From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
In order to ensure stormwater control in Colorado Springs in the future, Colorado Springs Utilities needs to take over the job, or the city will face further legal action over the issue.
“Everything’s in place to do this,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “If this were an enterprise of Utilities, the work would be brought up to speed immediately.” Utilities controls water, sewer, gas and electricity in Colorado Springs.
Winner is suggesting adding stormwater as a fifth utility. The idea has been discussed, but has not had a champion until now.
Attorneys for the Lower Ark are wrapping up the final draft for a federal district court complaint over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act by Colorado Springs. The lawsuit has been contemplated for two years, based on Colorado Springs’ inability to find a permanent stormwater funding source. A filing is expected within 60 days.
Making stormwater a fixture within Utilities might be a way of avoiding the lawsuit, Winner said.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Merv Bennett on July 6 gave assurances to Pueblo City Council that the city would find ways to fund $18 million in stormwater control activities annually from its general fund.
Winner, who attended that meeting, was not convinced.
“They’re constantly telling us how they are doing these wonderful things,” Winner said. “But their political leaders can be recalled or choose not to run again. There is not consistent political leadership in Colorado Springs. One of the things Utilities is good at is leadership.”
Bennett also has made appeals to the Lower Ark board to hold off on the lawsuit while Colorado Springs gets its house in order. But Winner said there are no actions to back up the rhetoric.
“Merv Bennett turned it over to Colorado Springs staff. I’ve had no meaningful conversations with them in the last six months,” Winner said.
Colorado Springs voters last November turned down a regional stormwater fee concept that sprung from two years of political meetings in El Paso County.
Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater fee following a 2009 vote on a proposal launched by Doug Bruce, a tax activist who became an El Paso County commissioner and state lawmaker before he was convicted for tax evasion.
Funds totaling about $29.6 million for six Colorado Springs enterprises, and transfers from Utilities to the general fund, were to be phased out over eight years under Issue 300 on the 2009 Colorado Springs ballot. Before the election, council members had talked about making about $3.7 million in cuts annually until the total was reached. After the election, council has opted only to eliminate the stormwater enterprise, which would have generated about $15.4 million in 2010.
“Springs City Council made the wrong decision,” Winner said. “If there’s one thing that Utilities knows how to do, it’s make good decisions.
They would not have made that decision to eliminate the stormwater enterprise.”
Council in August 2010 made the determination that Colorado Springs could keep “surplus payments” from Utilities without violating Issue 300. Those payments have totaled more than $30 million annually since that time, according to a 2014 bond rating statement filed by Utilities.
“Seems like there would already be some funding available for stormwater,” Winner said. “Plus, Utilities has the engineering, equipment and experience to do the sorts of projects that need to be done.”
While council oversees Utilities, future members would be less likely to arbitrarily end stormwater funding, any more than they would remove water, sewer, gas or electric service, he added.