We need a stormwater plan everyone can live with, now.
Most agree stormwater needs are a major issue for our city and region. What has not been agreed to is the best way to organize and fund what appears to be a huge project slate. If recent history is a good indicator, coming to an agreement will be difficult.
Estimates have ranged from $500 million to $750 million for the region with much of the work needed within Colorado Springs. Outlying areas have some of their own drainage issues, but most also contribute to drainage problems within Colorado Springs.
Public capital-improvement needs of our region go beyond stormwater. Given deficiencies in roads and bridges, the area needs work totaling roughly $1 billion. This is a tall task that will take a smart plan, tough decisions, communication, cooperation and local governments committed to working together. Make no mistake, we have put things off too long and need to get going quickly before this problem overwhelms our ability to act.
The mayor's office has talked about taking control of the city's problem unilaterally, figuring out how to plan, finance and complete projects in a fiscally responsible way. For the administration's part, it has shown this year that economic responsibility is a core component of how it operates. This year alone, the mayor's office saved operating expenses everywhere possible, squeezing funds out of the general operating budget to help with flood mitigation and other stormwater projects. That effort, along with the help of City Council to free up more funds, helped start and/or complete urgent projects totaling more than $48 million. The work is needed to protect property and lives and resulted only from cooperation and communication between the mayor and the council.
So what's the rub? Another way to tackle stormwater needs involves a regional approach that's favored by county government and surrounding communities. In theory, communication, cooperation and efficiencies could be enhanced by working with the county and neighboring towns. All of these benefits sound good to us. City Council and the county have weighed in heavily in favor of a regional solution.
Mayor Steve Bach hasn't been so quick to jump on board, citing a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed. As the region's largest entity by far, Colorado Springs also has the greatest stormwater needs. It will generate the greatest amount of funding for a regional solution. That means Colorado Springs taxpayers need to be protected. A dollar contributed must equal a dollar spent within the city limits. It only seems reasonable that an entity with greater needs not subsidize entities with lesser needs.
Moreover, we emphasize that keeping overhead low should be a top priority in this and all other public improvement projects. Don't let big public works endeavors become the impetus for building needless or excessive new bureaucracies.
We urge all parties to move ahead, working together toward a plan to address all stormwater needs. Working together, we can probably achieve efficiencies by improving economies of scale and reducing duplication.
A good regional approach will take communication and cooperation among stakeholders, but each entity needs to be responsible for funding its own projects. There are models in play that do a fair job at this, while reducing the sizes and costs of new bureaucracies.
We have critical needs and the time is right for cooperation and flexibility throughout the region. Listen respectfully to each other and work things out. Let's get something done - now.