There will be a hiring freeze and no raises for Colorado Springs city employees--that was the bombshell dropped during Mayor Steve Bach's first State of the City address.
The city’s first strong mayor talked about his plans to save money in the city’s budget Thursday.
The mayor said it will be hard to make a big impact on the 2012 budget, since it has to be approved by early fall. But he says he wants them to make a sprint.
General city employees are in a hiring, promotion and wage freeze. They are also in what Bach calls a zero base budgeting improvement program.
“Starting with zero, every department will prove to us why you're there, why we are doing this, and how we should do it, how we can do it most efficiently and effectively to deliver the maximum service of every tax dollar spent, and retaining valued employees,” said the mayor.
A record number of people attended the speech Thursday. 750 people were on hand. That’s the highest number in 20 years of the State of the City address. The current record was 450. People were anxious to hear what the strong mayor had to say.
"He's got the ability to motivate and energize. I would like to hear more about our national environment and how we are pushing some of the energy politics forward in the community,” said guest Eric Cefus.
The mayor talked about the benefits of reorganizing into a strong mayor government. This means people report directly to Bach, instead of going through the city manager and nine elected officials, something he believes is a “step in the right direction.”
Since Bach is a strong Mayor, he is not a member of the City Council. For this reason, Thursday he pledged to work closely with the City Council.
He also made a plea to residents, asking the community to step up and take an active role. Bach wants everyone to “step up” to help make Colorado Springs and better place to live and work. One of his main goals is to build community unity and pride, and gain momentum for the city.
“I think the message of everybody collaborating is a very strong and important message and I am looking forward to meeting with him and talking to him about how we can lead as a region environmentally and with energy,” said guest Carol Sturman.
One of the Mayor’s main goals is to make the government more supportive of businesses in the community, including small businesses and emerging companies.
"We are going to strengthen the business climate in Colorado Springs and we are going to keep it there and become the best city in this country in which to do business with city government. We are going to move from cannot to can do,” Bach said. He adds, “We need to find every way we can to be supportive of our business sector. I’m committed to that and we will deliver. I will be back here in a year and hope I will have very specific positive results to tell you about. But we are on our way now and it will be a high priority for me.”
He talked about his plans to improve the business climate.
“What that means is streamlining city processes, being more responsive on requests for permits and approvals, shortening up that time frame, working to make sure our regulations are reasonable. There is sentiment in the community that regulations are unreasonable. We need to make sure fees and charges we have are fair. So that’s a process we will move through quickly. We want to move from appearance of being cannot do to can do,” said Bach.
Bach said some of the challenges the city faces is the 9.6 percent unemployment rate, that leaves 36,000 people out of work. He also said Colorado Springs is losing young professionals and is gaining in population but losing jobs. He wants to turn this situation around and stimulate job creation.
The mayor says he wants to hear ideas from city employees. He is also asking every department to rethink everything they are doing to generate new strategies.
The mayor also wants to bring more parks to Southern Colorado and improve the Memorial Health Systems.
He also plans on strengthening the city’s relationship with the state government. Bach plans on meeting with other mayors across the state to talk about their successes and failures.
The mayor also talked about revenue challenges, rising pension costs, and infrastructure.
Part of his reorganizing plans, the mayor has turned economic development into economic vitality. With this he has four focus points: improving the business climate, building goodwill with primary employers, supporting success of small businesses, and implementing his Spirit of the Springs initiative. That initiative is his plan to unite the community.
“With the city council we will find solutions, we will seize opportunities, and with you we will move forward,” said Bach.