COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – If Mayor John Suthers’ is any indication of how well Colorado Springs fared in the pandemic, in a financial sense, the City did remarkably well.
On Monday, Oct. 4, Suthers presented his proposed budget for 2022 to the Colorado Springs City Council that projects $56 million (16.26%) more in revenue than in 2021, expecting a total of $400.6 million.
“I can’t imagine a large city in the United States weathering the COVID crisis any better than Colorado Springs has done,” Suthers said in a press briefing after the presentation.
Most of the increase came from COVID-19 relief money, accounting for about $26 million in revenue that must be used for specific causes, like paying public safety employees.
Still, $13 million is allocated in the Mayor’s budget for significant increases in several departments, should the City Council approve the budget.
$5.4 million is slated to refill positions and funding from the pandemic, after Suthers mandated two precent cuts across the City’s organization in the spring of 2020.
He says the city got by without those positions, but the effect on park cleanliness, for example, showed the need for funding.
“If you look at our number of city employees per 1,000 people, we’re pretty lean and mean in Colorado Springs,” Suthers said.
Another $9.1 million will go to pay increases to make positions within the city financially competitive to the rest of the market. Suthers says the loss of engineers has been particularly noticeable in the city. It will also pay for merit-based raises for all city employees, sworn or civilian.
In the “sworn” department, the Colorado Springs Police Department is particularly hurting for employees. The Mayor hopes to fund 17 new officers (with guns, cruisers, body cameras and other equipment included in the $700,000 price tag).
The 17 positions would create 803 positions in CSPD but right now, there are only 703 on staff because “where we’re seeing, frankly, the attrition is in the higher-ranking seniority,” Suthers said.
“We need more police officers. I’ve always felt very strongly about that,” he said.
The addition of positions was a commitment Suthers made while campaigning for mayor and, despite protests last summer, he believes most citizens want a larger police presence in the City.
Powered in part by a projected 20.1% increase in sales tax from 2021 into 2022, the City is expected to blow past the revenue-growth cap as part of the Tax Payer Bill of Rights.
The City has Issue 2D, asking voters to allow the city to keep the $17 million over the TABOR cap for public safety infrastructure, namely buying the land and building a fire station off of Highway 83.
The larger budget also comes as the city is asking for an extension to the Trails and Open Space tax in Issue 2C.
“We’ve solved roads, we’ve solved storm water and I mean long term fixes,” Suthers said. “We also have to deal with parks and if we can deal with all three of those, I can say to the next mayor, you have no reason of raising taxes because we have solved our revenue problem.”