February 11, 2010
The national media are turning Colorado Springs into a poster child of government cutbacks, with reports of brown park grass, dark street lights, shuttered police helicopters and buses on scaled-down schedules.
The media spotlight is already causing headaches for the city’s chief tourism promoter — and it could get worse, as Colorado Springs announced another budget casualty Thursday.
The city government eliminated a 10-year-old program that calms traffic in neighborhoods by installing speed bumps and other devices to discourage motorists from using residential streets to avoid busier thoroughfares.
Six projects were cut because of a lack of funding and staff, 35 neighborhood applications for traffic help won’t be processed, and new applications will no longer be accepted, the city said.
The city said residents concerned about traffic safety still have options, including paying “for police overtime for targeted enforcement in their neighborhoods.”
The end of the neighborhood traffic program is the latest in a series of budget cuts.
The city, which let go nearly 200 employees through layoffs and an early retirement program, isn’t filling public safety jobs. The city put its two police helicopters up for sale. It turned off 8,000-10,000 streetlights to save $1.2 million. The City Clerk’s office and the Parks Department cut their office hours, and four local community centers face closure in April unless they can come up with the money to keep them open.
The cuts haven’t gone unnoticed.
ABC News, for example, recently featured the city in a report about what it called “extreme” budget cuts.
“Residents are being asked to bring their own lawnmowers if they want the lawns trimmed in the park,” anchor Diane Sawyer said in the broadcast. “But there may not be much to trim. Water is being cut off to the parks, too.”
Days later, the National Post in Canada reported that Colorado Springs “no longer offers basic services that people expect from their local government.”
The negative press has triggered concerns from potential visitors.
“It has prompted people who are planning meetings to query us and ask, will they be safe when they come to town,” said Terry Sullivan, president of Experience Colorado Springs, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau.
“There have been, probably on a daily basis, an average of at least one consumer a day who has either e-mailed us or called us because they have witnessed some national attention being given to Colorado Springs,” he said.
Sullivan said bureau employees tell potential visitors that the budget problems here aren’t as dire as they’re being portrayed.
CNN is working on a story about Colorado Springs’ budget cuts, too.
“I’ve been surprised by how harsh (the cutbacks have been), frankly,” CNN journalist Jim Spellman said.
Spellman said his report will cover the community impacts, whether other governments should be taking the same path as Colorado Springs “and whether these kinds of drastic cuts are worth it.”
Call the writer at 476-1623