Colorado Springs voters will have another opportunity to elect representatives to Colorado Springs City Council April 2. With the job of mayor and three at-large council seats up for grabs, this is an opportunity for voters to choose candidates who are prepared to make decisions about the role of our city government in laying the foundation for the future of our community.
We all have varying ideas about the role of government and the use of our taxpayer dollars, but most of us reasonably expect the city of Colorado Springs to provide and maintain infrastructure, provide for public safety, and limit the regulatory environment to encourage business activity and job creation. We live in a time when technology is changing rapidly and businesses plan and invest to remain competitive. While city governments are not businesses, they face the same challenges when it comes to technology and change.
Change is the key word. As the voters choose the four individuals that will become our next mayor and city councilors, should we make sure to choose people who have the courage to make decisions that prepare our city for the coming inevitable change?
Our community infrastructure is well paid for. Our citizens pay one of the higher sales tax rates in the state, which includes a tax for our roads. Our citizens and businesses pay a stormwater fee each month, collected by Colorado Springs Utilities. These taxes are collected in addition to the general sales tax and the property tax that is allocated to the city. Valid arguments can be made about the expenditure of those taxes, to include limited warranties on roads, prudent and fair requests-for-proposals and payment practices, and the negotiation of future infrastructure costs on current development proposals. When planning for roads, in particular, it is important to take it one or two steps further and look at the rapidly changing auto industry and consumer attitudes about vehicular transportation.
The future of the automobile industry looks drastically different than what we have known for decades. Self-driving vehicle technology is, in some fashion, in most new vehicles today and is getting better each year. Businesses in the United States are investing in this technology, as is China, while working on the 5G infrastructure needed to run these vehicles. U.S. and German auto manufacturers are investing significant resources in electric vehicles versus vehicles with an internal combustion engine. And the ride-sharing economy is taking hold in the nation’s largest cities while larger percentages of our country’s young people are foregoing a driver’s license. The change is inevitable, yes, but some would say it is already here. We can argue about when it may affect the city, but does it not make sense to keep it in mind as we plan for the future?
What are the city’s plans for the technology infrastructure that will be required to support these changes? Have our elected officials had discussions regarding future infrastructure and technology needs for existing areas of the city and new development activity? What impact will be felt in the city’s general fund with the decline in automobile sales and corresponding sales taxes? Will the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax be negatively affected with decreasing car rentals?
Technology changes are affecting our public safety areas as well. Are we providing our police and firefighters with the best technology with which to do their jobs? Can budgetary allocations be made for the purchase of drone technologies that are more efficient and life-saving? These types of investments aren’t just nice to have; they are the way of doing life- and property-saving work in the future and we need our elected officials to make decisions with these realities in mind.
The citizens of Colorado Springs have valid reasons to ask these questions. All of us want to live in a city that uses its tax dollars wisely and plans for the future. All of us expect to receive answers from our city officials that don’t include reasons why something cannot be done and do include ways to get things done. Those of us in business are continuously working to keep up with changes in technology and customer habits; we expect our city leadership to do the same.
Proactively deploying city resources in ways that utilize technology effectively is beneficial across the roles of government. It prepares infrastructure for the uses of the future, not the uses of the past. It provides public safety employees with the tools and resources needed to solve problems and protect themselves and the community. It supplies the business community with the needed workforce because people want to live in cities that plan for the future. The whole community benefits from forward-thinking decision-makers.
As we talk to the candidates for mayor and city council, let’s not forget to ask them questions about the future and their commitment to ensuring that decisions made in the present are taking future trends into account. This includes determining their fortitude in voting against development interests that rely on old ways of doing things to receive favorable short-term outcomes. Finally, it includes assessing their ability to identify trends in areas that affect the city’s ability to meet the needs of its future citizens, as well as those who live here now.