Apr 18, 2013 9:48 PM by Andy Koen

Public outcry grows over bonuses to city leaders

COLORADO SPRINGS - Public outcry is growing over the lavish bonuses awarded to two members of Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach's inner circle. Laura Neumann, the mayor's Chief of Staff, and City Attorney Chris Melcher were both given $25,000 bonuses last year on top of their six figure salaries.

At an annual salary of $183,736, Melcher is already the city's highest paid employee. Neumann's $165,000 per year is the 4th highest.

A statement to News 5 from the Mayor's office defended the awards as recognition for their hard work. Neumann is credited with introducing a new strategic planning process and creating a budget surplus despite expanding bus service, turning city street lights back on and increasing the ranks of the police and fire departments.

Melcher was celebrated for his work surrounding the Memorial Health System lease to University of Colorado Health.

The explanation doesn't sit will with many in the community who see the bonuses as extravagant given the current state of the local economy. Unemployment in Colorado Springs continues to hover around 8.7 percent, a full percentage point higher than both the state and national unemployment rates.

"There are so many of us who are out there and can't find a job and are really struggling and having a hard time getting by and then you hear about something like this and it just floors me," said Michele Hellickson.

"It doesn't justify a $25,000 pay raise,"said Thomas Evans. "I served in the military for 10 years and I only got a pay raise like, twice."

Both suggested more appropriate ways for the mayor to express his gratitude.

"Instead of taking that $25,000 and giving them a pay raise, take it and put it into the school systems, Evans said. "Wasson High school is being closed from what I've heard."

"Whether it be a great big festival and something that everyone could enjoy and honor them or, you know, I could just see it going to some other charity or something."

Joseph Barreras, who earns less than $25,000 a year painting and doing concrete work and a more direct suggestion. "Send 'em to Texas Roadhouse or whatever, they don't need all that money," he said.

The mayor's statement points out that City Council signed off on the bonuses when they approved the mayor's budget last year. The full text of that statement is posted below.

"Chief of Staff Laura Neumann was instrumental in implementing the City's new Strategic Planning Process. For the first time, Executive Branch departments now have Breakthrough Strategies that feature time-specific goals. This new approach results in delivering improved customer service to our citizens. Critical core services such as more evening bus routes, a return of street lighting, and an increase in police and fire strength have all taken place with her guidance and within a flat budget. City Attorney Chris Melcher was critical to the successful completion of the lease of the Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health. Many fantastic community benefits, such as a branch medical campus of UCCS, will be coming to Colorado Springs thanks in large part to Chris' hard work. It is important to remember that these one-time bonuses were paid within the overall budget and personnel policy structures approved by City Council."


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