To the citizens of Colorado Springs:
We write today with a united, fervent appeal from the region's two largest newspapers.
In light of our city government's latest budget shortfall for 2010, producing an anticipated $25 million in reduced or eliminated services, programs and jobs, we share deep concerns for the potentially disastrous effects on our quality of life.
At the same time, we concur that presently, our city has only a single viable path to avoid such a catastrophic impact next year: This fall, Colorado Springs voters not only must endorse the proposed property tax increase, but also defeat Doug Bruce's destructive measure on the same ballot.
Therefore, in an unprecedented action, we are presenting our positions in tandem, printing side-by-side editorials from our separate perspectives that both reach the same conclusion. We have set aside our many differences to graphically illustrate how important it is for citizens to vote this fall to ensure the short- and long-term health of the city we love.
For the sake of our community, join with us to help save our city from a terrible — yet still avoidable — fate. Thank you.
John Weiss, Publisher, Colorado Springs Independent
Steven K. Pope, President and Publisher, The Gazette
Save our city: Vote yes, then no
For the first time in our history, the Independent and Gazette are joining forces to encourage all Colorado Springs citizens to Vote YES on Measure 2C, the modest mill levy proposal designed to keep core city services intact. We also urge citizens to Vote NO on Measure 300, yet another of Doug Bruce's vicious initiatives that would cut our already-strapped city budget by more than $40 million a year. It would prevent Colorado Springs Utilities and other city-owned enterprises from voluntarily transferring funds to help defray costs they impose on our city — for things such as police and fire services, road maintenance, legal services, etc.
We've taken this unusual step because our two newspapers' editorial boards separately reached the same conclusion: In economic and human terms, it would be destructive if, as our city's population continues to grow, city services are drastically cut.
In these difficult economic times, it's a formidable challenge to seek any tax increase. Measure 2C would be phased in over five years. For the first year, the owner of a Colorado Springs home valued at $262,000 would pay an additional $126, or less than $2.50 a week. Over the following four years, property taxes will increase about 37 cents a week per year. By 2015, a typical home's property tax will be $210 higher than today. That's just $4 more each week, a small price to pay for maintaining city services at current levels.
If Measure 2C fails, here is what is in store:
• Colorado Springs public safety departments will shrink by at least 60 positions, causing further stress on our already-overextended police and fire personnel;
• Bus service will be curtailed, causing many riders to lose jobs, drop out of school and struggle to live normal lives. Service to and from Fort Carson and Schriever Air Force Base will be entirely eliminated.
• Seven city pools and six community centers will be closed, as will the Pioneers Museum. Youth sports programs will be significantly diminished.
• Road maintenance and snowplowing in local neighborhoods will be reduced.
Such actions will significantly and negatively impact property values as well as our region's vitality for years to come.
Multiple factors, including the declining economy and TABOR's never-ending ratchet-down effects, are partially responsible for our budget crisis. Another cause is our over-reliance on sales tax, which today constitutes the largest share of city tax revenue. In just the past eight years, as more retail business has migrated to the Internet and more big-box stores have located outside city boundaries, Colorado Springs' real sales tax revenue per capita has plummeted by more than 21 percent (see Chart 1).
Our city cannot provide needed basic services for an ever-increasing population (rising more than 95,000 since 1990) with 21 percent less money collected per citizen.
Measure 2C will help stabilize our government services at acceptable levels. Even if it is approved, Colorado Springs will still enjoy the lowest per capita taxes of any major city along the Front Range (see Chart 2).
We cannot afford to further cut back on services that keep us safe and our community strong. When casting your mail-in ballots, please join us in supporting Measure 2C and voting down Measure 300.
VOTE FOR MILL LEVY INCREASE
VOTE AGAINST BRUCE MEASURE
Over the years the Independent and The Gazette have often disagreed on which services are necessities for the city of Colorado Springs to support and on how the city should finance municipal obligations. Even in times when we have agreed, our newspapers have always chosen to express agreeing opinions each in our own fashion and in our respective publications.
This occasion is different. We are jointly and strongly encouraging our readers to support the mill levy increase proposed by Councilwoman Jan Martin on the ballot this November. We are also strongly encouraging you not to support the irresponsible initiative pushed onto the ballot by Douglas Bruce.
We do not take the action of combining our editorial voices lightly. We have chosen this path due to the dire financial situation the city faces. Without passage of the mill levy, the city will be required to cut programs and services that should not be touched. These cuts would directly impact the current quality of life in our city; would detrimentally impact services that keep us all safe; and would make it very difficult for us to grow out of the current economic malaise.
Over the past five fiscal years the combined per capita property and sales tax burden has declined approximately 7 percent when adjusted for inflation and population growth. The decline will be worse in 2009 and there is little evidence that it will improve significantly in 2010. Even before currently proposed cuts, public safety expenditures have declined 3 percent on an adjusted basis. Cultural and recreation expenses along with expenses for urban redevelopment and housing and economic development have also taken significant cuts.
These cuts will be dramatically more severe next year unless we all join together and pass the mill levy.
We are not a newspaper with a history of supporting tax-and-spend initiatives. We are proud of the fact that Colorado Springs has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and that Colorado as a state has one of the lowest tax rates in the country. We do however support the mill levy initiative on this November's ballot due to our firm belief that it is essential to the health of our city and the welfare of our fellow citizens. Council members also do not take tax increases lightly, and they have pledged to eliminate the city's business property tax if this ballot measure passes, which would eliminate one obstacle to investment by local businesses. We need your help in getting this measure passed.
We also need to make sure we do not allow the situation to be made worse through wrongheaded initiatives. The Bruce ballot measure would be questionable in the best of times. In these financial times for our city, it is worse than foolish.
This is a dire situation. Please join us in supporting the mill levy and join us in opposing the Bruce initiative.
Talk to your neighbors and ask them to help. If you are not registered to vote please do so and make your voice heard this November. We know that mill levy considerations in times that are difficult for all of us are not popular but we cannot allow our safety and future to fall by the wayside.