Hazlehurst: Mayor, councilors show civility, logic

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Our elected leaders seem far more sensible and informed when they’re disagreeing via carefully reasoned emails than they do when posturing from the dais. For proof, consider this email chain, featuring Mayor Steve Bach, Councilor Don Knight, and Councilor Andy Pico.

We start with Bach’s widely circulated email decrying the lack of net new jobs created in Colorado Springs during the last 13 years, addressed to all members of Council:

 

From: Bach, Steve G

Sent: Monday, March 03, 2014 5:06 PM

Subject: Plea from Steve Bach: We must make the economy and jobs our highest priority

Members of City Council, please take a look at the attached report from the US Department of Labor regarding our area’s jobs performance over the past 13 years.

No net increase in jobs in 13 years, and we have traded down from higher paying manufacturing positions to sectors which are lower paying, limiting opportunities for our young people.

I’m told that our population is up about 100,000 people (who need services). Many of them are retired, and they may not buy as many goods subject to sales tax upon which we depend.

Stunning news, but true. Frankly, it is urgent that we rebuild a vibrant economy with stable, well paying jobs to compliment our growing attraction to retirees. There is no time to waste.

A renaissance at our Airport, UCH (including a branch medical campus and new children’s hospital), and C4C are three (3) immediate economic drivers which can launch us forward.

 

Knight responded quickly.

 

Steve,

First know that I am fully behind Chancellor Shockley-Zalabak’s portion of C4C as she will be generating high-paying, career-building jobs that will both grow our economy and attract young people. And while I might not believe in, I will not oppose any of the other venues that require no other public funding than the state RTA dollars; even though these will mostly create temporary, minimum-wage jobs.

With respect to your question “If not C4C, then what to drive our economy”, I believe we answered this in last week’s North Nevada/UCCS task force report. Redeveloping the area just north of Fillmore and Nevada with an office park to complement the research and degree programs of UCCS, CC and CTU allows us to grow the same caliber of jobs Chancellor Shockley-Zalabak’s vision will spawn.

Paraphrasing Bob Cutter’s statement to this very issue – we cannot just look at the stagnate number of jobs in our City over the last 13 years, we must also look at the massive move from tax producing jobs to tax-funded jobs. And for this reason, I was dismayed when you could not find a program manager to move our North Nevada recommendations forward for lack of time on Bob Cope’s schedule due to his working C4C full-time.

In addition to revitalizing North Nevada, I have been assisting a grassroots movement of the Pikes Peak Pickleball Club, Friends of Pikes Peak Pickleball, Pikes Peak Community Tennis Association, Colorado Sports Corporation, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Friends of Monument Valley Park to host in our community the first-ever (and beyond) Regional Pickleball Tournament. Although this would require City Council to appropriate a one-time, and at most, $325,000 from the Conversation Trust Fund reserve, this annual event would generate over $300,000 a year.

If we do not act before March 31, Colorado Springs will lose out on this opportunity to Arvada. More than five Councilmembers have asked that this topic be added to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board’s March 13 meeting to ensure there isn’t a better use of these reserve funds—unlike the C4C event center – funds that cannot be used for public safety, roads or bridges. Yet your Parks Director has refused to put this issue on the upcoming agenda stating that there is a process this request must go through. If C4C can be fast-tracked to meet it deadlines, why can’t the Pickleball request be fast-tracked to meet their end of March deadline?

So again answering “If not C4C then what?” Either of the aforementioned projects would help drive this economy and should also serve as a guidepost for where we must exert our maximum collective energy.

Respectfully,

Don

 

Bach got right back to him, and hammered Knight for his apparent inconsistency in approving a Copper Ridge TIF (tax increment financing package) while refusing to support similar financing structures for City for Champions.

 

From: Bach, Steve G

Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2014 5:29 PM

To: Knight, Don

Don, Steve Cox will get back to you on the pickleball matter.

Re: your opposition to using any TIF financing for C4C, let me ask you: Didn’t you vote for the same type of financing for extending Powers Boulevard – a State highway responsibility – through CooperRidge? How is it appropriate to take local sales tax dollars for that purpose when the State should be paying the cost and at the same not have an open mind pending full vetting on similar financing for projects which will add permanent jobs and sales tax base?

Re: the North Nevada Avenue Economic Opportunity Zone, respectfully, I know from my long commercial real estate background that building a business park does not necessarily result in an increase in jobs. Certainly, I will continue to pursue that initiative, which you may recall I created, and will deploy staff as I think appropriate in support. Thank you for participating in that solutions team these past months. We’ll keep Council posted on our progress.

Sent from my iPad

 

Knight defended himself ably.

 

March 11

Steve,

First excuse my delay in responding. I took the weekend off to catch up on personal items at home.

With respect to your question on Cooper Ridge, like you, I too am upset about the $188M (probably more now) that CDOT did not return to the Pikes Peak Region per the MOA they had signed. I continue to remind people of this fact at our PPACG meetings.

Unfortunately, CDOT did not renew the MOA when it expired last summer, so I saw of no other way to finish connecting Powers to I-25 other than to authorize the TIF. Unlike C4C though, this TIF was limited to only the tax dollars collected from Copper Ridge and not 90 per cent of the City.

Additionally, we have Charter language directing that any Convention Center downtown must go to a vote of the people. While your attorney has opined the Event Center is not a Convention Center, the input I am receiving from our Citizens (both e-mails and our Town Hall) clearly show they do not see the difference.

Don Knight

 

The Mayor wouldn’t let him off the hook.

 

March 11

Don, thank you for your email. To follow up, I’d appreciate your perspective on the Copper Ridge sales tax sharing agreement ROI and I-25 Southbound on ramp.

As I understand it, once the Copper Ridge developer’s retail project is fully built out, and that could take years, the developer will receive about $5.3M per year in TIF (50% – one half – of the City’s increased GF sales tax). The cost to complete Powers to I-25, including a new interchange, but excluding a Southbound I-25 on ramp due to a USAFA restriction against an above grade surface, is, I’m told, somewhere between $150M to $200M. So, it might take 30 years or more before that link can be completed.

Further, vehicular traffic from Copper Ridge desiring to head back Southbound on I-25 will not have direct access until there is funding to tunnel an on ramp under the Interstate as required by USAFA. That would be extraordinarily expensive. In the meanwhile, vehicles desiring to travel from Copper Ridge Southbound on I-25 will be routed further North to the Northgate interchange, creating congestion on neighboring streets and inconvenience for the travelers.

Your Copper Ridge sales tax sharing Ordinance contains no requirement that I can find for CDOT matching funds. We already know that CDOT does not view this project as a high priority, and your decision to commit City sales tax dollars without a State match gives CDOT no motivation to participate. If I’ve got the facts right, how does this scenario add up to a reasonable ROI? How is it appropriate to expend City sales tax dollars on a State highway project especially without any participation commitment from the State?

Regarding your reference to Wynetta Massey as my attorney, as you know, our Charter states that the City Attorney assists City Council, Enterprises, Boards and Commissions as well as the Mayor. We have the same form of Council-Mayor government as Denver, CO. Denver has one City Attorney. Surely, we can make our current organizational system work especially with Wynetta now at the helm.

Thanks again for your email. I’ll look forward to your perspective on the Copper Ridge ROI and any thoughts you may have on how to fund an I-25 Southbound on ramp.

Sent from my iPad

 

Meanwhile, Andy Pico chimed in, with a carefully reasoned, extraordinarily thoughtful take on the jobs situation. Whether you agree with Pico’s very conservative take on events, you have to admire him for both doing his homework and and engaging in thoughtful dialogue.

 

Dear Mayor Bach,

Thank you for your comments and attention to this key issue. I assure you that enabling economic expansion is the number one priority on my mind and while I don’t speak for anyone else, I am sure that is likewise on everyone else’s front burner as well.

I found the economic jobs report very interesting and I can assure you that I follow the jobs reports and the monthly reports from our budget team very closely. Several observations have jumped out at me over these past months which I think deserve to be highlighted.

Our local economy has been significantly impacted by the larger economy and the numbers track well with those national economic events. The national downturn that started in early 2001 is reflected in those numbers and shows clearly. This was a national event, not just a city event and dragged down our numbers. The Great Recession is reflected with job losses starting from an employment high in Nov 2007 of 262.2k jobs to a low of 245.8k jobs in March of 2010. That reflects a horrendous job loss but we’ve seen some recovery since then.

A key factor in the sluggish job growth locally are the continuing cuts in our defense sector. As you well know, our defense sector is 40% of our local economy reflecting the active duty personnel, defense industry contractors performing outsourced tasks for the federal government, and the direct impact on local businesses. At the national level, that Constitutionally mandated function of our Federal government which previously constituted 19% of the Federal budget is absorbing 50% of the budget cuts, which has translated locally to a very significant, negative impact and a continuing drag on our local recovery as these drastic cuts are continuing. I can assure you that members of the Council are very, very closely and personally aware of these on-going cuts. This has our attention and the need to encourage the diversification of our local economy could not be clearer.

The good news from the jobs report is that since the depth of the recession, our local free-market economy has generated 10,000 jobs since the low point in 2010 despite the continuing defense cutbacks. I also note that month after month, our sales tax revenues have consistently shown an annual growth rate of between 3 and 5% depending on the sector and area. I think that is significant and needs to be recognized. I agree with you that we still have a long ways to go to get where we need to be, particularly since 2013 has largely been a year of stagnant job growth and we’ve yet to recover to the previous levels.

We should also recognize that the members of the Council are and have been focused on enabling economic growth, despite the false narrative in some of the media to the contrary. We all have a variety of ideas on how to achieve that. A renaissance at the airport and UCH are two areas in which the Council has been very supportive of your efforts. In addition, other efforts that various members of the Council are pursuing include, to name just a few; an Airport Economic Zone which would eliminate use taxes at the airport for FBO’s and other aircraft support companies, a review and reduction of business license fees, and an extensive effort to keep utility rates as low as feasible consistent with high reliability and compliance with mandatory state and federal requirements. While I have personally concentrated on the latter, I’ve also been looking into possibly reducing the use tax and business property tax across the city similar to the Airport Zone proposal in order to spur small business growth.

I look forward to working with you in pursuing these and any other ideas that will enhance our local business climate and spur economic growth.

On C4C, there remain some issues on the table which we all need to work through. I will consider supporting those parts of the project moving forward that do not require increased local city government spending or diversion of city tax revenues in order to move forward. On approving any city funding of these projects, I ask that we take this to a vote of the electorate before we do that. In reviewing your comments from the State of the City presentation, I am encouraged to see that we are apparently in substantial agreement on that point.

Very Respectfully,

Andy

Andres Pico

Member of City Council, District 6

City of Colorado Springs

 

Mayor Bach had the last word – and it was, as almost always, focused on what the Mayor sees as job No. 1 – C4C.

 

Andy, thank you for your thoughtful response.

None of us is at fault for our current situation. The Great Recession (Depression?) of 2008-10 has dealt us a tremendous blow and our backlogged CIP needs go back decades.

These current facts on no jobs growth concurrent with rapid population growth are painful, but also serve as a guidepost for where we must exert our maximum collective energy.

Re: C4C, please hear me on this: I support the concept subject to all of us becoming comfortable through fully vetting the economics.

The four venues must be separable for me to sign the Resolution with the Sate. If one of the them fails the acid financial test, I will be among the first to withdraw support.

Can’t we just agree to support C4C in concept subject to full due diligence. On the other hand, if any of you have a better idea to drive this economy, please come forward soon. Thanks.

Sent from my iPad

 

So there you are – and if you want to know how we hacked into Council’s servers, it was simple. I just texted my friend Eddie the computer guy, and he did it in five minutes. He has a lot of time on his hands nowadays – not much to do in Moscow in the winter …