Voters give Bruce victory, but battle over stormwater fee isn't over

November 3, 2009

Douglas Bruce walked into Centennial Hall where ballots were being counted Tuesday night, faced the television cameras and tore up his Stormwater Enterprise bill, declaring an end to what he calls the “rain tax.”

Issue 300, the anti-tax crusader’s ballot initiative, was passing 55 to 44 percent, with 100,597 of the mail-in votes counted by 9:30 p.m. The victory, according to Bruce, meant the enterprise that charges Colorado Springs residents for drainage projects based on the amount of impervious surface on their property must be eliminated immediately.

But some city council members said Bruce’s celebration may be premature. According to them, Bruce’s measure phases out payments to the city from the city enterprises, including Colorado Springs Utilities, Memorial Health System, Colorado Springs Airport, golf courses, cemeteries, the parking system and others, requiring they be passed along, instead, to customers. It also eliminates loans, gifts and subsidies from enterprises to the city.

But Mayor Lionel Rivera said Tuesday night it does not affect the Stormwater Enterprise. He said it would be business as usual Wednesday morning at the enterprise.

Bruce lashed out at City Council over that interpretation, saying it would “spell the end of their political lives.” He then suggested the dispute could be headed for a courtroom.

“If they pretend nothing changed, there are going to be political consequences. There are going to be legal and judicial consequences,” Bruce said.

“It’s a clear mandate. This clearly covered the stormwater fee,” he said.

Asked about the election results, Rivera said, “It’s very disappointing.”

The city receives $27 million as payment in lieu of taxes from Colorado Springs Utilities, based on what the city would receive from sales and property taxes and franchise fees from Utilities if it was not city-owned. Rivera said City Council will be forced to cut more than $3 million from the 2010 budget, on top of other cuts.

According to the factual summary of the ballot issue by the city clerk, customers will save $4.16 a month on utility bills when the payments are fully phased out.

Said Rivera, “They will be foregoing $27 million from the general fund in order to save a little money on their utility bills.”

Councilman Scott Hente, who debated Bruce last month on Issue 300, said voters apparently felt the city could make deeper cuts to its budget.

But he agreed with the assessment of Rivera and other city officials on the impact, or lack thereof, on the Stormwater Enterprise.

“I’ve read that initiative about 100 times. I don’t see anything in there that affects the Stormwater Enterprise,” Hente said.

As of 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, there were 45,746 votes in favor of Issue 300 and 37,223 against.

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