COS City Council Candidate Answers: Don Knight, District 1

don-knightDon Knight is running for re-election in his city council seat in District 3. Here are his answers to the questions we sent to every candidate across the districts. The only changes we have made are for formatting. Everything else is exactly as submitted.

Need to know which city council district you are in so you can be ready to vote April 4th in local elections? HERE is the map of the current districts. 

Do you support establishing a salary for city council members that represents this full- time position serving our city? Please elaborate.

First, thank you for noticing that this is a full-time position. Being able to fully understand each issue, City or Utilities, to make intelligent decisions on how we vote takes more than just 20 hours a week.

Currently we have 9 Council members, each receiving a $6,250 a year stipend as defined by Charter for a total of $56,250 tax payer dollars per year. In 2013, there was a ballot initiative to raise Council’s salary to one-half the Mayor’s salary plus benefits. The Mayor currently receives $103,370 and benefits run approximately 25% of salary. For 9 Council members to receive $51,685 a year plus benefits would be $581,456 or an increase of almost $525K. As head of Council’s Finance Committee, I know trying to find this additional money in the budget would be extremely difficult, especially with our Police and Fire salaries approximately 5% behind the national average.

Eventually, given how we are the 40th largest city, we need to pay Council a living wage. However, I believe the best interim solution until we bring the rest of our employees up to par is to hire additional staff for Council. Currently, we only have 5 staff members to help all 9 Council members, only one whose job is to do research. If we could hire at least one researcher for every two Council members (with one dedicated to the Council President), then Council would become less of a fulltime job.

What is your opinion on current parks funding?

It is no secret that are parks are underfunded. We are still over $1M short of where we were before the recession of 2008 – 2010. However, Parks is not the only area where we are short in funding. Besides Police and Fire salaries mentioned above, they also have capitol programs required by law such as a expanding our evidence room. In Public Works, storm water eats at least $17M a year from our budget, in good times and bad. From my 20 plus years of government budget experience, I know Parks is also going to be lower priority than Public Safety and Public works. Therefore, I have been pushing during my entire first term for an adopt-a-park program to bring in private dollars to help lower the byte in our tax dollars. We already had some success with the Friends of Ute Valley Park raising over $100,000 and the new Pickle Ball courts at Monument Valley Park being primarily funded by private dollars.

In your opinion, how do we drive economic growth for our city?

In 10 years of business development in the Defense Industry, I learned one must first protect your base and then focus your growth. For Colorado Springs, our base is military and tourism. In my first term, I championed a Pentagon, local bases, and CSU partnership to strengthen us from any Base Realignment and Closures. And I support using LART funds for the Olympic Museum to grow tourism.

For future growth, I plan to focus on medicine, aerospace, and cyber. During my first term, I voted for modifying the Memorial lease for a new Children’s hospital and voted for a new Penrose St Francis hospital on Centennial. When built, these two hospitals will bring in a multitude of high paying medical jobs.

I supported creating a Commercial Aeronautical Zone (CAZ) around the airport. Experts predicted the CAZ would bring in 600 jobs. To date it has brought in over 2,000 jobs. In my second term, I will strive to make the entire City a CAZ so new aircraft companies can locate anywhere in the City, such as along Garden of the Gods Blvd, and still receive the same tax credits.

I also co-chaired the crafting of recommendations to re-generate North Nevada. The North Nevada recommendations are now a Master Plan with cyber a major keystone. I will ensure the work continues and not die on the shelve.

What are the top three (3) issues you feel need to be addressed by local city government during the upcoming term.

My top three issues are: 1) retain and attract new businesses; 2) improve our infrastructure without raising taxes; and 3) keep Utilities citizen owned. I described how I will accomplish the first in question 3 and will address the third in question 6.

For infrastructure, when I was sworn in for my first term in 2013, our City faced a major backlog of infrastructure needs, especially roads and storm water. We addressed our roads through Issue 2C – a five-year, 0.62% sales tax increase. I supported that tax increase. Also, I will be supporting a five-year extension of that tax in 2020. In my second term, I will work to ensure that the extension is at a reduced rate (e.g. 0.50%).

I supported the 2C tax increase with the understanding that we would solve our storm water problem within our current budget. Therefore, I do not support Council unilaterally authorizing a storm water fee, a tax by any other name is still a tax, without a vote of the people. With the potential of $12M in TABOR excess from 2016 and 2017, I firmly believe we can, and should, fund our storm water needs within our budget.

I also oppose the City raising the Cable Franchise Fee for Comcast, CenturyLink, and Falcon Broadband, from $1.53 a month to approximately $7.50 per month. All three cable companies pass this fee directly onto its customers — read your cable bill — it is again a City tax by another name.

What is your opinion on Colorado Springs becoming a Sanctuary City?

I am totally against it.

Do you feel that the Colorado Springs Utilities board should continue to be made up of City Council members? Please elaborate.

Two major questions are facing the future of Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU): ownership and governance.

On Ownership, CSU is a four-service (electric, gas, water, and wastewater), not-for-profit utility, owned by the citizens of Colorado Springs. Some have suggested in the past, and others will try again in the future, to sell the electric and gas portions off to a private, for-profit company. While the City would receive a one-time payment; it would pale in comparison to the increased electric and gas rates we would pay.

As your Councilman, I worked hard to stop any attempt to sell your utilities. I also support the ballot initiative to raise the minimum voter requirement to sell utilities from a simple majority of 50% plus 1 to a supermajority of 60%. If re-elected, I will continue to fight to save your CSU.

On Governance, after an 18-month study, City Council voted 8 to 1 to continue to serve as the CSU Board–with some significant policy changes. Before that final vote, I was in the minority (4 to 5 votes) to ask the voters to switch to a separate, elected Board of Directors.

I believe that we need Board members who have the business experience to set the direction and policies for a $1 billion a year company. Moreover, a board that is accountable to all the citizens of our City, and not a board appointed by and answerable only to a select few.

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