December 11, 2013 Updated: December 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm
Mincing no words, Mayor Steve Bach called the City Council shameful, unlawful and micro managers and said he will veto nearly every amendment council made to his proposed 2014 city budget.
Bach said the city charter gives the mayor the power to create and execute the city's budget and that City Council, with its 2014 budget ordinance, is intruding on the core functions of the executive branch of city government.
"I am compelled to veto certain sections of the council amendments to the mayor's budget, because they are unlawful and in violation of the charter and in violation of the separation of powers," Bach said Wednesday at a press conference.
Tuesday, Council voted 8-1 to approve the 2014 budget with 18 amendments and a change in budget procedure that limits the mayor's ability to move money. Bach will veto that change, he said.
He also said he will veto the council's move to take money from the city's reserve fund and the police department to pay for park watering. And he said the Council's action to withhold money from the city's tourism and economic development organizations would hurt the local economy. He will veto those actions.
"This is a sad day for me to have to do this but a necessary one because I will defend this charter that my fellow citizens overwhelmingly approved just three years ago," Bach said.
City Council will meet Dec. 18 in a special meeting to vote on each of the mayor's line item vetoes. It will need a super majority, or six votes, to override a veto. But with its 8-1 vote Tuesday, it appears the council's budget is veto-proof.
Bach's remaining option to block council's budget ordinance then would be to take the council to court.
Bach did not mention court or a law suit Wednesday. Instead, he said he's hopeful some council members will change their votes.
"Maybe Councilors here today will think this through and maybe go back and convince their colleagues to rethink what they have done here," Bach said. "I will wait for that."
Council member Jill Gaebler, who attended the mayor's press conference, said the council tried to collaborate with the mayor on the budget. The council made 18 changes, which amount to a less than 1 percent change of his proposed $245 million general fund budget, she said, adding that the move to limit the mayor's ability to move money in the budget is an effort to be more accountable to taxpayers.
"I am disappointed that he chose to be so confrontational with the council budget ordinance," she said. "I wish he would have tried to collaborate with us more."
Bach is expected to veto council's move to slash $400,000 from the proposed police budget and take $565,000 from the city's rainy day fund to cover the city's park watering bill. Bach's chief of staff Laura Neumann said the city should have a reserve fund of about 25 percent of the total budget because the city budget is so reliant on sales tax collections, which can be unpredictable.
Earlier this year, the city dipped into its $54 million reserve fund to pay for emergency expenses, mostly related to the after-math of the Waldo Canyon fire and flood mitigation. The reserve in 2014 is expected to be $49 million, or about 19 percent of the budget, and that is getting too low, she said.
Park watering is not an emergency expense and therefore should not be paid for with the city's reserve fund, she said.
"It's not something we cannot stand idly by and support," she said.
Bach took particular exception to City Council cutting back on the police department budget. The $400,000 Council moved to park watering would have replaced 13 police vehicles that have exceeded the recommended mileage and age. The department needs to replace 100 vehicles based on the age and mileage criteria, said deputy police chief Vince Niski. But the police chief asked for funding for 52 vehicles. With the council's cut, the police department can replace 39, Niski said.
"We've had instances where officers and detectives have been delayed or prevented from responding to calls for service because vehicles they are driving are beyond their service limits," Niski said.
Bach said the council needs to get out of the micro managing business when it comes to the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. Council's budget withholds half of the $2.66 million slated for the CVB and half of the $70,000 slated for the Business Alliance until both organizations can better explain how they spend the money. Bach will veto that action.
"I urge council to abandon its efforts to second guess and contradict the professional experts at CVB and instead support our community's recovery efforts in tourism," Bach said.
News of the council's cut to the tourism budget has reached the Meetings and Conventions Magazine, said Steve Bartolin, president and CEO of The Broadmoor in an email to the council Wednesday.
"I am not sure how they got wind of this but they are flabbergasted with what our City Council is doing with tourism promotion and want my comments," Bartolin wrote. "This is not a good message to be sending to all the other CVBs who compete against us and the meeting and convention customers, all of which are readers of this publication."
Other vetoes Bach will cast include the council's decision to eliminate the creation of a deputy director in the Office of Emergency Management, which was a $123,183 line item expense and the council's decision to use $150,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund to pay for park rangers in the Garden of the Gods Park and Helen Hunt Falls instead of the city's Lodgers and Automobile Renters Tax fund.
Councilman Val Snider, who also was at the press conference, said it's possible the conflict between the mayor and the council will need a court determination.
"The council has gone through its budget process and now we have to allow the legal process to play out," he said. "With the numerous ambiguities in the charter we need clarity that can only result in the legal process."