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Pueblo City Council discusses diverting millions of earmarked dollars behind closed doors

Diverting millions of earmarked dollars behind closed doors

PUEBLO, Colo. - Pueblo City Council has been holding private meetings to talk about millions of taxpayer dollars.

The money comes from a half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 1984. The tax is earmarked for economic development and has been renewed every five years since its inception. 

But that reserve has become so big, now at $41 million, that council wants to earmark $25 million for various city improvement projects. 

Councilman Chris Nicoll has accused council of breaking the state's Sunshine Law by meeting secretly to draft a ballot question that would allow council to use money for other projects, including $4.7 million to fund the LED street light project.

"It needs to come out and the public needs to be aware, and there needs to be a public discussion on this issue. It can't be done in closed meetings," Nicoll said.

Councilman Steve Nawrocki said he is open to using the tax fund for other purposes. "I have said publicly before that I felt it was too restrictive, that it should be more flexible," he said.

The Pueblo Economic Development Corporation (PEDCO) makes recommendations to city council on how it should spend that money. PEDCO President and CEO Jack Rink told KRDO NewsChannel 13 in the last two years, PEDCO has used a portion of that money to create 428 jobs in Pueblo County.

"Without the half-cent sales tax fund, I'm convinced that we would not have been able to bring some of these companies to town," Rink said. 

Ultimately, the city has the final say on how to spend that money. But if council wants to use the money for anything but economic development, council needs to get approval from voters in November before it can proceed.

Rink said he was unaware that council was drafting a ballot question. "We did not know that work had been going on in private," he said. "We believe that the intent of the taxpayers was those funds should go toward economic development directly."

City Council President Sandy Daff will hold a press conference on Friday at 11 a.m. in council chambers to talk about Nicoll's allegations and how the city wants to spend taxpayer dollars.

Daff remains adamant that council did not violate state law by discussing public policy during executive session. "I am entirely comfortable that we did not violate the Sunshine Law," she said.

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