COLORADO SPRINGS — On the first Monday in October, the mayor of Colorado Springs is legally required to submit a balanced budget to City Council.
For 2021, the proposed General Fund budget is $348.9 million. That's a 5.3% increase over the budget for 2020, meaning a $17.6 million difference.
The increase in the money is mainly because of re-budgeting $20 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The federal funding was received by El Paso County, and had to be spent on expenses related to coronavirus. However, the city could also put it toward the police or fire department's payroll. "That allowed us, essentially, to move $20 million that we otherwise would have spent in 2020, to 2021," said Mayor John Suthers.
Mayor Suthers said in 2020, to balance the budget, the city had to impose a hiring freeze and defer capital expenditures. Plus, "every department took a 20% cut last year in their operating expenses. Non-salaries and things like that. Those were carried over into 2021," said Mayor Suthers.
CLICK HERE to see the full 2021 proposed budget.
"We we're down 14% in March, 22% in April, we we're prepared that we were going to have some very very significant downturns. So, what we did, was cut dramatically some expenses. We imposed a hiring freeze. Today we have 200 less employees than we did last year. While we're going forward, we're not going to have an indeterminate hiring freeze, but we're going to maintain you can't hire or fill a position for four months. We're also not going to have any merit increases or market increases for city employees for 2020. But, the trade-off is, they're not going to experience, we hope, unless things go south on us, they're not going to experience any layoffs or furloughs."
The mayor said things have stabilized in Colorado Springs since the spring, and he hopes things will continue at the same pace. "You make this budget based on what you think your revenue projections are going forward. We hope that we're not going to go back into another COVID shutdown... There's more uncertainty in the air. We don't know exactly what's going to happen," said Mayor Suthers.
Two million dollars of the budget would pay for ten new sworn police positions and eight new fire positions. It would also pay for new equipment, which includes re-establishing a dedicated Hazardous Materials response team. "Prior to 2008, we had a stand alone hazmat company. And that was their job, 24/7. Since the economic downturn, we had to cross-staff an engine with hazmat, which is not as efficient," said Deputy Chief of Operations for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, Randy Royal.
Deputy Chief Royal said with the incoming eight firefighters, they will have 467 in the department. 2021 will be the fourth year that the city has added eight firefighters to the department. Before that began, a new station was created, and added 12 more firefighters, bringing it to 44 new firefighters in the last five years. "We're excited with that, because with the growth that's going on, we need to keep our staffing up and moving in the right direction... Numbers do matter as far as our ability to respond and provide the right resources, whether it's a structure fire, or even a medical," said Deputy Chief Royal.
Mayor Suthers also said the addition of the ten new police positions is part of a commitment to voters to add 120 new officers by 2022.
2021 General Fund Highlights:
· $2.0 million of increased funding for 10 new sworn Police positions and 8 new sworn Fire positions and equipment, including re-establishing a dedicated Hazardous Materials response team and the transition of a medical squad to an engine company for the Fire Department
· $400,000 of increased funding for park maintenance
· $1.7 million continued funding for the City’s Americans with Disabilities Act operating and capital programs
· $1,000,000 of increased funding for city fleet and equipment replacement
· $500,000 of continued funding to support shelter bed operations for the homeless population
· $760,000 increased funding to Mountain Metro Transit, including a route to the Airport and Amazon to be established in the 2nd half of 2021
· $1.6 million continuing support to address Information Technology core infrastructure, applications, and cybersecurity improvements and sustainment
· $2.0 million for Police and Fire sworn step increases, pay progression for civilian employees, and full-year funding for the portion of compensation that was phased in during 2020
· $650,000 increased operating and capital funding for snow/ice removal operations
· $2.2 million for critical facility maintenance - spread across the City’s many facilities including police and fire stations, parks facilities, public works facilities, and fuel infrastructure
· $500,000 increased funding for city-wide Capital Improvement Projects
· $850,000 increased funding for the state-mandated 811 utility locate team
City Council is scheduled to have a budget work session on October 20, and there will be a budget public hearing and town hall on October 26. The first reading of the budget ordinance is expected on November 24, and the second will be December 8.