November 12, 2009
The confusing and ambiguous language of ballot issue 300 is subject to various legal interpretations, and unnamed citizens groups are already talking about challenging the legality of a major part of the initiative, outgoing Assistant City Manager Mike Anderson said Thursday.
The ballot initiative, which voters approved last week, is apparently in conflict with the city charter, Anderson said during a candid and wide-ranging speech before the Colorado Springs Press Association.
Issue 300, sponsored by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, requires payments from enterprises to the city to be phased out over eight years. Such payments are made in lieu of the taxes that the city-owned enterprises, such as Colorado Springs Utilities, would pay if they were privately owned.
Issue 300 was an initiated ordinance in which Bruce collected voter signatures to place the measure on the ballot.
Anderson said Issue 300 amended the city code, but not the city charter, and the city charter allows payments in lieu of taxes.
The city charter, which is analogous to state or U.S. constitutions for the city, trumps the city code, which is comprised of enacted city ordinances, he said.
Bruce did not return a call for comment.
Anderson said the city at this point doesn’t plan to challenge the legality of Issue 300, and he wouldn’t identify the citizens groups considering the legal challenge.
Anderson would only say that “there’s some talk out there.”
But the city is just starting to “dig into the implications” of 300, he said.
“There’s still a lot out there looming,” he said.
Among the other topics covered by Anderson, who is retiring Dec. 24 after a 25-year career with city government:
• The city’s financial obligation to its police and fire pension plans are a ticking “time bomb,” and Colorado Springs doesn’t have a plan to pay for it.
“The police and fire pensions truly are a fiscal time bomb at this time (and) a plan has yet to be developed for it,” Anderson said afterward.
The amount of money going from the city’s operating budget to cover police and fire pension costs is increasing by an estimated 149 percent, or about $11 million, between 2008 and 2011, Anderson said.
“We have a minefield ahead of us in addition to what we’re facing right now,” Anderson said.
• City officials anticipated the defeat of issue 2C, a property tax increase.
“No surprise that it went down in flames,” he said. “We had felt that it was a long shot.”
The troubled deal between the city and the U.S. Olympic Committee contributed to the defeat of 2C, although he said other factors, such as the economy, also played a role. He said it was a “silly time” to ask for a tax increase during a recession, but that Councilwoman Jan Martin, who led the 2C campaign, wanted to give voters an alternative to myriad budget cuts.
“It was the right thing to do even though it was not politically popular,” he said.
• The fallout from the USOC deal will discourage politicians from taking risks. He noted that previous risky endeavors, including expanding the city’s airport and building the Homestake water project, had paid off.
“It’s going to solidify the reluctance of local elected officials to step out and take a leadership role,” he said, adding that the USOC project had burned “a tremendous amount of political capital.”