After much talk from elected officials about the need to reduce city fees for Colorado Springs businesses, developers and citizens, Tuesday's City Council meeting ended with all existing fees intact and an increase in golf and cemetery fees.
The City Council was unable to override Mayor Steve Bach's vetoes of a set of council-approved ordinances that would have eliminated most business license fees. Council member Helen Collins had hoped that doing away with such fees, ranging from $15 to $515, would have inspired entrepreneurs to open more small businesses throughout the city.
But Bach vetoed the ordinances, saying that eliminating the fees, which add up to about $400,000 a year, would be a problem because the city still would have to process business licenses without the fees to cover the administrative costs.
In addition, Bach said the city's clerk is reviewing the city's business licensing program and expects to make recommendations in September. He had hoped the City Council would hold off on its ordinances until then, he said.
The Council needed six votes to override the vetoes but did not have them. Council members Val Snider, Jan Martin, Merv Bennett and Jill Gaebler voted to sustain the mayor's vetoes.
Collins, upset over the vote, said, "The purpose of this was to help small businesses. Three of the four councilors against this are at-large, and I believe they are out of touch with small businesses in this community."
Meanwhile, Bach was pitching a different kind of fee-elimination plan. He wanted the City Council to waive school and park fees for downtown residential developers.
The idea is an effort to jump start downtown development, said Bob Cope, the city's principal analyst and project director of City for Champions. A number of downtown developers, including Perry Sanders, who spent $30 million turning the old downtown mining exchange into a Wyndham Grand Hotel, urged the council to approve Bach's plan. Sanders and other developers said construction and land are more expensive downtown and it has soured builders from investing. A little help from the city could be a turning point, they said.
The fee waiver would have applied to downtown residential development in the area bounded by Cache La Poudre Street on the north, Interstate 25 on the west and south and North El Paso Street on the east. Park fees are $1,781 and school fees are $1,532 for eight units per acre. The council only was considering waiving the park fee Tuesday. It expected to have the school fee come back at a later meeting.
Park fees were established in the 1970s and meant to help pay for the cost of new parks, said Darsey Nicklasson, vice president and project manager of Blue Dot Place. She is working on a 33-unit apartment complex and faces park and school fees of more than $53,000.
The park fee should not apply to infill projects, Nicklasson said, because the parks already are built. She went further to say that the city should consider waiving the fees for infill projects across the city.
Her business partner, Kathy Loo, agreed. Eliminating fees for downtown developers could be just the beginning of some new development policies, she said.
"It's not doing anything but starting a movement that I think could do so much for our entire community," she said.
Council members Bennett, Martin, Snider and Gaebler liked the plan and said downtown is in desperate need of residential housing that might attract young professionals and revitalize the area. Martin said the downtown plan to waive fees, which would have been a three-year program, could be viewed as a pilot and expanded to other areas of the city.
But the plan failed on a 5-4 vote. Council president Keith King said it wasn't fair to target one area of town. Meanwhile, council members were nearly united on increasing golf fees in 2015, voting 8-1 to raise
fees from $28 to $29 to play 18 holes at Patty Jewett and Valley Hi golf courses.
Golf fees have not increased since 2009, said Dal Lockwood, the city's golf manager. Council member Don Knight was against the fee increase, saying the city needed to focus on getting more players.
"The golf course makes money by volume," he said.
He worked at a golf course in college and said the managers discounted rates to attract players.
"That is what we should be doing here, giving discounted rates instead of raising rates," he said.
The council also approved an increase in cemetery fees. In 2015, a basic space will go from $800 to $900. A cremation estate will go from $1,200 to $1,500. And disinterment fees will go from $1,000 to $1,300.
Originally, the city's cemetery operations administrator, Will DeBoer, wanted the disinterment fees to go up to $3,000, saying there may be many families who will want to move their veteran loved ones out of the city's cemeteries and into a national veterans cemetery planned near Colorado Springs.
But some council members felt the proposed 200 percent disinterment hike unfairly targeted veterans.
A 374-acre national cemetery at South Powers Boulevard and Bradley Road is expected to open in 2015 with full completion by 2017. Already some families have asked city officials about moving their loved ones, DeBoer had said.
The new golf and cemetery fees will be begin in 2015.