City Council passes PPRTA amendment

July 24, 2012
photo - Voters will be asked to extend a sales tax that helps fund transportation projects like the Woodmen Road interchange at I-25. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE
Voters will be asked to extend a sales tax that helps fund transportation projects like the Woodmen Road interchange at I-25. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE 

If voters extend the sales tax in November’s election, and if all the primary transportation projects are completed, and if any money remains, then what Colorado Springs City Council did Tuesday might matter.

The council unanimously approved an amendment to the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. The amendment states that funding for secondary projects “shall be proportional to the population of the various members.”

An expected November ballot question will ask voters to extend 55 percent of a one-cent sales tax until 2024. Voters approved a similar question eight years ago, with that 10-year agreement ending in 2014. The tax revenue is used by PPRTA to help fund transportation projects throughout El Paso County.

PPRTA’s six members — the county, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Ramah and Calhan — each submit projects for the “A” list and “B” list. The entire “A” list must be completed before any “B” projects can be considered.

The amendment means Colorado Springs would receive, based on the 2010 census, 70.84 percent of any remaining tax revenue generated by PPRTA II for each year after “A” list projects are finished.

“That would be a good problem to have,” said Rob MacDonald, secretary of the PPRTA Board of Directors. “It means we would’ve already spent $285 million on the A list projects.”

It’s the policy of the PPRTA board to allocate funding based on population, but Mayor Steve Bach —and, apparently, the city council — wants it in writing.

They don’t have it yet.

The amendment must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the governing bodies of the other members of PPRTA.

PPRTA’s board must also approve the amendment —unanimously.

The amendment, if passed, could cost the city PPRTA dollars if a recent trend continues. Colorado Springs, in the 2000 census, would’ve received 75.42 percent. If the population goes down that much again by 2020, the city will get 66.26 percent.

“If you include that the city is getting 100 percent of the transit money and its share of maintenance money, they’re getting 71.26 percent,” MacDonald said.

The original negotiated allocation for PPRTA capital projects provided Colorado Springs with 62.83 percent and the county with 36.27 percent. Manitou Springs got .81 percent and Green Mountain Falls .08 percent. Ramah joined PPRTA in 2009 and Calhan earlier this month.

County officials said they were blindsided by the proposed amendment Monday, and quite late in the game. They chalk that up to Bach, whose original amendment language included the phrase “This section shall supersede all other language in this IGA ...”

That phrase had no chance of reaching the final version of the amendment.

“The amendment the mayor proposed is significantly different than what they passed,” said county commissioner Dennis Hisey. “It’s a bigger deal politically than it is practically. It doesn’t affect a lot dollar-wise for what the city would get.”

County commissioners —four attended the city council meeting — say they’ll grudgingly pass the amendment unanimously at their Thursday meeting.

“PPRTA II is an incredibly important project to this region,” said commissioner chairwoman Amy Lathen. “This is an amendment I can live with.”

Lathen then told council members —Bach was absent from the meeting — “With the model we have ... there are no problems we need solved.”

Lathen and commissioner Peggy Littleton began the day opposing the amendment.

“I don’t see any reason to fix something that’s not broken,” Littleton said. “If we don’t look at transportation in a regional manner, it seems we’ll be cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

Former county administrator Terry Harris, who authored the original PPRTA agreement, said he’s disappointed city officials seem to be turning this into a turf war when “motorists don’t care about city limits, just where the road goes and how good it is.”

“People change. Politics change,” Harris said. “We’ve not even begun to solve all the problems that PPRTA was set up to help with. But if we hadn’t gotten some projects done, it would be an absolute gridlock in this town. I’m very against changing a model that’s worked so well for eight years and took care of our community.”

Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens

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