October 7, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2013 at 8:41 am
Mayor Steve Bach wants to hire 27 police officers next year, beef up wildfire mitigation, add bus service to the Powers Boulevard corridor and increase spending by $4 million to fix bridges and roads.
The outlays are among the highlights of Bach's proposed 2014 Colorado Springs annual budget, which he released Monday.
The $245.6 million general operating budget proposal is $13.8 million more than the 2013 budget, due mostly to an increase in sales tax revenue and the elimination of numerous positions. The budget calls for cutting 96 non-public safety positions and adding 49 public safety positions for an overall reduction of 47 positions.
Bach said residents who attended his Town Hall meetings demanded more bus service, more police officers and repairs to the city's roads.
"I'm particularly proud of more services to our community, including Sunday bus service and service to Powers Boulevard, which is important to people who work out that way," Bach said. "And as far as public safety we will be adding 27 police officers and opening Fire Station 22." Eleven of the officer positions would be funded through the Public Safety Sales Tax.
In Bach's proposed general operating budget, the police department would get a $5 million increase; the fire department would see a $4.7 million lift and the city would spend $640,000 to mow grass and landscape entry points to the city.
Bach's budget calls for spending $12 million on capital improvement projects - $4 million more than in 2013. The money would be spent on 10 bridges in need of repair, resurfacing of Academy Boulevard, and park improvements. The city also would add $1 million toward the Cimarron interchange project at Interstate 25. The city already had committed $5 million of the needed $6 million.
City Councilor Jill Gaebler, who attended the press conference when Bach released his budget plan, said the $5 million added to the police department budget was a good surprise, but it's an amount that likely will spark debate among city council members. Adding $4 million to the capital improvement budget is a good move, she said.
"But I don't see what has been cut to pay for that," she said. "I'm very sensitive to parks. I'm just wondering what is being sacrificed. It's hard to tell from what is shown today."
Colorado Springs city councilors received the proposed budget Monday. Council will host four days of budget work sessions beginning Thursday to dive into the proposed specifics. Work sessions will be in City Hall, and the mayor's budget is subject to council's approval.
The proposed budget is based on Bach's strategic plan, which he calls the road map to the budget. His staff listed 74 "breakthrough" strategies, which indicate a change in the 2014 budget from the 2013 budget. And he made some tough calls, he said.
For example, there won't be money left over to add to the city's rainy-day fund. But the city will open the 2014 fiscal year with a reserve fund of $49 million - about 6 percent less than the recommended 25 percent in reserve. The rainy-day fund could be tapped quickly, officials said. The city suffered about $13 million in flood damage that will need to be addressed.
"We felt there were so many urgent areas to address, including bus service that was cut so severely, we won't be able to get to 25 percent any time soon," he said.
Police and courts is the largest part of the budget, with the city spending about $42 out of every $100 here. But residents who attended town hall meetings this year said that if they had control over the city's budget, they would spend even more money for police.
Since 2008, the police department has been understaffed by 50 officers, said Police Chief Pete Carey. The smaller department affected response times and the amount of time police had to talk to citizens and take their reports in person. Now, it takes police about 10 minutes to respond to bank robberies, assaults or other life-threatening situations.
Carey's goal, and the industry standard, is an 8-minute response time, he said. The 2014 budget adds 27 police officers to his department. The positions would be funded both through the general fund (16 positions) and the Public Safety Sales Tax (11 positions).
"This is good news," he said. "It's a step to get us back to where we were as far as response times."
The police department budget also adds six part-time community service police officers - those who do not carry firearms but assist in taking citizen reports.
"I'm very excited that in 2014 we are going to take some good steps to get responsiveness back to the community," Carey said.
Part of the increase also would go to revamp the Police Communications Center for call-response improvements.
Fire Chief Christopher Riley said two back-to-back wildfires followed by flooding have highlighted the need for wildfire mitigation and emergency management. The proposed fire department budget increase of $4.7 million includes money for both programs.
"There are a lot of needs out there," Riley said. "And this community has a tremendous amount of risk, obviously with the urban interface we have here."
The proposed budget calls for adding one deputy to the Office of Emergency Management.
"The investment in the Office of Emergency Management was directly related to the epic fire events," said Laura Neumann, the city's chief of staff.
It is no secret that the Colorado Springs Airport could be doing better, said Dan Gallagher, interim aviation director. The number of passengers boarding planes in Colorado Springs is down 37 percent - the lowest in 22 years.
In the 2014 budget, the airport cut $3 million from its budget by not filling 25 positions and refinancing its bond debt.
"We have to return to our core businesses and make the airport as profitable a marketplace as we can for our business partners," he said.
The cuts are expected to be attractive to airlines because it helps keep down the cost per enplanement - the cost to process a flyer from the curb to the aircraft seat. Without debt refinance, the airport was headed toward a $15 enplanement cost. In 2014, the cost will remain at $8.
Earlier this year, the city announced that it was outsourcing its fleet management department, cutting about 70 employees. It is a $4 million savings over five years. Overall, the city cut 96 non-public safety positions in the 2014 budget. There are no other departments targeted for outsourcing in the 2014 budget, Neumann said, but it is an ongoing process.
In addition, the mayor is proposing a $1.8 million drop to budgets in several administrative departments, including the Mayor's office, finance, information technology, communications and the city clerk's and city attorney's office.