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Colorado Springs City Council flexes muscle over mayor's budget

October 10, 2013 Updated: October 10, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Colorado Springs City Council members pressed city staffers Thursday for more line-item details in the proposed 2014 annual budget, an indication that they have no intention of rubber-stamping the Mayor's budget.

In round one of four days of budget work sessions, council members drilled for the numbers behind the numbers outlined in a 300-page document released Monday. Council president Keith King said City Council members need more details so they can weigh the value of programs and possibly make changes. For example, King wants the city to dedicate 1 to 2 percent of the budget to ongoing maintenance of stormwater-related programs and projects.

"I personally thought we were going to get more details," King said to the city's chief of staff, Laura Neumann. "The answer is, you are not going to give us any more detail than what is in the book."

Neumann said city staffers prepared budget presentations that outline the significant changes from the 2013 budget to the 2014 budget, and cautioned council that getting into the nitty-gritty expenditures would turn four days of budget hearings into months. Additionally, line-item expenses are the mayor's responsibilities.

"There are 300 pages of detail we prepared to discuss - this is one of the more extensive budget presentations we have ever done," she said.

From the moment new City Council members took office in April, they said they believe the city's charter gives them more budget authority than previous councils exercised under the new strong-mayor form of government.

"The council may add or increase programs or amounts and may delete or decrease any programs," Councilman Don Knight said, quoting the city's charter.

The proposed $245.6 million general operating budget is $13.8 million more than the 2013 budget, due to a projected increase in sales tax revenue and the elimination of 96 jobs, most of which were in the fleet management department. The fleet management jobs will be outsourced in 2014.

As council members pored over the proposed 2014 budget, they were still unsure about their legislative powers over the city's budget.

Jan Martin, who has been on the council through seven city budgets, tried to calm the tension.

"This is the most detail we have ever received since the change in government," Martin said. "I have found in discussions with the staff, there never has been a question they were not willing to answer. My recommendation is, move forward."

One of the biggest budget increases is for the police department. Under the proposed budget, police would get $4.5 million more in 2014 for raises, more officers, squad cars and community service officers. But in the 300-page budget book, the police budget is spelled out in three pages, in broad strokes. There are no details, for example, on how many squad cars the department has or how old they are.

"It's the largest budget but it has the same level of detail as municipal court," said council member Jill Gaebler. "It's just so much money and so little detail."

City Attorney Chris Melcher sent council a 17-page memo Oct. 1 about the budget process, saying the mayor has authority to determine the form and format of the budget as along as it includes items, programs and amounts.

"Previous councils didn't ask questions and got burned," Knight said.

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