Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Springs City Council defunds key support for jobs, tourism

The Gazette editorial Updated: December 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Think about tourists, jobs and how much we need both. Then contemplate the City Council defunding of organizations charged with igniting tourism and jobs.

The region's economy has not kept up with the rest of the Front Range. Unemployment remains about 8 percent. The City Committee, a group of conservative local business experts, continues warning about city government's increasing expenses and decreasing revenues. If things don't improve, city government could go broke by mid-2016. The numbers are hard to dispute.

The City Committee advocates less government spending and lower taxes. So does Taxpayers for Budget Reform, a conservative Colorado Springs-based organization with a mission of "working hard to hold our elected officials accountable to their promises to better our community."

The City Committee came to life after one of Colorado's more successful and respected business leaders, Steve Bartolin, wrote a 2009 email that detailed city waste and inefficiencies. Bartolin is CEO of The Broadmoor, which is owned by The Gazette's parent company.

The Bartolin email, which exposed apparent overstaffing, excessive wages, outdated health care and pension arrangements, inspired a favorable article in the national libertarian publication Reason.org.

Serious anti-tax, limited-government conservatives see economic growth as the only solution to the region's economic problems. They want more tourism, innovation, businesses and jobs.

That's why members of both conservative groups are dismayed about last week's council actions.

Council approved a multi-million budget and a billion-dollar Colorado Springs Utilities budget without granting the fraction of a percent it has traditionally channeled to Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

The city charges tourists a sales tax on hotel and car rentals and to fund the $4 million Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund (LART). The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau was to receive $2.66 million in 2014 from LART to generate tourism. The Regional Business Alliance, which recruits employers, was to receive $70,000 from LART and $240,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities Community Investment Fund.

Council voted to withhold half the money for each entity, planning to revisit the matter sometime next year.

Bartolin's company, which draws tourists from all over the world, pays about one-third of the entire LART fund. If anyone can be considered an expert at attracting tourists, it's Bartolin. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau is run by Doug Price. As a former senior sales and marketing executive for Marriott Corporation, Price also knows a few things about tourism.

"Professional tourism and convention marketing are not for amateurs. Like any business, you have to really understand the industry and its nuances," Bartolin said in an email to council, urging members to maintain full funding for the Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

"After 18 months of devastating fires and floods to our city and region, accompanied by sensational headlines seen around the world, it is unconscionable for City Council to cut funding to the one organization that businesses depend on to bring tourists to the area," wrote Alicia McConnell, chair of the CVB's board of directors.

John Hazlehurst, of the Colorado Springs Business Journal, blogged what reflects a growing sentiment in the region's business community. His words were repeated in an email by Paul Kleinschmidt, the conservative who heads Taxpayers for Budget Reform.

"A majority of the Colorado Springs City Council members are aggressively anti-business," Hazlehurst wrote, explaining he never imagined himself writing such a thing.

Colorado Springs needs more tourists, businesses and jobs. Conservatives are exploring tax rebates - which means keeping tax money in the private economy for jobs - and an assortment of plans for facilitating growth. For reasons that may not involve the community's best interests, a majority on City Council keep fighting them.

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