At the intersection of Platte and Nevada stands the statue of General William J. Palmer, the town's founder. Palmer sits on his horse two blocks away from the Colorado Springs city hall. Last Thursday evening the main room was crowded and the corridors and meeting room were filled to the brim with some 500 people who are concerned about saving their jobs and the city Palmer founded.
The City Council will now decide who will stay and who won't, including the police and fire employees, who comprise two-thirds of the city's budget in the general fund, some 1,200 personnel. Another 600 civic employees could be impacted by job losses by Thanksgiving Day as the city tries to trim salaries in an effort to fund their operations for 2010.
At the meeting were city engineers, code enforcement people, sitting next to police and fire fighters, bus drivers, educators, park workers, maintenance people, historians, educators and civic volunteers. Everyone is expected to take a big hit as the bean counters sharpen their pencils.
Obvious by their absence at the meeting was the business community. Perhaps these people were scared away by all the talk of a "tea party" spurred on by the local newspaper and the talk radio station. In any event, no business person came before the dais to say anything in support of the local city government.
"They chose to remain on the sidelines," said council member Jan Martin, author of 2C, a ballot measure that would stem some of the job losses by raising a mill levy on property taxes.
What bothers Martin is that she is unable to get the message out to a larger base that 2C is a well thought out measure begun two years ago. But she faces severe opposition by a well financed anti-2C campaign. Interestingly, her opponents are supported by the two major news outlets, KVOR, a talk radio show that features Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, and the ultra-conservative Gazette Telegraph, which lately has been targeting public employees as the chief culprits in the crisis.
"What bothers me is how do we get a voice when the media is focused on right-wing principles."
She is referring to a Gazette Telegraph front-page bold headline that demonized the profligate workers for the city. The paper then published an article penned by break-away councilman Tom Gallagher who delivered a manifesto on fiscal cleansing just days before the hearing.
"If people want to hear both sides of the 2C issue, where do they go?" Martin asked.
Yet, for all the local coverage there is no discovery of malfeasance or corruption in the Colorado Springs city government. In fact, the city had commissioned a year-long non-partisan peer audit among 24 top economic specialists. They delivered a report that said the city was relying on an unsustainable strategy of trying to link a balanced budget to sales tax revenues during a recession. This was something no other city has done by design. The worst that can be said about the city council's operations was that it had not factored in any wriggle room in which it could finance itself in hard times.
Chuck Murphy, a general contractor and developer in town the past 50 years sees the current fiscal crisis as a problem rooted in the fact that many citizens are from someplace else. These new people have theirs and they don't want to share it. Nor are they interested in the city's past or its accomplishments. All they want is low taxes.
"That we are in this situation is a sad commentary. A majority of the people who will vote in the next election won't understand how we got in this mess or how dire the circumstances are. They'll just want to fix the situation by getting rid of the current council."
Murphy, a supporter of 2C and Martin, whom he describes as a "fearless woman", points out that there is a non-partisan way to work through the crisis, but not at the expense of losing the connection to the past.
"When General Palmer founded this city the first thing he did was buy 10,000 trees to plant in order to create a beautiful garden-like place where hard-working people could appreciate the natural splendor of the region. That speaks volumes about this city."
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