Colorado Springs Chief of Staff Steve Cox presented a capital improvement and stormwater funding plan to the City Council on Monday that he’s hoping will go to voters in April.
He’s asking that the City Council put a question on the ballot seeking voter approval to issue $160 million in sales and use tax revenue bonds to pay for street improvement, parks, public safety and stormwater projects. The plan would not increase taxes or fees, he said. Instead, the bonds would be paid back from the city’s general fund.
“This bonding proposal will allow the city to accelerate spending on key capital improvement projects,” Cox said.
The plan would allow the city to spend $15 million a year to improve streets, $8 million a year on flood control projects, $4 million a year on public safety equipment and structures and $2 million a year on parks. The projects would be completed in five years and paid for over the next 20 years, city officials said.
Cox said it is a way to address the city’s highest priority needs.
“It’s not meant to solve the problem,” he said to the City Council. “But it is meant to make headway.”
The council will decide in December whether to put the question on the April ballot.
The council had endorsed a regional stormwater funding plan that went to voters Nov. 4 and would have created a partnership with El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain to plan and fund flood control projects. It would have assessed a fee on every property owner in those four communities and most of El Paso County. Voters turned down the plan.
Cox said this bonding plan would provide $145 million and pay for about 70 capital improvement projects that have been on the high-priority list, including bridge rehabilitation on Fillmore over Monument Creek, citywide tree trimming, emergency generators, and improvement on the Fountain Creek channel.
“The executive branch sees this as an intermediate, half-decade action plan to get us moving on high-priority, backlogged CIP (capital improvement projects) in all four function areas,” Cox said.
Council member Jan Martin called the plan a temporary fix. The backlog of flood control projects has been estimated at $700 million.
“What is the longer-term solution?” she asked Cox.
Cox said the long-term plan is still to be developed. The city has identified a backlog of capital improvement projects that total $1.3 billion.
“The longer solution is obviously going to involve property tax increases or sales tax increases,” he said.
Council member Merv Bennett called the plan a step in the right direction. Bennett was on the hot seat this month when he faced the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board members, who accused the city of Colorado Springs of violating the Clean Water Act because of its lack of permanent stormwater and flood control programs. The board sent Colorado Springs a letter Nov. 19 of its intent to sue over the matter.
“I appreciate you putting these issues together,” Bennett told Cox. “But I hope everyone doesn’t believe this solves the problem.”
Cox would not comment on the potential lawsuit, but he said the city has been working on flood control issues beyond spending. It recently updated its drainage criteria manual, which has stricter, rules for developers issues that affect water quality and water flow.
In 1999, Colorado Springs voters approved the Springs Community Improvements Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds to pay for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund of about $7.9 million a year, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016.
“With the SCIP bonds retiring in 2015 and 2016, the cash flow currently dedicated to those bond payments can be re-purposed to the proposed bond payments,” a handout from Cox to the City Council said. Under the proposal, the city would spend $11 million a year out of the general fund to pay back the bonds – about $3 million more than the current bond payments.
Council member Don Knight said it’s a finance plan that raises concerns.
“This year’s (2015) budget includes $1.5 million from reserve to balance the budget,” he said. “Now this is another $3 million liability on us. We are increasing the debt payment by $3 million instead of staying at $7.9 million.”
The city would take the $3 million from its Capital Improvement Project fund, said Kara Skinner, the city’s CFO. “That would still leave $8.1 million in the general fund CIP budget for other pay-as-you-go CIP projects and emergency projects,” she said.