Should city ask voters’ permission to keep refund? Murray says “no.”

POSTED BY ON THU, DEC 29, 2016 AT 1:00 PM

Councilor Bill Murray is raising a lot of questions. - FILE PHOTO

  • Councilor Bill Murray is raising a lot of questions.

Next month, Mayor John Suthers plans to ask City Council to place a measure on the April 4 city election ballot seeking voter approval to let the city keep excess revenue.

Suthers says he wants the roughly $7 million collected in 2016 above caps imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to be spent on flood control. The measure would also ask voter approval to allow the city to keep excess revenue collected in 2017 for the same purpose. That estimated dollar figure hasn’t been disclosed publicly.

Seems like a no-brainer, given the city’s enormous backlog of stormwater projects, but at least one city councilor isn’t capitulating automatically.

Councilor Bill Murray writes in a message to other Council members that he wants more information before placing the measure on the ballot. (The Independent obtained the message from a source other than Murray, and Murray confirms he did, in fact, send it.)

Mayor John Suthers: Voters should weigh in only when necessary. - FILL PHOTO

  • Mayor John Suthers: Voters should weigh in only when necessary.

Murray also notes that Suthers has said he believes anything that doesn’t require a vote of the people should not be placed on a ballot. This comment came amid debate over whether it’s a good idea to let voters have a say in selling or trading city park land. Suthers opposes giving the public a vote. The debate grew from Suthers’ plan to trade the city’s Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in exchange for acreage for trails and a wilderness area. Council approved the move in May 2016.

Now, Murray says that given Suthers’ stance, why would the mayor ask voters’ permission to keep the money? TABOR requires excess money collected above caps based on growth to be automatically refunded to voters, unless approved by voters to be retained by the city.

As Murray says, “TABOR refunding does not require a vote of the people. Keeping it for city use does require a vote. In summation, it should not be a ballot issue.”

Murray goes on to raise questions about just how much long-range future planning is going on in the halls of the City Administration Building.

His letter:

Council Members: 12/28/2016
Subject: Contradictions in the City’s de-TABORING presentation
After our discussion of what to do with the excess funds, we learned that the number had jumped from $2 million to between $7-$9 million, and only learned of this change during the Council meeting. This creates issues of contradiction and concern. The first, that we were given incorrect or at least inaccurate information. This impacted our discussion and how we saw the issues. Second, that we were only given the corrected information during its presentation to the Council. This clearly put us at a disadvantage in discussing the full scope and issues surrounding this windfall.
Clearly, this Council needs to come to terms with its contradictions. I suggest, we decide to either vote to change TABOR’s language and therefore its effects on our financing, or we return the funds which TABOR requires. The Mayor has stated that it is a matter of city public policy that anything that does not require a vote of the people, should not be sent to the people. TABOR refunding does not require a vote of the people. Keeping it for city use does require a vote. In summation, it should not be a ballot issue.
In addition, to suggest that it should be committed to storm water projects rather than current debts or acceleration of projects in the best interests of the city is disingenuous at best. We know there are bills coming due from Parks and Recreation water, additional legal work for storm water related issues and C4C infrastructure requirements. In addition, this return of TABOR money is without a commitment against the accrual of a storm water fee after the April election.
The Council at the insistence of the Chief of Staff, after lamenting that he could not balance the budget without taking $500,000 from the police and firefighter’s salaries, allowed this transfer. The City failed to mention returning these funds when discovering this windfall. Don’t we want to take care of our city employees first? What about accelerating the Comprehensive City Plan? What about the museum, bridge and infrastructure costs associated with C4C? What is the overall mayor’s plan for storm water? A series of de-TABORING band-aids until a fee is assessed? The City deserves better.
The Council’s primary function is to help strategize the city’s growth and progress. The mayor’s solution in taking this to the ballot for only Storm water issues does neither. We should expect accurate numbers, a comprehensive plan from the Chief Executive of the City and transparency to the public.
I supported this amendment at the $2 million level because it was more cost effective to ask for the money to remain with the city rather than the cost of returning it. At the $7 million plus level, it needs to be returned to the citizens. They will need it when they receive their storm water fee!
V/r bill murray 12/28/2016

William ‘Bill’ Murray

City of Colorado Springs, Councilmember At-Large

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