From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A rift between Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach widened Tuesday over the issue of stormwater funding. Colorado Springs City Council voted Tuesday to spend $35,000 to support a stormwater task force, matching $35,000 each from Colorado Springs Utilities and El Paso County, for a total of $105,000. Council also voted to hire its own legal counsel for stormwater issues.
There has been pressure from Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to fund stormwater projects as part of Colorado Springs’ environmental commitments relating to the Southern Delivery System.
The move comes as the task force is moving toward putting a stormwater tax on the November 2014 ballot as a way of addressing a $900 million backlog in stormwater needs through a regional approach. It also reflects dissatisfaction with Bach, who has refused to participate in stormwater task force meetings.
City Attorney Chris Melcher angrily contested the move, claiming that his office has attorneys with expertise in stormwater, but had never been asked to advise council on stormwater. He said the city charter does not allow conflicting legal opinions and he questioned the expenditure both by council and Utilities.
Several council members rebuked Melcher, asking why no one from his office has attended high-profile task force meetings, and why he has favored Bach on matters related to stormwater. “I understand you’re hired by the mayor, but that’s not my issue,” Council President Keith King told Melcher, adding that if it were possible, council would fire him. “We have not been given the kind of service that we need.”
“If you pass this resolution and decide to act, it is in violation of the charter,” Melcher said.
Council has worked with El Paso County for more than a year to develop a regional approach to stormwater, but now fears that it would again be underfunded as the mayor moves ahead with a separate approach to lump infrastructure needs into one funding scheme. “I’m concerned that stormwater would be folded into all the other infrastructure needs,” said Councilman Joel Miller.
Larry Small, a former councilman who is the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, urged council to continue the regional approach, saying it has worked well on other issues such as transportation in the Pikes Peak area.
Doug Bruce, a former county commissioner, state representative and convicted tax evader, contested council’s move, saying it is a waste of money that doesn’t solve anything. Bruce said the money would be better spent cutting down trees that have been allowed to grow in Fountain Creek.
Paul Kleinschmidt, of Taxpayers for Budget Reform, opposed spending money on the task force as well. “We could spend billions, but we can’t stop the flooding,” he said.