The issue: Ballot issues could determine the future of Colorado Springs Utilities, funding for stormwater and open broadband services to city negotiations.
What we think: Regardless of individual stances on these issues, it’s vital that the majority of local residents take part in this election, which will also determine six of nine seats on city council.
In a matter of days, voters in Colorado Springs will finish voting in a municipal election that will not only determine the direction of city council — but will also settle a few looming issues of governance.
While six seats are up for grabs, there are three ballot initiatives that will determine the future of Colorado Springs Utilities, provide funds for much-needed stormwater repairs and open the city up for broadband services.
The first ballot issue increases the percentage of people who must vote in favor of selling Colorado Springs Utilities — should city council ever decide to sell the municipally owned utilities. Under the current city charter, only a simple majority of residents need to vote in favor of a sale. Ballot Issue One changes that to 60 percent of voters.
Opponents to the measure say that it makes it more difficult to sell Utilities, even when most (59.9 percent) of the city’s residents believe that it’s no longer beneficial to own a utility company. With the ever-changing energy landscape — discoveries of natural gas reserves, for example, have made coal-fired power plants more expensive to run — it makes sense to leave all the options open in the future.
A future sale of CSU could erase its $2 billion debt burden, leave money in the city’s reserves and put the utility in the hands of experts.
The second item on the ballot asks voters to allow the city to keep extra revenue from tax collections — instead of sending it back to residents as required under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. With the strong support of Mayor John Suthers, the TABOR override allows the city to use the additional money to address the tremendous backlog of stormwater infrastructure fixes. It’s about $6 million from 2016 revenue and about the same amount in anticipated in 2017 revenue.
The city has neglected infrastructure repairs and updates for far too long — and the bill has come due. Colorado Springs is facing lawsuits from the Environmental Protection Agency, and made promises to Pueblo to clean up its act — and the water it sends south. It’s time to make good on that promise.
Colorado Springs also wants to opt out of a state law that does not allow it to negotiate for broadband services. It joins El Paso County and about 22 Colorado cities and counties across the state in asking voters to allow it to enter into those negotiations. This issue restores local control and local flexibility. It also allows the city to enter in public-private partnerships to increase broadband access, giving it another tool in its economic development toolbox.
While the local political discourse has been brutal, voter turnout is currently at an anemic 18 percent. That percentage must be higher on Tuesday.
Don’t let a small minority decide the city’s future. It’s so easy to vote: Fill out a ballot and put it in the mailbox before Tuesday’s deadline. On Tuesday, drop it off at one of the locations around the city. Voting is a responsibility of living in a democracy; it’s your duty and it’s the only way to directly influence city governance. Not all of us can afford to pour money into council races to help determine the future — but we all have a vote.