June 2, 2009
Mayor Lionel Rivera today warned in his annual State of the City address that Colorado Springs faces "tough decisions" and that residents will have to decide whether they're willing to pay more money to maintain their quality of life.
"Unless a big billion-dollar check falls from the sky, the city is going to need more resources to provide the kinds of services that we have grown accustomed to over the years that we're not getting right now," Rivera said after the 44-minute speech at the Antlers Hilton downtown.
Read the full text of the speech here
But Rivera also said the city has "tremendous" opportunities to grow new industries, from homeland security to green technology.
For example, he said, Colorado Springs is the only city in the state developing a "woody biomass" project in which trees and other wood products are used to generate energy. Woody biomass produces fewer emissions and has the "added benefit" of making forests healthier and less susceptible to major fires, he said.
"I think we need to elevate ourselves to the reputation of a green community," he said, adding that it will aid efforts to attract new businesses to the city.
The mayor glossed over the problems surrounding the deal to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee headquartered in Colorado Springs.
However, when he briefly talked about the USOC, it was the only time during his speech that the crowd applauded without his prompting. Rivera vowed not to let citizens down and develop another agreement with the USOC.
"I think that's too important an asset to lose, and I think the opportunities to grow that in terms of new jobs and new revenues are tremendous. That's why it's so important to strike that new deal," he said, adding that he expected to get it done "very soon."
"I'm very optimistic we'll get it done in the short term," he said.
"Amateur sports is a hallmark of our community, and the USOC is really the crown jewel of that hallmark," Vice Mayor Larry Small said. "I think we're making a lot of progress in getting our issues resolved, and I think we're going to have a successful agreement with them."
The mayor put a lot of stock in the Sustainable Funding Committee, which is preparing a long list of "options" for the City Council to consider, including possible ballot questions.
"Frankly, I think we're at a point now where in order to sustain the quality of life, keep our community safe and bring Colorado Springs back up to the city that we all love, we might have to look and come to the citizens and ask for some help with additional resources," he said.
Government services will continue to deteriorate under the city's existing financial structure, he said.
"I don't think the citizens want that, but we as elected leaders have to have the courage to make the case that we want a better and more improved and more sustainable city than we have right now," he said, referring to possible ballot issues in November.
During the speech, Rivera said other Colorado cities have been hit by the economic slowdown, but that they've fared better because they have higher tax rates.
If Colorado Springs taxed itself like Denver, it would have an additional $140 million in revenue, he said, emphasizing that he wasn't advocating that Colorado Springs adopt the same revenue structure as Denver.
"Frankly, I think we'd have a revolt in Colorado Springs," he said.
Rivera called 2010 a "turnaround year" but cautioned that more cuts may be necessary, including additional layoffs of city employees.
"We haven't made any decisions," he said. "We haven't looked at it that much in detail. But frankly, the way things are looking right now, we're going to have to cut back on services."