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Incentive to leave

Cities offering big bucks steal Springs jobs


Mike Kazmierski, head of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation, risks riling fiscal conservatives by floating the idea of a sales-tax increase to create a fund for luring high-paying employers to the city.

"At some point, our community is going to have to decide how important good jobs are to us," says the CEO and president of the nonprofit corporation, which attempts to woo businesses into the city.

Colorado Springs' best selling point its majestic, purple-mountain views seems to pale in comparison to the free land, cash and sharply reduced utilities bills other Western cities are increasingly offering, he says. Colorado Springs does furnish tax deferments to some businesses, but Kazmierski claims they just aren't enough.

In recent years, the city has lost several employers and prospective employers to other cities that award greater incentives.

In February, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association announced it would pack up its Hall of Fame for Albuquerque, N.M., where $5 million in promotional cash and millions in other incentives await. And last year, Excel-Jet, which builds jets, moved its headquarters from the Colorado Springs Airport to Guthrie, Okla., after being lured by millions of dollars in incentives.

Pointing to the 1/2-cent sales tax that Pueblo collects to pool more than $7 million worth of incentives annually, Kazmierski says Colorado Springs could generate a similar amount with a 1/10-cent sales tax and sweeten its deals.

He estimates the sales tax increase would cost families an average of about $15 a year.

But the notion has at least one member of the Republican-controlled City Council wincing.

A tax for economic incentives would be a tough sell to voters who recently passed one tax for a rural transit authority, and another to pay for recreation and open space, says City Councilman Scott Hente.

"We're a fiscally conservative community," Hente says.

Kazmierski, however, says he isn't advocating a tax. Rather, he hopes to spark debate and more analysis by city leaders concerned with what some analysts predict could be a slow economic decline if companies stop moving in at the current rate.

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