Will voter-approved stormwater fee help with Colorado Springs' police, firefighting shortage?

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Now that the stormwater initiative in Colorado Springs has passed, Mayor John Suthers says it frees up money for hiring more police and firefighters.

But will it be enough to make more than a dent in the extreme shortage plaguing the city in both departments?

In 2016, the city committed to spending $460 million over 20 years to fund its stormwater program. All of that money was coming from the general fund, preventing it from being spent on other city services.

As 11 News has previously reported, the city has been suffering a shortage in the police and fire departments, with adverse effects from both.

With a shrinking fire department in a growing city, the firefighters have been suffering the brunt of the consequences. To keep the trucks fully equipped for every 911 call, firefighters have been forced to work two or three 24-hour shifts straight, rather than go home after completing a single day-long shift.

"That's really a tough phone call to have to tell an employee you're not going to go home and it's going to be three days before you get to see your family," said Chief Ted Collas.

For police, it's meant longer response times to 911 calls.

"It's really sad ... we have a city of 200 square miles, over 400,000 population and the police just can't be everywhere at once," said one sergeant, explaining the issue.

Thanks to voters agreeing to a stormwater fee, the general fund has been freed up to help with the staffing woes.

"With this additional revenue, here's what I'm asking the council to approve: 20 new police officers, eight firefighters, two other fire department personnel, one fire inspector," Suthers said the day after the election.

The stormwater fee goes into effect July 2018, so it's possible the new firefighters and police officers could start training then.

But it takes about 18 months before new recruits can actually hit the streets.

And though it's a start, CSPD Chief Pete Carey says the number Suthers has proposed still falls far short of the 100 new officers the department actually needs.