Washington D.C. Trip Costs Taxpayers Thousands

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An update to an 11 News investigation we first brought you last week. The city and county spent thousands of dollars sending representatives to Washington, D.C., some of the travel was on the taxpayers' tab.

The reason for the trip was to sell Colorado Springs, the whole Southern Colorado region, to the rest of the nation when it comes to economic development, jobs and military spending. City and county leaders told 11 News it was necessary, but it came with a pretty big price tag.

"We look at what's going on in transportation and frustrations that our citizens feel that we're not getting our fair share this is the opportunity for us to be at the table," El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said.

But in this tough economy what did this cost? For county commissioners, 11 News was told the taxpayer tab was about $2,000 or more per person. That's a total of $14,000 for the seven county representatives.

Clark told 11 News it was a valuable experience that will come back to the taxpayer tenfold.

"Sometimes it's necessary to fund a trip like that," a Springs resident said.

"I have no qualms about paying for that through my tax money so they're well informed," another agreed.

As for the city of Colorado Springs, it cost more than $2,200 to send Councilman Tim Leigh. And about $1,300 for Mayor Bach. That doesn't include the $900 registration fee. We asked the chamber about it and a spokesperson said they’re not sure if they'll charge the mayor that fee or not.

"I just think that we have to be very cautious right now in these economic times, I'm a school teacher and we're just seeing a lot of funding being cut," a Springs resident said.

For those who went to D.C., they said they got a lot of important work done, for all of us. Still, we wondered, couldn't some of those meetings with Colorado's congressional delegation happen when they come to Colorado?

"When you're meeting face to face on their turf it makes a huge difference to the attention that they're paying,” Clark said.

We’ve been asking about all of this for almost a week. Answers have been coming in pretty slowly, but it’s about $18,000 tallied up so far. We've been told that a lot of the travelers haven't turned in all of their expenses yet.
From October 14, 2011

The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce organizes a trip every year for local leaders to interact with lawmakers and policy makers. The aim of the trip is to generate ideas to help shape the future of the Pikes Peak region.

It's a business trip--and costs taxpayers big bucks.

11 News has been digging for answers over the last few days, trying to find out just how much of your money is being spent, just how much is really necessary.

11 News received confirmation Thursday that the cost for one city councilman, Tim Leigh, to go on this trip is $2,243. A city spokesperson said that is for flight, hotel and conference fees.

The city spokesperson tells 11 News the information on others on the trip won't be available until after they return.

El Paso County acknowledges that the trip is being paid for with county funds, for five commissioners. Assuming the costs are about the same as what they are for Leigh, that's at least $10,000 for the five commissioners.

While in D.C., these community leaders are meeting with Colorado's congressional delegation, and are also attending meetings with the future leader of Fort Carson.

The agenda, obtained by 11 News, also includes sessions with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and with other organizations in the D.C. area. Thursday had time set aside for sight-seeing.

This trip is nothing new; it is the 13th year in a row that the trip has happened. Not all of the 70 who attended used public funds either: many did pay their own way, or at least used money that was not coming from taxpayers.

11 News is concerned with the ones who had their trip funded by taxpayers' money.

In a statement 11 News obtained Thursday from the president of legislative affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, Stephanie Finley, the importance of local government engaging with the federal government was stressed.

"The federal government has a huge impact on every citizen in El Paso County. We have a duty to engage in substantial conversation with our Colorado-elected officials and national decision makers as a collective community, both private and public sector," Finley said in a statement.

Is a trip, in a time when the city is struggling with severe budget problems, necessary for this sort of conversation, or could some of these meetings with federal lawmakers happen in Colorado Springs? 11 News is continuing to seek answers.

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