Colorado Springs: Stormwater enterprise demise leaves $82 million worth of projects to compete for general fund dough

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck):

Stormwater Enterprise manager Ken Sampley unfolds a large budget graph labeled “DRAFT” in big gray letters. He circles one total: $66,145,000. That was the estimated cost in 2006 of completing Stormwater’s 26 top-priority drainage projects. He circles another number: $82,790,676. The estimated cost for completing the same 26 projects in 2009 dollars.

Stormwater began work in 2007, with a backlog of more than $300 million in projects. So far, Stormwater hasn’t put much of a dent in that. “We never got to the point where we even got close to our $60 million,” Sampley says. “If we can’t get close to the $60 million, why even worry about the next couple hundred million?” On average, Stormwater collected $16 million a year in fees, and spent about $8 million annually on capital projects, leveraging the money where possible. The rest went to other needs: In 2009, over $4 million was spent on maintenance and another $1.7 million to maintain mandated federal water quality standards. The rest was sucked up by engineering, planning studies and administrative costs. Over three years, fees produced just $22.5 million for projects. Stormwater leveraged that to nearly $30 million but still finished less than a third of those top-priority projects.

One project that Stormwater won’t complete has certain consequences. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it will declare a northeast section as a 100-year floodplain if repairs and updates aren’t made to the Templeton Gap levee. The floodplain area contains more than 3,000 properties and 5,000 structures. With no Stormwater funds, the Templeton Gap project, which could cost up to $6 million, won’t get done, and most lenders will require property owners within the plain to buy flood insurance. While Stormwater fees cost a single family home $25.80 to $163.80 a year, flood insurance will cost many times that amount. Councilor Scott Hente has fought hard to keep his constituents from paying those big insurance premiums. After 300 passed, he wanted to keep Stormwater fees for at least two years, so Templeton Gap could be completed. But he was in the minority. And his fighting spirit on the issue was tempered when he found out a majority of the floodplain residents voted for 300. “You’re saving yourself a few bucks a year,” Hente says with astonishment, “to incur the luxury of spending $1,000 a year on flood insurance.”[…]

With no fees, the city will have to fork over money for emergency stormwater repairs. It’ll also have to pay for a federally mandated basic stormwater program costing about $1.75 million a year. If the city doesn’t pay, it could face fines of up to $27,500 per day for each water quality-degrading “incident” from the Environmental Protection Agency, plus an additional $10,000 in daily civil fines from the state. If an incident isn’t properly reported or is deliberate, the state can also levy criminal fines of up to $25,000 a day. But the death of Stormwater grieves none so much as Utilities. It loses a crucial partner in controlling rainwater runoff, which eventually makes its way to Fountain Creek — the lightning rod in the city gaining approval for its Southern Delivery System.

More stormwater coverage here.

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