Thirty police officers and firefighters will be added next year after Colorado Springs voters freed up millions of dollars in the city's general by approving fees for stormwater projects in Tuesday's election.
Officials have other plans for the money, too, as the City Council on Thursday began reviewing changes to the city's 2018 budget.
The stormwater fees, which will be on bills next July, charge homeowners $5 a month and nonresidential property owners $30 per acre each month. Charae McDaniel, the city's chief financial officer, said she anticipates $9 million in revenue from the fees in the last half of next year.
Money from the fees can only be spent on 71 stormwater projects within the city that mitigate flood waters and pollutants which could harm downstream communities. That revenue will free approximately $7 million in the city's general fund that was already allocated for the work, McDaniel said.
The amended 2018 budget proposes using $1.4 million of that money to hire 20 police officers. Mayor John Suthers has said he wants to add up to 120 police officers in coming years to address the department's understaffing and unsatisfactory response times. The amended budget also set aside $134,000 to hire eight firefighters.
The amount budgeted for hiring firefighters doesn't represent the actual cost because it is mostly offsetting what the department has been paying in overtime, McDaniel said.
A fire code inspector and support employee will also be hired at a cost of $154,000.
While campaigning for the fees, Suthers said bolstering the city's public safety services was his top priority for the freed general fund money. But Councilwoman Yolanda Avila and others council members added to that list of priorities Thursday.
Avila asked city leaders to "put your money where your mouth is" by addressing the needs of her southeast Colorado Springs district, including more bus routes and bus stops. While public safety is an important responsibility, Avila said she is sick of waiting for her district to get some attention.
"I am getting tired of hearing 'go sit on the back of the bus,'" Avila said. "Transportation is a core city service. ... It is just as important as all these other core services. ... It's a core service that many of my constituents do not have."
That lack of transportation means southeast residents have less access to jobs, health care and recreational activities, Avila said.
Councilman Don Knight echoed Avila, with Knight saying the city's park watering systems could also benefit from the windfall.
Chief of Staff Jeff Green said no new money was allocated to the city's transportation budget after voters approved the stormwater fees. Green said the city is discussing expanding bus routes, although they are in northeast Colorado Springs where two new hospitals are expected to open next year.
Greene said Thursday he will look into possibly adding up to $500,000 to transportation needs. He also told the council he would look into funding for parks.
Knight noted that voters could be asked to extend a five-year, 0.62 percent sales tax that funds repairs to the city's streets, curbs and gutters. He asked Greene to see if freed general fund money could be allocated for road work so that the tax could be lowered to 0.5 percent if it is renewed.
The Council will resume its budget discussions next Wednesday.
In the meantime, McDaniel said city staff is working to implement the fees. For the first half of next year, the city will pay for its stormwater obligations and projects with general fund money and switch to using revenue from the fees after July.
Of the expected revenue, $2.63 million is allocated to the city's Stormwater Division for salaries and benefits, $4.37 million is allocated to stormwater projects and a one-time payment of $1.8 million will go to Colorado Springs
Utilities to set up and handle the residential billing portion of the fees.
The city's annual payment to Utilities once the residential billing is set up expected to be closer to $200,000, McDaniel said.
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