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Colorado Springs City Council votes for more budget control

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Dec 10 2013 08:59:32 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 10 2013 09:10:03 PM CST

Vote requires Mayor Steve Bach to get Council approval for all spending.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

The latest round in the ongoing dispute about the strong mayor form of government in Colorado Springs was won Tuesday by the City Council.

In an 8-1 vote, the council passed an ordinance requiring Mayor Steve Bach to seek Council approval for all city spending.  Bach was criticized in the past for giving generous severance packages to former department heads and retaining several of those heads as paid consultants.

Councilman Don Knight said the council based the ordinance on a requirement in the city charter that the city have 12 departments.  Bach created five "super-departments" when he took office, Knight said, making it easier to bypass the council to make budgetary changes.

"(Bach) was having more power than the president or the governor has over expenditure of funds," Knight said.

Councilwoman Helen Collins cast the sole dissenting vote.

Bach was not present at the meeting but plans to respond to the vote at his regular media briefing on Wednesday.  He can sign and approve the budget, reject it with an explanation to the council or receive it unsigned.  Under the latter option, the budget would be effective Dec. 31.

Knight said it's important to note that Bach and the council disagree about only $1.5 million of money that Bach spent without approval -- less than 1 percent of the budget.  However, he said it's important to restore the balance of power in city government.

"I don't think it's micromanaging to have us be more transparent," said Councilwoman Jill Gaebler.  "The council is the voice of our citizens."

The vote also gave final council approval to the $394 million budget.  It includes funding the watering of city parks with money originally intended for police, and cut funding in half for the city's Convention and Visitors' Bureau and Regional Business Alliance.

Councilman Joel Miller said he was reluctant to approve the budget without determining whether the CVB and RBA can justify the funding they receive, but he wanted to move the process along.

The Lodging and Automobile Rental Tax Advisory Committee will meet next month to ask the CVB and RBA to explain what benefit they provide for the funding they receive.  The groups are funded by the tax and by Colorado Springs Utilities.

Before the ordinance vote, the council by a 6-3 margin approved the 2014 budget for Colorado Springs Utilities.  However, the decision withholds a donation of $256,000 to the United Way and around 50 other nonprofit groups that apply for the money to help the needy.

"Colorado Springs Utilities is itself a nonprofit," said Knight.  "So every dollar we spend, we have to take in from the ratepayers.  This is making the ratepayers give a charitable contribution.  We want to avoid any conflict of interest."

Knight said the groups involved receive a relatively small amount of money, no more than several thousand dollars on average, and shouldn't be seriously affected without it. 

However, after hearing about possible negative impacts to the United Way, Knight said the council will try to replace the money from other sources and stopped short of calling the allocation of funds a cut.

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