From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):
Double-digit increases in Denver’s storm drainage and sewer fees moved a step closer to reality after the proposal on Tuesday cleared its first vote 9-3 before the full Denver City Council.
But the measure, which would hike the storm drainage and sewer fees over five years, still faces pointed questions from council members before a final vote June 13. The council also has set an hour-long public hearing that night that is sure to draw pointed comments from critics who question the city’s approach, the largest project that would benefit from the fees and its link to the state’s Interstate 70 project through northeast Denver.
Under the proposal, the annual combined bills for an average single-family home would increase by $116 by 2020 to pay in part for six-year project plans and some operating costs. Storm drainage rates would increase 66 percent, while sanitary sewer rates would go up 24 percent. Otherwise, both are pegged to inflation.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m 100 percent for a $383 million investment into our stormwater enterprise fund and our infrastructure,” Councilman Rafael Espinoza said, given the city’s extensive drainage needs.
But as he worked his way down a list of questions he still had for officials from Denver Public Works and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Espinoza was among council members who focused on whether the controversial Platte to Park Hill project should take up the lion’s share.
Of the total storm drainage projects, $206 million raised through borrowing would go toward that project in northeast Denver, supplementing other sources to cover estimates that range between $267 million and $298 million.
The project, which drew the ire of attendees who wore signs on their shirts saying “NO To Storm Water Fee Increases,” is aimed at improving drainage in basins that lack natural waterways. But opponents have focused on the lack of benefit for some areas while the greatest protection would be closer to I-70, which the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to lower below grade in coming years.
Last year, the city and CDOT struck a cost-sharing agreement that includes state money for the city’s drainage projects, which would supplement the new I-70 drainage system.
Some council members said the connection troubled them. But Robin Kniech portrayed it as the city smartly responding to CDOT’s inevitable request for a contribution to the I-70 project by offering to undertake a needed project that would benefit neighborhoods as well as the highway.
“We have been chronically underfunding this infrastructure,” she said. Jolon Clark, also speaking in favor, noted that the fees proposal doesn’t specify any projects, and those planned by Public Works — including the bonds for the Platte to Park Hill project — will need future approval.
Joining them in voting yes were Kendra Black, Albus Brooks, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Herndon, Mary Beth Susman, Debbie Ortega and Wayne New — the final two characterizing their votes as tentative until after the public hearing. Espinoza, Kevin Flynn and Paul Kashmann voted no, and Paul Lopez was absent.