City government department heads on Monday offered a bit of insight into their proposed budgets for next year, though much depends on the fate of the city's high-profile stormwater ballot issue.
Colorado Springs City Council members heard from police, fire, parks and other city representatives Monday during the first of several public meetings surrounding the city's proposed budget for 2018. Another meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall for the public to weigh in on the budget.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey told the council that a shortage of officers is affecting the department's efficacy. As crime rates rise, police struggle with the number of officers employed. And while the department's clearance rates - the number of reported crimes resulting in arrest - are above the national average, those numbers are slipping.
Police response times are slower than the national average of about eight minutes, Carey said. And the department loses about four officers each month to resignations, retirements or transfers.
Over the next five years, Carey said he wants to add as many as 125 officers to his current staff of 708, some of which are still in training. His ability to hire more officers, however, depends on the proposed set of stormwater fees appearing on El Paso County's November ballot as Issue 2A.
If passed, the fees would charge homeowners $5 a month, while nonresidential property owners would pay $30 for every acre they own. The fees are expected to raise about $17 million a year, freeing up general fund money that the city currently spends on stormwater obligations. Mayor John Suthers has said he wants to use the freed general fund money to hire additional police officers and firefighters, among other things. Ballots for the election were mailed Monday.
One of Carey's biggest projects for next year would be installing red light cameras at some of the city's most dangerous intersections, which is expected to cost about $400,000.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Ted Collas also said he wants to add to his team, but any new firefighter hires will have to wait until the election is over. Collas said his department set aside about $1.5 million for an increase in salary and benefits.
Parks Director Karen Palus said her budget for 2018 includes a request for seven new positions and a lengthy list of projects and work in the city's parks and open spaces. Palus mentioned Austin Bluffs Open Space and Bancroft Park as some of the city's properties that will be addressed. She also said her department will try to cut down on water costs during the year.
Councilman Bill Murray voiced his dissatisfaction over the budget depending heavily on Issue 2A.
Newly appointed Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel has said her office will release a supplemental budget if voters approve 2A.
While Murray called the budget that's currently proposed "faux," Jeff Greene, the city's chief of staff, argued that this year's protocol is not much different from any other year, which requires multiple meetings and markup sessions before a budget is approved.