Say what you want about Mayor Steve Bach, but he can sure fill a room!
More than 600 members of the Colorado Springs business/government/nonprofit community gathered Thursday at the Broadmoor International Center for the Mayor’s “State of the City” speech. As befits one of the region’s most notable power lunches, it was a networkers’ dream – everyone was there.
In the past, the annual speech has been a brag-a-thon for the incumbent mayor, a recital of of jobs created, of innovative programs launched, of a community strengthened, and of a future full of hope.
And while there was a modicum of boasting this time, Mayor Bach’s address focused on the challenges that face the city. We may have recovered from fire and flood, but, Bach emphasized, the challenges of the future will be equally difficult. Those challenges include:
Don’t know about that last bullet point (although maybe that’s why I see so many geezers on the streets nowadays), but there’s no doubt that we have economic problems in Colorado Springs. And those problems are compounded by the city’s fundamental budgetary problems.
Plainly stated, the city doesn’t take in enough money. There’s not enough money to fix the streets, rebuild drainage structures, repair bridges or build police stations. Absent a financial fix, Bach predicts that the city’s emergency reserve will drop from $40 million to a $10 million deficit within five years.
We have to do something – but what?
A regional stormwater fee would solve some of the problem, but Bach wants a “holistic solution.” That might be a county-wide infrastructure/maintenance sales tax, a city bond issue, or a hybrid of both. But time is running out, as Bach acknowledged, since elected officials must refer any ballot issues by July 25.
It seems likely that only the stormwater issue will be on the ballot. Other infrastructure will have to wait.
Yet despite the city’s problems, both the crowd and the mayor seemed upbeat. Bach cheerfully posed for pictures with the sometimes-unfriendly media after he held an impromptu post-speech news conference. He was direct and forthcoming, noting that he would oppose a proposed ballot issue permitting retail marijuana sales in Colorado Springs.
And as the crowd slowly exited the building, it was hard to be pessimistic about the future. The surroundings were splendid, the day even more so. Those with long memories (and there were many in the crowd!) may have remembered that the city has had times of economic malaise in the past. Despite them, the city somehow managed to survive and prosper.
As Bach said in conclusion: “This is a great city. Together we can make it better. Let’s get going.”
Sounds good – don’t know about you, but I’m on my way to the Ritz…