December 15, 2011
Fiscal conservatives, pay attention to what the Colorado Springs City Council did on Thursday — one day after Mayor Steve Bach announced line-item vetoes that were intended to help city government survive a recession that is far from over. The council voted to override five of Bach’s six money-saving vetoes, sending a strong message that they care more about political pandering and their turf than fiscal responsibility and restraint. It was open rebellion at the expense of taxpayers.
None of Bach’s vetoes involved big-ticket items, in the context of city-government spending. They represented the type of unwise spending that makes it hard for taxpayers — people fighting to keep their homes and jobs — to believe that local government runs lean.
Bach did not veto all spending items added to his budget by the council. Surviving amenities included:
• $25,000 to hire a part-time volunteer coordinator for North Cheyenne Canyon Starsmore Discovery Center and Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center.
• $21,653 to help support Rock Ledge Ranch.
• $24,000 to Accessible Coordinated Transit to match grants.
As reported by The Gazette’s Daniel Chacón on Thursday, Bach was unwilling to support superfluous spending additions that include:
• $175,000 for tennis court maintenance and repair. After vetoing the added expense, Bach explained that maintenance and repair of the facilities cannot be viewed as essential. He said it would be hard to justify $175,000 on recreation facilities when police and fire departments are getting $1.6 million less than they need next year.
“If we’re going to spend more money, it needs to be on public safety,” Bach said. He suggested, as he has in the past, that tennis court spending become a topic of future discussions about sustainable and improved funding of parks.
• Bach vetoed $84,295 for an additional code enforcement officer the city does not need. Council members added the additional officer even though Bach had already added one in his version of the budget. Instead of one addition, which was a luxury, the council wants two. In explaining his veto, Bach said he relied on professional staff who said one additional officer would suffice.
• Bach vetoed $43,000 to pay for making a half-time communication assistant for the City Council a full-time assistant.
• Bach vetoed a council budget amendment that moved dues to the Colorado Municipal League and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments from control of the mayor to control of the council. The city pays more than $100,000 in annual dues to the municipal league alone, and Bach has questioned whether it is money well spent. In explaining his veto, Bach said the council was trying to do something that “conflicts with the charter assignment of all executive and administrative authority to the mayor.”
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A super majority on the council voted Thursday to override all of the above line-item vetoes, dispensing with the mayor’s efforts to mitigate reckless spending. After the override party, council members took a fifth measure to pay for it all. They approved a motion to increase the general fund by $361,000 — the amount Bach tried to save for taxpayers.
The charter allows the council to override the mayor and spend to excess, but doing so may not have been wise.
Colorado Spring residents voted overwhelmingly last year to create a strong executive branch of government, and last spring they voted overwhelmingly to put Bach in charge of that branch. They wanted one person to take responsibility for making city government a bureaucracy that serves the needs of taxpayers while protecting their financial interests. Voters wanted reform, not more of the same.
Some members of the council have rebelled like angry teenagers given a curfew. A majority clearly longs for the days when the city’s executive worked as their employee and not as a direct servant of the public.
Only two council members, Angela Dougan and Tim Leigh, consistently voted against overriding the mayor’s responsible vetoes. Seven others — Merv Bennett, Lisa Czelatdko, Scott Hente, Bernie Herpin, Jan Martin, Val Snider and Brandy Williams — chose rebellion over responsible financial restraint. They chose to show Bach who is in charge, and they did so with disregard for taxpayers’ interests and the challenges facing city finances. When the council complains about looming deficits and shortfalls, don’t blame Bach.
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Must-see-daily site: Complete Colorado