Mayor John Suthers is bullish about Colorado Springs in 2019.
“There’s going to be a lot of good news,” Suthers said in a year-end interview with the Business Journal. “There are so many things in the pipeline all coming to fruition in 2019. … I’m a little nervous about the national economy but, you know, everything I see in Colorado Springs looks pretty good to me.”
Suthers creates a to-do list at the beginning of each year. This year, “most of it is making sure things that are in the pipeline are going well.”
One of the highest priorities is resolving litigation against the city concerning stormwater runoff. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other agencies sued the city two years ago over its failure to require developers to install stormwater controls, resulting in violations of the Clean Water Act.
After the agencies won a partial judgment in November in U.S. District Court, the city faced hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, but the agencies indicated they wanted to negotiate a settlement.
The city has already made an agreement with Pueblo County committing to stormwater improvements and in July instituted a new stormwater fee to pay for them. Nineteen major stormwater projects and several community and local projects are scheduled throughout the year.
“That is something that the sooner we can get that behind us, the better off we are,” Suthers said. “I will continue to put an incredible amount of effort into that.”
Another top priority is starting construction on downtown’s Weidner Stadium that is part of the City for Champions suite of projects.
“From an infrastructure standpoint, we want to begin to get the stadium and sports center out of the ground,” Suthers said. “We want to open the Olympic Museum. We want to finalize things at the [Peak Innovation Park],” a 900-acre, master-planned development south of the Colorado Springs Airport.
Emergency management is another big priority. The city and county are working on merging their emergency operations into one organization.
“Given the nature of the threats we face here — fires, flash floods — there’s no reason for the city and county to maintain separate offices of emergency management,” Suthers said. “I hope to finalize that in the first couple of months of 2019.”
Suthers also hopes to see a new park land dedication ordinance. The current ordinance requires developers to donate part of their property as park land or open space. City leaders want to clarify how the amount of land a developer must donate is calculated.
With the defeat in November of Proposition 110, which would have authorized bonds and a state sales tax increase to fund transportation projects, “there is a possibility that council may be referring the renewal of 2C,” the voter-approved 0.62 percent sales tax for roads within the city.
“We said at the beginning that we thought this was a 10-year process, but we asked for five years,” Suthers said of the tax, which the city began collecting in 2016.
The first five years of the tax are being used for work on major and minor arterials. The second five years, if approved, would focus on residential streets.
Suthers said he was pleased that “for the first time in history,” council accepted his proposed $302.1 million general fund budget without making changes.
The primary goal of the city’s strategy as expressed in the budget is job creation, Suthers said. The budget continues funding for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, Small Business Development Center and Visit Colorado Springs. It also adds funds for downtown streetscape improvements and an online permit and licensing system to facilitate delivery of city services and increase business friendliness.
The budget represents a 5.4 percent increase over 2018.
“That’s largely due to the increase in sales and use tax revenue,” Suthers said. “We are taking advantage of the economic good times and putting a lot of late-year revenue into reserves. … I think by the end of this year, it will be around 18 percent.”
Suthers said he wants to achieve a 20 percent reserve before he leaves office, but he hopes that won’t be anytime soon. He’ll be running for re-election to another four-year term in the April 2 municipal election.
The three at-large council seats also will be filled in the election. City Councilor Merv Bennett is term-limited, but councilors Bill Murray and Tom Strand are eligible for re-election and expected to run.