When the City's massive Springs Community Improvement Plan was thrashed nearly 2 to 1 just six months ago, its main supporters swore voters would have approved the tax increase if they would have been able to pick and choose among the projects.
This autumn, the City seeks to raise the money to pay for many of the same projects. However, this time, officials have broken the projects down into seven separate questions that will give voters a menu of transportation, parks and rec, and police and fire projects that they can choose to fund or forget.
But this time, city leaders face another daunting challenge: reminding a distracted public that there is even an election.
Next week, the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder will mail out 281,592 ballots in its first-ever all-by-mail election. Voters must complete the ballot, slap 53 cents worth of postage on it and mail it in by November 6, Election Day. (Ballots may also be dropped off at several locations before the 6th.)
Last week, City Councilwoman Margaret Radford downplayed the dearth of election-related information and said that, since the attack, groups she has met with to push the City's latest SCIP proposals have been welcoming.
"I'm speaking to conservative and moderate groups and, all of a sudden, people get it -- particularly about police and fire people," Radford said. "People are sitting up in their seats -- they aren't thinking of the government as their enemy."
The only organized opposition to the SCIP proposal has been voiced by the El Paso County Libertarian Party, a very small but vocal group of agitators whose philosophy is one of extremely limited government. Early in September, Libertarian activists issued a statement denouncing the City's tax and bond issues.
"If the City Council is really trying to listen to voters, they must be deaf," said party chairman Steve D'Ippolito, referring to the overwhelming rejection of the tax measures in April. "Either that or they are simply ignoring the voters."
In April, less than 23 percent of those eligible chose to vote. This time, tax and bond supporters hope the mail election will increase the turnout -- and their chances of raising money for capital improvement projects. The seven separate questions include:
Question B1: Both this question and B2 involve the sale of bonds -- much like the 1999 successful SCIP project list -- which would be repaid through pledges of sales and use taxes. B1 would allow the City to sell nearly $63.5 million worth of bonds to pay for 20 transportation improvement projects across the city -- the most expensive being a $15 million interchange at Union Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway.
Question B2: This bond measure would allow the City to sell more than $37.8 million worth of bonds (with a repayment cost of $62.3 million) to pay for 27 drainage projects across the city. One of the most notable projects, said Radford, is a drainage channel along Monterey Road on the city's southeast side where the flooding sometimes gets so bad that parents have to stand side by side to shuttle their children from one side of the street to the other.
Question B3 asks for approval of nearly $1.6 million beyond the Taxpayer Bill of Right--mandated 2000 tax and spend cap for improvements at the intersection of Chelton Road and Platte Avenue.
Question B4 asks for a 4/10ths of a cent sales tax to pay for new police and fire personnel and for capital operating costs. The nearly $27 million in annual funds would be earmarked to build three new fire stations, remodel two others, build two new police substations, and hire 117 new police and 60 new fire officers. The tax would be equivalent to spending an additional 4 on a $10 purchase.
Question B5 is a 1/10th of a cent sales tax to raise $6.7 million every year for additional transportation-related projects, including paving, traffic light synchronization, snow removal equipment and a three-year pilot express bus program. The tax is equivalent of spending 1 for every $10 purchase.
Question B6 is a 1/10th of a percent sales tax, which sunsets after six years, to pay for Parks and Recreation projects. These include: funding the second phases of five recreation centers, paying for two new waterpark-style pools, helping to renovate the Pioneers Museum, and building a second ice rink at Sertich Ice Arena. The tax is equivalent of spending 1 for every $10 purchase
Question B7: Colorado Springs is the only municipality in Colorado that lives under the statewide taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and similar local municipal tax and spend limitation laws. As a result, during election cycles, Colorado Springs has to twice mail out blue books -- which detail the pros and cons of ballot issues. This ballot question would allow just one mailing.