From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
It may be time to pass the hat again for the district trying to fix Fountain Creek.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday looked again at a dismal funding picture or a model for government austerity, depending on point of view.
The discussion came up as Cole Emmons, El Paso County’s assistant attorney, reviewed the formation and operation of the district for new board members. One key point was the district’s reliance on member governments to get things done. For example, Emmons’ time are legal fees donated by El Paso County.
But even in this administrative barter system, real cash is sometimes needed.
In 2013, a plan to collect $50,000 by Executive Director Larry Small worked fairly well. The largest members of the district — El Paso and Pueblo counties, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — each contributed $10,000. Fountain, a mid-sized city, chipped in $5,000. Four smaller incorporated communities in El Paso County contributed $1,400 of the $5,000 expected from them.
Prior to that, the district had been on life support under a master corridor agreement jointly funded by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
“These are anemic funds for the work we have to do,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.
The district is waiting for $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities to begin arriving once the Southern Delivery System is turned on. But Hart pointed out that money is required to be spent on flood control projects that exclusively benefit Pueblo County.
“The real focus is taking on projects that are larger than the $50 million can fund,” Hart said. “We are in the sixth year, and we are doing the best we can. Sometimes we discount the work we’ve done. It’s been spectacular.”
The district has channeled $1.5 million in grants into Fountain Creek projects in the past two years, as well as cooperating with its members to line up other projects since being formed in 2009. But it has backed off its role in commenting on land-use decisions because it lacks qualified staff to review applications, Small said.
In its first year, the district held hearings on projects that could impact the flood plain of Fountain Creek. Small now reviews applications filed in either county, although most come from El Paso County.
The district could do more.
It has the authority to levy up to 5 mills in property taxes on all residents in El Paso and Pueblo counties, if voters approve the tax. Discussions on a strategy to obtain approval were shelved in 2012 as El Paso County moved toward an unsuccessful attempt to form a regional stormwater authority last year.
“At the last two meetings, we got an earful from landowners on Fountain Creek,” Hart said. “I’d like to take a realistic look at what we should be doing.”
More Fountain Creek coverage here.