Proponents of the Council-mayor form of government made all sorts of promises to Colorado Springs before the November 2010 election. The government would be more accountable with a "strong mayor," they said, and more democratic; the city would finally have a clear direction; and government would cost less.
About that last point. Mayor Steve Bach has talked about reducing costs (his economic forecast shows the city going broke before 2020), but he hasn't exactly walked the walk, as his newly released final version of the city budget reveals. While Bach has cut more than he's added in 2012, and plans to cut more in 2013, he's also tacked on more than $1 million in new administrative salaries and operating costs alone, some creating new divisions of government.
Those changes can hardly be blamed on City Council, especially since City Attorney Chris Melcher recently released a legal opinion stating that Council cannot force the mayor to spend money on anything — even if it uses its veto power — unless it's considered a "major legislative budget determination." The opinion caused an uproar on Council, which considers it an overreach.
Regardless, Bach had the right to hire chief of staff Laura Neumann in December, at a $165,000 annual salary. And to assign Steve Cox, previously the chief of staff and fire chief, to a new $182,488 post as head of Economic Vitality and Innovation.
Two other new positions beneath Cox, plus an operating budget, cost an extra $311,500. The newly created division of Innovation and Sustainability costs $216,628. Communications has added 1.5 positions and equipment was upgraded, at a total cost of $153,125. The mayor also added $88,600 for his new secretary and office needs. And the mayor's entire budget ($623,912 in 2012) didn't exist until 2011.
"I would like to see a comprehensive study of all civilian and sworn positions to determine if the positions are actually needed," Councilor Lisa Czelatdko states in an e-mail to the Indy.
By the way, Council — suddenly needing its own staff because it can no longer rely on the mayor's city employees, and having absorbed long-standing membership dues into its budget — has swelled its own allocation from $305,931 in 2011 to $798,676 in 2012.
Spending reductions, on the other hand, have come mainly in city services. In the 2012 budget, Bach saved nearly $2.7 million by eliminating 9.5 positions from the police department, six from the fire department, 11 from public works, and four from parks, recreation and cultural services. Seven more came from other city departments. The mayor also saved $1.1 million from "efficiencies" created, mostly in police and fire.
In 2013, Bach has said that Starsmore Discovery and Helen Hunt Falls visitor centers, Rock Ledge Ranch, the Accessible Coordinated Transportation of the Pikes Peak Region (a group of nonprofits that provide rides for seniors and people with disabilities), the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator and the Small Business Development Center can expect their funding to end unless the city's revenue picture improves considerably.
"We just have to face that we don't have unlimited funding," the mayor said in December.
That may be, but Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin notes that her experience has shown that citizens care more dearly about public safety than other governmental functions like economic development. Martin says she doesn't know if the mayor's future actions will reflect that philosophy.
"We are still waiting for the mayor's strategic plan," she notes, "which I think will give us a clearer idea of what his goals are."