Local lawmakers were mostly optimistic last week when they discussed developments involving the Colorado Springs business community.
Mayor John Suthers, state Rep. Tony Exum and incoming El Paso County District 5 Commissioner Cami Bremer participated in a panel Thursday during Peak Executive Forum’s last gathering of the year at The Warehouse Restaurant.
Suthers kicked off the discussion by highlighting the area’s recent job and wage growth.
“When I became mayor, the median salary for the Colorado Springs area was about $64,000 and now it’s $80,1000 as of the end of October,” he said, adding that’s higher than Denver’s and the statewide median of $74,000.
The mayor also spoke briefly of all the downtown development occurring, including the building of the U.S. Olympic Museum as well as several hotels.
He added that people should keep an eye out for activity to start up around the airport in the near future.
“There’s going to be a lot of things come into fruition out there in the next year or two that’s going to mean more jobs, well-paying jobs for our city,” he said. “Overall, the outlook for the city, to me, looks pretty good.”
Bremer, who will be sworn into office in January, said she is eager to help businesses within her district, which includes a lot of central Colorado Springs east of Interstate 25.
“It’s also important to me that we keep up and increase the collaboration between county and city officials,” she said.
Bremer anticipates handling and hopefully approving several urban renewal projects in 2019, she said.
“From everything I’ve heard, we are going to have a tsunami of those applications next year,” she said.
Exum used the opportunity to speak about the state’s new Transforming Safety program, created by state legislators with the passage of HB17-1326, or the Justice Reinvestment Crime Prevention Initiative.
The three-year pilot program is annually funded by $4 million in savings from parole reform and includes small business lending and community grants to help transform the safety of Southeast Colorado Springs and North Aurora.
“That bill provides grants that go towards those interesting things that are being done in those communities to help prevent crime,” Exum said. “This bill was really some out of the box thinking.”
In May, the state awarded $1.3 million in Transforming Safety grants to 11 nonprofits in Southeast Colorado Springs.
“The best solution we do at the state level come from ideas of local folks,” Exum said.
The effects of recreational marijuana on the Springs also was discussed by the panel with Suthers taking the lead.
He argued the three things promised by proponents of recreational marijuana haven’t held true, including significant tax revenue for schools, a reduced black market and decreased cannabis access for children.
“The marijuana tax revenues I think are about $175 million and that doesn’t come close to the social cost of recreational legalization,” he said. “Law enforcement also is having to spend more to eliminate illegal home grows. And if you ask the homeless why they come here, oftentimes, they answer it was because of recreational marijuana.”
Meanwhile, questions from the audience for the panel included inquiries about more downtown parking, pending stormwater litigation and public transportation.
Suthers said he hopes the lawsuit filed two years ago by Environmental Protection Agency for the city violating federal stormwater permits will quickly be resolved, stating the city and all parties are having to waste money on attorney fees.
“If they choose to fine us, basically what they would be doing is punishing the citizens,” he said. “I don’t think that’s constructive, so let’s not talk about fines but solutions needed to fix the problems.”
Additionally, Suthers said the city recently hired a parking enterprise manager to help address parking issues.
“The manager is spending his first 45 days on pure analysis,” he said.
Lastly, Suthers said residents he’s asked about the issue don’t have any interest in investing in public transportation.
“We also have to be taking things into consideration like driverless cars and how our needs for public transit are going to look drastically different even just 10 years from now,” he said.
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