Analysis: Mayor’s budget covers transit, fire and stormwater


Here are the general fund highlights of the mayor’s proposed 2017 budget, taken from a city press release:

  • Nearly $600,000 in increased funding to Mountain Metro Transit — boosting its bankroll from $5.1 million to $5.7 million, which for the first time since the Great Recession brings the city to the $5.7 million Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority maintenance of effort commitment made in 2004 when the PPRTA was created;
  • $995,000 in funding for 12 additional firefighting staff (plus operational dollars) to staff the city’s newest fire station, Fire Station #22;
  • $1 million increased funding for the stormwater control program to meet the intergovernmental agreement commitment with Pueblo. A plan is in place to increase that funding further in subsequent years;
  • $3.2 million increased funding for employee pay increases  to address a number of pay band/zone/sworn rank adjustments based upon a market review, a 2 percent adjustment for other sworn ranks, and a 2 percent pay-for-performance pool for civilian employees; and
  • $2.2 million increased funding for closed sworn police and fire pension plans to fund the annual required contribution as determined by actuarial reports.

We’ll be doing more extensive analyses of the budget during the month. Meanwhile, a couple of thoughts:

  • The police and fire pension plans have frequently needed to be bolstered by additional city contributions. Like many public employee pension plans, these small plans are unsound, thanks to optimistic long-term return projections and faulty actuarial calculations. Pension recipients live longer than they’re supposed to, and pension investment returns are lower than they need to be — and the city is on the hook.
  • City workers’ pay, once substantially above national norms, has declined in comparison to other governments, both regionally and nationally. The city’s policy is to reduce employee costs and contract out wherever possible. That makes sense, given the city’s badly skewed dependence on sale tax. History says that another recession is in the cards before 2020, so we’d better be ready.
  • We’re going to be shoveling out dollars for stormwater control on Fountain Creek from both the city and Colorado Springs Utilities for the next two decades, so prudence suggests that council recreate the stormwater enterprise to help fund these obligations.
  • Ever since the trolley ceased operations in the 1930s, the city has struggled without much success to fund and operate a viable public transit system. As Denver’s example shows us, it can be done — but only with massive public investment. We’re never going to spend billions of dollars to execute a 20-year light rail plan, so we’ll go on dumping a few million annually into the lumbering behemoths of Mountain Metro Transit. Come 2036, the 1.2 million residents of Colorado Springs will be permanently stuck in traffic, making today’s I-25 backups look like an empty racetrack.

Next: LART, TOPS and PSST — and if you don’t know what these initials stand for, you’ll soon find out.