October 30, 2014 Vol. 13 No. 49
Council considers additions to budget
Written by Jeanne Davant   

Good weather, huge crowd add to Coffin Races' success

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Another edition of the Emma Crawford Coffin Races is in the history books, and most spectators will probably agree admit there was no lack of warped and weird creativity in Manitou Springs last Saturday.

What’s believed to be a record crowd was on hand to enjoy mild, sunny weather and to watch 63 costumed five-member teams race their mobile homemade coffins down Manitou Avenue.

The best time of the day - 19.84 seconds – went to the Colorado Springs Utilities Wildland Fire team, competing in a special category for fire departments. Topping the civilian entries was Team Vogel with a 24.66 clocking, while Ghouls Gulch and MGA Home Healthcare earned second- and third-place honors with times of 24.88 and 25.53

Other awards included:

Best Entourage – Peaks and Pasties

Best Coffin – American Medical Response

Best Emma – And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead.

Photos by Larry Ferguson

Manitou Springs City Council discussed funding requests for 10 additional budget items Tuesday night.

Among the requests were cost-of-living increases for city employees, and funding for operation of the free shuttle next year and for completion of Phase II of the Manitou Aquifer study.

These items are not yet included in the city’s proposed $11.9 million budget for 2015. The budget projects spending and estimates revenues for the general fund, which contains most of the city’s operating expenses, and 11 other funds. Council will not make final decisions on what will be funded until after the Nov. 4 election.

Salaries constitute a large portion of the proposed budget. Most of the city’s 57 employees have been brought up to at least the minimum salary for their pay grade.

Finance Director Rebecca Davis presented alternative budget projections including a 2.1 or 2.9 percent cost-of-living increase. The 2.9 percent figure was based on a Denver-Boulder-Greeley inflation index, while the 2.1 percent figure represented an inflation statistic for Colorado Springs.

Councilman Gary Smith said he would prefer to begin a merit-based program next year.

“We’ve been talking about it for so long,” Smith said. “I think merit’s a fair way to go. I feel it’s the best way to evaluate employees.”

City Administrator Jason Wells suggested a cost-of-living raise next year and implementation of merit increases in 2016.

A related budget request would allocate $10,500 to the Mountain States Employers Council, of which the city is a member, for assistance in implementing a merit-based system.

To have Mountain Metropolitan Transit operate the shuttle again next year, the city would budget $91,000 from the general fund, use $34,000 in leftover funds from a two-year federal air quality grant and allocate $100,000 from Barr Trail parking lot revenues.

Mayor Marc Snyder said the city had considered buying its own shuttle buses, but “buses are a lot more expensive than we thought.”

Councilman Randy Hodges said he thought the city benefited from running the shuttle this past summer, and Councilwoman Coreen Toll said she considers it a top priority.

Council also considered a request from the Mineral Springs Foundation for $78,000 to complete Phase II of the aquifer study.

Phase I of the study, conducted by John Shomaker & Associates of Albuquerque, recommended drilling a well at the top of Williams Canyon and taking other measurements to monitor the aquifer’s health and study how it is recharged in order to evaluate the effects that commercial development of the springs might have. Phase II of the study would also determine how the Waldo Canyon fire affected the aquifer.

A moratorium on further commercial development “is going to stay in place unless you do the study or acquire more water rights,” Mineral Springs Foundation President Dave Wolverton said. “Right now our only path forward is to understand that…. We will not only learn what we can develop but we will also learn what other checks and balances we need to pay attention to.”

Wells said an alternative to committing the full $78,000 was to have other hydrologists review Phase I and give opinions on the plan for Phase II. That would cost $2,000 to $3,000.

Councilwoman Nicole Nicoletta indicated she favors proceeding with the second phase.

“I feel like we’ve got an expert right here,” Councilwoman Nicole Nicoletta said. “I understand getting a second opinion; it’s thorough, but I feel like the work has been done and the people we need are already right here. I think it would be crazy not to do it.”

Other items under consideration for inclusion in the budget are additional flood coverage for City Hall, hiring of a public works administrative assistant, a new sign for the Schryver Park Pool and Fitness Center, purchase of digital transmitters to continue broadcasting local TV channels to Manitou Springs residents, purchase of wildlife-resistant trash containers and partial funding of a Manitou Heritage Center history pockets project.

Before voting on a final draft of the budget Nov. 18, Council will hold another budget work session Nov. 11. A second and final reading of the budget is set for Dec. 2.