In November, Colorado Springs citizens will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana sales. If that passes, the effect on the Manitou Springs city budget will be traumatic.

Manitou is the only El Paso County jurisdiction that allows recreational marijuana sales. Marijuana is big money and Manitou Springs has come to depend upon it.

City Council members are worried about losing the marijuana revenue and all citizens should be concerned, as well. Nonetheless, Council has been taking measures to prepare for tax shortfalls should the November measure pass. Marijuana worries punctuate many of council’s discussions these days.

On March 20 and June 12, council held day-long retreats. The first gave us a chance to talk about goals and priorities, while the second included a frank discussion of the effects that losing our monopoly would bring.

The guiding decision was to maintain a high financial reserve and build a spartan budget.

Council and staff decided to have a 30 percent reserve going into 2023. Many cities, in normal times, try to have a 17 percent reserve. Thirty percent is almost double the norm and buys us a little flexibility to deal with uncertainty.

But 30 percent doesn’t give you a good night’s sleep when your financial foundation may collapse.

However, the world does not stand still, so council also identified eight major projects to fund. Overall, council allocated $2,646,000, enough to make some worthwhile progress on each one.

One project only recently came before council, that of having the city take on ambulance services through the fire department.

Regionally, fire departments have been extending their medical first responder roles by taking on ambulance duties. Manitou uses American Medical Response, as does Colorado Springs, but emergency personnel have been seriously concerned about AMR’s ability to provide adequate services.

Should the Colorado Springs Fire Department decide to add emergency medical transportation, AMR would have little reason to remain in the region and Manitou Springs could find itself without an ambulance provider.

Consequently, council felt that allocating $650,000 as seed money for emergency medical transport is critical. This will improve response times from 13 to five minutes, thereby providing a much higher standard of care. The department will charge for its services, like any other ambulance firm, so we expect to receive revenue to help cover our costs.

The other projects are:
• City equipment needs (heavy equipment and vehicle replacement) — $395,000;
• Repairs, maintenance and upgrades at City Hall, with an emphasis on the Police Department — $300,000; the Manitou Pool and Fitness Center — $150,000; and the fire station — $250,000;
• Hiawatha Gardens — $250,000, with an emphasis on creating a restroom facility; and
• Americans with Disabilities Act issues throughout the city — $151,000.

Council allocated $500,000 for the Carnegie Library remodel. Additionally, we intend to borrow $1.4 million for its construction (this is separate from the amended budget and will be done later).

This loan will be paid back with rent from the Pikes Peak Library District and from the library’s share of the Manitou Arts, Culture, and Heritage tax money.

The people involved with any of these projects would have been glad to get more, but given our financial uncertainty, this was a reasonable, though guarded, approach.

Should the marijuana vote fail, we may find ourselves much more optimistic and able to earmark more money. In the meantime, council members feel that it’s best to be cautious.

Despite my rather gloomy forecast, we did recently get some good news. The city has received a grant through UCHealth to provide a behavioral health first responder who will work with our police officers.

Our officers spend as much as three-quarters of their time dealing with homeless people and individuals with a variety of behavior issues. This additional responder will specialize in those cases and will be paid by UCHealth.

Police Chief Bill Otto was the architect of this, and we should all appreciate his efforts.

John Graham,

Manitou Springs Mayor

The above comments and opinions are those of the author only. They do not represent an official position for the city of Manitou Springs or City Council.

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