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Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers takes exception to group's no-tax claim

August 13, 2015 Updated: August 14, 2015 at 8:07 am
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photo - Mayor John Suthers said he was "shocked" to learn that information in El Paso County's voter information packet are not vetted. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)
Mayor John Suthers said he was "shocked" to learn that information in El Paso County's voter information packet are not vetted. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette) 

Americans for Prosperity says no sales tax increase is needed to fix Colorado Springs roads, but Mayor John Suthers says that contention is based on "an incredibly uninformed analysis."

AFP, a Republican political advocacy group, issued a news release Thursday saying a certified public accountant had reviewed the city's budget and found Colorado Springs has "more than enough money" to fix its infrastructure without pursuing a sales tax increase.

The City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday to send a proposal to the Nov. 3 ballot, asking voters whether the sales tax should be increased by 0.62 percent for five years. That would raise $50 million a year, or $250 million, to rebuild and maintain many of the city's crumbling roads.

"If this tax does not pass, the City will not have the funds to maintain its existing roads, which will hurt both residents and tourism," City Council President pro Tem Jill Gaebler said in an email.

Suthers said he had been in office about a week when Jeff Crank, formerly of AFP, asked if his budget expert could look at the city budget. But no one did, nor did they contact the city's finance office or the citizens committee that's studied city budgets for six years, the mayor said.

CPA Steven Anderson of Edmond, Okla., analyzed the city's 2014 Consolidated Annual Report and other documents related to city operations to make his recommendations, which will be presented at 10:30 a.m. Friday at City Hall.

They include: levying property taxes on excluded groups; repurposing more than $8 million in Springs Community Improvement Program bonds; renegotiating with the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority; broadening the property tax base; and eliminating "sweetheart" deals that promote development with tax rebates.

"I will say that every one of these (recommendations) is doable," Anderson said. "I did do my due diligence. This isn't my first rodeo."

Council President Merv Bennett said he disagrees with Anderson's assessment, but will attend the presentation.

"I do not agree with this assumption but I am very willing to come and listen to the presentation. The use of some of these funds as described, would cause much collateral damage to the city and its critical services," Bennett said in an email.

Suthers completely dismissed Anderson's recommendations, pointing out that sales tax money comes from more than city residents, PPRTA money is distributed as it should and tax rebate deals to promote development bolster the economy and create jobs. Furthermore, he said, the only entities excluded from city property taxes are churches, nonprofits and the military.

"Do you think the citizens of Colorado Springs would vote to tax churches and nonprofits? We'd be the only jurisdiction in Colorado that did that," Suthers said.

The money saved from retiring Springs Community Improvement Program bonds has been designated to go to stormwater improvements, the city's other critical and long-neglected piece of infrastructure.

"I remain open to learning more," Gaebler said, "but it appears that in their zealousness to declare there is not a need for new taxes, they have not taken the time to truly understand the city's budget, how PPRTA funds are distributed, or how exactly we might broaden the property tax base."

As far as broadening the property tax base, "whatever that means," Suthers said he wasn't sure if Anderson wants the city to annex county land.

"In terms of restructuring, I will present to the council how we've gone through the budget and scrubbed it to find the other $8 million for stormwater. That's exactly what we've done."

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