Posted 6:38 PM 3/13/2013 : Distrust and disagreement over city ballot language
COLORADO SPRINGS - As ballots for the 2013 city election arrive in mail boxes across Colorado Springs, there is already distrust and disagreement surfacing over the wording of the two ballot issues.
Question one would transfer about up to $1.6 million a year from the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales tax to the city for parks maintenance.
Susan Davies, director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, says the money is certainly needed. It's what's not on the ballot that worries her.
"There's no guarantee that at the end of the day parks maintenance will really improve," Davies said. "That's what we all want."
Davies lobbied city council earlier this year to include a "maintenance of effort" clause that would keep future councils and mayors from raiding the parks budget once the TOPS money starts flowing in.
Mayor Steve Bach said doing so would complicate his ability to balance the budget.
"Think about that, if we're going to do that for parks; do we do it for transit? How about the police department; how about the fire department?"
"Ethically, we need to keep that in the parks budget, only in an emergency would I support not doing that and I've said that all allong."
Davies says it's not so easy to trust that city leaders will always do what's right.
"That sounds fair, but is an emergency if sales tax revenue is down next year?"
As for the second question, pay raises for council members, the mayor says to vote no.
"It's actually very confusing," Bach said of the wording. "Frankly, it reminds me of the county commissioners third term ballot language."
The issue would increase council members pay to half of the mayor's salary. The language doesn't mention that the mayor earns $96,000 a year.
"It's an increase in pay from $6,250 per year to $48,000," Bach pointed out.
The group Better Pay Better Council pushed for the ballot issue which was referred by city council on a 5-4 vote. Tony Gioia is puzzled by the mayor's criticism.
"I think it's somewhat disingenuous of the mayor to say that," Gioia said. "Because he did come before our young professionals group last year and suggested that this was a good way for us to get involved in local politics."
His group believes a competitive salary would be a big enough incentive to attract younger professionals to run for office. Most couldn't afford to live on the current stipend of $6,250 a year.
Gioia also believes that requesting an exact dallor amount would only lead future ballot initiatives for every pay increase.
The election is mail-in only. However, ballots can be dropped off through April 2 at the following locations: