In his first town hall meeting of the year, Mayor Steve Bach packed the house at the Old Colorado City History Center on Tuesday night. More than 100 people crammed into the museum to hear Bach talk about his priorities: jobs, transforming city government and building community.
Let us say right here that one effort on the latter happens from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Armstrong Hall at Colorado College. The Spirit of the Springs Winter Rally is free and "is an effort to encourage individuals and families to connect with the best our community has to offer and make our City even better," the city says in a news release.
Participants include Catholic Charities, COPPeR, Pikes Peak Library District, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Downtown Partnership, Diversity Forum, Golden Lotus Foundation and Community Advancing Public Safety.
Back to Tuesday night: Bach spoke of the need to not rely so heavily on the military. "We've got to find new ways to diversify our economy and find stable jobs for our people," he said.
He also noted the city has seen revenues fall by $20 million since 2008 due to the recession, causing a crunch on city services, although there has been some recovery in the last two years.
To attract new industry, Bach says, he wants to cut the red tape and eliminate the tendency of government to throw obstacles in front of new businesses; in other words, "move away from a regulatory agency mindset."
Bach also stressed the city sees itself as a sort of business that serves "customers," a comment that later drew the most amusing statement of the evening from activist Eric Verlo, who'd demonstrated before the meeting with an anti-fracking sign.
"Mr. Mayor," Verlo told Bach, "we are not your customers. We're your bosses."
Most of the evening was taken up with reports from various departments. Police Chief Pete Carey said two officers have been assigned to the west side and, as spring arrives, will be seen on bicycles. He also warned that vehicle burglaries and thefts are on the rise, encouraged by motorists who leave their cars running — an infraction for which the driver can be ticketed, he emphasized.
He also spoke of the city's enforcement of the 20-foot no-panhandling zone outside businesses, and that the city is producing a video for release soon about the "woes of panhandling."
Bach said the Police Department is shorthanded and will hire 50 new cops this year. (Speaking of cops, eight were on hand at the meeting.) He also said the city is working with El Paso County officials to address issues associated with a gap between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs commonly called No Man's Land.
Other notable announcements:
• Bus service will be restored from 6:45 to 9:45 p.m. starting April 1. Such service had been cut a few years back due to budget cuts. A day pass will be offered costing $4 for unlimited use of the bus service, something that might be of interest to tourists.
• "We can do better in the way we look after homeless people," Bach said, calling for a "campus" to "create a magnet where people can come and get an array of help," such as showers, food, job placement and housing placement. Bach has made it clear he'd like to see Catholic Charities move its Marion House soup kitchen away from the downtown area. He didn't say where such a campus would be, but he did say he believes the best housing solution is to "scatter" the homeless throughout the city.
• Adaptive traffic signals will be installed soon on Cimarron Street to move traffic better by sensing its flow.
One comment that drew applause came from Gary Casimir, a retired military member who frequents city meetings. He noted the house he lives in is valued at $246,000; yet, only $84 of the tax bill goes to the city. "That's absolutely pathetic," he said. "I think we need to bite the bullet and raise property taxes."
Bach responded. "Point well taken. We have to regain trust of voters first. I hope people will feel better about government and maybe then people will feel better about contributing more." (Bach pledged to not support any tax increase during his campaign in 2011.)
As the meeting drew to a close, one resident told Bach, "Thank you for taking care of our city," a comment that drew thunderous applause.