Voters in El Paso County shed their anti-tax reputation Tuesday, giving landslide approval to using $14.5 million in tax dollars for transportation and other projects, bringing new stormwater fees to Colorado Springs and granting a $42 million property tax increase for School District 11, unofficial results showed.
Manitou Springs chose a new mayor, and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority won the OK - with about two-thirds of the vote - to spend up to $10 million of its money on the widening of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock, according to totals with about 85 percent of the ballots counted.
The stormwater fees, under Ballot Issue 2A, were considered critical by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, as the city fights a federal and state lawsuit over the longtime neglect of stormwater infrastructure that Suthers inherited 2½ years ago. The fees will cost homeowners $5 a month and commercial and industrial property owners $30 monthly per acre, though those fees have no cap and could change over the next 20 years.
That ballot issue prompted opposition by anti-tax activists and City Councilmen Don Knight and Bill Murray. Its passage - with about 53 percent of the vote - will free $17 million a year from the city's general fund, money that Suthers vowed will be spent to increase staff on the police and fire departments.
District 11, meanwhile, had tried for 17 years to beef up its budget as other school districts in the region repeatedly won tax increases, bond issues or both to compensate for withering state education funds. The victory in D-11, the city's biggest school district, brings money for building maintenance, better teacher and support staff pay, more teachers and smaller class sizes, among other improvements.
It will cost homeowners about $3.75 a month in property taxes per $100,000 of property value.
Three of four other school district tax increase measures passed, too - in Cheyenne Mountain District 12, Peyton District 23JT and Widefield District 3. Voters in Hanover District 28 rejected a proposal, however, for the second time.
With approval of Ballot Issue 1A via a 2-1 margin, the county gets to keep $14.5 million in tax revenue considered "excess" under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. That money will go primarily toward closing the gap on I-25 - the project also OK'd for the PPRTA - but also for disaster recovery, parks, trails and open space projects. Officials have said local money is crucial in asking for federal funds for the project.
Manitou Springs bid adieu to two-year Mayor Nicole Nicoletta, with early voting showing a 2-1 preference for mayoral candidate Ken Jaray, a retired lawyer, former city attorney and civic activist who emphasized environmental concerns and a need for collaborative leadership.