sales and use tax revenues are only making the situation worse. “Our choices are to cut services, raise taxes, to scale back on capital improvements or to improve our operational efficiency,” Kramer summarized, adding that in his prior ten years as police chief and as deputy city manager, the city has been successful in moving to a tighter, more efficient operating model. “It’s now up to us,” he concluded.
Obviously aware of concerns in the real estate and development sectors that infrastructure improvements such as roads, utilities and parks may be slowed by tight capital improvement budgets, Kramer acknowledged the creativity of developers in finding solutions such as creation of special improvement districts or bond sales to get the job done. He plans to support efforts by the city’s planning and engineering departments to streamline the approval process – but expects developer acceptance for new economic moves by Council such as the Streamside ordinance and for the Mixed Use zoning changes scheduled for incorporation into the city’s Comprehensive Plan in return.
Kramer also called for support from business owners to join boards and commissions key to developing future public policy. “We have six seats on City Council up for election next Spring,” he said, congratulating Colorado Springs Technology Incubator CEO, Gary Markle and Ford Fairlane Credit’s chief exec, Jerry Heimlicher, for their decision to run for two of those open spots. “We need to overcome our complacency and take an active role in our own future.”