By Pam Zubeck
Police and fire services would get more new hires and equipment if City Council approves the 2020 budget proposed on Oct. 7 by Mayor John Suthers.
The $331.1 million general fund budget calls for spending $23 million more than this year and a whopping $64.4 million more than in 2016, Suthers’ first full-year budget after taking office in 2015.
To fund that increase, Suthers predicts a 1.9 percent uptick in sales taxes and 14 percent more in property taxes, but notes he’ll set $2 million of the property tax increase aside for a refund, or retention if voters approve, as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ revenue caps.
Suthers also expects to get more money from charges for service, a higher “surplus payment” from Colorado Springs Utilities in lieu of taxes, and more traffic fines due to “enhanced traffic enforcement,” according to his budget letter to Council.
Continuing his multi-year campaign to beef up public safety by adding 120 police officers and 32 firefighters by 2022, Suthers proposes to spend $4.4 million to add 20 cops and eight firefighters. Last year, the city hired 53 officers and eight firefighters.
In addition, Suthers wants to raise police and firefighter pay next year by about 3 percent to keep salaries competitive with other cities and stem the attrition rate.
Citywide, Suthers proposes to spend $9.65 million on raises for sworn and other city workers, the latter of which would receive an average 2.25-percent performance-based pay increase.
The city’s pension obligation will rise by 3.7 percent, while health insurance costs are expected to jump by 6.7 percent. All told, total salaries and benefits would increase by $15.8 million, to $227.4 million.
Besides adding cops and firefighters, Suthers plans to fatten the payroll by hiring 27 workers: five positions transferred from the Colorado Springs Airport to the city’s Finance Department; 5.5 slots added in the City Attorney’s Office, Clerk’s Office and Municipal Court; 12 workers for a new Facilities Maintenance Division, rather than outsource that work; two each in Information Technology and Parks Department, and one in Public Works.
Besides all that, Suthers notes these priorities:
• $400,000 more for park maintenance, recreational and cultural services
• $1.45 million more for parks irrigation
• $1.4 million for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance following a settlement of a lawsuit
• $550,000 more for city vehicles
• $500,000, the same as last year, to fund homeless shelter beds, which is mandatory in order for the city to enforce its camping ban
Suthers also proposes to use Lodgers and Automobile Renters Tax money to subsidize the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, and pump $1.2 million from the Parking Enterprise into downtown streetscape projects.
Suthers said he’s budgeted no money to settle a lawsuit brought in 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency alleging violations the city’s neglect of stormwater drainage violated the Clean Water Act.
“We feel pretty good about our ability to pay a fine without adversely impacting the budget,” he said in an interview, declining to elaborate.
City Council’s public hearing on the budget will be at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. Council is slated to give final approval on Nov. 26.