Strong mayor candidates on business issues

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On April 5, Colorado Springs voters will elect a “strong mayor” who will take on many of the responsibilities formerly carried out by a city manager.

The mayor will earn $96,000 a year.

Although eight people are running for the office, the Business Journal chose to interview the top five candidates, based on campaign contributions.

A brief bio of each candidate and their answers to four questions pertinent to the business community are listed below.

Steve Bach has worked as a homebuilder and commercial real estate broker. He is a former chairman of the board for the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. He’s a former soldier, who was stationed at Fort Carson and he earned a business degree from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Brian Bahr is a 1995 graduate of Brigham Young University with a degree in accounting. He has lived in Colorado Springs since he graduated from BYU. He has more than 10 years’ experience as a realtor and started Challenger Homes in 2000, one of the top five homebuilding companies in the Springs. In 2004, he started Brian Douglas Properties with friend Douglas Malmgren.
Buddy Gilmore is a retired Air Force master sergeant and now owns his own defense firm, Shape Technologies. He’s lived in Colorado Springs since 1987. After retiring from military service, he worked at National Systems and Research Co., BDM and Systems Technologies Associates.
Dave Munger is a former Air Force intelligence office and higher education administrator. He founded Strategic Education Services and an early-learning center in Virginia. Munger has been active in the community, serving as president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and the Old North End Neighborhood. He’s been a member of the Memorial Citizens’ Commission, the Downtown Partnership and the transportation advisory board.
Richard Skorman is a business owner and former city council member. He owns four businesses, Poor Richard’s Restaurant, Little Richard’s Toy Store, Poor Richard’s Bookstore and Rico’s coffee and wine bar. He was former Sen. Ken Salazar’s regional director from 2006 to 2008 and served as chairman for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments in 2000 and 2005.

Do you favor using taxpayer money to support the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.?

Steve Bach: EDC should be funded by the private sector as it was in the beginning.  Our city government should be highly supportive by improving, and then maintaining, the best business climate in the country.  As Mayor, I will support EDC’s efforts to raise funds privately to enable its important work.
Brian Bahr: Economic development happens best in the public sector. I’m personally a significant investor into the EDC. I support wise investment of tax resources into the EDC and the future of our city but all tax dollars into economic development activities must produce a ROI and measurable results.
Buddy Gilmore: I do support taxpayer money to the EDC. It’s an investment, however, I’d like to see them working closer with industry so they have a better understanding of our industry capabilities and are not pursuing companies that will compete with those already here.
Dave Munger: Yes.  The EDC is an essential part of our city.  We all benefit from the work they do.  The more successful our business community, the higher our tax revenue.  We, as a city, can thrive thanks, in part, to the work of the EDC and must support their mission.
Richard Skorman: Yes. It’s an important partnership for the city and a way for us to leverage dollars. The EDC’s primary role is recruiting new companies, which is a key tenet of my plan to create jobs. So the city should support it. The return on investment for the city is strong.

Do you support the initiative to turn Memorial Health System into a nonprofit organization?

Steve Bach: We should take the appropriate time to weigh all of the options and make the best decision for this large and complex operation.  We have an unfunded pension liability of $274 million, 4,000 employees, patients who need care and taxpayers who deserve a fair return on their investment.
Brian Bahr: We should evaluate all options including best offers of interested bidders. I’m not opposed to the nonprofit option. I’m opposed to any option that fails to give taxpayers a return on their 400 million dollar investment. I support a future for Memorial that takes care of all the stakeholders.
Buddy Gilmore: We need to solve the PERA issue before we can do anything. However, I support the nonprofit model, which can sometimes result in better healthcare. It fits with my vision to tie in with our amateur sports HQs and our great nursing schools to become a destination city for sports medicines/therapies.
Dave Munger: Yes.  I sat on the citizens’ commission, and I stand behind the recommendation to turn Memorial into a nonprofit.  This would free Memorial from the city’s constraints and allow it to become a regional service provider and a national leader in the healthcare field.
Richard Skorman: I do, but the PERA buyout requirement would make it difficult. If that can be resolved without hurting the finances of the hospital, I’d support it.
Memorial is an important community asset, and as a nonprofit, it will allow it to be more flexible in becoming a regional provider and generating more jobs.  It’s also our health safety net and we can’t lose that.

Do you support ending the city’s business personal property tax?

Steve Bach: I do support ending the business personal property tax.  Removing it will allow businesses to invest in growth, and to not be punished for their ingenuity and success.
Brian Bahr: Yes. This tax is inefficient often costing more to collect than what it is worth and creating bureaucracy and paperwork for business owners. We should eliminate this double taxation and incentivize businesses re-investing into our community. We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending/efficiency problem.
Buddy Gilmore: Absolutely – it’s a burden on small business and a stop light to manufacturers. I would eliminate it by not hiring 10 percent of the new hires projected for 2011.
Dave Munger: I support ending the business personal property tax as part of my overall plan to make Colorado Springs the most business-friendly city in the west.  Eliminating this tax will make doing business in the city a much more attractive option for those looking to start or move a business.
Richard Skorman: Yes. I support eliminating that tax as a way to help strengthen local businesses and as a recruitment tool for attracting new companies, as well as increasing our vendors’ fee back to 3 percent.

What’s your plan to create more jobs for Colorado Springs?

Steve Bach: We must look after our current employers making it easy for them to stay and choose to expand here.  We also need to actively market Colorado Springs as a place for compatible companies to move or expand their businesses here.  The mayor must take a hands-on role in that effort.
Brian Bahr: The only jobs the mayor can create are jobs that taxpayers pay for. Government does not create jobs. What government CAN do is to create an environment that fosters job creation in the private sector. That means getting government out of the way of businesses, letting them thrive and succeed.
Buddy Gilmore: I will change our image nationally. I will make us more business friendly. I will lead a more collaborative effort – not only within our city, but with our state and federal officials. We need to be more agile, so that when opportunities arise (think Illinois taxes), we are poised to seize the moment.
Dave Munger: My plan is extensive and starts with removing the bureaucratic barriers to business growth and development and leveraging our ownership of the airport, hospital, and utilities to turn them into better job creators and economic drivers.  My 100-day business plan is available at www.MungerForMayor.com.
Richard Skorman: Opportunity Springs combines proven techniques for recruiting companies with the innovation of “Economic Gardening” to grow local businesses. It proposes new public-private partnerships and strengthens existing ones. It promotes stabilizing and strengthening city services. And, it uses our community’s incredible assets to pursue productive new directions. Details are at www.SkormanForMayor.com.