- Brienne Boortz
- Seniors such as these, normally transported by Silver Key, could have to look for other options with city funding on the verge of going away.
Some of them seemed torn before the meeting began. Others were wearing stony faces, reflecting deep, measured practicality. Either way, the members of City Council all looked pretty glum an hour later.
Councilor Darryl Glenn nervously was sliding his lips from side to side. Councilor Tom Gallagher's eyebrows periodically raised toward his hairline, and froze there for minutes at a time. Later, Councilor Margaret Radford began to cry openly.
For more than three hours on Oct. 30, the public had its say on the proposed 2009 city budget.
The only public hearing was a poignant reminder that budget cuts have a human element. This year's cuts necessitated by a $23 million shortfall to fill and a promise from Council to stop using one-time revenues to meet ongoing expenses brought pain for many.
Win two, lose one
But it could have been worse. Tuesday night, voters turned down state Rep. Douglas Bruce's City Questions 200 and 201. Had they passed, all payments to city enterprises would have become voluntary, and there would have been restrictions on money exchanges between the city and its enterprises. That would have ended the Stormwater Enterprise and cost the city about $3.5 million in 2009 alone, leading to bigger cuts.
"This sends a strong message to Doug Bruce," Mayor Lionel Rivera said on election night.
But voters sent another strong message in rejecting County Question 1A, the initiative to raise the sales tax. That means the cash-strapped county is likely to follow through on a promise to keep for itself around $2 million in city road and bridge funding.
On election night, the mood on the third floor of Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (where Citizens for Effective Government, the 1A instigators, hosted a party) started subdued and ended dismal, with attending Council members thinking about what promised to be a tougher budget work session Wednesday.
Radford and Councilor Randy Purvis, as well as the mayor, all said police and fire would likely be hurt. Rivera said he'd also like to cap the vendor fee, money paid to businesses for time spent processing sales tax money. The vendor fee doesn't exist in many other communities, and capping it could save the city $1.2 million, the mayor says. But chopping the vendor fee is a perennial idea that never seems to gain enough momentum, largely because many on Council think it would harm certain businesses, like car dealerships.
Purvis thought Council would likely hit the parks department harder possibly decimating community centers, senior centers and recreation programs though the idea brought him no joy.
Radford said the cuts ought to come from public safety, because the failure of 1A was a message that county residents aren't worried about funding emergency workers.
'A death sentence'
Wherever the trims come from, they'll be worsening already painful reductions.
In 2008, for instance, the city spent $368,715 to help fund transportation services provided by Amblicab, Silver Key Senior Services and the Fountain Valley Senior Center. The services help the elderly and those with disabilities function independently. In this year's proposed budget, those services will get no city money. That's a blow to all the services, but particularly Amblicab, which gets the majority of its funding from the city.
Councilors were interested in sparing that funding, but considering the failure of 1A, that was seeming less likely after the election.
Lynn Hopeman, CEO of Pikes Peak Partnership, which runs Amblicab, says the results of discontinuing the service are heartbreaking. She described an elderly female client with one leg. With no other transportation, she uses Amblicab to get to her dialysis appointments.
"It's a death sentence to her if she doesn't have her transportation," Hopeman says.
At the Oct. 30 hearing, which was so packed that it filled Council chambers and an overflow room, many elderly and disabled citizens begged Council to spare Amblicab and Silver Key services, along with bus service, which is set to lose 23,000 hours and see fare hikes.
Many needed assistance to make it to the podium. Some struggled to turn their wheelchairs around in the crowded room. One gray-haired man, clad in overalls, told Council that he thought the cuts, and the way he had been informed of them, were "disrespectful."
Of course, transportation was just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone from roller-derby players to model-airplane enthusiasts came to ask for the City Auditorium to stay open. Others begged to save recreation programs for kids, seniors and military families. Quite a few wanted the Helen Hunt Falls facility to stay open. Representatives from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic wanted to spare the July 4 "Salute to Our Troops" symphony. And adults and children asked for programs at Sertich Ice Center to be preserved.
One little boy in a Junior Tigers hockey jersey, his big eyes heavy with sleep by the time he made it to the podium, told Council, "If you take that ice rink away, all the boys and girls are going to be sad."
Mayor Lionel Rivera smiled at the child and told his mother that perhaps the boy should miss school in the morning. It was past 10 p.m.