UPDATE: Bach vetoes Council budget changes


UPDATE: We just received a copy of Bach's vetoes, which spell out his actions.

See related PDF Ordinance_13-77_and_Mayor_s_Letter_to_Council.pdf
——-ORIGINAL POST WED., DEC. 11, 2013——————-
Mayor Steve Bach announces his vetoes to the Council-approved 2014 budget in a room that was filled mostly with his staff. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor Steve Bach announces his vetoes to the Council-approved 2014 budget in a room that was filled mostly with his staff.
Saying Colorado Springs City Council's budget changes are "an attempt to put the mayor in a straightjacket," Mayor Steve Bach said today he would veto all the changes made by Council.

His announcement was met with chagrin from Councilor Jill Gaebler: "I'm disappointed the mayor has chosen to be confrontational with Council instead of collaborating with us."

Bach's announcement, made at a morning news briefing, sends the measures back to Council for a veto-override vote next Wednesday. Council approved the budget as modified on Tuesday on an 8-1 vote, with Councilor Helen Collins dissenting, so it's clear Council has the six votes necessary to override Bach's vetoes, unless at least three people change their minds.

Should Council vote to override the vetoes, it's not guaranteed a lawsuit would follow, City Attorney Chris Melcher said after today's briefing. He said the mayor could simply ignore the budget changes and run the city as he sees fit. It would then be up to Council to file suit or acquiesce to Bach's will. If Council sues, it faces a precedent set in 2006 when the Colorado Supreme Court sided with the governor, Bill Owens, on state budget issues similar to those in dispute in the city.

At the heart of the issue is Council's decision to fill the $1.1 million budget gap for parks watering that Bach handed to Council when he delivered his proposed $246.6 million budget in early October. Council earmarked $400,000 from the Police Department budget and $565,000 from the city's reserve fund to fill that gap.  

Bach said at the news briefing that police can't afford to give up any of its $100 million he allocated, up from $95.5 million this year. His chief of staff, Laura Neumann, said taking more money from reserves wouldn't be wise after Bach took $23 million of the $54 million in the fund this year to pay for emergency needs from the Waldo Canyon Fire and resulting flood damage, and to settle a lawsuit.

The mayor also said Colorado Springs Utilities charges the city more than other Front Range cities pay for parks watering, and that it's "shameful" t
  • Bach: Vetoes coming.
hat Council, which serves as the Utilities Board, didn't simply reduce the charge or give the city a greater surplus from Utilities to fund parks watering. Council has noted repeatedly that bond indentures forbid special rates or giving away free water.

Deputy Police Chief Vince Niski said his boss, Chief Pete Carey, is worried that the budget reduction would inhibit his ability to replace dozens of vehicles that are past their useful life and jeopardize response times and clearance rates. (Niski appeared because Carey and Deputy Chief Mark Smith are in Afghanistan training police officers, Bach said.)

Bach also said he would veto a Council change that creates 12 city departments instead of the five Bach has been operating with. Council has said the change would prohibit Bach from moving money between functions.

The five departments are police, fire, public works, administration and Council. The 12 designated by Council are Council, mayor, city attorney, city auditor, city clerk, finance, fire, municipal court, parks, planning and development, police, and public works. Those departments are specified in the city charter, which is why Council chose to appropriate in those specific areas, Council communications specialist Vicki Gomes says.
Gaebler: Looking for more transparency.
  • Gaebler: Looking for more transparency.

Gaebler has said Council doesn't want a mayor transferring money from parks to roads, for example, without Council oversight, a comment Bach seized upon in his briefing. "I'm tired of hearing people saying we're diminishing our support of parks," he said. Rather, he said the parks budget has gone from $34 million in 2011 to a proposed $37 million in 2014.

Gaebler later said that it's tempting to trust this mayor and take him at his word, but a future mayor may not be so trustworthy, which led Council to require the mayor to come to Council with requests for moving money among 12 departments, not five.

While Bach said the change would "deprive the mayor of making mid-year adjustments that best serve the community," that's not entirely true. He could make such changes, but would have to have Council's approval to do so.

Bach also will veto several other measures, including one that omitted a new position, deputy manager of the office of emergency management, and another that would slash funding for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Regional Business Alliance by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Council expressed concern for giving tax money to agencies that make political endorsements, like the RBA, and one whose mission might be fulfilled by another entity through a competitive selection process, like the CVB.

He said the city can't afford not to invest in organizations that promote the region and attract new business, noting that only 1,700 jobs had been added in the Springs area in the last 12 years — far fewer than other comparable cities, such as Austin, with 188,000 jobs; Oklahoma City, 56,000 jobs, and Boulder, 6,000.

"We should be working full-time on this economy and getting people back to work, not micromanaging," he said.

"I think we're wasting a lot of time here," Bach said in closing, "when we need to get back to the business of the people." He urged Council members to switch their votes and not override his vetoes, noting a majority of voters approved changing the Charter in 2010 to a mayor-council form that gives the mayor, as chief executive, powers to run the city.

Although anything can happen, it doesn't appear likely Council will fold its hand, considering two who voted against the budget on its first reading due to disagreement on certain points, changed their votes to "yes" on Tuesday.

"I don't see the Council changing its mind," says Gaebler, who, with Councilor Val Snider, attended the news briefing. She added that Council's goal is to create "a more effective balance of power for the citizens. Changing to 12 departments just provides a more effective and transparent city government."


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