City officials facing reality: making do with millions less

November 4, 2009
photo - Mayor Lionel Rivera answers questions about election results Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, at City Hall.  Photo by Kevin Kreck, The Gazette
Mayor Lionel Rivera answers questions about election results Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, at City Hall. Photo by Kevin Kreck, The Gazette 

Reality set in at City Hall on Wednesday after voters slaughtered a property tax hike and approved an initiative that will stop the city from collecting revenue from its enterprises.

Mayor Lionel Rivera, who said Tuesday night that issue 300 wouldn’t affect the Stormwater Enterprise, left open the possibility that it did.

“There’s a question on whether or not the language the way it was spelled out in 300 really applies to the Stormwater Enterprise,” he said during a news conference.

“I don’t know the answer,” he added. “We have to have a discussion with the city attorney to determine how we’re going to do an implementing ordinance to put all this into effect.”

The Douglas Bruce-sponsored ballot measure requires payments in lieu of taxes to the city to be phased out over eight years, beginning in July 2010, and the money returned to ratepayers.

Bruce said it was “absurd” for city officials to say the ballot issue didn’t apply to the Stormwater Enterprise. And Bruce had an unlikely ally: Councilman Darryl Glenn.

“One thing you can’t argue is that if you drove around the community, there were enough signs that clearly stated that this issue dealt with the stormwater tax and fee,” said Glenn, who is proposing a resolution to repeal the Stormwater Enterprise and its fees.

“This council is in trouble if we, in my opinion, ignore the will of the voters on 300,” he said. “This will be a slap in the face if we don’t follow the direction that we’ve been given.”

Glenn also is proposing the “immediate” creation of a committee that would develop a proposed regional stormwater authority. He said the group would need to get started right away to have enough time to take the proposal to voters in November 2010.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities officials said they were still determining when ratepayers will see an impact from issue 300.

The payments made by Utilities to the city, designed to compensate the city for tax revenue it would receive if Utilities were privately owned, amounts to more than $3 million in 2010. According to the city’s analysis of 300, residential bills would drop 52 cents each month, beginning in January 2010.

The repercussions of the other city issue on the ballot, 2C, a property tax increase rejected by voters, also continued to reverberate Wednesday.

The defeat of 2C and passage of 300 was a blow to firefighters, said Mike Smaldino, president of the firefighters’ union, International Association of Firefighters Local 5.

“It’s like with everybody else across the country,” he said. “Anytime you are talking about layoffs with your company, it’s not a good day.”

The City Council is meeting Monday for a so-called budget markup session in which they’ll consider myriad cuts. City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft offered her recommendations in the 2010 spending plan, but council members have the final say.

Among their proposals: across-the-board pay cuts and 24 days of furloughs.

“I think it’s safe to say that everything is on the table,” said Rivera, adding that he doesn’t support pay cuts.

Still, Rivera said the city is facing even more cuts after Tuesday’s election because of issue 300.

“It’s a little bit different today than it was yesterday,” he said.

Another difference: a homeless advocate said he was launching a recall, apparently for the third time, of Rivera and Vice Mayor Larry Small.

“I’m definitely following through with it,” Patrick Ayers, 59, said. “I think it’s time we cut the head off this dragon.”

Call the writer at 476-1623


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