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Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers gives a thumbs up as he enters the celebration at Phantom Canyon Brewery in Colorado Springs for Ballot Issue 2A shortly after the polls showed the stormwater initiative passing on Nov. 7. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers proposes a 2019 budget with millions to hire police and firefighters and raise their salaries.

The $302.1 million general fund that he recommended Monday to the City Council would provide $9.9 million to increase pay for police officers, firefighters and civilian employees, plus $4.5 million to hire 61 officers and eight firefighters.

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“Our employees are the key to successful, effective delivery of programs and services,” Suthers said in a packet delivered to the council.

Councilman Don Knight said hiring 61 officers next year is unrealistic. Each eight-month police academy can train up to 48 recruits, 20 of whom would be considered new hires while the remaining 28 fill spaces created by attrition, retirements and transfers, he said.

The academy classes can’t overlap, Knight said, so he’s unsure how 61 officers could be hired in one year.

“In the ‘19 budget, this class, if it starts now, eight months later will graduate around June,” Knight said. “That’s 20 more officers. Then the next class won’t graduate until 2020. The budget may say 61, but I’m only counting 20.

“There’s probably $2 million to $3 million there we could move around to cover something else if the council wants to do so.”

But city spokeswoman Jamie Fabos said 13 officers who will graduate next month will take new positions, with their salaries in the 2019 budget, and the next 48 graduates will be considered new positions, rather than filling vacancies.

The city also is trying to bring firefighter and police pay up to the market average by the end of next year, Knight said, while salaries for civilians in those departments should reach market average within five years.

Below-average pay has made it difficult to keep officers who graduate from the academy, Chief Pete Carey has said.

Firefighters, meanwhile, have endured low pay, staffing shortages and mandatory overtime, prompting the Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 5 to consider petitioning a collective bargaining proposal onto next April’s municipal ballot.

While concessions in the proposed budget are appreciated, collective bargaining still is the only way to “maintain public safety as a priority year in and year out” and “take care of the citizens of Colorado Springs,” said Dave Noblitt, Local 5 president.

Suthers said the proposed pay increases and hires are fair and sustainable for the Fire Department, “and I believe the public will support that approach over collective bargaining.”

The mayor had promised to hire more first responders if voters would revive stormwater fees on last November’s ballot, freeing an estimated $17 million a year in the general fund. The fees kicked in July 1. Among other things, revenue from them can be spent on 71 projects to mitigate floodwaters and pollutants that have harmed downstream communities.

The city hired 21 officers this year and now employs more than 700, said police Lt. Howard Black.

Suthers said he wants to hire 120 officers over five years.

Other highlights of his proposed budget include:

• $1 million for parks watering, plus $950,000 for park maintenance, a new forestry crew and more recreational and cultural services.

• $2.7 million for city facilities maintenance.

• $1.36 million for the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act program.

The council will work on the budget over the next 1½ months, meeting with department heads and others, said Councilman Merv Bennett.

“If people want to make changes to the budget, they have to be specific as to what they’re wanting to add to the budget, but then they also have to say where they’re taking the money from because it has to be a balanced budget,” Bennett said.

The public will be given opportunities to comment on the budget, too, before the council votes on it in November.

The full budget is available at coloradosprings.gov/budget.

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