Colorado Springs: an anomoly or model of the future?

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When I was a kid growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado it was almost paradise. The town was small (some 29,000 inhabitants) with plenty of wide-open spaces surrounding a well laid out downtown grid, a wonderful parks system, great weather and plenty of outdoor recreational activities close by.

Today the town has a population of 420,000 people and is barely recognizable, except for the downtown core, to former citizens like me. The Springs (as locals call it) population boom, and subsequent sprawl, has come from two sources: the military and numerous religious organizations.

Fort Carson, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) are the prime military stakeholders in the community.

Focus on The Family with its 45-acre campus north of town and 1,200 employees is but one of 80 religious groups that have moved to town.

As pointed out in a recent article entitled "Doing Less With Less" in Governing Magazine, Colorado Springs is getting a lot of attention because of its finances.

The town has some of the lowest ($55 per capita) property taxes in the nation. City revenue has been derived from a local sales tax. But with the economic downturn, receipts from that sales tax have plunged.

As a result, Colorado Springs found itself at the ended of 2009 with a nearly $40 million revenue gap for this year.

Quoting directly from the Governing story: "So to save money, the Springs slashed its budget and enacted a series of severe service cuts. One-third of the city's streetlights were turned off to reduce electricity costs. The city stopped mowing the medians in the streets (at one point earlier this summer, the medians were so overgrown with weeds that the city was in violation of its property maintenance code).

"The parks department was hit especially hard-its budget was gutted from $17 million in 2009 to just $3 million this year. In addition to closing the pools and restroom facilities, the city removed all trash cans from its parks, since it could no longer afford to collect the garbage."

The story goes on with a litany of other parks problems and then goes beyond aesthetics and recreation to "the city has cut 550 employees from its workforce by eliminating positions through outright layoffs. Of the 1,600 municipal employees left, 1,200 are police officers or firefighters. Municipal bus service has been reduced by 100,000 hours meaning buses no longer run in the evenings or on weekends-a problem in a place where the vast majority of transit riders have no alternative to get to work. The police department auctioned its three helicopters on the Internet. Spending on infrastructure projects has essentially ceased, and the city faces a $700 million backlog in capital needs."

Is this a chilling example of what is going to occur in more cities across America or an isolated and somewhat extreme case?

To read more and make your own decision, go to www.Governing.com


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