Colorado

Nov 19, 2012 11:44 PM by Zach Thaxton

Utilities Board approves $1 billion budget; Mayor calls CSU a 'monopoly'

Mayor Steve Bach on Monday called Colorado Springs Utilities a "monopoly" and openly questioned why a city-owned enterprise with no competition needs to spend $5 million and employ 21 people to handle its public affairs.

Bach's comments came during a meeting of the Colorado Springs Utilities Board of Directors to vote on the proposed $1 billion budget for 2013.  Bach noted that his communications office has a $750,000 budget and a staff of nine employees.  In response, CSU's Chief Public Affairs Officer Sherri Newell delineated the various roles, functions, and costs of her department's employees, noting the vastly different functions of CSU's public affairs office, as a for-service, billion-dollar corporation, compared to the mayor's office, a municipal government.  Further, Newell explained that only 8.75 employees handle direct public communcation for CSU's four service areas.  The remainder of the 21 employees serve in various other roles of information dissemination, she said, largely in regard to public awareness and safety.

"I'm not satisfied," Bach said of Newell's explanation as he left the meeting.  "She's taking the position of Utilities management, and she should, justifying her position.  I'm going to do some independent research," Bach continued.

CSU's CEO Jerry Forte, too, vigorously defended his public affairs division against Bach's criticism.  "Utilities deal with high-voltage power lines, we deal with compressed natural gas, we deal with wastewater, and it's important that we have messaging to the community," Forte said.

In other discussion, board member Lisa Czelatdko challenged the level of contributions from CSU to various local organizations, including $260,000 to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.  While some board members, comprised exclusively of the nine members of Colorado Springs City Council, also disagreed with what they consider questionable or wasteful spending, others said the contributions are justified as a way to promote business, hiring, economic growth, and community partnerships and involvement.

Ultimately, the budget proposal passed on a 6-1 vote with Czelatdko casting the dissenting tally.  Board members Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan were absent from the vote, though Leigh had stated publicly that he would not support the budget proposal.  The proposal still faces two more votes in City Council, the final one scheduled for December 11.

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