Colorado Springs: Council takes up issue of discounted water rates for city parks, city reserves to be tapped to cover shortfall

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

“I think there’s a strong assumption, at least by the executive branch and maybe some others, that there should be a municipal rate as it relates to parks,” Chief of Staff Laura Neumann told council members.

The idea was floated even before Bach was mayor. It came up a few years ago when the city cut parks watering to balance the budget. Utilities, which offered the city a water conservation rate pilot program that has saved more than $1 million, says a discounted water rate would mean that ratepayers would absorb the costs.

“At the end of the day, we’re talking about other people’s money,” Utilities CEO Jerry Forte told the council. “We’re talking about ratepayer dollars, and if we were to find opportunities to reduce costs, that money belongs to ratepayers first.”

After a long debate Monday, a council majority decided to tap the city’s reserve to balance the budget and to direct Utilities to work with the city on a water rate solution before irrigating kicks into high gear.

The city’s proposed budget is up for first reading Tuesday, and the council’s decision to dip into reserves is likely to trigger a mayoral veto.

“I believe I can say confidently that (Bach) does not believe we should dip into the general fund reserves and so if that is the direction of council, I believe he will veto that,” Neumann said.

The council can override a mayoral veto with six votes.

Council President Scott Hente said the Bach administration’s assumption that Utilities would cover the $545,000 gap was unreasonable.

“In making that assumption, you’ve put us between the proverbial rock and a hard place,” Hente said. “If — and this is a big if — if we were to accept that, now all of a sudden we have a $545,000 problem on the Utilities side of the equation.”

Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said the city was asking for a “special subsidy” for parks…

Leigh said the debate about discounted water rates for parks highlights the “inherent conflict of interest” with council members also serving as members of the Utilities Board.

“I think the real important point is we could resolve this as City Council. We can override Utilities Board. They are subservient to us, so we could resolve this very quickly if we chose to,” [Councillor Tim Leigh] said.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here and here.

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