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Firefighters won’t weigh in on City for Champions project

Published: April 11, 2014, 7:05 pm, by Monica Mendoza

Colorado Springs firefighters will not weigh in on the City for Champions project.

Saying they decided to stay out of fray, the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighers, Local 5, will remain silent.

Board members of the association heard presentations from the city’s economic vitality analyst Bob Cope and from council member Joel Miller, who has been a critic of the project, at a recent board meeting.

Organizers of the City for Champions, a project sponsored by the city, have been collecting endorsements.  Among the groups that have publicly supported the project are the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, the El Paso County Commission, Colorado Thirty Group, the towns of Monument, PalmerLake, Fountain and Manitou Springs and  the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region.

Mayor Steve Bach said he did not ask the firefighters to endorse the project but offered to send Cope to speak to them.

“I certainly did not say I expect city employees to endorse City for Champions,” he said.

City for Champions won state sales tax funds through the state’s Regional Tourism Act program to pay for part of the construction costs of four tourism projects –  a downtown Olympic museum, a downtown sports and events center, a university sports medicine and performance complex and an AirForceAcademy visitors center.

The project has been controversial, particularly the proposed downtown sports and events center which might require a local tax increment finance district. A TIF district would allow the city to set aside a portion of sales tax generated in the district to help pay for the $90 million center. Five council members have vowed to put the issue on the ballot before approving such a district.

Council president Keith King said he believed it would be a conflict of interest for city’s leadership to ask city employees to endorse a project that could end up on a local ballot.

“The firefighters have the right to be involved,” King said. “They also should not be coerced for their support.”

Jeremy Kuntz, vice president of the association, said the board did not feel pressured to support the project. The board wanted to collect information from opponents and proponents, he said.

“We’ve been active in the political arena,” he said. “We never put aside our principles for fear of retribution.”

 Bach said he meets monthly with the association’s leadership and City for Champions came up in conversation.

“I talked with the president (of Local 5) and he was interested in learning more about it,” Bach said. “I would not be asking city employees to get involved in any endorsement,” Bach said.

Kroto said the association is approached for its support on many issues. The association, which represents about 75 percent of the city’s firefighters, typically only weighs in on issues that directly affect firefighters. For example, the group has endorsed city council candidates and supported the Public Safety Sale Tax initiative.

“Almost exclusively, we pass on getting involved,” Kroto said. “That is what is happening with the City for Champions.”