An approach to stormwater management is the talk of the town in Colorado Springs

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach continue to wrangle over how stormwater funding will be handled. Council president Keith King on Friday said council does not want to expand city government, after Bach chastised council earlier in the week.

Colorado Springs Utilities committed to mitigation of floodwater on Fountain Creek in 2009 as part of its conditions when it obtained a 1041 land-use permit from Pueblo County for Southern Delivery System.

“We’d like to clarify that council is not endorsing the creation of a physical department nor do we have plans to expand city government. We are advocating for the creation of a virtual department, or more accurately, a stormwater appropriations or dedicated funding source,” King said. “This virtual department is strictly an accounting mechanism to inform citizens of how much revenue we are allocating to stormwater and ensures that the funds are solely dedicated to stormwater.”

Council has proposed using $2 million from this year’s fund balance to begin work immediately.

Earlier this week, Bach told council he does not favor creating a new department after the council sent him a letter Oct. 14 saying it would propose a stormwater appropriation department. A “virtual” department would assure the public that stormwater needs are being considered, King said.

“We must commit money from of our general fund for operation and maintenance. We must show our citizens we are serious about addressing the stormwater drainage issues. We must show our friends in Pueblo that we are resolute about how much we are spending,” King said. “Most importantly, we must make sure, as council, that we can audit the numbers and prove our expenditures to the citizens.”

Bach claims $25 million for stormwater, including wildfire mitigation, is included in his budget proposal for next year. The mayor wants to extend current bonds to pay for $100 million in the most critical stormwater needs over five years. Colorado Springs stormwater needs are estimated at about $535 million.

Council is working with an El Paso County stormwater task force to develop a sustainable funding source for projects, as well as a regional approach.

From KRDO (Jonathan Petramala):

Thursday, a couple dozen residents showed up to the first “Stormwater Solutions Town Hall” at the Conservation and Environment Center. Officials sat back and let residents pick through possible solutions to come up with what they believe is most feasible.

“The solution is a regional approach,” said homeowner Sharon Owen.

A regional approach and a willingness to invest in stormwater infrastructure were shared by those in attendance.

“This is what happens when you don’t invest,” said homeowner Bruce Fogarty. “It’s going to be expensive but it’s something that absolutely needs to be done.”

After nearly an hour of residents brainstorming and presenting their ideas, task force members say they plan on taking the ideas brought forward here and at two more town halls to come up with what they hope is a final solution.

“If you don’t plan it, if you don’t do it right you’re wasting your time and energy,” [El Paso County Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey] said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

“We don’t want to grow government,” Bach said in his remarks to City Council this week.

Bach was reacting to a letter the nine council members sent him earlier this month outlining their plan to create a Stormwater Department and take $2 million from the city’s 2013 rainy day fund to start it.

The idea, said council president Keith King, is to get moving immediately on stormwater projects. He said it would show residents that the city is spending money from its general fund on stormwater projects. And it could be viewed as a good faith commitment should the city council ask residents to approve a fee or tax to pay for stormwater projects, he said.

Bach said his plan to pay for stormwater projects does not require a new tax or fee.

“The prior city council imposed a fee,” Bach said. “It was well meaning, but it didn’t resonate well.”

A short-lived Stormwater Enterprise and its fee was rescinded four years ago and left the city without a dedicated funding source to pay for millions in stormwater and drainage needs, which has been the focus of nearly two years of meetings and discussions. Colorado Springs sits in the northern section of the Fountain Creek Watershed – a 927-square mile watershed that includes three counties and eight municipalities. Legally, the city is responsible to keep the community safe and move stormwater through the city to avoid flooding, keep a safe environment and ensure water quality.

Bach wants residents to extend the voter-approved Springs Community Improvement Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds and paid for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016. If voters extended the bond program, the city could spend $175 million on projects in five years and pay back the debt in 20.

The money also could be spent on other city capital improvement projects that have been on hold, Bach said. Road improvement, bridge repair and building repair and renovations have gone untouched for years. Bach’s idea about renewing the SCIP bond program would spend $20 million a year for five years on stormwater projects, $11.5 million on roads and bridges and set aside $1 million a year for city park improvement, he said. And instead of a new city department, all of the projects would be handled by the city’s public works department.

But City Council said the mayor’s plan does not address regional stormwater concerns. A regional stormwater task force, for nearly two years, has described stormwater issues as regional saying that if money is spent north of the city, in the county limits, it benefits entities downstream. The taskforce envisioned a regional tax or fee that would be a permanent source of money for the stormwater and drainage projects, which by some estimates is nearly $700 million. This approach would be a pay-as-you-go method and a fee or tax also would cover the estimated $11 million in ongoing maintenance needs to keep the existing stormwater channels, drainage ponds and other systems in good shape.

“One of the things we need to look at is the entire watershed, from the top of El Paso County to Pueblo,” King said.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The dust-up between City Council and Mayor Steve Bach over stormwater took another turn today when Council President Keith King issued a statement disputing remarks Bach has made in recent days.

As reported on the Independent’s blog on Oct. 16, Council issued a letter to Bach seeking more detail on the 2014 budget and declaring it wanted to create a stormwater department.

More stormwater coverage here.

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