01 February 2010

Colorado Springs Broke

Colorado Springs is the most conservative urban center in Colorado and this conservatism has a strong anti-government, "starve the beast" tenor to it. This is the home of Doug Bruce, the man behind TABOR. Residents has refused to back any kind of tax increase or borrowing. So, spending cuts are the only way that the city can deal with declining sales tax revenues during this recession.

The beast is starving (hat tip to Square State):

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need. . . .

Some residents are . . . arguing that cuts to bus services, drug enforcement and treatment and job development are attacks on basic needs for the working class. . . .

The deep recession bit into Colorado Springs sales-tax collections, while pension and health care costs for city employees continued to soar. . . . The 2010 sales-tax forecast is almost $22 million less than 2007.

Voters in November said an emphatic no to a tripling of property tax that would have restored $27.6 million to the city's $212 million general fund budget.

The city spent $19.6 million on parks in 2007; this year it will spend $3.1 million. . . .

[P]olice and firefighting still lost more than $5.5 million this year. Positions that will go empty range from a domestic violence specialist to a deputy chief to juvenile offender officers. Fire squad 108 loses three firefighters. Putting the helicopters up for sale and eliminating the officers and a mechanic banked $877,000. . . .

The city cut three economic-development positions, land-use planning, long-range strategic planning and zoning and neighborhood inspectors. It also repossessed a large portion of a dedicated lodgers and car rental tax rather than transfer it to the visitors' bureau. . . .

The city-run Colorado Springs Utilities will shut down 8,000 to 10,000 of more than 24,000 streetlights, to save $1.2 million in energy and bulb replacement. . . .

Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.

Businessman Fowler, saying he is now speaking for the task force Bartolin supports, said the city should study the Broadmoor's use of seasonal employees and realistic manager pay.

The folks running the show aren't profiting from the cuts:

Mayor and council are part-time jobs in Colorado Springs, points out Mayor Rivera, that pay $6,250 a year ($250 extra for the mayor).

Denver pays its Mayor and council members about fifteen times as much.

You wouldn't guess it from the City's financial situation, but Colorado Springs is actually growing in population, due to a consolidation of military bases that favored the area's bases.


Dave Barnes said...

"while pension and health care costs for city employees continued to soar"


Time for the City to drop the pension plan and go with a 401k equivalent.

Michael Malak said...

Indeed, the whole switch from defined-benefit to defined-contribution is one of the subtle ways real wages have declined over the past 40 years -- but the pain is deferred.

It's time for government employee compensation to follow private industry employee compensation down the drain.

(The real cause of the decline of U.S. standard of living is globalization, the rise of standard of living of the third world, and scarcity of resources -- there are no easy answers to that problem. But right now, government pensions are out of whack and the government doesn't have GM's luxury of going bankrupt.)

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Dave: Probably because the value of the underlying investments fell, so the actuarial requirement to stay current increased.

Michael: I'm not convinced that the standard of living in the U.S. has declined. We have traded greater affluence for less security, but we continue, I believe, to become more affluent.

BSR said...

I escaped CS in 2007 to Denver after 5 years there. One of the most beautiful places I've lived, and one of the weirdest. Moving there from Northern California was quite a culture shock.

Steve Bartolin's comparison is insulting. He hires seasonal eastern European kids for peanuts to run the hotel and recently immigrated (legally?) latinos to clean the rooms. He doesn't have to worry much about expertise, training, good benefits, raises, and retirement plans. Lucky him!

I wonder if the streetlights in his neighborhood will be turned off.

I feel sorry for some of the people I know down there, but I don't think the Doug Bruce style of thinking will change any time soon. Pity...

Dave Barnes said...


When I asked "Why?", I was not asking for the actuarial reason. I was asking: "Why have they not abrogated their pension obligations". "Why have they not told the employees to pay 100% of their health care plans?"

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Defined benefit plans disproportionately hurt senior management, and I suspect that senior civil servants see that as a make or break covenant.

Also, to the extent that they have opted out of Social Security, they have to have a defined benefit plan.

Unknown said...

I stayed at the Broadmoor once. The service was awful for the price.

District 11 said...

I grew up in Colorado Springs--this is seriously sad. City planning has always been horrible--this won't help.

The military population may be growing, but most are not Colorado or city residents.

Volunteer-esque part-time mayor? You get what you pay for.