COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A week after first suggesting it during his State of the City address, Mayor Steve Bach repeated the urgency for additional revenue to pay for a backlog of infrastructure needs in Colorado Springs.
Bach made his appeal at his monthly media briefing downtown.
The mayor said he changed his stance on considering a tax increase because the local economy continues to be sluggish, not enough jobs are being created, and the city lacks an influx of young professionals to balance a growing retirement population.
As an example, Bach mentioned one of the biggest future hopes for the city's economy -- the Banning Lewis Ranch property on the city's northeast border. The city annexed more than 21,000 acres in 1988 and expected nearly 200,000 people would live there by 2040.
However, the original owners declared bankruptcy in the recession of 2011 and much of the subdivision remains undeveloped. The previous owner, Texas-based Ultra Petroleum, is finalizing plans to sell the land to local developer Nor'wood.
"I think we have to rethink Banning Lewis Ranch," Bach said. "Not suggesting in any way that it not be developed, but I think it needs to be more of a blend of, hopefully, business. I'd like to see some business campuses out there, more commercial, with some residential."
Bach said he's confident that Nor'wood will make the subdivision successful, but it still won't help the city address all of its needs.
"We're already stretched very thin on our fire departments, police substations all of our infrastructure," he said.
The mayor is pushing for either a sale of bonds or a tax increase to raise $175 million over five years. He said precise details, including whether to put a question on a ballot for voters, must be determined by the City Council.
"I hope to have a conversation with them about that soon," Bach said. "We can't do this soon enough."
The mayor said a new revenue stream could have the added effect of stimulating the local economy by creating jobs, if the city hires private contractors to work on paving streets, installing drainage systems and other projects.
While some residents are open to the idea of a tax increase, others are skeptical. John Sunderman said he's not convinced of the need for extra revenue when the city has been criticized for paying high salaries to current and former staff.
"Why are we having to, first of all, pay (their salaries)?" Sunderman said. "And now we're being asked to pay more taxes. So I think if they look at things like that, I think they could come up with the money that they need."
City Council members were out of town or in meetings Tuesday and were unavailable to comment on the tax increase idea.