An editorial in The Gazette last week described Colorado Springs City Council members who voted to override five of Mayor Steve Bach’s vetoes as spoiled brats, saying they were rebelling “like angry teenagers given a curfew.”
“Only two council members, Angela Dougan and Tim Leigh, consistently voted against overriding the mayor’s responsible vetoes,” the editorial stated.
“Seven others — Merv Bennett, Lisa Czelatdko, Scott Hente, Bernie Herpin, Jan Martin, Val Snider and Brandy Williams — chose rebellion over responsible financial restraint. They chose to show Bach who is in charge, and they did so with disregard for taxpayers’ interests and the challenges facing city finances.”
In an email to Wayne Laugesen, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, Herpin wrote that he saw his support for council’s additions to the 2012 budget “not as a ‘power play,’ but as concern for our community.”
Herpin provided a copy of the email to Laugesen to the newspaper’s news department, which operates independently of the editorial department.
“I’d like to share with you my response to today’s Gazette editorial on this subject,” Herpin said Friday. “Please keep two things in mind: Our changes represent 0.135% of the total 2012 budget, and, even with these additions, we added $371,000 more to our reserves than the Mayor requested in his initial budget.”
Here is the full text of Herpin’s email to Laugesen:
I saw my support for the 2012 Colorado Springs budget additions by council not as a “power play”, but as concern for our community. I few things you didn’t mention in today’s editorial:
- In his remarks at his swearing in, apparently recognizing the importance of well maintained parks to our community, Mayor Bach asked for more than $800,000 for additional parks watering and maintenance. Council approved that request 8-0 (one member was on vacation). Turns out, that money came from “salary savings” from unfilled positions within police, fire, and other departments.
- The Mayor stated he asked the police and fire departments to cut $1.6 million from their 2011 budget for 2012. And then he turned around and established a $1.5 million “contingency” fund that he could spend any way he wanted without reporting to council who has the authority, and responsibility, for funding city government. Most of that $1.6 million came from eliminating unfilled positions and “efficiencies”. As a long time supporter of our public safety, I would have gladly supported an increase in their budget.
- With our changes to the proposed 2012 budget, even after overriding his vetoes on 3 spending items totaling $302,295, we increased the amount going into reserves by $371,000 more than the Mayor had requested in his initial budget.
Mayor Bach, rightly so and with my full support, has made job creation the number one goal of his administration. Colorado Springs has been recognized as one of the top places in our country to live, work, and play by several organizations. I think the “play” attribute is a key component in achieving the Mayor’s goal. We all remember 2010 with no trash cans or bathrooms in parks, 6 foot high weeds in the medians, a third of our streetlights turned off, and other cost cutting measures that council took to maintain a balanced budget. Our fund balance (reserves) were reduced. How could we expect company CEOs looking to relocate out of California to look favorably on Colorado Springs when they consider the quality of life for their employees?
When things picked up a little for 2011, we didn’t foolishly throw money into hiring back all laid off employees and go on a spending spree. We made reasonable restorations and, at the same time, increased our fund balance.
Mayor Bach took a very conservative approach to the projected 2012 revenue. He stated he feared we would increase that projection and spend more money. Not only did we not do that, we increased the amount going to our reserves and made only a very modest increase in spending and offset that spending by savings in other areas.
What did we fund and why?
Code Enforcement: In 2009 – 2010, code enforcement officers were reduced. Neighborhood organizations complained about the lack of adequate code enforcement. Code enforcement officers are a part of the police department and play an important role in ensuring the public health and safety and maintaining property values. In emails on city services, code violations complaints are near the top. Our code enforcement officers do a great job, but they are under staffed. This addition of an additional officer will help relieve this. It should also be noted that, even though council funded an additional code enforcement officer, the Mayor has unilateral control over hiring and firing and he can choose not to fill this position. Cost: $84,295 salary and benefits
Tennis Court Maintenance: As I stated above, in order to attract more jobs to our community, a prospective employer will consider the amenities that a community provides for their employees: arts, cultural venues, recreational opportunities, parks, trails, open space, and other quality of life factors do play into their decision when comparing our community to other possible locations for their business. $175,000 for sorely needed tennis court maintenance, out of a $222,650,500 budget is a small investment and, leveraged properly for grant matching can result in significant improvements. There is a tennis organization that is going to work with our Parks Department to raise additional private funds and matching grants. Cost: $175,000
Legislative Assistance/Communications Person: The Mayor, who hired a “social media” staff member at $56,000 plus benefits, controls all of city staff. As the legislative body for our city, we need a full-time person to watch what is happening in the state and federal legislatures to alert us on things that may impact us. During the Colorado legislative session, he works with our state legislators to keep them abreast of issues of importance to our city. Council needs to do a better job of communicating with the media and our citizens. This person will be our advisor on how to do that. Cost: $43,000 salary and benefits
Flowers for Springs in Bloom: In 2011, flowers for the Springs in Bloom program were purchased from a nursery in Penrose, Colorado, while in the past they were grown in city owned greenhouses by existing staff and volunteers. This was a recommendation, since only the Mayor can direct staff, that we should keep Colorado Springs taxpayer money in Colorado Springs whenever possible and we get better results with locally grown flowers. Cost: $0
PPACG/CML Dues: Since Council members, not the Mayor, participate in these organizations, Council believes the responsibility for funding our membership in them belongs with Council. Cost: $0
The $302,295 of additional expenditures authorized by Council in overriding the Mayor’s vetoes, is 0.135% of the total budget. The final budgeted expenditures of $222,650,500 are $801,000 less than the projected 2012 revenue of $223,451,500 thus adding to our reserves rather than drawing from them as we did in 2009 – 2010. I’d say that Council, and the Mayor, have taken a conservative and responsible approach to funding our city for 2012.
Council Member District 4