October 8, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2013 at 6:55 am
Colorado Springs City Council members are taking their first look at Mayor Steve Bach's proposed 2014 budget this week, and as they get into the details, they may find themselves testing the city's charter.
Bach on Monday released his proposed $245.6 million general fund budget, which calls for some big changes in the police and fire department budgets. Under the city's charter, the budget is the mayor's responsibility.
But the charter says the council "may add or increase programs or amounts and may delete or decrease any programs or amounts..."
These are words over which the City Council and the mayor have butted heads. In 2012, the council changed some items in the mayor's budget. The mayor vetoed the changes, but a supermajority council vote overturned the veto.
City Attorney Chris Melcher told the council that it overstepped its lawful authority when the group tried to tell the mayor how many code enforcement officers to hire and how to spend park and recreation money. He also said that the mayor can generally refuse to spend funds that the City Council has appropriated, even if a council overrides a mayoral veto with a super majority vote of two-thirds. But this is a new council.
Six new members were elected in April, and this is the first time they will be asked to adopt a city budget. This year, the council formed a budget committee and has expressed its desire to be more involved in the budget. The council will host four days of budget meetings - compared with last year's one-day budget meeting - because council members expect to scrutinize the budget.
Councilman Don Knight said the council wants to ensure that it fulfills its budget responsibilities as outlined in the city's charter and code. "I expect we will see a very rational budget with good, sound reasoning," Knight said.
But the council and the executive branch may argue over the wording in budget ordinances, he said. For example, the council recently was told by the city attorney that it could appropriate money but could not say in its ordinance how the money would be spent.
"If we are spending money on a certain thing, then we should put it in writing," Knight said.
Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said there could be a dispute between the executive and legislative branch over how budget duties break down. "I'm disappointed that we couldn't, as the two bodies of government earlier on in the budget process, work better to make sure our strategic plans were more aligned," she said, "So that when the budget is released we don't behave like our federal government."
Bach said he's not anticipating a fight with the council but said it's within his duties to create the city's budget.
"I'm going to tell you that I'm going to defend the charter," he said. "I will work collaboratively with City Council, and I'm looking forward to a very robust conversation with council over these next couple of months."