City spending increases in 2013 budget

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For the business community, there’s a lot to like in Mayor Bach’s proposed 2013 budget, unveiled at a Monday news conference.

There’s also a lot to be concerned about, and a few surprises.

Thanks to a recovering economy, general fund expenditures will increase by $11 million. More money will go to stormwater, roads and bridges, pension and health care, expanded police services, code enforcement and reinstating some evening transit service. Funds also will be held for added compensation (pending study results) and/or emergency capital improvements.

That study, underway for more than six months, is intended to create a sustainable salary model for city employees, based on the private and public sectors.

Multiple initiatives are directed toward making city government more business friendly, as well as finding efficiencies within budget constraints. Initiatives include:

  • Creating a pensions and health care “solutions team” to push for new pension plans that reduce the city’s costs, which have risen from $12.5 million annually in 2003 to an estimated $28.5 million in 2013. Bach described pension and health-care costs as “particularly burdensome.”
  • Implementing strategies in downtown, Westside and southeast areas to improve public safety and enhance code enforcement. Bach repeatedly expressed the theme of improving city’s appearance.
  • Developing a definitive plan to continue outsourcing and implement community partnerships to provide park maintenance services by Q1 2013.
  • Addressing “economic priority zones” — downtown, UCCS/Austin Bluffs/North Nevada, and southeast.
  • Improving media relationships and city coverage through quarterly roundtables with seven leading news agencies, which weren’t identified.
  • Opening and staffing Fire Station 21. Adding 15 firefighters will be covered for two years by a federal SAFER grant.
  • Increasing road and stormwater maintenance by adding $2 million for each. Capital projects will be performed by private contractors.
  • Turning on 3,500 streetlights and providing comprehensive streetlight recommendations to the mayor by early 2013.
  • Completing the second phase of snowplowing outsourcing in “Q1 2013,” likely coinciding with the end of snow season.
  • Processing development review applications faster: streamline processes for business, developer and homeowner plan reviews; reduce associated fees by 50 percent; and shorten review time from six weeks to four weeks.
  • Working with City Council in determining Utilities’ long-range ownership, governance and strategic plan: Complete an independent review of CSU by the end of Q2 2013, done by a recognized expert with community leaders, Council and Bach controlling the process. Despite clashes between Bach and Council over CSU, councilors are unlikely to oppose this.

“It’s all right in line with the work we’re doing,” said Council President Pro-Tem Jan Martin. “He wants the work finished by next June. I feel very comfortable that we’ll meet that deadline.”

Changing CSU’s ownership could impact future budgets dramatically. Budget impacts for 2013 include:

  • 31.7 million in “Utilities Surplus Revenue,” transferred annually from CSU.
  • $2.7 million reimbursement from Utilities for staff and legal services in the City Attorney’s Office.
  • $1.1 million reimbursement from Utilities for city auditor services.

That’s a total of $35.5 million, almost twice as much as the $19.35 million that the city expects to collect in property taxes next year.

Bach didn’t shy away from politics in a letter to Council accompanying the budget documents.

“It is essential,” he wrote, “that the voters approve an extension of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority sales tax at the November ballot for critical regional transportation projects and approve next April a TOPS measure allowing more funding for parks maintenance.”

He also suggested that Utilities partner with the general fund on stormwater.

But not everyone got what they wanted.

Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau requested its current funding level, 66.6 percent of total revenue from LART (lodging and auto rental tax) be increased to 80 percent, or $3.1 million. Bach nixed the request, keeping CVB at two-thirds. The CVB did get an added $100,000 for the “Waldo Canyon Fire Welcome Back Campaign.”

Some received unexpected funding.

Colorado Springs Philharmonic will receive $45,000 from the city’s one-third share of LART to revive the summer concert series, recently confined to a single event at the Air Force Academy.

This year, says Philharmonic CEO Nathan Newbrough, the city will be a presenting sponsor for the series, which has a total budget of $275,000. Other sponsors include El Pomar Foundation and Anschutz Foundation.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with the city,” said Newbrough.

Regional Business Alliance (formerly Chamber and EDC) will receive $70,000, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb $25,000, and Pikes Peak Marathon $8,000.