We have come to a critical juncture in our city and county. After years of tax cuts and budget shortfalls our city and county governments cannot provide the necessary services at a level that residents of the Pikes Peak region deserve.
The proponents of lower taxes and less government have had an easy time getting taxes lowered and placing constraints on elected officials. The equation of lower taxes plus an increasing population, the rising demand for services plus the rising cost of goods and services, equals real trouble.
We’ve had a $45 million decrease in the county budget because of tax cuts during the last four years. Since 2000, we have had a 43 percent increase in population. Demand for services has outpaced the rise in population. Crime rates have been rising and, with a downturn in the economy, those statistics will only get worse.
Our county coroner’s office is unable to provide service in an efficient manner because it has a staff of 16 working in a space designed for six and a workload that has risen 500 percent.
Each of the deputy district attorneys has an average case load of 250 felony cases. In addition to all of that, we have an unfunded state mandate to staff five new courts during the next two years.
Compared to other counties in our state, we rank at the bottom in terms of tax revenue per capita, city sales tax rate, mil levy and property tax rates. We are dead last in per capita spending for county services.
There have already been layoffs in city and county departments. Morale among city and county employees is understandably low, with the probability of more jobs being lost. The ability of our county and city to provide those services that are factors in the quality of life that we enjoy in the Pikes Peak region is being eroded.
There is a solution.
The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. and Citizens for Effective Government have worked for the past two years to craft a proposal that deals directly with the serious issues facing us today. It is the Safer Community Initiative, and will appear on your ballot as Initiative 1A.
The initiative will fund those departments of our county and the municipalities within the county that directly affect our health and well-being. While being fair and equitable, the initiative is sensitive to the worries we have about the current economic conditions. Initiative 1A will not tax monthly household expenses such as groceries, prescription drugs, gasoline, utilities, auto or home insurance, nor will it be levied on home mortgages or rent.
It will, however, go a long way toward alleviating some of the problems that are making life difficult for our city and county employees. 1A has very specific language that requires the revenue collected from this initiative be spent on public health and safety. For the first two years, half the money will be spent on a backlog of infrastructure and facilities projects, with the other half providing money for operational costs. From then on, 90 percent of the revenue will fund operations with the remaining 10 percent paying for facilities.
All this is of prime concern for the business community because it all relates to economic development. Quality of life, public health and safety are major factors that executives and entrepreneurs examine when they consider the Pikes Peak region as a place to move or start a business.
In order for us to thrive we depend on our ability to maintain and attract new and expanding businesses. Colorado Springs has been a great place to work, live and play. We have unlimited potential and the opportunity to create a first-class community. The Safer Community Initiative is an investment in the future of the Pikes Peak region. It is a positive step that we can take to show our commitment to the shared vision of a bright future for our family, friends and neighbors. Please vote “yes” on 1A, The Safer Community Initiative.
David Vessey is a small business advocate.