The Colorado Springs City Council will decide Tuesday if it wants to take $2 million from the city's emergency fund to pay for pothole repair.
Steve Cox, chief of staff for Mayor Steve Bach, asked the council Monday to consider taking the money out of the city's reserve fund to pay for street maintenance. It would allow the city to hire outside contractors to work through the summer repairing roads, which took a beating this winter, Cox said.
Council president Keith King said the issue is a matter of priorities, and he is not sure he's prepared to take money from the emergency fund when the issue could be resolved by bumping pothole repair to the top of the city's 2014 list of street projects.
But city staffers argued Monday that the city's budget is tight and if they bumped one streets project for another, the city still would end up with the same problem of deferred street maintenance.
"When we prepare our budget, we assign every dollar," said Kathleen Krager, the city's traffic manager. "What none of us saw coming was a really hard winter that took its toll on our already deteriorating streets."
The city's chief financial officer, Kara Skinner, estimates that the city's reserve fund is about $47 million - or about 19 percent of the city's general fund budget. The mayor, she said, would not ask to take money from the reserve fund unless it was an emergency.
"This is an important mission to keep roads in good shape," Skinner said. "It's an amount that can make a difference and a reasonable impact to fund balance."
But Bach's pothole repair plan hit a bump last month when some council members questioned how the city was spending an estimated $18 million a year in maintenance funds from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, a voter-approved tax set aside for capital, maintenance and transit projects. Money in the city's PPRTA maintenance fund can be used for road resurfacing, pothole patching, minor road repairs, concrete maintenance, curbs and gutters, bridge repair and pedestrian ramps.
The city has about $5 million in PPRTA maintenance money carried over from the 2013 budget, PPRTA's director Robert MacDonald wrote in an April 2 memo to PPRTA's Citizen Advisory Committee. King and council member Joel Miller, who is a member of the PPRTA board of directors, questioned why that carry-over money couldn't be used for potholes before turning to the city's rainy day money.
Krager said all of that PPRTA carry-over money has been committed and it takes time for invoices to be presented to PPRTA for reimbursement. MacDonald wrote in his memo that typically PPRTA has all of the invoices from 2013 by the end of March and maintains that the carry-over money has not been committed.
It will be for the council to decide how to interpret the budget numbers.
The city's street manager, Corey Farkas, said if his department gets the $2 million, the city could make permanent repairs to the roads instead of just filling the holes.
IN OTHER DISCUSSIONS
The council will be asked to vote on proposed changes to the city’s eminent domain rules. Council member Joel Miller is asking the to limit the city’s use of eminent domain for public use. Under his proposal, the city could not take private property for the use of private economic development. Furthermore, if the city were to impose its condemnation power, the council would be required to host a public hearing rather than settle the issue in a closed executive meeting as it does now. Miller presented his proposed ordinance Monday during the work session. But council members Val Snider, Jill Gaebler and Andy Pico said they needed more time to consider the proposal and would like to postpone the vote until later this month. Miller said he will push for a vote on the issue, as scheduled, at Tuesday’s meeting.