Grow the Economy, Colorado Springs District 1 Candidates Say

Mar 13, 2017

Colorado Springs City Council districts
Credit City of Colorado Springs

District 1 in Colorado Springs is situated northwest of downtown.  It borders the Air Force Academy and contains Garden of the Gods and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Incumbent Don Knight, retired from the Air Force and defense industry, is facing a challenge from local businessman Greg Basham.  91.5 KRCC sat down with Knight and Basham separately to talk with them about the challenges facing their district and the city, taxes, and their visions for Colorado Springs.

Those conversations are below, in the order in which the candidates appear on the ballot.

 

Don Knight
Credit The City of Colorado Springs

Don Knight

Incumbent Don Knight says he's often accused of being someone who "digs down into the weeds," but he says he studies every issue that comes up for a vote. It's a reputation he says he's proud of, and that it proves he works hard for the citizens of Colorado Springs and his district.

Through his Air Force and defense industry career, Knight says he has over 20 years of dealing with government budgets.  He chairs the budget committee for city council, and as part of council's role as the Board of Directors for Colorado Springs Utilities, he also chairs that finance committee.

Three takeaways from the conversation:

On what he sees as the main issue facing his district and the city:

I think all over the city, it's economic growth: how do we bring businesses in?  For our district, the area that needs the most improvement is North Nevada Avenue, from Fillmore up to that campus, Garden of the Gods…  And so I co-chaired a task force that came up with recommendations on how to best renew that area… and now we have a Renew North Nevada Master Plan, and that's going to set the stage for really bringing back that part of the area.

For the city, we have more needs than we money coming in… Every city has that, but we have some very valid needs.  So there's two ways to grow our revenue.  One is to raise taxes, which I'm not for, and the other one is to grow our economy.  So the more businesses we go in, the more revenue we'll bring in to the city, the more we'll be able to handle and so on.  Retaining our current businesses… first thing you have to do is protect your base… and then we have to attract new businesses. 

One of the things we did in the last four years on the council, we created a commercial aeronautical zone around the airport.  This gives a tax break to any aircraft businesses that are right next to the airport, they don't have to pay the sales tax when they buy inventory for whatever they're manufacturing… That was predicted to bring anywhere from 200-600 high paying jobs to the city.  It's brought in over 2000 jobs. …I want make the entire city a commercial aeronautical zone, so that people can locate on Garden of the Gods corridor that does some sort of aircraft manufacturing, you can get that same tax break that they're getting if they were right next to the runway.

On the balance between sales and property taxes when it comes to generating city revenue:

It is a very unhealthy balance.  We are so dependent on sales tax… Sales tax is very volatile to our economy. So when people stop spending, the revenue stops coming in.  Property tax, your property tax is only reassessed every two years.  And so, we really need more of a balance between property and city tax revenue so that we can ride out recessions and not have to take all the draconian actions like we did from 2008-2010. 

Now for turning around then and raising taxes in general, no, I don't support that…  I did support 2C, which is our road tax…  That five-year period is not going to be enough to get everything done.  We are going to have to extend that, so in 2020, I'll be very supportive again of renewing that sales tax for another five years.  Hopefully we can lower it down… but we're going to have to renew that. 

So, since we raised taxes for one problem… I think it's incumbent on city government to fund everything else in house.  The biggest infrastructure backlog we have is stormwater…. I'm not in favor of [bringing back the stormwater fee]… 

I am supportive, there's going to be an issue on the ballot, for us to be able to keep up to $6 million in both '16 and '17… If it hadn't been for the recession, that's money we would have been allowed to keep anyway because with inside the TABOR limits, if we'd not had to ratchet down during the recession…  I'm supportive of TABOR, but that is a flaw in TABOR, that you don't recover as fast from a recession; you're not allowed to recover as fast as you're penalized when you go into a recession.

On his vision for the future of Colorado Springs:

I'm just trying to look at what I can offer in the next four years.  30 years from now, I hope we're still not Denver.  I hope we don't ever lose our small town [attitude], that includes our Western heritage.  I hope we do have some iconic things…  Hopefully we have a very vibrant economy.  We can capture, if not some corporate headquarters, some major regional things.  People come here because it's a great place to raise our families, because it's so close to the mountains.  I don't want a skyline that completely blocks out the view of the mountains. 

Greg Basham
Credit courtesy Committee to Elect Greg Basham

Greg Basham

Local businessman Greg Basham says stepping up to serve voluntarily is important for government to work properly.  He sees the current moment in Colorado Springs as "one of the most exciting couple of years in our city in a very long time." 

Citing the leadership of Mayor John Suthers and Dirk Draper of the city's Chamber and Economic Development Corporation, Basham says it's time to take advantage of the excitement, quickly and responsibly, and bring what he calls a business sense to city government.

Three takeaways from the conversation:

On what he sees as the main issue of his district and the city:

The biggest issue facing my district is the biggest issue facing this whole city.  We need to grow this economy.  Jobs are important to us.  Our people are leaving this city.  Now, we've got a few back lately, but people have been leaving this city. When we look at the struggles that business people face right now, they can't find enough people to hire…  We need to bring those people back, and we can't do that if we don't have the jobs here available.  Right now we have several jobs available for them, but it hasn't been a trend. 

So we need to grow this economy, we need to diversify this economy.  Everyone wants to grow it.  The big thing we need to focus on is not just growing it, but diversifying it, so we're attracting someone who maybe isn't a [Department of Defense] or DoD subcontractor-type person.  We need to have a greater range of jobs… I don't want to shrink [the Department of Defense industry]… but we need to grow outside of that.  We need to reach out for different companies, new industry, that will excite our youth and keep them here in town.

We need to let the mayor and the Chamber to go after that. When we get City Council involved, we muddy the waters. 

On the balance between sales and property taxes when it comes to generating city revenue:

We've used sales tax many times in the past to help us out… It's a great flexibility to have, what we have to do is be sure we're using it responsibly.  One of the biggest complaints I've heard about it isn't that people aren't willing to pay that tax.  It's that there have been times in the past where we didn’t spend the tax on what we promised we were going to do.  So I think as city council members, we have to .. we don't make the judgment of what's happening, but we have to be the people to approve that tax and when we do that, we own a part of that.  And we're going to have to live to spending it on exactly what we promised.  And not just spending it on what we promised, notifying the people. 

Property tax, we have a very low property tax.  And people here stand strong on that.  It's a touchy issue.  We have a very low property tax, and that brings some struggles.  I will say this.  If we don't fix our problems locally, then we rely on the federal government.  That's not what we want to be.  We can either fix these by raising money locally, or we're going to wait and wait and then the federal government's going to step in with their grant or their money, which is never as effective.

On his vision for the future of Colorado Springs:

If I had a vision for the city, it's that as parents, we've done such a good job that our kids start staying.  It's simple.  That's the litmus test to me.  If our kids start staying… the reality is that says so many other things.  When they get out of high school, when they get out of college, that there's so much to do here, that we've made this city fun and exciting for them.  That it's got the culture that they want to be part of.  That is has the job that they need to stay.  That it has the affordable housing they need to buy their first home…

I'd love to see the Department of Defense every bit as big of our community as it is today, but instead of it being 50%, I'd like to see it be 35%.  Again, not shrinking them, but having so much diversity that they're every bit as big, but a smaller percentage of our city.

I would like to think that we've done such an intelligent job in the development of the city, that instead of when we say the word "developer," people have that negative overtone, I think our leaders have misrepresented that, that people say "thank you."

To see all districts and their candidates, visit our 2017 municipal election page.  Content will be updated daily until all district interviews are posted.