Public funding for stormwater projects to be on November ballot

By  | 

A possible solution to stormwater system issues for Colorado Springs is being left in the hands of the voters. On Tuesday, city council voted 6-3 to put a set of proposed stormwater fees on the ballot for El Paso County's November election.

The votes, opposed by Councilmen Don Knight, Bill Murray and Andy Pico, approved an ordinance revamping the city's existing code on stormwater fees alongside the official ballot language to be used. The city will also need to pay $137,265 to hold the election, according to 11 News partner The Gazette.

Every family in Colorado Springs could soon have to pay $5 a month to fix the city's stormwater system.

City council voted 6-3 Tuesday to move forward with a plan to put the issue on the November ballot.

Community leaders say this money is necessary to pay for dozens of projects to fix our aging stormwater system.

Colorado Springs does have funding right now to improve the drainage near Weber and Moreno so the intersection doesn't flood. But they lack the millions of dollars needed to fix other trouble spots.

In 2005, Colorado Springs City Council voted to impose the stormwater enterprise fee without putting it to a vote of the people. The move did not go over well and the fee was short-lived, ending in 2009.

This new proposal would replace that.

"It's a very important measure for the community in terms of a public safety feature that we need to provide sustainable funding for, and this is a good program to do so," said Dirk Draper, president of CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Draper said city council wasn't intending to replicate exactly the fee structure from a decade ago.

"The fee structure has been simplified. We heard last time that it was too complex, that its basis on impervious surfaces was too difficult to make sure it was accurate, and so a structure just based on area of commercial properties and just a flat-fee for residential structures helps address that. It's no longer a tax. It's actually commendable of council to bring this before voters because it's not necessary as a service fee. It's recognized that this is a service that the city provides for public safety, for our citizens."

It's also an obligation made to Pueblo and other communities downstream.

In November, the EPA filed a lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs that alleges the city failed to "adequately fund its stormwater management program," which causes problems for cities to the south.

"We have an agreement with Pueblo to provide at least $17 million in funding every year for stormwater infrastructure, and we really do need this fee to get those critical improvements made in our community," said city council President Jill Gaebler.

Mayor John Suthers supports the idea, saying that the fees would free up that money from the city's budget.

"We are currently taking about $17 million out of our general fund to pay for stormwater maintenance and capital projects, and so to that extent, those general fund dollars are not being used to enhance our public safety," Gaebler said.

Draper, who spoke in front of city council Tuesday encouraging them to vote in favor of the fee, said he was optimistic people would understand the importance of paying for stormwater projects.

"We're a community that is fiscally conservative, but people support good programs. We've seen that through measure 2C, we see that through the RTA and through the tops tax, things that people support that are well-defined, that are finite in purpose and time, that's what our voters support and I think this program is one of those."