Fountain Creek: #Colorado Springs budget calls for reestablishment of stormwater enterprise

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers pitched a sweeping vision Friday of bolstering the city’s short-staffed police force by 100 officers and modernizing its aging and increasingly-decrepit vehicle fleet.

It hinges, however, on voters agreeing to resurrect the city’s controversial and defunct stormwater enterprise fee in November.

Calling it “basic to our financial viability,” Suthers pitched the fee’s return during his annual summit with City Council – framing it as a means to restore several flagging or aging city services while offering Colorado Springs a powerful bargaining chip in battling a federal lawsuit over years of neglected stormwater needs.

“We have a legal obligation (to fund stormwater projects),” Suthers said. “The question is whether we’re going to fund it at the expense of other things, or are we going to fund it separately.”

Even if a fee is approved by voters in November, the outcome would not be legally binding. But, it would provide a political mandate for future Colorado Springs leaders and lawmakers to follow, Suthers said.

From KRDO.com (Mike Carter):

“Every other large city in America has a stormwater enterprise where they charge a fee to property owners and that money is what’s used for stormwater,” said Mayor Suthers.

It’s a plan that was rejected by springs voters in 2009, but as the city continues its legal battle with the EPA and the state health department, city council members like Bill Murray say continuing to fund stormwater improvements through the city’s general fund simply won’t work.

“It’s taken a big bite out of our general fund. And I’m sure that the citizens, once they’re given the opportunity, to understand it’s either the EPA or us, that they’ll select us because we actually have the solution and they don’t,” Murray said.

The city pays $17 million a year out of its general fund for storm water obligations.

“And that means we have less money available for police officers,” Suthers said. “We need as many as a hundred additional police officers probably over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Suthers says snowplow equipment also comes out of the general fund, leaving the city strapped for cash in three crucial areas.

The stormwater fee based under the previous stormwater enterprise was based in part on a percentage of total impervious area on a property—think sidewalks and driveways. But the city says that can change over time and what used to be a front law under one homeowner change to a concrete driveway under another.

“And so you would have a residential, a tiered residential structure and it would be based on the size of the lot would equate to a specific monthly fee,” said Springs Public Works Director Travis Easton.

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