#ColoradoSprings: Is Issue 2A a springboard to outsized government spending?

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

While Mayor John Suthers touts stormwater fees as a route to financial stability for Colorado Springs, others see them as a symptom of the city’s insatiable appetite for cash.

Some worry the city will inevitably raise the fees, which appear on El Paso County’s November ballot as Issue 2A.

According to the ballot language, the city can raise the fees if ordered to do so by a judge, to come into compliance with state and federal laws or to abide by any intergovernmental agreements preceding June 1, 2016.

A high-profile lawsuit filed against the city by state and federal governments or an intergovernmental agreement the city entered into with Pueblo County last year are the two most likely causes of future fee increases.

Suthers argues that any increase from the agreement with Pueblo would be minimal and 2A is a proactive effort to mitigate high-dollar judgments against the city in the ongoing lawsuit.

If passed, the fees would charge homeowners $5 a month and nonresidential property owners $30 per acre each month. The fees would last 20 years and are expected to raise as much as $18 million a year for the city’s stormwater obligations, which currently are met using the general fund.

With a dedicated stormwater funding source in place, money freed in the general fund would be spent hiring new police officers and firefighters, Suthers said. If 2A passes, the city will be in good financial shape for the next two decades, he has said.

But Councilmen Bill Murray and Don Knight, who oppose 2A, are dubious.

Knight said the city’s wants will always be greater than the budget allows. The general fund has increased in recent years and the city can afford to continue paying for stormwater that way.

And Murray said new police officers and firefighters serve a “Trojan horse” and open the door for fee increases.

In April 2016, the city entered into a $460 million, 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to complete 71 stormwater projects. The city’s annual investments in those projects increase
every five years and average $20 million a year over the life of the agreement. The investments currently sit at $17 million a year.

If 2A passes and revenue hits the $18 million estimate in 2019, the first full year the fees will be in effect, the city can cover the $17 million investments. But in 2021 the city’s scheduled investments increase to $19 million a year, leaving a $1 million deficit.

Suthers said he expects growth to help cover the increases, but money from the general fund can also help.

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