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Voters to decide on spending budget surplus in Colorado Springs

City Council approves issue by 6-3 vote

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The question of how to use a $9 million budget surplus from 2016 in Colorado Springs brought criticism Tuesday from a former El Paso County commissioner and state lawmaker.

Douglas Bruce, author of Colorado's TABOR amendment and a convicted felon on several financial charges, spoke before the City Council.

Mayor John Suthers wants to use $6 million of the surplus on needed stormwater projects and refund the remaining amount to city voters, a plan that requires voter approval in April.

TABOR requires the entire amount of a budget surplus to be refunded to voters unless a public vote approves otherwise.

The council voted 6-3 to place the question on the ballot.

Bruce had harsh words for Suthers and the council -- not just regarding the surplus, but for reaching a $460 million long-term stormwater agreement with Pueblo County last spring.

"What this council did was probably the most flagrant violation of law that I've seen in my 30 years here," Bruce said.  "The mayor orchestrated this by having me put in prison.  I couldn't object to (the agreement) because I was in prison."

Bruce called the mayor's desire to invest part of the surplus on stormwater needs "an abomination."

"This stormwater agreement now gives the mayor a reason to take part of our tax refunds," he said.  "Not just this year, but next year and probably every year after that."

Suthers defended his plan.

"You and I didn't create this problem but we inherited it," he said.  "We had to deal with a threatened lawsuit from Pueblo County and now we face a (federal) lawsuit.  We need to take advantage of these good economic times and invest in stormwater when we have the money to do so."

Suthers said the time isn't right to ask voters for a tax increase or other permanent solution to stormwater needs.

"We need to upgrade our stormwater infrastructure," he said.  "I think it's a reasonable request."

Councilwoman Helen Collins, a friend of Bruce's, joined Bill Murray and Andy Pico in voting against the issue.

"The voters should have been asked to vote on the (agreement) and for that reason, I'm voting against it," she said.

In other business, the council approved rate increases for natural gas from Colorado Springs Utilities, effective Feb. 1.

The changes include a $3.31 or 8.5 percent increase on the typical residential bill;  a 12.6 percent increase for commercial customers and a 13.1 percent increase for industrial users.

The utility said the increases follow a period of low fuel costs that saw utility refund more than $18 million to customers last year.

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