Colorado Springs council vote paves the way for pothole fixes

April 8, 2014 Updated: April 8, 2014 at 9:25 pm
photo - Chris Dabney, left, of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and Michael Shill of the City of Colorado Springs repair pot holes while Joseph Baker of PPRTA preps other holes in the background Tuesday, April 8, 2014, near Hancock Blvd. in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Chris Dabney, left, of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and Michael Shill of the City of Colorado Springs repair pot holes while Joseph Baker of PPRTA preps other holes in the background Tuesday, April 8, 2014, near Hancock Blvd. in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Potholes in Colorado Springs will get more than a simple patch after the Colorado Springs City Council voted Tuesday to take $2 million from the city's reserve fund to pay for the road repairs.

Maintenance crews will begin work citywide this summer, digging dreaded potholes down to the subbase and making proper repairs.

The fixes should last about two years and keep reoccurring holes off the city's pothole priority list. But it involves dipping into the city's rainy-day fund so that the work can be done before next fall.

The 7-2 vote means the city will draw down on its reserve fund, which is estimated at $47 million, or 19 percent of the total general fund budget. City officials have said in the past it is ideal to have a reserve fund of 25 percent socked away for emergencies.

But Mayor Steve Bach said the torn up roads are an emergency. For years, the city has deferred its street maintenance programs, said Bach's Chief of Staff Steve Cox. He said the city should be annually repairing about 10 percent of its roads. Instead, it has been able to work on about 2 percent, he said.

Then came a wet and freezing winter that caused an unusual number of potholes - so many that city crews could not keep up, said Corey Farkas, streets manager. The city typically fills about 26,000 potholes a year. But when crews toss asphalt into the hole, the fix is not long-term, Farkas said. And after this winter, crews find themselves repeatedly returning the scene of the same pothole.

The council examined the city's street budget and the funds it gets from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. There had been some questions about why the city would dip into its emergency fund when there was available money from PPRTA, a voter-approved tax set aside for capital, maintenance and transit projects.

City traffic manager Kathleen Krager made the case that the city isn't sitting on a pile of money. Every dollar in the city's street maintenance program has been spent or will be spent on street repair, guardrails, sign replacement, road striping and curbs and gutters, she said.

"We have signed contracts with contractors, consultants and vendors," she said Monday during the council's work session.

Council members Helen Collins and Joel Miller were not convinced and voted against taking the $2 million from the city's reserve.

The $2 million will be moved immediately into the city's public works department budget. City officials said it could take about 30 days to secure contracts before work can begin.

In other business

- The council approved the creation of a tax-free zone around the Colorado Springs Airport. In a 7-2 vote, the council created a commercial aeronautical zone that allows businesses that lease, sell, repair or maintain aircraft to be exempt from most city sales and use taxes.

The ordinance does not eliminate the business tax on property such as copy machines and computers, and it does not affect county taxes.

The Colorado Springs Airport had been the only airport on the Front Range that charged sales and use tax on aviation equipment and supplies. In 2007, the city started charging aircraft owners a 2.5 percent sales tax on the value of their airplanes, helicopters and other aircraft based at the airport. The tax prompted more than 20 percent of the aircraft owners to flee the area that year, reducing airport revenues from avionic and fuel sales, aircraft maintenance and repairs, and state grants in the following years.

Council members Collins and Miller voted against creating the zone. Miller said the ordinance was not inclusive enough. There were some aircraft related businesses directly across from the zone that could benefit but were unfairly left out, he said.

- The council approved Bach's nominations to the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority Board. Members approved the appointments of Nolan Schriner, a former city planner who later opened his own land planning firm; Valerie Hunter, who founded a software development company; and Peter Scoville, who co-founded a commercial real estate firm.

Bach had asked the council to confirm the appointments at a March 25 meeting, but some council members wanted to interview the candidates. Earlier this month, Schriner sparred with council members during an interview at City Hall. He was confirmed Tuesday in 6-3 vote, with council members Miller, Collins and Don Knight voting no. Council members Collins and Miller voted no on Hunter and Scoville's appointments.

The city's Urban Renewal Authority was set up in 1970 to work on restoration and development in areas of town considered blight. The URA board oversees public/private partnerships that use tax increment financing. Some of the URA projects include Ivywild, North Nevada Avenue, Copper Ridge and City Gate.

Two of the four City for Champions projects - a downtown sports and events center and an Olympic museum - would be built in the southwest urban renewal area.

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