During a lengthy and sometimes contentious budget markup session yesterday, City Council gave tentative approval to multiple cost-cutting and revenue generating proposals aimed at balancing next year’s budget.
The measures included:
- Turning off thousands of streetlights, and letting others go dark for estimated savings of $1.3 million.
- Eliminating the vendor fee that compensates merchants for the expense incurred in collecting city sales taxes, saving $1.4 million.
- Furloughing civilian city employees for 10 days next year, saving $1.35 million. Uniformed police officers and firefighters will not be furloughed, nor will essential civilian public safety personnel.
- Removing $500,000 from the budget that might have been used to pay for an election next November.
- Increasing the city’s share of the lodging and automobile rental tax from 37 percent to 50 percent, generating about $450,000 of additional revenue.
- Transferring $875,000 from the city parking enterprise to the general fund.
Council left intact most of the city manager’s proposed cuts, which fall most heavily on parks, recreational and cultural facilities.
At the suggestion of Councilman Sean Paige, council agreed to pay for community centers, Rockledge Ranch and the Pioneers Museum for the first three months of 2010, with the hope that community-based solutions might be found to keep them open.
“I’m confident that people will step up,” Paige said.
Council also reinstated the positions of 21 cadets enrolled in the police academy who are scheduled to become police officers on Jan. 1, and avoided layoffs in public safety.
Councilman Tom Gallagher, who has strongly advocated pay cuts during recent weeks, expressed anger at city employees.
“The city pays very well. Salaries need to be commensurate with the labor market in this town,” he said. “City employees have turned viciously on the people of this community.”
Other members of council took issue with Gallagher’s remarks.
Denying that city employees were overpaid, Councilman Bernie Herpin said that they are well-compensated because of their professional skills and that to compare city levels of compensation with the private sector is inappropriate.
“Colorado Springs is a service-oriented community, and many people work in the fast food industry, for Wal-Mart and (for similar employers),” he said. “We should compare them (city employee salaries) to those in the defense industry, like myself.”
Councilwoman Jan Martin also criticized Gallagher for his attacks on city employees. Martin said that employees have done nothing wrong.
“They’ve worked hard, they’ve done their jobs,” she said, “This situation is not their fault.”