Colorado Springs council readies for a marathon meeting day

By Monica Mendoza Updated: November 12, 2013 at 7:36 am • Published: November 12, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

Tuesday's Colorado Springs City Council meeting will be less of a sprint and more of a marathon.

With the Veterans Day holiday on Monday and deadlines looming to approve a 2014 city budget, the City Council will start its day at 9 a.m. with a special work session. The subject: whether the Regional Business Alliance - which endorses candidates, takes positions on ballot issues and supported the mayor's City for Champions proposal - ought to receive $270,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Then, in what could be the longest day of meetings since the new council was seated in April, members will convene into their regular meeting mid-day for a public hearing on proposed electric and natural gas rates.

After the public hearing, the council is expected to approve, on first reading, a $1.15 billion Colorado Springs Utilities budget. Finally, the council will end the afternoon with a work session on proposed changes to the city's budget process, including a move to take the mayor's line item veto power. The council is divided on the proposed changes, with some members saying there is no need to rush an overhaul to the budget process that would affect the balance of power. Others say the council must act before its first reading of the 2014 budget, scheduled for Nov. 26.

Some residents may be wondering: "What's in it for me?"

The council has spent many hours in recent weeks scrutinizing the city's charter, the mayor's proposed $245.6 million general operating budget and the money both the city and Colorado Springs Utilities doles out to nonprofit and for-profit organizations for special events, tourism activities and economic development.

Council president Keith King said it may seem the council has spent too much time in the weeds. But he defends the group's actions, especially its challenges to the city's budget process, which he said favors the executive branch even though it's not spelled out in the city's charter.

"We are working hard to become a true legislative body," King said.

The line-by-line look at the charter is part of the growing pains under the city's two-year-old form of mayor-council government, he said.

One item the council has questioned is the city and utilities budgets for nonprofit and for-profit organizations, especially those that make political endorsements. In 2014, utilites has a community investment fund of $761,500 for special events, such as the Colorado Balloon Classic and Rocky Mountain State Games. It also, for at least the past decade, has given the business alliance (formerly the Economic Development Corp.) more than $200,000 a year. But four council members say the city should not be giving money to organizations that make political endorsements. It also has supported the mayor's City for Champions proposal, which includes four major tourism projects - a proposal the City Council has not endorsed. Business alliance executive director Joe Raso is expected to address the council,

The council also will host a public hearing at 1 p.m. on proposed electric and natural gas rate increases, which combined would be a $3.38 per month increase for a typical utilities customer. The rate hikes are needed to pay for millions in upgrades to Drake and Nixon coal-fired power plants and inspections on gas lines, council member Andy Pico has said. The electric rate hike will generate $12.5 million in 2014; the natural gas rate increase will generate $2 million. The new rates are built into the 2014 utilities $1.15 billion budget, which calls for spending $391 million on construction projects and is expected to be approved by the council after the public hearing.

Finally, the council will meet in a work session to discuss budget approval procedures. Council member Don Knight said that over the past two years, the previous councils gave the mayor power over the city's budget that is not outlined in the city's charter. He will have to convince four other council members to side with him on changes he said would restore a balance in city government. Council members Jan Martin, Val Snider, Jill Gaebler and Merv Bennett have said they are not ready to make sweeping budget process changes just days before they are expected to vote on the 2014 budget. Martin said the council should wait until the first quarter of next year to discuss and implement new budget procedures for the 2015 cycle.

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TUESDAY'S CITY COUNCIL SCHEDULE

9 a.m.: The council will host a special work session to discuss the Colorado Springs Utilities community investment fund, which sets aside $761,500 for special events, tourism activities and economic development.

1 p.m.: The council will hold a public hearing on a proposed 3.4 percent electric rate increase and a 2.2 percent natural gas rate increase.

The council also is expected to vote on, in the first reading, the proposed $1.15 billion Colorado Springs Utilities 2014 budget.

Following the regular meeting, the council will hold a work session to discuss changes in the budget procedure, which includes taking the mayor’s line item veto power.

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