Everyone knows the Colorado Springs City Council plays small-ball, spending time and energy on minute internal details. To grasp the scope of this problem, consider a matter the council resolved Tuesday after seven months of intermittent drama.
Since last fall, at the insistence of Councilman Joel Miller, the council has quibbled over $310,000 in the Colorado Springs Utilities budget intended to help three economic development efforts. The money helps fund the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, the Procurement Technical Assistance Program and the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator.
The council met for more than 11 combined hours two days this week. It voted Tuesday to finally free at least some of the funds that are supposed to help attract businesses and create private-sector jobs. The council knocked the $310,000 down to $250,000 — with $210,000 going to the business alliance; $35,000 going to the incubator and $5,000 going to PTAC.
If $310,000 sounds like a lot of dough, it's part of a $1.1 billion budget. That means all the hours of discussion, over the course of seven months, involved a line item that represented 0.028 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities budget. Council members held up economic development efforts, fueled derision and damaged the community's reputation to inefficiently micromanage one-quarter-of-one-tenth-of-one-percent of the budget.
Try visualizing a family acting like the council. The median household income in Colorado Springs is $55,320. To micromanage 0.028 percent of its budget, a typical family might convene in the living room and announce plans to sequester $15.59. The family might forgo a cheap pizza, until further notice, to facilitate extensive debate and discussion of the $15.59.
Instead of tending the yard, doing laundry, seeking better investments or options for more income, mom, dad and kids would occasionally sit for long, boring discussions about the $15.59. Emails would fly back and forth. Neighbors would hear about the penny-ante feud and roll their eyes. Seven months later, during another rancorous discussion, the torn family would agree to save 19.3 percent of the $15.59 and put the remaining $12.59 toward a pizza with one less topping.
The City Council could discuss substantive issues, like a real plan to help this community emerge from economic stagnation. It could embark on meaningful staffing and payroll adjustments at the utility to negate the massive rate increase the council imposed last month. It could devise strategies to help the private sector generate more wealth. It could propose ideas to restore a flourishing tourism industry. It could help the executive branch fight for better returns on taxes Springs residents pay to state government. It could, at the very least, make the community look professional and attractive to the rest of the world.
"We are going to become the town that time forgot," said Ric Denton, who heads the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator. The tiny organization tries to connect fledging startups and entrepreneurs with private investment capital so they can grow companies and create good jobs.
The council's extended hold on veritable pocket change deprived the incubator of capital it needed. When the belaboring of 0.028 percent of the budget finally ended, the council decided to invest only 0.022 percent of the budget into economic development. That's why Denton's $50,000 became $35,000.
"We're approaching life support," Denton said.
Despite a few strong members, the council lacks vision, direction and results. A legislative body that should help this community has become our biggest hindrance to success.