Colorado Springs has a budget problem. Yawn. So does about every city, state and county in the country. The Federal government is about the only entity out there than can just print or borrow money when they are short. For those living in Colorado Springs, there are also some other issues however.
1. Every government entity in Colorado is required to have a balanced budget. That means the city can’t hit their Visa card to pay for services.
2. Taxes cannot be raised without a general referendum here. In fact, if tax collections rise as a result of, say higher auto sales, they can’t even keep the money without a vote. This law, called TABOR, has made it very difficult for cities to figure out how to maintain services.
3. Coloradans in general, and residents of El Paso County in particular (of which Colorado Springs is the bulk of) are pretty tax resistant. The recession hasn’t ignored us here, and with many either unemployed or underemployed, more taxes are not exactly on the morning breakfast menu when they wake up. Low taxes are in part why our cost of living is 7.7% below the national average.
At a national level, the debates rage over “guns vs butter”. To be more specific, defense spending vs health care spending in the current environment. At the local level, if revenue can’t be raised, it comes down to some pretty basic services, like trash cans and irrigation in the parks, street lighting, police and fire department staffing and response times, fixing pot holes, bus services, etc. In Colorado Springs, the city council is having to make some tough choices. Some of them may, at some point, cause noticeable drops in city services that we all have come to expect. The watering season for our parks really doesn’t start until May, so the decision not to run the sprinklers may not even be noticed until then. Who knows, with the weather being so weird nationwide, we might even get lucky and have a wet summer that makes this completely a mute point. There are even discussions underway to possibly sell the city owned Memorial Health System. They are auctioning off police helicopters, and even sold some buses to help continue funding the commuter bus service to Denver (called FREX for Front Range Express). CNN is supposedly working on a piece using Colorado Springs as an example of the municipal budget dilemma being faced around the country.
This week I had a homeowner tell me that they are going to try and organize their neighborhood to raise money for the watering and otherwise maintaining the neighborhood park in Old Farm. Old Farm Park is part of the network of parks connected by the Homestead Ridge Trail. It has awesome views, some nice play areas for the kids, and services an area of about 1200 homes. I was totally impressed by the level of commitment being expressed to not let this recession rob the quality of living in Colorado Springs in the Old Farm area. Perhaps this is just one park, but perhaps this will be duplicated in other areas, and just perhaps this sort of thinking will take hold across the country. Until this recession is over, maybe individuals and neighborhoods will chip in to do what government can’t afford to at the moment?