State of the City: Colorado Springs mayor touts progress, urges more investment in future

Author: Conrad Swanson - September 23, 2017 - Updated: September 23, 2017

Mayor John Suthers is pictured at the construction site for the water quality pond at Woodmen Road and Sand Creek, which is the first project funded as part of $19 million a year the City has committed to spend on stormwater, on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (The Gazette file photo)

Colorado Springs is preparing to take its place among the great cities of America, Mayor John Suthers said.

But that seat among the country’s elite comes with its own set of challenges and internal conflict.

About 700 city and state leaders descended upon The Broadmoor hotel Friday morning for the mayor’s annual State of the City Luncheon, Suthers’ third. After the crowd dined on salad, chicken, broccolini and potatoes, Suthers served up the city’s triumphs in the past year and some of the most significant obstacles it is facing.

Next year, Suthers said he will propose the city complete a comprehensive Transportation Master Plan, the first in two decades.

Suthers also criticized the delays in widening Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock, which remains unfunded by the state.

“I urge all of you to vociferously urge our state legislators and governor to put aside idealogical differences, to get their priorities straight, to stop making excuses and get this project funded,” Suthers said.

On local roads, however, the city has made progress with Issue 2C, a ballot issue approved by voters in November 2015 dedicating $250 million evenly split over five years to repair the city’s deteriorating streets, curbs and gutters.

“This is a pay-as-you-go effort and you are going to continue to see lots of cone zones, particularly in the summer months,” Suthers said. “Please see this as a sign of real progress in fixing a problem that was a long time in the making.”

Corey Farkas, the city’s streets program supervisor, said in August the projects approved with 2C will be complete when the tax ends in 2020 with money to spare.

While 2C is working well, Suthers is asking for more by seeking to reimpose stormwater fees on property owners. The city’s stormwater obligations are currently met using general fund money.

The proposed fees will appear as Issue 2A on El Paso County’s November ballot. If approved, residential property owners would be charged $5 a month, while nonresidential property owners would pay $30 per month for every acre of land they own. The fees would last for 20 years and are expected to raise an estimated $17 million annually.

“I ask you all to become an advocate for Issue 2A and carry the message to your family, neighbors and co-workers.” Suthers said.

Doug Bruce, author of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, has called the fees a “rain tax” and a “bait and switch.”

Bruce has said hiring more public safety employees and Suthers’ other stated priorities for the general fund money that would be freed up by the stormwater measure is what the fees are really about, not stormwater infrastructure.

Suthers blamed Bruce for the city not having the money to fund stormwater projects and other public services.

“If you’ve been here a long time, he got rid of a half-cent infrastructure sales tax in the early ’90s. But for that, we wouldn’t have had to have 2C or anything like that,” he said. “That would have raised a billion dollars that we could have applied to infrastructure.”

The city originally imposed a set of stormwater fees in 2005, but Bruce led a charge against them and in 2009 the enterprise fund was defunded.

“All I’m trying to do is reinstate what Doug Bruce eliminated over the last 30 years in Colorado Springs,” Suthers said.

City Councilman Bill Murray might disagree, however.

Murray has lambasted Suthers for a lack of specificity on the proposed stormwater fees, calling the move “extortion.” He recently posted on Facebook that Suthers “formally chastised” him for using the term.

Suthers denies that he has formally chastised Murray, and said he only told reporters that “Bill doesn’t choose his words carefully enough.”

He also denied claims of extortion.

“Extortion is a legal term, it’s a crime,” Suthers said. “If somebody thinks I’m committing a crime they can certainly report me.”

While there are dissenting voices, Suthers said the city is still moving in the right direction.

“We are all privileged to live in a city of remarkable natural beauty, in a city that is considered one of the very best places in America to live,” he said.

Conrad Swanson

Conrad Swanson