Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers proposed a 2020 budget Monday with millions of dollars to hire more police officers and firefighters, raise their salaries, water parks and improve accessibility citywide.
The $331.1 million general fund he recommended to the City Council would provide $9.65 million to increase pay for police, firefighters and civilian employees, plus $4.4 million to hire 20 police officers and eight firefighters.
Those numbers nearly match the 2019 budget, continuing the trend of higher salaries for sworn and civilian police and fire staff and adding officers and firefighters over a five-year span.
“That’s been a high priority,” Suthers said. “But it’s expensive … Over the last three years, that’s been a lot of money.”
But that money is all in keeping with the mayor’s ongoing promise to pay sworn and civilian police and fire staff more and boost sworn positions by 120 police officers and 32 firefighters.
By the end of 2020, he said, the city will have added 93 police officers and 24 firefighters.
Fire Chief Ted Collas will have to keep a close watch on overtime hours in the coming year, Suthers said. Last month, Collas had to shift nearly $1 million of the department’s funds to remain within the budget allocated for 2019.
With that shift, the department’s public information officer, medical lieutenant, training division captain and captain of emergency management were assigned to serve on fire crews instead. Suthers said those employees would return to their regular duties under his proposed budget.
The budget also has a one-time $1 million expense for a new ladder truck for the Fire Department.
Collas could not immediately be reached for comment.
The proposed budget also would boost park watering by $1.45 million and park maintenance and recreational and cultural services needs by $400,000.
Parks Recreation and Cultural Services’ budget has been cash strapped for years, struggling to maintain parks and trails. Its nearly $15.2 million general fund budget proposed for 2020 sits well shy of the nearly $20 million budget a decade ago.
This summer, crews began long-awaited work at Bancroft Park, in the heart of Old Colorado City, to install restrooms, a playground and more. That work was only possible with a $300,000 supplemental appropriation OK’d by the City Council the year before. The remainder of the cost came from local sales tax revenue and contributions from the Old Colorado City Foundation.
Voters will decide in November whether the city can keep $7 million in excess tax revenue for park maintenance, restorations and improvements.
Parks Director Karen Palus did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Suthers’ proposed budget also contains $1.4 million for the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act program and operating costs. The city has been making new efforts to come into compliance with federal accessibility standards after settling two accessibility-related lawsuits in a year.
Suthers said his 2020 budget contains no substantial cuts. His other recommended increases include:
• $1.3 million for the city’s information technology infrastructure, applications and cybersecurity improvements,
• $550,000 for fleet replacement,
• $500,000 for shelter bed operations for homeless people,
• and $300,000 for Mountain Metro Transit.
The City Council will discuss the proposed 2020 budget in detail later this month before holding public hearing and markup sessions. The council is expected to vote in mid-November on whether to approve the budget.
Last year, the council recommended few changes to the proposed budget and approved it unanimously. Suthers expressed optimism that this year’s budget process could be similarly streamlined.
The full proposed budget can be seen online at coloradosprings.gov/budget.