December 18, 2013 Updated: December 18, 2013 at 9:16 pm
In an about-face Wednesday, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a 2014 city budget that is nearly lockstep with Mayor Steve Bach's proposed budget.
The council restored the police budget increase. It will fully fund the city's tourism and economic development organizations, and it will add a deputy director in the Office of Emergency Management.
But the council didn't budge on its position to limit the mayor's ability to move money within the budget. In a 6-3 vote - a supermajority, which is a two-thirds majority vote - council slapped down Bach's veto and upheld its budget ordinance that creates 12 appropriations departments instead of the existing five. The added departments inhibit the mayor from moving money from one department to another without council's consent. It's a move, council said, that follows the rules of the city's charter. But, some council members worry it will land them in court.
"I do believe council is right in wanting additional appropriations departments," said council member Jill Gaebler. "However, I don't think this is the right time to force this issue on the community and become embroiled in a lawsuit."
Council member Andy Pico said this change makes the city's budget more transparent and does not create an undue hardship on the executive branch. It would take only a one-reading resolution by council to move money from one department to another.
"That is not exactly canceling Christmas," he said. "The issue is very fundamental - we are following what the charter says. This is not a power grab. It's whether we are going to follow the charter."
Earlier this month, Bach said the council was illegally intruding on the functions of the executive branch. He also cited the city's charter in his defense of a five-department appropriations budget and said he needed flexibility to move money in times of emergency.
Bach could take the issue to court to ask a judge to interpret the city's charter.
He will host a press conference Thursday to give his reaction to the council's final budget decisions.
City Hall was standing room only for the council's special meeting to consider Bach's eight vetoes to the 2014 budget. Earlier this month, the council approved a $245 million general fund budget with 18 amendments. Bach promptly vetoed eight of the amendments and asked council to reconsider the ramifications of its budget decisions, including taking $565,000 from the city's rainy day fund to pay for park watering.
The council considered each veto separately and sometimes appeared to be confused as to what an affirmative vote would do. In the end the council voted to override three of the mayor's vetoes.
The mayor's budget spent $2.9 million on parks watering in 2014. It would cost $4 million to water the parks at the same level as in 2013. Bach was counting on the council, acting as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, to extend a discounted watering rate through a pilot program to make up the difference.
But council said the city needs to pay its own watering bill instead of relying on utilities ratepayers. Instead, City Council wanted to take half of the $1.13 million from police and half from the city's savings, or reserve fund. But council did not override the mayor's veto on the issue. It means council put back $400,000 into the police department budget and the police chief now can replace 52 aging vehicles.
Now, council must decide whether it wants the city to water parks less than it did in 2013 or take more money from its rainy day fund to cover the watering bill.
Wasting no time Wednesday, the city's human resources department posted the job for a deputy director in the Office of Emergency Management within one hour of the council's decision to restore it to the budget. The position has an annual salary range of $65,112 to $81,396 and will assist the director in emergency planning, mitigation and preparedness.
The crowd applauded the council's vote that restored the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau to its full $2.66 million 2014 budget. Council originally voted to withhold half of the funds until it was given more details about the CVB budget. It also intended to withhold half of the $70,000 normally given to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. But in the days after its decision, Council received public scrutiny from business leaders who sent emails saying council's decision would hurt the local economy.
Now, both organizations will receive full funding in 2014.
"This is a great win for our community," said Amy Long, CVB vice president of marketing and partnerships.
In the last of its three override votes, council stood by its decision to use $150,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund to pay for park rangers in the Garden of the Gods Park and Helen Hunt Falls instead of the city's Lodgers and Automobile Renters Tax fund.