Clearing up source of Prospect Lake money

The Prospect Lake repairs began on April 6, including the installation of the new liner, which started on April 28. The city plans to have the lake filled by Labor Day for the annual balloon classic.

Have you driven by Prospect Lake recently? The process of fixing the lake is actually something to watch.

It is encouraging to see the progress especially since there has been some confusion about the funding options for repairing Prospect Lake, related to the TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Right) surplus ballot issue. Being given a TABOR refund by the voters is a direct affirmation of the project that the funding is to be spent on, so I want to make sure that voters who supported 2A understand our funding plans.

Prospect Lake is clearly important to this community. Seeing citizens mobilize to “Save the Lake,” City Council made it a priority to repair the lake in 2005. Last December, during the 2005 budgeting process, City Council approved the use of several funding sources for the $2.1 million repair price tag. Included in the options were:

* a loan from the city’s lottery funds

* savings from the 2004 parks maintenance budget, and

* a donation from El Paso County

Council also discussed asking citizens for permission to retain the 2004 TABOR surplus, if any, to be used toward the repair.

The city never had a single, independent source of funding to cover the entire project cost. And regardless of whether the TABOR ballot measure passed or failed in April, the lake was going to be fixed per council’s direction.

Thanks to the citizens’ willingness to let the city retain the 2004 TABOR surplus for Prospect Lake repairs, City Council was able to re-evaluate the funding options again in April of this year. Instead of draining the lottery fund, which would have negatively impacted other parks projects, council decided to utilize reserve funds to cover the remaining costs of the repairs. The majority of the costs will still be covered by:

* the TABOR refund

* Parks savings from last year, and

* El Paso County’s donation

Estimating the TABOR surplus

When the ballot language was prepared for the April election, it was still very early in the TABOR surplus estimation process.

The City has hundreds of revenue sources that come in at different times of the year. For instance, the sales tax revenue from December isn’t known until February. With a general fund budget that is just under $230 million, even a half percent variance in estimated revenues can change projections by over $1 million. The final TABOR surplus amount won’t be known until late June when the audit has been completed.

Issue 2A asked voters for permission to keep up to $1.9 million to be used toward the repair of Prospect Lake. Currently, the estimated surplus is $716,000 which, while under original projections, will still be a tremendous help toward repairing one of our community’s most treasured recreational areas.

Again, the use of this refund means that council won’t have to turn to lottery funds. Instead the lottery funds can be used for other important parks projects. Parks are a highly valued element of our city infrastructure.

Options are a good thing

We had several viable options for repairing Prospect Lake. For the first time in many years council had reasonable choices. The voters had a choice, too. Both of them chose to support a TABOR retention measure for up to $1.9 million.

Repairs have been under way since early April with a goal of having the lake filled by Labor Day for the annual balloon classic.

This administration will continue to be accountable and responsible for spending decisions, ethical decision making and prudent management of public funds. If you have a comment, please let me know.

Lorne Kramer is the city manager of Colorado Springs. His column appears monthly in the Colorado Springs Business Journal.