Somehow, city conversations always circle around to the same thing: Money, and the lack of it.
So it was this morning at the Mayor's Counsel meeting. Seated around a long table, Mayor Steve Bach and City Councilors discussed everything from the County Road and Bridge Tax to the FREX bus route to the future of the west side area known as No Man's Land. But the core subject was how to spend the limited funds the city has.
And the mayor was clear that those funds were extremely limited, at one point telling Councilors that the city may be forced to close several bridges on major roadways if the financial picture doesn't improve.
"We're going to need to move to priorities-based budgeting," he told Council. "There's just no choice."
With that in mind, here were some of the hot topics:
• No Man's Land : The land along Colorado Avenue, west of 31st Street, is plagued by a patchwork of ownership. Some of the land belongs to the city, some to the county, some to the state and some to Manitou Springs. No owner has taken responsibility for the land, and it has grown blighted, crime-ridden, and become a haven for aggressive panhandlers.
Some Councilors suggested that the city should find a way to annex the area — though that possibility seems like a long shot, since property owners haven't been friendly to the idea in the past, and annexation requires an affirmative vote from them. But Councilor Tim Leigh wasn't deterred, suggesting that the land could be acquired through a convoluted condemnation process.
"What I'm trying to figure out is, how do the good guys get control of that land?" he asked.
His idea did not seem to have much traction. Rather, the city plans to host meetings this summer to ask residents how they'd feel about banning panhandling in No Man's Land.
• FREX: The city hopes to decide in June whether to keep the bus route between the Springs and Denver. Many see the value of the route, which has attracted "choice" riders and could soon be funded by the state. But Bach warned that if FREX is not cut, other city bus routes will be cut, because of budget problems.
• County Road and Bridge Tax: El Paso County began keeping most of the road and bridge tax in 2009, reducing its payment to the city from around $3 million annually to around $700,000. The county has used the extra funds to pay for public safety and says it is within its legal rights in doing so. But many have argued that the move is a violation of state law and a disrespect to city taxpayers.
Bach said he has planned a meeting with the county to discuss the issue, and he hopes the city will soon be receiving its share of the tax. Councilor Bernie Herpin noted that state law appears to require the county to remit the city's share.
"[The reduced payment] appears to be a violation of the state law according to their [the county's] own website!" he said.
Leigh added that the city should seek not only this year's share, but also past due monies. His comment earned cheers from the audience.