Colorado Springs council looks to seize budget powers

June 11, 2013

As promised by the freshman six in their first month of office, the Colorado Springs City Council is seizing its budget power.

In a move that would give the City Council more say in the city and utilities budgets, the Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on its role in the budget process as spelled out in the city charter and code.

The council is specific on what it wants: input during the creation of the annual city budget; scrutiny over the Lodger's and Auto Rental Tax; and oversight of the entire utilities budget, including its strategic plan and personnel - something it had previously designated to the utilities CEO, Jerry Forte.

"These are huge steps," said Keith King, council president. "This is where we are becoming a strong council."

The council will vote Tuesday on the creation of a budget committee that aims to give the council a voice during the annual budget process, including adding or deleting budget items. Next week, the council, acting as the Colorado Springs Utilities board, is expected to vote on a policy to create a utilities Budget, Strategic Planning and Personnel committee to give the council control over the utilities budget.

Such changes in the budget process would make good on a promise by the freshman six and three returning council members to take hold of the council power spelled out in the city charter and code. It's something that the previous council didn't do, King said.

It's been two years since voters approved a change in the city government structure, which essentially made the mayor the CEO of the city - a post previously held by a council-hired city manager.

In the past two years, the governance became known as the "strong mayor," King said.

But what voters approved was a "council-mayor" form of government, and the new city council sees the power between the mayor and council as more equal.

"It has been my desire over the course of the first 120 days of service to the City of Colorado Springs to look at the charter and determine how we can become a 'strong council' that embraces our responsibilities under the council-mayor form of governance adopted in the election of 2010," King wrote in a letter to the council, which was attached to the proposed policy changes.

Council members did not discuss the proposed changes Monday during the informal council meeting. However, the council was in agreement with taking back budget power when it met in May for its two-day council retreat.

One area the council controls is the spending of LART, a 2 percent lodgers tax and 1 percent auto rental tax that generates about $4 million a year. A portion of LART money goes to the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, but LART funds also can be used for economic development, King said. Under the council's proposed budget plan, it will set and prioritize the LART budget.

"We want to play a role in economic development," he said. "It's never been done this way."

If the budget committees are approved, the council expects to immediately become involved in the 2014 budget process, King said.

The council will be prepared to offer its budget inputs to the Mayor by October.

King said the proposed budget and policy resolution was reviewed by Mayor Steve Bach and City Attorney Chris Melcher to ensure that the proposal meshed with the city charter and code. Neither were available at the informal meeting for comment.

"We will become a significant player," King said. "This is a very aggressive, active council."

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