More video from Tuesday’s press conference:
Emails released by the city today under an open-records request filed by the Independent shed more light on the tension between Mayor Steve Bach and members of the City Council.
Here are some examples:
When the mayor’s office accidentally — or purposely? — released emails indicating that the mayor wasn’t going to implement the council’s budget changes, council liaison Aimee Cox was floored.
“This is an interesting chain of email about legal opinion the Mayor’s Office has received about the budget,” Cox wrote in an email to council President Scott Hente on Jan. 13.
“I can’t believe the Mayor’s Office really wanted us to see this,” she wrote.
Hente forwarded the emails to his colleagues the following Monday.
“I saw this chain of emails late Friday afternoon and basically stewed over this over the weekend,” Hente wrote. “I am forwarding it to you all without editorializing on my part but would welcome your comments.”
Councilman Bernie Herpin didn’t hold back.
“Basically, council has become irrelevant to the administration of the city,” Herpin wrote. “The mayor can, in effect, veto our decisions on the running of MHS and CSU by refusing to sign documents. He has also, in effect, taken away our ability to appropriate funds and to make decisions as to how those funds should be spent. He has a city attorney that will provide legal advice that supports his position and it appears we have no recourse. This is very disturbing and should be the focal point of our 18th meeting.”
At that meeting, council members were ready for battle, but the mayor started out by saying he had every intention of implementing council’s budget changes.
Click here to see video of that meeting. The body language says it all.
The emails released by the city today also show that council members have had trouble obtaining information from the Bach administration.
On Nov. 10, Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko sent the mayor and her colleagues an email stating that “we have to work together as a team” for the city to succeed.
“I’m sick of Council not knowing what is going on,” she wrote.
“I know we have understandable growing pains but I don’t see us working towards improving them. Please let’s commit to working together,” Czelatdko added.
It’s unclear if the mayor or anyone else responded because large portions of the emails have been redacted or altogether blacked out.
On Dec. 23, Czelatdko asked Budget Manager Lisa Bigelow via email to provide information about how much money the Bach administration spent on “office redecorating, security system, total of annual mileage account, trip expenditure acct, and total annual salaries of newly created positions please.”
In another email, Czelatdko said she wanted to know how much money the mayor had spent on his new Spirit of the Springs initiative, among other costs, as well as “how money is moved around budget and transferred to various areas.”
On Dec. 29, Czelatdko sent another email saying she hadn’t received “any response or acknowledgment of expenditure requests.”
Bigelow apparently forwarded Czelatdko’s requests for information to the mayor, who told Steve Cox, who was then his chief of staff, to handle the situation.
“Steve, pls advise Aimee Cox that we’ll need 5 or more Councilors to individually request by email before taking up staff time on this,” the mayor wrote.
“Also, pls ask her to remind Councilors of the executive branch action request protocol Council discussed at its retreat,” he added.
Mayor Steve Bach convinced the City Council this week to pass a resolution in support of a bill that would allow local governments to force their civilian employees to pay a greater share into the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, was introduced in the state Senate on Wednesday. Brian DelGosso, R-Loveland, is the House sponsor.
Lambert’s “proposed bill would change State law to allow employers in only the local government division of PERA to decrease the employer contribution rate and increase the member contribution rate by an amount to be determined by the employer. The decrease in the employer annual contribution is not to exceed 2.5 percent,” city documents state.
“For 2012, a 2.5 percent decrease to the employer contribution rate would have saved the City and its enterprises (excluding Utilities and Memorial Hospital) approximately $1.625 million,” documents state.
In 2012, the city of Colorado Springs expects to contribute $9.35 million into PERA.
While the amount of money that the city pays for the pensions of civilian employees could fix a lot of roads and turn on a lot of streetlights, the pension plans of police officers and firefighters will cost taxpayers almost 60 percent more than for civilian employees this year.
“The All Funds total for sworn pension plans is approximately $14,889,100,” Budget Manager Lisa Bigelow said in an email.
Sworn personnel make up the biggest number of city employees.
The city employs about 1,630 people, including about 768 cops and 372 firefighters.
“The only reason (police and fire pensions) cost the city more is they make up the majority of the employees,” City Councilman Bernie Herpin said on Facebook.
“Our contributions to their pension plans, on a percentage basis, is less than to PERA. We contribute 8 percent for those sworn police and fire that are in the statewide plan (which most are now) as opposed to 13.7 percent for PERA. Police & fire sworn also contribute 8 percent,” he said.
In an interview this week, Bach said he would address the pension plans of police officers and firefighters in coming months, though he didn’t go into specifics.
“We will be talking with the police and fire departments about their pension plans as part of our budgeting for 2013 through 2015,” he said.
(To watch the interview with the mayor, click here.)
Bigelow said the city has three pension plans for sworn personnel.
“The City has a closed sworn pension plan, the Old Hire Pension Plan, that has only one active member,” she wrote.
“In 2012, the City’s contribution to the Old Hire Pension Plan for Fire is $1,491,283 and for Police is $1,407,209. With the exception of the one active member in the Old Hire Pension Plan, current sworn employees are either a member of a closed pension plan, the New Hire Pension Plan, or the FPPA State-wide Plan. The employer and employee contribution rates for these Plans are determined based upon actuarial studies. These studies take into account all accrued liabilities. For the New Hire Plan, the employer contribution rate is not currently broken out by specific categories of liabilities such as active and retired employees. However, the City is working with FPPA to break this out. For the State-wide Plan, the employer contribution rate is not broken out by specific categories of liabilities such as the City of Colorado Springs Municipal Government retired employees.”
The year hasn’t even started and his proposed contingency has been whittled down to $300,000.
The city’s Budget Office says there are various reasons for the decrease in the mayor’s proposed contingency fund, including the decision to get rid of the red-light cameras.
That decision is going to cost the city $530,000 in revenue.
The cameras were expected to generate about $65,000 in revenue monthly, or about $780,000 for the entire year. But expenses for the program totaled about $250,000, so the net revenue for 2012 was projected to be $530,000.
The City Council’s recent decision not to collect certain past-due stormwater accounts through property tax bills is also shrinking the mayor’s proposed contingency fund.
The council decided not to send accounts owing less than $20 to the county treasurer this year. Accounts under $20 total $65,000, not $50,000 as originally reported by the city, Budget Manager Lisa Bigelow said.
The council also decided to figure out a different way to collect on properties with unpaid stormwater fees that have changed ownership on or after January 2010. The city stopped billing stormwater fees in January 2010, and the council wants to hold the previous owners, not the new owners, accountable for their past-due fees. Those accounts total about $95,000, Bigelow said.
For new owners who already paid past-due stormwater fees on properties they purchased on or after January, the city plans to issue refunds. The refunds total about $85,000, Bigelow said.
In addition, Bigelow said the city doesn’t anticipate collecting from the federal or county government or nonprofits. Those accounts total $155,000, she said.
“We don’t think we’ll be collecting those,” she said.
Bach, who is the city’s first strong mayor, wanted the contingency fund for “unanticipated or emergency items.” The contingency fund is separate from the city’s rainy-day fund, which essentially serves the same purpose.
Other factors that are taking a bite out of the mayor’s stash:
The costs of the streetlight program came in lower than budgeted, from $4.5 million to $3.8 million. But the city has taken a big hit with copper thefts and is budgeting $520,000 to replace the copper in the streetlights and get them working again, Bigelow said.
Who pays to replace the copper – the city government or Colorado Springs Utilities – is still up for debate, she said. But, for now, the city is going to budget the expenditure.
The city is also budgeting for a $120,000 study for “development standards,” though the city is also in discussion with Springs Utilities about who will pay for it, she said.
“We’ve been working with Utilities to look at development standards related to when a development occurs, how many streetlights do we really need, should we be looking at LED streetlights, things like that,” she said.
The city had estimated $1.5 million in revenue for next year through the collection of past-due stormwater fees.
But earlier this week, the council decided not to send past-due stormwater accounts of less than $20 to the El Paso County treasurer for collection through property tax bills.
The council also decided to figure out a different way to collect on properties with unpaid stormwater fees that have changed ownership since January. The council wants to hold the previous owners, not the new owners, accountable for their past-due fees. The city is trying to determine how to refund property owners who paid stormwater fees that the previous owner neglected to pay.
The council’s decisions, which violated the open-meetings law, triggered financial repercussions in the mayor’s spending plan.
“We do believe it’s going to be a significant amount of money,” Budget Manager Lisa Bigelow said Friday.
“We’re trying to run some queries right now to try to determine who would not be paying that,” she said.
After Thursday’s public hearing on the 2012 budget, Mayor Steve Bach said a $1.5 million contingency fund that he had proposed for his office for next year was already getting “chopped” because of the council’s decision.
“Council just decided illegally, excuse me, apparently, allegedly, excuse me, according to (The Gazette) , council just decided we’re not going to collect all that money,” Bach said.
“That $1.5 million contingency fund just got chopped … and we haven’t started the year yet,” he added.
“I’ve been in the position for over three months, and it was time to make a couple of changes, more to suit my management style than someone else’s,” Cox said Tuesday.
“Lorne Kramer preferred that budget and finance be separate, and Penny preferred that they be together,” Cox said. “I’m kind of in the Lorne Kramer school of thought. I want a wider diversity of views on the budget.”
Cox said he expanded the internal budget process to include greater representation from each department. Culbreth-Graft, who resigned earlier this year and then claimed she was fired without cause, drafted the budget using an executive team that included only the police and fire chiefs, assistant city manager and chief financial officer, he said.
“I’m going away from the executive team concept and have more of a managers’ team, which is larger,” Cox said. “What I’m trying to do is enhance communication and create more of a sense of inclusion by our top managers.”
The new team is meeting today for the first time.
Among the other changes:
Lisa Bigelow, who used to be the former economic development director and the budget director before that, is now the city’s budget manager. Bigelow is still responsible for economic development, and she also picked up strategic planning, Cox said.
“We’re working on a strategic plan for 2011, so that we can get prepared for a new council, a new mayor,” he said.
Terri Velasquez is no longer the city’s chief financial officer. Velasquez is now finance director, a title she held before the Culbreth-Graft era.
“She’s going to focus primarily on finance and sales and use tax collection and contracting and accounts payable and accounts receivable,” Cox said.
Below is the city’s new organizational chart. Click on the chart to make it bigger.