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Pueblo voters approve major changes to city government - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Pueblo voters approve major changes to city government

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PUEBLO -

It's been more than a century since a single elected mayor in Pueblo had the kind of power to run the City's affairs that the yet-to-be elected Strong Mayor will have. Attorney Nick Gradisar of the Pueblo Needs a Mayor Campaign lobbied City Council to put the Strong Mayor question on the ballot because he believes the City needs a full-time elected leader who can be a champion for the community.

"Their only job everyday is to get up and figure out how to make Pueblo better," Gradisar said.

The Strong Mayor will have increased power. Under the Charter Amendment approved with the passage of Question 2A, the mayor can set budgets, hire and fire department heads and make appointments to public boards and commissions. However, Gradisar said that power comes with checks and balances that don't currently exist in City government.

"The mayor's appointment of department heads will have to be confirmed by the City Council, that's not the case right now," Gradisar said. "Right now, they're just appointed by the City Manager without Council confirmation."

It'll be an attractive post, offering an initial salary of $150,000. Gradisar said the pay scale is on par with the current salary range for the City Manager. It's also well below the compensation received by both of local college presidents and the school district superintendent.  He believes a competitive salary is necessary to attract qualified candidates.

"If the young person comes forward and they have leadership skills but they have a family to support and can't afford to volunteer their time, then they don't have to worry about bankrupting their family if they make those skills available to the community because the salary is gonna be such that we can attract some people."

Thanks to the generosity of Pueblo voters, the new mayor will assume office in a City already on the rise. Voters passed Questions 2B and 2C which establish a temporary sales tax increase and a temporary Streets Enterprise Fee. Each is expected to generate between $3.5 and $3.6 million a year to pay for 24 additional police officers and the repaving 21 major streets.

Police Chief Troy Davenport said the department is already accepting applications for the new officers. He hopes to begin a new police academy in February or March.  While the Chief is excited about the positive impact the new funding bring, he wants the community to understand that the change won't happen overnight. A standard police academy lasts 24 weeks, and the cadets will then take part in a mandatory 16-week field training.

"We are in better shape certainly today than we were two years ago. Things are trending in the right direction," Davenport said. "With these new officers, we'll have to be patient, but we'll see the fruits of those officers, I'm confident"

With the passage of 2C, Pueblo residents can expect to pay and extra $1 per month on their water bills to fund the Streets Enterprise Fee. Businesses will be charged on a sliding scale based on the size of the acreage they own.

Councilman Ed Brown explained that during the Great Recession, the City was forced cut funding for many capital improvements in order to balance the budget. Much of the roughly $4 million per year that Pueblo receives from the Highway User Trust Fund currently finances salaries in the public works department.

The new enterprise fee should generate around $17 million over the next five year to pay for repaving and reconstruction projects on the City's most heavily traveled roads. Brown said Council Members and the City Manager are currently working with local utilities to schedule the paving work.

"Just to make sure that the Board of Water Works and the gas company and utilities aren't going to go and tear up the street in a few years," he said.

According to City records, the last mayor of Pueblo who truly ran the City's affairs was John T. West.  He held office from April to November of 1911 when the community called for a City Charter Convention that set up the Council-City Manager style of government.

A second charter convention was called in 1950 that expanded the number of seats on the City Council to 14. It also gave the title of "mayor" to the current president of the Council. Four men (E.D. Rickords, William L. Warner, Marion F. Hunter and Carl D. Bryan) all served as Mayors of Pueblo between January of 1950 and December of 1953 when a third charter convention was called that reduced the size of the Council and did away with mayoral titles.

Gradisar said the new mayor will be required to provide an annual State of the City Address and Report to the Citizens.  They will also be obliged to set one year and five year goals for the community which will be reviewed by the City Council.

"The citizens are gonna expect to see those results and if they don't, somebody's gonna be held accountable."

A special election will be held in November to elect the new mayor. They will serve an initial 5 year term before returning to the four year re-election cycle. The extra year was added in order to align mayoral campaigns with the City's existing odd-year election cycle.

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