El Paso County stormwater needs total $906 million, Colorado Springs on the hook for most of the bill

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Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach is saying that the city will fund their needs with operational efficiencies and through Colorado Springs Utilities. Good luck with that. I’ll bet that Utilities’ rate payers will have something to say about enterprise funds being used for general fund purposes. City voters disbanded the stormwater enterprise fund a while back so now there is really no funding mechanism for stormwater related expenses.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

Mayor Steve Bach is trying to hijack a regional stormwater task force and censor its findings, two civic leaders said Monday [January 7, 2013]. The group has worked for months to assess stormwater needs in the Pikes Peak Region and prioritize critical projects. Members of the group said they were summoned to the mayor’s office Friday and rudely dismissed by Bach, who told them he was taking over the task force and handing the project over to a consultant…

During the meeting, Bach said he stressed the importance of regional collaboration in sequencing stormwater improvements with other jurisdictions. When a regional tax was suggested, Bach said he told the group that the city would fund its stormwater requirements through operational efficiencies in the municipal government and Colorado Springs Utilities and through increased sales and use tax revenues from a growing economy…

“I explained that we are now asking for an expedited, outside engineering expert second opinion on the scope and priorities so that the community can be comfortable that the internal analysis is accurate,” Bach added. “When a participant in the meeting suggested that the task force announce publicly that the storm water backlog is much higher than previously suggested, we did request a hold on that until the outside opinion is in hand.”

But task force members Jan Doran, a longtime neighborhood activist, and Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank, disputed the mayor’s account.

Doran said the group was asked to brief the mayor Friday at 11 a.m. in advance of a series of briefings planned for the Colorado Springs City Council, the El Paso County Commission and others. A previously scheduled task force meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday at the City Administration Building is still on the calendar.

On Friday, Doran and Roberts said the group never got a chance to give its presentation to the mayor. Bach and City Attorney Chris Melcher cut them off before they could get started, Doran said…

A previous City Council created a Stormwater Enterprise in 2005 to raise money for a backlog of drainage projects after sewage spills led to fines and lawsuits against the city. The enterprise, which levied a fee on property owners, was eliminated after the passage of ballot Issue 300 in November 2009.

More coverage from Daniel Chacón writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

After finding nearly $1 billion in regional stormwater needs, members of a task force working on the project for months recommended Thursday [January 10, 2013] moving into phase two, including identifying ways to pay for projects.

But the city of Colorado Springs, which accounts for most of the stormwater needs, plans to hire an outside engineering firm to vet the numbers first. “We’re not doing this to stall the process. We’re doing to it add validity to it, to add credibility,” Public Works Director Helen Migchelbrink told the task force during a meeting at the City Administration Building downtown…

The future of the task force remains unclear. For now, it plans to present its findings to El Paso County commissioners Jan. 17 and then to the City Council in February…

Thursday’s meeting started with questions from citizens about a meeting last Friday between Mayor Steve Bach and task force members, who said they were rudely dismissed by Bach and told that their work was done.

Neumann called it “the elephant in the room.”

“Yes, what was written in the paper was mostly true,” she said.

“I mean, some of the facts are wrong. We could debate that. I could say, ‘No, that’s not exactly what happened and so forth.’ That happens all the time. But I believe there were people who felt like their ideas didn’t matter, they were not appreciated. They volunteered good time and expertise. That was not the intent. That was not the intent of the meeting. I’m very sorry for that perception because I think it made a stumble on something that’s very significant, so what I would like to do is kind of dust ourselves off and move forward and try to make a difference with what the real issue is,” she said.

Neumann said she wasn’t there to apologize on behalf of Bach, who was in Denver at the governor’s State of the State speech.

“If he could be at this meeting, he would speak for himself,” she said. “But I will say that I know that he was very disappointed that that was the perception at the end of the meeting. But he does know he had a hand in that, and it was unintentional.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A task force found $906 million in stormwater needs and is recommending El Paso County and cities in the county find ways of paying the bill. Colorado Springs, which has $686 million in needs, plans to hire an outside engineering firm to verify the figures, however.

The task force had its final meeting last week. It also identified $10.9 million in annual maintenance and permit needs — Colorado Springs accounts for $8.6 million. Another $3 million in planning and other onetime costs is needed. The task force identified only $6.7 million in sustainable funding to meet all stormwater needs — Colorado Springs accounts for $5.7 million of that amount.

The findings will be presented to El Paso County commissioners on Jan. 17 and to Colorado Springs City Council in February.

Two subcommittees strongly encouraged continuing the task force.

A citizens group said problems are getting worse and long­term funding is needed, saying it is cheaper to maintain the Fountain Creek drainage system than replace it. A business group said the task force should continue so it could priotize capital projects and work toward a regional solution.

Colorado Springs is being pressed by Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to put funding in place equal to what would have been generated by the stormwater enterprise — $13 million or more annually. Council disbanded the enterprise following a 2009 city ballot issue promoted by anti­tax activist Doug Bruce.

More coverage from Bob Stephens writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

El Paso County engineer Andrè Brackin has addressed stormwater issues since joining county staff in 1996. He’s not confident the problem will be solved any time soon.

“This scenario plays out the same every time,” Brackin said Tuesday in the aftermath of a dust-up between Colorado Springs officials and stormwater task force members. “They crunch the numbers and it turns out the same. All I have to do is pull a file from before. And then it always stops with elected officials.

“In 2000 we had the exact same scenario, just different players in different positions.”

A regional task force to study stormwater needs and prioritize critical projects in the Pikes Peak Region was formed several months ago. The five county commissioners agree that stormwater is a regional issue, to be solved with collaboration among several municipalities and entities.

But they’re not sure Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach feels the same way.

“We can’t look at this based on boundaries,” said commissioner Amy Lathen. “There is no room for turf wars. We need to deal with this regionally. Water does not recognize municipal boundaries.”

Bach, who called it a “mayor’s task force” Tuesday, said, “We certainly want to collaborate on planning and implementation. Where we part is funding.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Barbara Cotter):

…a coalition of business and government leaders from El Paso County is pushing Colorado’s congressional delegation to support a House bill drawn up with the primary purpose of funding relief efforts in the areas hit by Superstorm Sandy. But Emergency Watershed Protection funding may be included in an amendment.

“We need to make sure that amendment and the bill has the language and resources to address this issue,” said Joe Raso, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Business Alliance, which is part of the coalition. “We want to make sure our delegation — our House delegation — does what’s necessary to make that happen, and if not, what are the additional steps they’re going to take to get the necessary funding we requested? We need those dollars.”

Colorado Springs Utilities also has been involved in trying to procure the funds, and while it’s not clear how much might funnel into the Pikes Peak area or how much any one entity might get, the city utility would use the money to pay for about $12 million in repair, flood mitigation, erosion control and drainage projects.

More stormwater coverage here.

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