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Late-night amputations



The following is what happens when four members of the City Council all run for mayor at the same time. It's also an interesting, if somewhat pathetic, illumination of what our elected part-time leaders do for fun on Friday night.

It all started with Vice Mayor Lionel Rivera, who wants to get elected Mayor of all the City on April Fool's Day, which also happens to be Election Day this year.

Rivera positions himself as the superconservative who wants to purge the perversity from our great city. Yet, inexplicably, Rivera has been the driving force behind an altogether liberal notion to collect extra sales taxes from businesses to inject an estimated $30 million over 15 years into the city's anemic budget.

Specifically, the city currently lets businesses keep 3 percent of the sales taxes they generate, ostensibly to offset the cost of collecting said taxes. Other cities in Colorado allow the companies doing business in their cities to pocket less of the sales tax largesse. Liberal Denver, for example, only lets businesses keep 1 percent.

Last Friday, Feb. 7, at 11:30 a.m. Councilman Ted Eastburn, who some are trying to paint as the liberal of the Four Mayoral Horsemen, sent out an e-mail to his colleagues, as well as others on his e-mail list. The subject line of said e-mail was "Venders fee." His pro-business stance was downright conservative.

"When I was told about Councilman Rivera's proposal to bridge the City's budget gap by reducing the fee the City pays retailers to collect sales taxes, I told him I wanted to study the idea before taking a position," wrote Eastburn, a cardiologist by trade. "It didn't take a great deal of study to understand that this proposal is an example of the ends-justify-the-means kind of thinking. A misplaced Band-Aid on a scratch while we are hemorrhaging from an amputation.

"At a time when we want to be stabilizing employment and encouraging jobs creation, raising the cost of doing business in Colorado Springs is a bad idea."

That Friday night, at 9:04 p.m., Councilman Jim Null, who has the current mayor's blessing as her replacement, weighed in, agreeing with Eastburn on the venders fee issue.

"I believe that it would be unethical to lower the reimbursement to collecting business just because there is a need for more revenue to the City," Null, a college professor, wrote. "The system we use is very efficient in collecting our revenue for us and we shouldn't tamper with it. I can't believe that Council would support such silliness?"

An hour and a half later, at 10:32 last Friday night, Councilwoman Sallie Clark, who is running for mayor as both a conservative and liberal, took credit for being the savior of all venders far and wide.

"Jim and Ted," Clark wrote, "I'm glad you agree with my position. As I stated in the Gazette when Councilmember Rivera first proposed this, I believe it is balancing the budget on the backs of business. We can hardly afford to place an additional burden on the business industry at this time of economic hardship."

Exactly 18 minutes later, at 10:50 last Friday night, Rivera responded to his alleged attack on venders:

"Ted, Jim, and Sallie,

"I appreciate you taking your time to study this, unfortunately you do not have all the facts.

"My recommendation would be to leave the sales tax vendor fee at 3 percent with a monthly cap of $300. A $300 dollar cap would affect businesses collecting and remitting tax in an amount greater than $10,000 per month, which would affect about 200 businesses out of a total 10,000 licensed businesses. That means 98 percent of the businesses in our community would continue with business as usual and see no impact with this change in policy.

"To use your physician analogy Ted; if we are hemorrhaging from an amputation, we should stop the bleeding and not let the patient bleed to death. $30 million is real money, not a Band Aid. It can make a very positive impact in our City for the priorities we should be focused on."

Bright and early the next morning, Saturday, Feb. 8 at 5:56 a.m., Null sent Rivera a "Dear Lionel" note about the venders fees:

"Just because you do this to only 2 percent of the businesses doesn't make it right."

Late that Saturday afternoon, at 5:52 p.m., Councilwoman Margaret Radford -- who is not running for mayor but one day might -- sent out a very short message to her dueling colleagues:

"Um, it's vendors, by the way. Not venders."

Radford had the final say.


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