Municipal elections usually come with ballot issues, brought by City Council or citizen petition campaigns. This year is no exception, though the cost and effort deterred any groups from pursuing measures. Council sent three issues to voters but held off on others — at the request of Mayor John Suthers — to avoid ballot clutter or an all-negative response.
We regret that Suthers, and by extension City Council, opposed a tiny sales tax request (0.1 percent, or 1 cent for every $10 spent) for city parks. The amount budgeted for maintenance is less now than a decade ago, the city has embraced outdoor recreation as a major part of its identity, and credible polling showed the parks tax proposal could have passed easily.
But Suthers' top priority is stormwater funding, and he sees a chance to make a dent with his Taxpayer's Bill of Rights retention proposal. The city is seeking to invest $6 million of projected TABOR refunds for both 2016 and 2017 to make stormwater improvements as promised by the city in its long-term, $460 million agreement with Pueblo County. That $12 million would mean less of a bite out of the city's general fund for the next two years.
The other two ballot issues don't appear as sticky. We won't go into great detail here, and next week, we'll endorse candidates for the six City Council district races.
• Issue 1 (Utilities): This would amend the City Charter to prevent the city from selling all or a "substantial part" of Utilities or any of its entities (electric, gas, water, wastewater) without approval by at least 60 percent of voters. Currently the requirement is only a simple majority for such a sale.
Municipal ownership of Utilities is a major asset for the city, and in today's volatile world, we don't like the idea that a sweet-sounding deal could slide through Council and become reality with just 50.1 percent of voters saying yes. Creating a 60 percent hurdle does raise the bar, and that's a good thing. Our endorsement is strong on this one.
• Issue 2 (TABOR-stormwater): This would allow the city to "retain and spend" up to $6 million in 2016 and again in 2017 — $12 million in all — in excess tax revenue above Taxpayer's Bill of Rights limits for city stormwater projects. Any revenue above $6 million in either year would be refunded to residents as a one-time credit on utility bills.
Our opposition to TABOR's ratchet effect on limiting revenue and growth has been steadfast. This would not increase taxes, and it would soften the city's short-term burden, freeing up more money for other priorities such as public safety. No hesitation whatsoever, and we still hope someday the city voters might remove this portion of TABOR entirely, leaving only the requirement for voter approval of any and all tax increases.
• Issue 3 (Broadband): This issue would give the city authority to facilitate, partner or coordinate with service providers in offering high-speed internet, cable or telecommunication service. State law doesn't allow this, and 65 cities and counties already have seen fit to pass such measures.
In Colorado Springs, the impact can allow the city to provide Wi-Fi in City Hall (illegal now), address service issues or potentially add fiber-optic cables and use, sell or rent them for public benefit. This is not intended to compete against current providers such as Comcast and CenturyLink, but it could inspire them to improve service and prices, as in other cities. As much as technology matters to our cyber-conscious city, this is a no-brainer.
You can still register to vote
This is an all-mail city election, and ballots should be mailed to registered voters starting Friday, March 10. But if you are not registered, it's easy. All citizens with a Colorado driver's license or state-issued ID card can register online at govotecolorado.com. You can then get a ballot at the city clerk's office, first floor of the City Administration Building, 30 S. Nevada Ave.
No license, ID card or access to a computer? Or if you think you are a registered voter, but don't receive your mail ballot by Thursday, March 16? Call the clerk's office at 385-5901, option 4. You can register up to Election Day, Tuesday, April 4, also the deadline when ballots must be received.