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Bach's budget recommendations spark more dissension

October 15, 2012
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Mayor Steve Bach fired off two separate letters Friday recommending that the Colorado Springs Utilities Board follow the same budget process as the city.

In turn, Utilities Board Chairman Scott Hente on Monday offered a recommendation of his own for the mayor, who is an non-voting member of the board: Start attending meetings to get a better grasp of what’s happening at the $1 billion public utility.

“This goes back to the communication issue,” said Hente, who also serves as City Council president.

“This my tenth budget cycle for both Utilities and the city, and I think I understand pretty clearly that there are distinct differences between the two,” he said. “I would invite him to attend any board meeting so he can see where we have differences between the two.”

Bach has never attended a Utilities Board meeting, council members said. The board, which is comprised of the City Council, meets monthly.

In his letters, Bach asked for Utilities to “prepare an addendum” to the proposed 2013 budget that would include an organization chart and a budget description for each department or division similar to what the city prepared. The information would help not only the public but the board “better understand this very complex budget,” Bach wrote.

Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said the board “can certainly talk about” changing the format of the budget document. But it’s too late to do it this year, she said.

“We work for a year on these budgets,” she said. “The first meeting is Wednesday. There’s just no way that we could go back and reformat everything in time to complete the budget this year.”

Bach also recommended that Utilities present the proposed budget Wednesday and then brought back for a vote in November “to allow for a thorough review.”

But Bach’s recommended budget timeline for Utilities was already in place.

“If he thinks that we’re voting this week, that would not be a correct statement,” Hente said. “We don’t vote until November. We do two readings just like we do on the city budget.”

Through a spokeswoman, Bach refused to comment.

In an email, Utilities spokesman Mark Murphy said the utility is “committed to transparency regarding our budget and already provide much of the information that the mayor is suggesting."

Martin said the mayor’s office apparently “misunderstood” Utilities’ budget process.

“It’s not like we take one look at the budget and put a stamp on it and call it good,” she said.

Like Hente, Martin recommended the mayor attend Utilities Board meetings.

“When the group put the strong mayor initiative on the ballot, during the last few months of that, I remember they added that the mayor could have a seat at the table as ex-officio member for Utilities,” she said.

“The mayor is more than welcome to come and attend and participate in all of the conversations that we as the board have,” she added. “As a matter of fact, we would welcome that. But he has chosen not to, and it’s difficult when all of our responses have to come through the press rather than being able to work directly with his office.”

The location of Wednesday's Utilities Board meeting has been changed from the Plaza of the Rockies to City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. The meeting starts at 1 p.m.

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