January 6, 2009
Colorado Springs voters might want to get ready to dive into the intricacies of government finance - concepts such as fiscal year spending, mill levies and excess revenue.
Much as those terms might induce yawns, they're likely to dominate the news about city government in the next few months. The City Council on Tuesday heard recommendations for three ballot proposals for the April 7 election intended to boost the city's sagging finances.
The recommendations from the Sustainable Funding Committee include repealing the city's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, extending a property tax that's set to expire and letting the city keep up to $1.2 million in property taxes that otherwise would have to be refunded to taxpayers. Advocates for the measures acknowledged that persuading voters won't be easy.
"The education on an issue like this is a steep road," Dan Stuart, chairman of the 24-member panel the council appointed to study how the city collects and spends money, said of the plan to extend the expiring property tax.
The measure to repeal the city's TABOR amendment could be the most contentious, Stuart said. Colorado Springs voters approved the amendment in 1991, a year before voters statewide approved a similar amendment to the state Constitution that bears the same name.
"This is not an assault on TABOR. State TABOR remains in place," Stuart said. "What we're addressing here is the redundancy of having two sets of rules to address the same issues."
Several citizen groups are already organizing to defeat an attempt to repeal TABOR. Among them is Citizens for Cost-Effective Government, the group that led a fight against a countywide sales tax increase defeated in November. Spokesman Daniel Cole said he doubts voters will be go along if the council puts a TABOR repeal on the ballot.
"Council members kept repeating that it wouldn't be an assault on TABOR, so they obviously know that taxpayers still value TABOR," Cole said. "They'll have a tough time convincing voters to repeal the city's protections, because that would leave us at the whims of the state, undermining local autonomy."
The property tax extension got a mixed reception. It would raise about $3 million annually that the Sustainable Funding Committee recommends spending on attracting and retaining businesses.
"I can't think of a better way for us to move forward, especially right now," said Councilwoman Jan Martin.
Councilman Randy Purvis said he'd have to think about it.
"The purist in me says this just creates a slush fund to give away to businesses," Purvis said.
The final measure, to let the city keep up to $1.2 million in excess revenue, stirred no apparent controversy. The money was originally estimated at $800,000, but budget officials advised asking voters for a larger amount to hedge against a rise in the final amount of the excess. The money would be used for a building project, so far unspecified.