Jun 30, 2010 8:30 PM by Zach Thaxton
Lionel Rivera delivered his final State of the City address as mayor of Colorado Springs Wednesday, but two of his fellow City Council members boycotted the event. Vice Mayor Larry Small and District 3 councilmember Sean Paige said they couldn't, in good conscience, attend the event at the Doubletree World Arena because the city paid a total of $700 for two tables at the event.
"$700 would help pay for trash bags in parks, for instance," said Small. "We can't collect trash from parks." The city removed trash bins from parks as part of widespread cost-cutting measures. Paige agrees. "Cash-strapped cities shouldn't be paying for tables at private events," he said. Small further argued that the State of the City address should not be a private fundraising event primarily aimed at businesses, non-profits, and fellow policymakers. "I would prefer it be done in the City Auditorium in the evening, free, and open to everyone without having to pay for a lunch to hear it," said Small.
As for the speech, the last of Rivera's 8-year tenure as mayor, the focus was split between accomplishments and challenges of the past year as well as plans for the future, even beyond the end of Rivera's term in office.
"2009 was an extremely difficult year for the City of Colorado Springs," Rivera began. "As city sales and use tax collections plummeted, City Council and city management were challenged to make very tough decisions, including the elimination of approximately 266 staff positions and significant reductions to service." "City Council did not want to resort to the severe cutbacks in service required to balance the budget," he continued. "However, like many of you, we had to cut our expenditures to match our revenue."
Rivera praised individuals and organizations that have stepped forward to help ease the pain. An organization called Proud of our Parks was created to help address the problem of trash recepticles being pulled from city parks. Friends of Julie Penrose Fountain and Friends of Uncle Wilber Fountain helped raise more than $30,000 to allow those two fountains to operate this summer. Volunteers with Woodmen Valley Chapel stepped forward to help operate the Westside Community Center. Others stepped forward to help ensure continue operation of the Pioneers Museum, Rock Ledge Ranch, and Cheyenne Canyon. Rivera also thanked the El Pomar Foundation for assistance in cleaning up so-called "tent cities" of homeless near the confluence of Monument Creek and Fountain Creek. "We faced one of the largest and most important humanitarian programs in the history of our city," the mayor said of the effort to relocate the homeless. "We have been able to reach out to 382 of these homeless campers."
Looking toward the future, Rivera addressed plans for utilization of more renewable and efficient sources of energy to help keep costs down at the city-run Colorado Springs Utilities, beginning of construction on the massive Southern Delivery System water delivery project, and the possibility of severing ties with Memorial Health System if it's determined to be cost-effective. "During this time of health care and economic uncertainty, we must thoroughly examine the benefits and risks of owning a hospital system or of divesting the hospital system from city ownership."
Rivera says city employees will likely have to invest more in their own health care, benefits, and pension plans. "Memorial Health System has been adjusting their employee health care costs to be more in line with practices in the private sector," Rivera noted. "We must move in that direction for both the City and Colorado Springs Utilities. Making those adjustments in 2011 could save the city and CSU more than $2 million each. That savings can help mitigate future reductions in services for the city and mitigate future rate increases for CSU."
The mayor is also note that sales and use tax revenue forecasts call for a potential surplus for 2010. However, TABOR restrictions don't allow the city to keep and use those excess funds. "Believe it or not, we could have a strong economy and have more revenues than we're allowed to keep," he said, "and that's going to prevent us from restoring city services." That's why Rivera is calling on colleagues to join him in trying to get a measure on the November ballot that would allow the city to take a 3-year TABOR "time-out," keeping surplus revenue in city coffers. "It's the only way we will recover from the ratchet-down effect and allow the natural growth in our economy to help us recover," Rivera said.
Rivera was first elected to City Council in 1997, won the mayoral race in 2003, was re-elected in 2007, and will complete his term in the Spring of 2011.