40th Biggest City? Colorado Springs Council District 5 Candidates Weigh In

Mar 17, 2017

Colorado Springs City Council Districts
Credit City of Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs City Council District 5 lies in the center of Colorado Springs. It's home to the Olympic Training Center, Palmer Park, the old North End, and the Knob Hill neighborhood.

Incumbent Jill Gaebler is facing a challenge from Lynette Crow-Iverson.

91.5 KRCC spoke with both candidates about what their priorities are, what it means to be the 40th largest city in the country, and taxes.  Full audio and text excerpts are below, in the order in which the candidates appear on the ballot.
 

Jill Gaebler

Jill Gaebler
Credit Courtesy Jill Gaebler

Incumbent Jill Gaebler thinks of District 5 as the bridge to all the other districts because it's right in the center.  Gaebler served in the Air Force and worked for local nonprofit Greccio Housing, and emphasizes her ability to work efficiently within a budget and with taxpayer dollars.

She's seeking reelection because she says it would allow her to "hit the ground running" and move forward with projects.  She wants to work on a solution to stormwater issues and reduce response times for emergency first responders.  She also highlights parks and open spaces.

On what she sees as the most important issue facing Colorado Springs:

I believe the most important and concerning issue is growth. And when I say that, it's more unsustainable type of growth. In my time on City Council I've really realized that we are a geographically enormous city of almost 200 square miles. And it's really hard for our city to maintain such a large geographic area with not enough density of people who are paying taxes.

Growth is inevitable. It's going to happen. And it's actually important for our city to grow and thrive, but how we grow to be more sustainable and able to support ourselves self-sufficiently and sustainably is really important. For me that means we quit annexing outward and growing greenfield… and laying new lane miles of road, new utilities while we can't maintain the existing infrastructure that we have.

On whether or not there's an imbalance between property tax and sales tax:

Our city is very reliant upon sales tax. We currently receive about eight percent of our revenue from property tax, but property tax is a much more stable way of receiving taxes. When there is any sort of economic downturn, people quit buying things. So our sales tax immediately plummets. That happened back in 2006-2007. I served on the city's park board at that time before I was on council, and our budget in the parks department went from about 18 million to 3 million in a couple years. I found myself crying at meetings as we were turning off the water and not picking up trash because the city is so reliant on sales tax.

However, every time the city does any sort of polling to the community about increasing taxes, by and large, the idea of increasing property tax is not an amenable solution to our constituents. I don't know if it's just an education, of them understanding what the issue is between sales and property tax, but they are always more amenable to increasing sales tax. A lot of that has to do with their feeling that they control that in some way, they can buy less and that some of that tax burden is put on tourists and visitors who come here and they're not the only ones paying it.

Mayor John Suthers often refers to the fact that we're the 40th biggest city in the country, and that we should act like it.  How do we do that?

Well I think that of course the first thing that comes to my head… we pay our city council members $6,250 a year. And although I am grateful and honored to be in this position, I think people don't really realize sometimes that we're a big city, and we have big city issues that require competent leaders overseeing those issues. I'm not going to say that your current council members aren't competent. They are. They are mostly, by and large retired military officers. They're good people. I also served seven years as an Air Force officer. I didn't retire, but I am currently, at 50 years old, the youngest person on our city council.

What that speaks to is we deny a certain demographic in our community the ability to serve because they cannot afford to give up their current job. So the voice is not being heard from mostly our young community members... But even bigger than that, we are a big city and I think we need to honor that fact by paying our leaders well so we can ensure we're getting the best quality of leaders. Denver for instance, is really not that much bigger than us. They're about 750,000. Their landmass is half of ours. They have 13 council members, and they pay them very well. They all have a big staff. And I don't think that we need to go anywhere like that, but I think we're a big city and I think that is the biggest thing we could do to really support our leaders and help them to be better leaders for our entire community.

Lynette Crow-Iverson
Credit Courtesy Lynette Crow-Iverson

Lynette Crow-Iverson

Lynette Crow-Iverson says she's running for council because she sees great momentum in the city, and thinks a businessperson on council would add value to the opportunities that lay ahead.  Crow-Iverson champions her work as a leader on the recent 2C initiative, which voters approved to fix potholes.

She characterizes District 5 as a large district with a mixture of people and a lot of potential, and is focused on establishing a business friendly environment, a multi-modal community, and ensuring public safety.

On what she sees as the most important issue facing Colorado Springs:

Right now the biggest issue is stormwater. We, you know, have been sued by the EPA for I believe 460 million and now … Pueblo has joined that lawsuit. And we've just neglected it for so long because of a downturn in economy and a plethora of reasons that I won't go into but I think stormwater right now is the biggest issue facing Colorado Springs. We have to find a long-term solution.

On whether or not there's an imbalance between property tax and sales tax:

I do believe there's an imbalance. Eight percent of property tax goes to the city budget, just eight percent. The city is you know, solely run on sales tax. So when we have a downturn in the economy, that's what hit the city hard and that's where you know, certain things like our infrastructure is neglected. Polls that the city has ran: the citizens don't really like a property sales tax. I think we just need to educate them a little bit more about what that looks like. Because eight percent of your property tax going to the city isn't that much considering we have a very low property sales tax in Colorado Springs. So I do think there is a pretty big gap there, but it's going to take a lot of education.

Mayor John Suthers often refers to the fact that we're the 40th biggest city in the country, and that we should act like it.  How do we do that?

I think we're actually starting to. Watching the Olympic Museum come out of the ground in the Springs, the other two projects for C4C coming up …we have the Air Force Academy Visitor Center that's going to, in the next few years, come up. You've got the partnership with UCCS and Penrose Hospital for the … high altitude sports center that's going to go at UCCS. … We're already seeing a lot of construction going on, you see the hospitals are going up. You know, that means there's workforce. That means there's a need. All the signs and symptoms are there. I just think it's an exciting time and I do think we'll be a mid-weight, level city in no time.