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Let's combine our city, county


The invitations already are out. On Tuesday, June 17, Mayor Lionel Rivera will deliver his annual State of the City speech at the Antlers Hilton.

The typical crowd of civic and business leaders will not expect any kind of blockbuster announcement. In past years, Rivera's scripted speech has been a predictable laundry list. Now well into his second and final term, he probably has it mostly written already.

He'll offer the usual cheerleading, with emphasis on the latest positive news of outside sources giving Colorado Springs high rankings as a place to live and work. He'll make a big to-do about the deal to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee here, as well as the early successes of Penny Culbreth-Graft as city manager, and he'll boast about the city's efforts to conserve energy.

At some point, Rivera probably will strike a realistic tone, referring to the difficulties for staff and City Council in grappling with the effects of a struggling economy and a troubled real estate market.

All of that equates to simply trying to maintain the status quo, riding out this storm until the next hoped-for boom. If that's all the mayor talks about, the audience will yawn and shrug.

It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, here's a pointed challenge to Mayor Rivera:

This time, why not be different? Why not lay out a new vision? How about some bold new strategies for making the most of these treacherous times?

You could begin with a serious campaign to better educate Colorado Springs residents. Determine exactly what they expect their city government to do for them, and show how relying too much on volatile sales-tax revenues to foot the bill isn't adequate anymore. Figure out new ways to convince your constituents that the city needs a property tax more in line with what other cities receive. Show the people, once and for all, that a ridiculously low property tax is not a badge of honor, but instead a clear sign of narrow-mindedness and greed and lack of caring for the kind of city we'll leave our kids and future generations.

That's the first pillar, which Rivera should turn into a personal crusade that would make his tenure worth remembering.

The other pillar is even more audacious, yet just as urgent a priority. Given the escalating, seemingly irreversible financial crises engulfing our city and county, the time has come for a new approach.

It means combining the Colorado Springs and El Paso County governments, to the largest extent possible. (Municipalities such as Fountain, Monument and Manitou Springs, might be established enough to operate separately, though even they could agree on a partial merger including such services as public safety.)

It means one police force, one fire department, one streets/roads division, one parks operation and more. It means a uniform city/county sales tax, so that some businesses along the Powers corridor, around Falcon and elsewhere no longer would benefit from charging less sales tax.

It means somehow combining the City Council and county commission, with a number of elected positions that would work for all involved (perhaps nine, as with Council now, but why not just seven or five?). And it likely means giving more authority and clout to the top administrator, who still could be called the city manager.

One last point: It would mean one local government deciding to ask for more tax money, instead of two as we may see, with both entities making a strong case. In fact, Rivera also should lead a brave new battle to de-Bruce the city, removing the shackles of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, once and for all.

Obviously, all of this couldn't happen immediately. But given the excruciating budget cuts and the mood around the area, with such outlandish measures as selling park land being floated, something needs to change.

There has to be a better way. We must stop these destructive cyclones of forced budget cuts that erode the area's stability and threaten its remarkable quality of life.

We need stronger leadership. We need fresh ideas. We need a better path to the future.

Mayor Rivera, the next move is yours. You'll never have a better chance than now.

But if you let it slip by, we'll look for someone else to lead the way.

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