Published: June 13, 2013
City Council can pass all the budget resolutions it wants, but nothing is going to change how Mayor Steve Bach prepares the city's budget, his chief of staff said.
"It is within the City Council's authority to create a resolution that works for them," said Laura Neumann, Bach's chief of staff. "The budget process will not be different than we've done in the past."
In a move led by council President Keith King, the council approved a resolution this week that spells out its budget responsibilities and creates a budget committee that will list its budget goals for the mayor.
The council, especially the freshmen six, felt the previous council had not exercised its budget duties as outlined in the city's charter and code. The council now promises to be more involved in the city's budget process including adding and deleting items from the proposed budget before it's approved and taking full control of the Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax, which is about $4 million annually.
"It has been my desire to look at the city's charter and determine how we can become a 'strong council' and embrace our responsibilities under the council-mayor form of governance that was adopted by voters in 2010," King said. Two years ago, voters changed the city's government structure, making the mayor the CEO of the city - a post previously held by a council-hired city manager.
Under the new form of government, the mayor took charge of the budget and the council let him, council members said during their recent weekend retreat.
"This resolution is about council fulfilling its responsibilities under the city charter," King said. "I believe this is one of many steps we will be taking over the next several months to live up to the role envisioned for us in the charter."
The council's budget committee began setting its budget goals Thursday and plans to give its recommendations to the mayor by the end of summer so the council's ideas can be considered in the budget, which is unveiled in October.
Bach will hear the City Council's input, along with citizen and staff input, Neumann said.
In recent months, Bach has hosted a series of town hall meetings seeking citizen input into the 2014 budget. The 2013 general fund budget is $223 million.
Neumann said the budget resolution changes nothing.
"Our interpretation is that the process does not look much different than it has in prior years," Neumann told the council just before it voted Tuesday on the resolution. "We will meet with whoever you want us to meet with and hear your voice and bring forward the budget recommendations in October."
Maybe Neumann is right and the process will be the same, said council member Jill Gaebler, who is on the budget committee with King, Helen Collins, Don Knight and Jan Martin. But the budget resolution and budget committee needed to be formalized to give the council, especially the six new members, structure, she said.
"The budget process had been kind of fluid," she said. "This nails it down. It puts it in stone and reminds everybody that we will abide by the city charter language."
Council member Merv Bennett views the resolution as establishing a partnership with the mayor in the budget process, he said. During last year's budget process, the council input came after the mayor had presented the budget and by then it was too late to be included, Bennett said.
"We are not trying to interfere with the budget, we want to assist in it," he said.
Next week, when the council meets as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, it is expected set up a Budget, Strategic Planning and Personnel Committee to oversee the utilities budget, including its strategic plan and personnel - something it had previously designated to the utilities CEO Jerry Forte.
Forte said he welcomes the council's deep dive into the utilities $1 billion annual operating budget.
"I really think it's a good idea," Forte said. "All the help they can give, I welcome. Their willingness to jump in is amazing."