City manager addresses Women's Business Council

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Last week, Lorne Kramer was facing a dilemma: How to tell his wife that he was going to have lunch with a couple hundred women.

The city manager said that when he told the missus about his speech at the quarterly Women’s Business Council Luncheon it elicited the following response. “Don’t forget, honey. Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did – but she did it backwards, and on heels.” She needn’t have worried.

Kramer’s city update, presented in the third-floor banquet hall of the Phantom Canyon, was thoroughly unassuming and got a lot of laughs, although he talked almost exclusively about the budget and its impact on traffic and transportation in Colorado Springs.

He even managed to draw laughs when discussing Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) law, which doesn’t usually have the effect of sending people into fits.

Kramer touched on three topics during his hour-long speech to the Women’s Business Council, which holds luncheons about four times a year: public safety, the city budget and what he called “creating community.”

He compared the running of government to the running of a business, saying that much as businesses are entrusted with shareholders’ investments, government should be expected to use taxpayer dollars wisely.

The “troubling infrastructure” of our mountain town was a major topic for Kramer, who said, “We need to invest in infrastructure not just as a government, but as a community.”

He said Colorado Springs is No. 1 in the country in traffic congestion among cities its size. His ideas to combat the problem included expanding and restructuring the hub-based transit system to a grid-based system, repairing roads, studying rapid transit and “improving improvements.”

A proposed one-cent sales tax will be on the ballot in November – at a cost to each resident of “one white chocolate mocha at Starbucks once a week” – that he encouraged businesswomen to think about.

“Mr. Kramer’s speech was interesting,” said Renee Sickels, assistant vice president and loan administration manager for Academy Bank. “He covered issues that are a

concern and the Starbucks analogy was great. I have no problem with a tax increase if I can see the money being used wisely.”

The added revenue, which Kramer estimated at $60 million a year, would be invested in doubling the area reached by the transit system “for people who need it,” and be used for much-needed street repairs. He mentioned two oft-used bridges, the Bijou Street bridge and the Cimarron Street bridge, as needing a lot of work.

The city is looking at the possibility of building a rapid transit system as part of an 80-percent federally funded feasibility study to determine whether the traffic situation in Colorado Springs warrants one of several proposed technologies. Solutions to the problem include additional lanes for buses, “transitways” (which are bus-only roadways), light rail and commuter rail.

One hundred thirty women attended last week’s luncheon, according to Jenifer Furda, director of special events for the Chamber of Commerce. “I enjoyed the information he shared,” Furda said. “I think it is kind of neat to have someone at that level talk with you open and honestly.”

Kramer encouraged the public to attend a “town hall” meeting to discuss a transit system from 4 to 7 p.m. June 15 at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. in the Academy Room.

He called on the women at the luncheon to be “ambassadors” in the community, talking over the fence to their neighbors, to explain the city’s need for a sustainable revenue stream.

“Nobody likes more taxes,” Kramer said. “But as good stewards of this community, you have the opportunity to suggest making investments in the future of this community.”

He said Colorado Springs spends roughly 4 percent of its transportation budget on repairs, much lower than the 10-12 percent the city’s roads need. Fifty-five percent ($380 million over 10 years) of the proposed sales tax would be used for improvements. “But I don’t believe in telling people what to think,” he said. “Educate the voters, and let them choose.”

Kramer aided his speech with the help of two videos. The first was an amalgam of several news broadcasts about deteriorating infrastructure, which had the effect of creating the “problem” for audience members. He proposed solutions during his talk, and wrapped up with a get-to-know-your-government video that included the CREATE acronym (Commitment, Respect, Excellence, Accountability, Teamwork and Ethics) for city employees.

“It was very interesting to hear more about the transportation issue in Colorado Springs and some of the ideas proposed to better the situation,” said Katie Levi, assistant vice president of commercial lending for Academy Bank.