Mayor Steve Bach is not keen on the idea of creating a city Stormwater Department – a proposal the Colorado Springs City Council wants to pursue.
“We don’t want to grow government,” Bach said in his remarks to City Council this week.
Bach was reacting to a letter the nine council members sent him earlier this month outlining their plan to create a Stormwater Department and take $2 million from the city’s 2013 rainy day fund to start it.
The idea, said council president Keith King, is to get moving immediately on stormwater projects. He said it would show residents that the city is spending money from its general fund on stormwater projects. And it could be viewed as a good faith commitment should the city council ask residents to approve a fee or tax to pay for stormwater projects, he said.
Bach said his plan to pay for stormwater projects does not require a new tax or fee.
“The prior city council imposed a fee,” Bach said. “It was well meaning, but it didn’t resonate well.”
A short-lived Stormwater Enterprise and its fee was rescinded four years ago and left the city without a dedicated funding source to pay for millions in stormwater and drainage needs, which has been the focus of nearly two years of meetings and discussions. Colorado Springs sits in the northern section of the Fountain Creek Watershed – a 927-square mile watershed that includes three counties and eight municipalities. Legally, the city is responsible to keep the community safe and move stormwater through the city to avoid flooding, keep a safe environment and ensure water quality.
Bach wants residents to extend the voter-approved Springs Community Improvement Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds and paid for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016. If voters extended the bond program, the city could spend $175 million on projects in five years and pay back the debt in 20.
The money also could be spent on other city capital improvement projects that have been on hold, Bach said. Road improvement, bridge repair and building repair and renovations have gone untouched for years. Bach’s idea about renewing the SCIP bond program would spend $20 million a year for five years on stormwater projects, $11.5 million on roads and bridges and set aside $1 million a year for city park improvement, he said. And instead of a new city department, all of the projects would be handled by the city’s public works department.
But City Council said the mayor’s plan does not address regional stormwater concerns. A regional stormwater task force, for nearly two years, has described stormwater issues as regional saying that if money is spent north of the city, in the county limits, it benefits entities downstream. The taskforce envisioned a regional tax or fee that would be a permanent source of money for the stormwater and drainage projects, which by some estimates is nearly $700 million. This approach would be a pay-as-you-go method and a fee or tax also would cover the estimated $11 million in ongoing maintenance needs to keep the existing stormwater channels, drainage ponds and other systems in good shape.
“One of the things we need to look at is the entire watershed, from the top of El Paso County to Pueblo,” King said.
King said the regional stormwater task force wants to hear what citizens think about the different proposals.
“We have not committed to a tax or a fee as far as where we are going,” King said to the mayor. “You could very well be right that there is no interest from the citizens.”
Stormwater Task Force will host community meetings
City Council, the El Paso County Board of Commissioners and the Stormwater Task Force will host three public meetings to gather citizen input on stormwater management and discuss recent proposals to pay for the projects.
–6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Conservation and EnvironmentCenter, 2855 Mesa Road
–6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at LeonYoungServiceCenter, 1521 S. Hancock Expressway
–6:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at CheyenneMountainHigh School, 1200 W. Cheyenne Road