Residents Question Transit, Parks Funding in Proposed Budget

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The proposed 2016 budget for Colorado Springs is now headed to city council for markup. At a public hearing earlier this week, residents questioned a few of the mayor's priorities. The two biggest concerns were parks and transportation funding.

At Tuesday night's public hearing, 22 people attended. One group wore blue shirts to show their support for public transit funding.

In Mayor Suthers' proposed budget, there's an 815,000 dollar increase in funding for Mountain Metropolitan Transit.

Deb Walker, executive director of Citizen's Project, spoke at the public hearing.  She said she welcomes the proposed increase, but says it still doesn't get the bus system back to pre-recession levels.

"Many of our routes are inadequate," said Walker. "The weekend hours are non-existent in some cases. Late night hours have been cut."

Walker said her group is also focusing on the northeastern part of the city, where bus service doesn't go.

Residents speak at a public meeting related to the mayor's proposed 2016 budget.
Credit Matt Richmond / KRCC
Residents speak at a public meeting related to the mayor's proposed 2016 budget.

The funding in the proposed budget would go to a restructuring of four routes. One of the goals is also to buy land downtown for a new transit station.

Along with transit funding, residents at the hearing were concerned about a lack of investment at Garden of the Gods. Melissa Walker of Friends of Garden of the Gods said the parks department recommended projects but they were dropped from the mayor's budget.

"Primarily it's been only a business as usual – take care of what we have, keep cleaning the restrooms, which are over 20 years old," said Walker. "And business as usual you know after 20 years, there are some things that need to be replaced."

Walker said one of the restrooms needs a complete overhaul along with some minor roadwork. The city owns the park but isn't allowed to collect entry fees.

"This is the first time that we've stopped to really ask for capital improvement projects and we're surprised that it didn't make the funded list."

The big-ticket item that did make it into the mayor's budget, after being rejected by voters last year, is the first of ten years of funding for stormwater projects in the city.

"That means, this year, no raises for employees," said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.  "That means deferring capital projects that the city might have but it's something we have to begin to do to address our infrastructure problems."

There's $19 million dollars in 2016 going to projects to rebuild culverts and detention ponds, projects that would protect water quality. Suthers said this was his top priority this budget round.

"Some polling we did indicated that the voters were much more inclined to address the road problem than they were the stormwater problem, but the stormwater problem is a very serious one," said Suthers. "It's got legal implications for the city."

Colorado Springs will seek road funding by asking voters to approve a .62% increase in the sales tax. If passed, it's estimated to raise 250 million dollars over the next five years.

In his proposed budget, Suthers also included a $7 million increase for road and bridgework.

There's also $810,000 to outfit police officers with body worn cameras. The yearly cost of processing and storing the videos from those cameras is estimated at 600,000 dollars.

Suthers' budget has been mostly well-received by city council. Councilwoman Jill Gaebler says Suthers has worked well with city council and she's pleased to see some new investments after years of cutting, but she agreed with some of the speakers at the public hearing that more funding is needed for transit and parks.

"We do what we can in parks," said Gaebler.  "But we seem to be doing less and less. It is the number one reason people move here and visit here is for our parks."

The budget is now with city council for possible revisions. A final version is due in December.