Lights, flowers, fountains restored in proposed Springs budget

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: November 4, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: November 4, 2010

Last year, the Colorado Springs City Council spent several hours agonizing over which programs and services to cut to balance the 2010 budget.

Thursday, the council mulled which programs and services to restore.

The proposed 2011 budget will include:

• Turning on residential streetlights that were turned off at the beginning of the year.
“Turning the streetlights back on says Colorado Springs is open for business,” Councilman Randy Purvis said.

When the city turned off about one-third of all streetlights to help close a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, it turned Colorado Springs into a poster child of urban misery. Councilman Sean Paige said the city could have landed on the cover of a magazine if it had turned the streetlights off as part of a green initiative.

“We did it for budgetary reasons, so we’re stuck with that stigma,” he said.

• Money to keep the Julie Penrose and Uncle Wilber fountains splashing water next summer.

The two fountains were kept in operation through private donations in 2010.

“It’s one of the very free events, on a daily basis, that’s available to children in Colorado Springs,” Councilwoman Jan Martin said.

• Reviving the Springs in Bloom flower program. Under the program, the city provides flowers to volunteers to plant in about 100 flowerbeds across Colorado Springs.

“This is one of our most successful volunteer programs in the community,” said Vice Mayor Larry Small, who helped get the program off the ground.

• Money for the Therapeutic Recreation program for disabled youth and adults as well as for North Cheyenne Visitor Center and Rock Ledge Ranch, which remained open in 2010 primarily through the efforts of private citizens.

Council members clashed over funding for the FrontRange Express, or FREX, a commuter bus service between Colorado Springs and downtown Denver.

Paige, Purvis and Councilman Tom Gallagher wanted to remove funding from FREX and use the money to restore local bus service.

Last year, the city eliminated evening and weekend bus service. The city had planned to bring back limited Saturday service before Thursday’s budget balancing session, but Gallagher and Paige argued that ending FREX could help restore more hours.

“It would have been cheaper to buy (all the FREX riders) a Lexus and pay for the gas and insurance for the last five years than to pour the money that we have poured into FREX,” Gallagher said. “Government views that as a successful program. That is not a successful program by any stretch of the imagination.”

Paige agreed.

“FREX is a vampire that just will not die and the longer it lives, the more it drains money from our core transit services,” he said.

But Paige and the other two councilmen failed to garner enough support to kill FREX.

To pay for some of the restored services, the city plans to reduce the contribution to the workers’ compensation program by $350,000 and reduce the proposed contribution to the city’s rainy-day fund by $1.4 million, among other changes from the spending plan that interim City Manager Steve Cox submitted to council several weeks ago.

The council is expected to approve the 2011 budget later this month.

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