When I first ran for City Council four years ago, the question I heard the most was, ‘Do you support selling Colorado Springs Utilities?” The answer was, “No,” and it still is. I would like to give you some reasons why I encouraged and sponsored this ballot question for raising the percentage from 50 to 60 percent vote of the citizens before it can be sold.
First, it makes our city more responsive to the citizens it serves. Constituent calls to City Council members about utilities are as frequent, if not or more so, than city issues. Citizens appreciate the local control of utilities and the service that it brings to the community.
Second, it allows for unified investments in utilities infrastructure to help our city grow from water to electricity. A great example of that is the Southern Delivery System. Colorado State University (CSU) can grow the utility necessary to keep the city growing. How would that be possible if we sold the electrical division to Xcel Energy?
Third, raising the percentage to 60 percent of the citizen vote, keeps our rates low. The delicate balance between residential and commercial rates is handled best by the City Council. City Council has set up Budget, Strategic Planning and Personnel Committees to study and become more engaged in governing utilities. Most recently, when residential rates were growing faster compared to our surrounding cities, City Council did the research and decided not to raise residential rates for this year. This keeps the cost of service in line with commercial usage.
Fourth, it protects the city from selling one part or all of CSU without strong support from the community. Recently, Colorado’s votes made it more difficult to amend the state constitution. That won because citizens are concerned about changes that go into the constitution. Our charter changes also need to be more difficult to increase the protection for utilities. This extra 10 percent required — to vote in favor of selling CSU — will help make sure that selling it is the right thing to do.
Lastly, if CSU was sold, what would the one-time spending of the cash raised be spent on? Most likely, it would serve as a one-time fix to roads and stormwater infrastructure. Colorado Springs needs to support road and stormwater, year after year, from the City General Fund. It is always tempting for government to spend a one-time income to supplant the spending by the general fund. That does not work. That is why on the road improvement tax and the TABOR surplus question, I required a “Maintenance of Effort” to be included in the ballot language. We cannot continue to substitute general fund dollars that continue year after year to be supplied by one-time income dollars. All you have to do is think back to when we turned off the streetlights to remember that that does not work. Selling long-term assets to pay for current bills that reoccur year after year makes no sense. CSU is an asset worth keeping and must be more valued than spending on problems like roads and stormwater. For all the above reasons and more, that is why I support raising the voter percentage required to sell Colorado Springs Utilities. I ask for your support to do the same.
Keith King is elected from Council District 3. No public funds were expended with the writing of this article.