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Colorado Springs budget far short of meeting capital improvements needs

August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013 at 6:40 pm

It doesn't take a structural engineer to know the roads and bridges in Colorado Springs are in billion-dollar trouble.

Some roads are eroding deep below the surface. Some are cracked. Most are full of holes where drivers dodge one hole, but hit another.

Colorado Springs has $1.3 billion in capital improvement needs. It would take $133 million a year for a decade to fix everything on the list.

The city has about $7 million to spend on the list in 2014. That's $3 million more for capital improvement projects than this year.

"I had tears in my eyes and I was sick to my stomach knowing all we had was $7 million in the budget," said Paul Kleinschmidt, a member of the city's Capital Improvement Program Committee that examined and prioritized the list of needs. "Seven million is not even a Band-Aid. It's like putting Neosporin on a cut."

The city's capital improvement needs, defined as projects costing more than $50,000, are so daunting that for the past five years city staffers had not even tried to make a list, said Laura Neumann, city chief of staff.

"The project list continued building without being funded," she said.

In recent months a citizen's committee, working with city staff, hunkered down and made the list of projects that should be done within five years, starting with safety and legal mandates. The group came up with an "A" list of $11.4 million in immediate needs that includes bridge replacements, police radio infrastructure upgrades, and exterior restoration on the city's Pioneers Museum where the concrete facade is falling off the building.

Streets, playgrounds and roof replacements - about $23 million - are on the "B" list. Trails, a detention pond, emergency generators and building security made the $44 million "C" list.

"That list didn't happen overnight," Kleinschmidt said.

From 2008, money for the maintenance of streets, bridges and buildings never was built into the city budget, he said. The city knew back then that there was $957 million in deferred work, he said.

"The city has 463 bridges and we have enough money for maybe one bridge repair a year," he said.

Bridge replacement at Verde Drive, over Spring Creek, Delta Drive, over Sand Creek, and El Morro Drive, over Sand Creek are on the top priority list.

"If we don't pursue some of those, we will have chances of liabilities and lawsuits," Kleinschmidt said. "We have to step up to the plate."

Included in the billion-dollar list of capital improvement projects is $687 million for stormwater projects. That section of the list is being examined by an engineering firm, CH2M Hill, directed by the mayor to make a list of the highest priority projects.

Neumann unveiled the monster list of capital improvement projects to the city council this week during the council's work session. It was the first public step toward a possible tax question put to voters, one of the options being discussed in the mayor's office, Neumann said.

"He will talk to the community and the city council," Neumann said. "We are, in finance, working up options for him, and the city council is thinking of ideas too. We will listen to all of those."

In the 1980s, the city had a half-cent sales tax dedicated to capital improvement. That phased out by 1996. Then voters approved the Springs Community Improvement Program, which allowed the city to issue $88 million bonds for 34 projects. In 2001, a second SCIP failed, but voters approved a Public Safety Sales Tax, which will generate $26 million in 2013 for police and fire station capital projects.

"When the (Stormwater Enterprise) and SCIP ceased, all of the projects ceased," Neumann said. "In the first few years, you didn't notice."

But now, it's the lousy streets, curbs, gutters and the axle-bending potholes that come up as a top citizen concern at town hall meetings. Citizens have noticed that street and bridge maintenance has fallen behind.

"I feel a sense of responsibility to find a solution to address these projects," Neumann said. "It was a huge wake-up call to see the quantity of the projects and the money it would take."

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