The line’s familiar and yet not tired. If it were engraved on Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers’ tombstone, well, that’d be just fine, he says.
“I’m still trying to build the city that matches our scenery,” Suthers said, noting it couldn’t be accomplished in a single term.
On deck if he’s re-elected to a second term as mayor would be continued improvement to the city’s streets, boosting the city’s police force, attracting more affordable housing and aggressively enforcing camping bans to curtail the city’s homeless population, Suthers said.
The state’s former attorney general, Suthers said he was drawn to run for mayor of his hometown because of the rocky relationship between Steve Bach, Colorado Springs’ first strong mayor, and the City Council.
“We simply weren’t addressing some of the major challenges,” Suthers said. “We turned off our street lights and closed down our parks.”
Suthers, 67, won the city’s 2015 election, campaigning on developing a collaborative relationship with the council and improving the city’s infrastructure, including the stormwater program, among other things.
Council members say their relationship with the mayor has improved over the last few years, as illustrated by the city’s streamlined 2019 budget process.
One of the first issues on tap for Suthers in his first term was 2C, a 0.62 sales tax issue approved by voters in November 2015 dedicating $250 million evenly split over five years to repair the city’s deteriorating streets, curbs and gutters.
Crews have been at work ever since, street signs indicating that the road improvements they’re working on were funded by the tax, which sunsets in 2020. Suthers said he’d like to renew the tax, but perhaps at a lower rate.
Then came 2A, the resurrection of stormwater fees, charging homeowners $5 a month and ronresidential property owners $30 per acre each month. The fees, approved by voters in 2017, will last 20 years and are expected to raise as much as $18 million a year.
Bringing back the fees was needed to create a dedicated funding source for the city’s stormwater projects, freeing general fund money to allow the city to hire more police officers and firefighters, among other things.
The additional funding also was seen as improving the city’s position in a state and federal lawsuit over contaminated stormwater runoff damaging downstream communities filed in 2016 by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District have also joined as plaintiffs.
In November , a federal judge ruled that Colorado Springs violated its federal stormwater permit. The case is currently on hold until later this month and additional allegations remain.
While some have expressed concerns that the case could result in hundreds of millions of dollars of penalties against the city, Suthers said he’s optimistic settlement talks might still prevail.
“Frankly, getting sued helped,” Suthers joked after he was asked about the challenging task of asking voters to approve the fees.
“There’s nobody that can do a better job in complex litigation in a mayoral position than I can,” he said, noting that after 30 years as an attorney he’s acquired a number of unique skills. “And I use every ounce of them.”
With the fees, Suthers said the city is poised to hire 120 new police officers over the next five years and reduce the Police Department’s response times.
Affordable housing, Suthers said, is tied to both growth and the city’s homeless crisis.
Working with philanthropic organizations or individuals could bring new projects and better paying jobs, which could help those struggling to afford high rents, Suthers said.
The city’s affordable housing shortage is linked to its homeless population and now that shelters have enough beds to house those in need, officers can more aggressively enforce no camping bans and other laws, Suthers said.
Police enforcement might seem harsh, but Suthers said it’s the “only realistic solution,” at the moment. The goal is to get those who are homeless into a shelter or other temporary housing where they can then look for work and tackle any addiction problems, he said.
In recent years, Suthers said his priorities have shifted toward leaving the city a better place than he found it. Being a good ancestor, he calls it. It’s a legacy he said he’s tried to live up to in a town where the quality of life is unparalleled, where one can be at work in a matter of minutes or in the mountains and Colorado’s natural beauty in the same amount of time.
Over the past 30 years, Suthers said, he’s hiked the trails in Bear Creek Park near his home thousands of times while meditating on the problems of the day and more.
“I’ve made a lot of decisions in that park,” he said.