So when Bach came to them on Tuesday with a request for an emergency appropriation of $2 million from city reserves to fund additional street maintenance, they were immediately suspicious.
Councilor Joel Miller, who serves as vice chair of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA), announced that the request was completely bogus, claiming that the city as about $4.4 million in “unused maintenance funds” from 2011 that can be used to fill all those pesky potholes.
To old-timers, Miller’s claims were reminiscent of Douglas Bruce’s assertions in the early 1990s that the city had tens of millions of dollars lying around in obscure accounts, proving that city officials were incompetent at best, crooked at worst and certainly not entitled to your tax money.
Miller persuaded PPRTA chair Amy Lathen that his claim was valid, and the two of them directed PPRTA staffer Jason Wilkinson to issue a press release touting Miller’s theory. The City quickly responded – the dueling statements are below.
It looks as if Bach is right in this case, but that’s not the most important takeaway.
PPRTA, nominally an absolutely apolitical organization, has jumped feet first into City politics. Three city councilmembers sit on the board, as do three county commissioners. It seems obvious that they’re using the PPRTA for political purposes, with a view toward delegitimizing the mayor and questioning the competence of senior city officials.
That’s dismaying – perhaps even more dismaying than our potholed streets.
“Over $4M in Unused PPRTA Funds Available for Pothole Repair
Colorado Springs, CO–Colorado Springs Councilmember Joel Miller, vice-chair of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority Board of Directors, believes PPRTA maintenance funds are the solution to the City’s looming pothole epidemic.
“I did some checking and found that Colorado Springs has about $4.4 million of unused PPRTA Maintenance funds from 2013 that are projected to be rolled over into this year’s budget,” said Miller. The PPRTA funding is immediately available for contracting by the City through the PPRTA Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) and Board process on their April 2 and April 9 meetings, respectively. The City could propose to use the leftover 2013 maintenance funds (approximately $4.4 million) or the 2014 budgeted funds ($6.7 million) for paving and pothole patching.
According to PPRTA reports, the most potholes filled in one year was 57,830 in 2007. However, in 2012 a greater emphasis was placed on digging out the areas around a pothole before filling. Though it takes more time and money, that method increases the life of the patch and creates a smoother driving surface.
“Staff reports show the average cost to fill a pothole is about ten dollars, so I’m pretty sure crews can fill a lot of potholes with the available PPRTA funds,” said Miller. He added that the funds can be spent on a variety of maintenance work, not limited to filling potholes. Maintenance project funding is 35 percent of the total provided by the voter-approved, 1 percent PPRTA tax.
“Given that over $4 million dollars of the 2013 allocation for maintenance is currently available, I believe that the emergency request should be funded using these dollars. This is why voters overwhelmingly supported the PPRTA and I am very pleased that this maintenance emergency can be readily funded without any further burden on the City’s budget,” said Miller.
The administration answered Miller’s volley with a deafening broadside. Gently calling the their press release “a few points of clarification,” they noted that the $4.4 million wasn’t there any more. The money had been spent or is committed to ongoing needs, which they detailed. Here’s their response.
“Colorado Springs, Colo. – On Wednesday, March 26, a press release from the PPRTA was issued entitled, “Over $4M in Unused PPRTA Funds Available for Pothole Repair.”
“There are a few points of clarification to be addressed in regards to this press release.
“The 2013 ‘rollover’ ($4.4 million) was estimated in September 2013 based on invoices that had been paid at that time. It does not include invoices that have been submitted since September 2013, nor does it include work that is under contract. As of today, the City estimates the 2013 rollover for roadway maintenance is approximately $331,000. That amount has been designated to programs like overlay, pre-overlay, chip and seal and potholes/dig-outs. If funding were to now be transferred to repair additional potholes, it would simply defer essential maintenance in another area. Such deferred maintenance ultimately results in the higher cost and increased wear and tear on the roadway system.
“Furthermore, additional money for pothole repair is unavailable in the 2014 PPRTA Streets maintenance Budget. The 2014 PPRTA Road maintenance budget of $6.7M was approved by the PPRTA Board on Dec. 11, 2013 and approved by City Council in the 2014 Budget. This money is carefully prioritized and planned to be used for all roadway maintenance needs in the city. $3.3 million has already been planned for the overlay program, $845,000 to chip seal, $700,000 for potholes/dig-outs and $1.9 million to the pre-overlay program.
“The $2 million emergency request is the most money Mayor Bach feels comfortable taking out of the emergency funds.”
It’s clear that Miller didn’t bother to ask city budgeters whether the $4.4 million was still available. He seems to have assumed that city staffers are so supremely incompetent that they didn’t realize that there was an “extra” $4.4 million lying around in “unused PPRTA funds.”
In politics, we’re all entitled to our own beliefs, but we’re not entitled to our own facts.
It looks as if Miller and the PPRTA may have to do some serious backtracking and explaining, if the figures supplied by the administration are correct.
And finally, what’s the PPRTA doing injecting itself into politics? By accepting Miller as the city’s de facto spokesperson, the organization has essentially taken sides in the continuing quarrel between Bach and Council. That is, to paraphrase Talleyrand, worse than wrong – it’s stupid.