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Stopping the slide

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For years, the annual city budget process has been a rehash of depressing news: economic decay, less money, fewer services.

But at a news conference Monday, Mayor Steve Bach predicted continued growth for the Colorado Springs economy — quite a change from his dour economic presentation a year before — and announced that a combination of cutbacks and surplus monies from the 2012 budget would allow him to add about $11 million to strengthen city services.

"We are increasing spending in some critical ways," Bach said.

Among the additions: $700,000 for evening bus service (with hours and routes still to be decided); $900,000 for fire and police general needs and "over hiring," to counter yearly attrition; $2 million more for stormwater maintenance, $2 million more for road projects (to be done by private contractors); and $2.2 million to pay city employees better, based on a compensation study already underway.

The mayor also mentioned other plans. On the executive level, he wants to: form a Pensions Solutions Team to look at reducing costs to the city; target downtown, the southeast, and the North Nevada Avenue corridor for economic growth; boost key city greenways, or "gems"; and work to influence the ownership and governance of Colorado Springs Utilities.

In parks and public works, Bach plans to: relight 3,500 darkened streetlights; create a new bicycle master plan; increase volunteering by 60,000 hours with the help of a new volunteer coordinator; create a plan for more outsourcing and private-public partnerships; and follow through on an idea to outsource fleet services.

The Fire Department will staff its new Station 21, in northeast Colorado Springs, with 15 new firefighters funded by a two-year federal grant. It also will initiate free health clinics in needy neighborhoods, in partnership with local health providers.

Police will hire 50 percent more volunteer community service officers who can respond to "cold calls," such as burglaries that aren't in progress. Police also will focus more attention, including code enforcement support, on downtown, the west side and the southeast.

"We're trying to reinvent the way we deliver local government," the mayor told the crowd.

All those goodies, along with general increases, will cost $11 million, in a general fund budget of $232 million, in 2013. While part of the money comes from 2012 revenues, which are expected to exceed expectations by nearly $5.7 million, the mayor also sees $3.3 million in decreased spending. According to Chief of Staff Laura Neumann, the city has 61 fewer employees now than at the start of the year, a reduction achieved through both layoffs and attrition. No more major layoffs are currently planned.

The mayor emphasized that his additions are not being funded with city savings, which are forecasted to hit 20.3 percent of annual expenditures in 2013. (That's higher than normal, but still well below the 25 percent savings recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association.)

City Council, which will amend and vote on the mayor's budget, will get a closer look at the numbers this month. Detailed presentations are planned for Oct. 11 and 12, and a formal public hearing for Oct. 18, though details of all proposed ideas may not be available until 2013.

For now, though, City Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin says she's happy some much-needed services like evening bus service will return: "It has been a while since we've had some money to bring back some of the services that we lost."

stanley@csindy.com

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