Poll: Colorado Springs voters support tax increase for road improvements

June 25, 2015 Updated: June 25, 2015 at 7:50 pm
photo - City of Colorado Springs street crew Jose Tirado, right, and Roxanne French, left, fill a pothole Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, along North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs. The crew repairs 60 to 70 potholes in a day.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
City of Colorado Springs street crew Jose Tirado, right, and Roxanne French, left, fill a pothole Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, along North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs. The crew repairs 60 to 70 potholes in a day. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Voters should be asked for a sales tax increase to pay for road fixes, and city employees will make "significant sacrifices" to provide $8 million toward stormwater improvements, Mayor John Suthers said Thursday.

Armed with a new poll showing voter support for two initiatives, Suthers said he'll ask City Council to place those on the November ballot.

One would seek a five-year sales tax increase of 0.62 percent - costing the average household $100 a year - to raise $50 million a year for the roads program.

The other would ask voters whether the city can keep $2.1 million in excess revenue over limits set by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. The extra money came from state disaster grants received after the city was pummeled by floods and fires.

Both questions reflect preferences expressed in a poll of 769 voters conducted Monday and Tuesday.

"They like the fact that 38 percent of sales tax is paid by people who don't live in Colorado Springs," the mayor said. "They like that it isn't imposed on groceries and will be used only on roads." Plus, they support the promise to not hire additional city employees but rather to use private contractors on the extra work, he said.

"If that's what the community wants, that's what I'm going to support," Council President Merv Bennett said in a call from Nashville. "And I will work closely with the mayor to get this to the community."

Poll respondents preferred road projects to stormwater system repairs by 77 percent to 14 percent, respectively.

"Everyone's moving around potholes; not everyone lives in a floodplain," Suthers said at an informal news conference Thursday.

But stormwater problems must be resolved, he said, to meet the city's obligations to Pueblo, which has threatened to sue over the issue.

Of the $19 million needed for stormwater projects each year, $8 million will come from retiring SCIP bonds for city improvement projects, and $3 million will come from Colorado Springs Utilities, Suthers said.

The remaining $8 million will be squeezed out of the city budget.

"We're going to have to make significant sacrifices to come up with that $19 million. I don't think anything is off limits," Suthers said.

The city's police and firefighters might not be cut, but those departments might not get extra staff they want, he said.

And employee compensation will be scrutinized. "Sacrifices will have to be made."

In the new poll, 58 percent of respondents said they would support a tax increase to pay for better roads if the city budget would take care of stormwater needs. Another 29 percent opposed a higher tax, and 13 percent were uncertain or had no opinion.

Told that $50 million a year is needed for up to 10 years to significantly improve the city's roads, 65 percent of respondents said they would prefer a five-year tax increase initially, with the second five years to be decided afterward.

A whopping 69 percent said the city should keep the $2.1 million restricted by TABOR. Most preferred it be spent on roads and trails in city parks. Voters would have to approve the city keeping the money rather than refunding it to taxpayers.

Despite the city's notably low property tax, 69 percent of voters preferred the sales tax increase to a property tax increase of 10.5 mills, which would cost the average household $188 a year.

Only 14 percent indicated support for the property tax increase, and 6 percent backed a combination of the two.

Property tax rates along the Front Range last year were 33.119 mills for the City and County of Denver, 15.633 in the city of Pueblo, 13.42 in Longmont, 12.34 in Golden, 11.981 in the city of Boulder, 11.597 in Northglenn, 10.29 in Aurora, and 6.662 in Littleton, reports the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Colorado Springs levied 4.279 mills last year. Of the 261 cities and towns in Colorado with a property tax, only 35 had lower rates.

The telephone poll by Magellan Strategies has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.53 percent and was weighed based on past off-year November election voting demographics. The poll was paid for by Colorado Springs Forward, a group trying to push progress for the city.

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