Updated: December 7, 2009 at 12:00 am
The Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise likely will go down the drain sooner than expected.
A majority of the City Council now favors immediately eliminating the controversial city-owned agency that levies a fee to pay for drainage projects.
City Councilman Bernie Herpin announced Monday he no longer supports a two-year phase-out, indicating there are now five votes on the nine-member panel to get rid of the enterprise at the end of this year.
Herpin’s switch delivered a significant victory to anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, who was behind ballot Issue 300, which voters approved last month.
Bruce maintains that Issue 300 called for an immediate end to the enterprise, although some city officials continue to dispute that interpretation.
Herpin revealed his new position on the enterprise during Monday’s informal council meeting. A formal vote is scheduled for today.
Two weeks ago, Herpin and four other council members had given preliminary approval to a plan to phase out the enterprise over two years, allowing several ongoing construction projects to be completed.
Herpin said those projects can still be finished with money in the Stormwater Enterprise that can be rolled into the general fund. How that process will shake out will probably be discussed today.
For property owners in Colorado Springs, Herpin’s about-face means they will no longer have to pay storm water fees through December 2011.
Herpin said he agonized over the decision but councilmembers had a “duty” to restore trust in city government. Ending the enterprise this year is “a start in the right direction,” he said.
“I heard the voters speak,” he said. “The majority of the people voted with the thought in mind that the Stormwater Enterprise and this fee would be abolished very soon after the election.”
Herpin’s switch came with a warning: The demise of the enterprise will result in “serious consequences,” he said.
“Our general fund budget cannot complete all the necessary maintenance needed to protect the quality and quantity of the water that we’re putting into our creeks,” Herpin said. “The need for the Stormwater Enterprise has not diminished, and we will need to seek a way to continue the very important and critical work started by the Stormwater Enterprise.”
In other news, the council decided to shelve a proposed no-camping law that could have displaced scores of homeless people living along creeks, parks and other public property.
Even the Police Department had “concerns about implementation issues,” Chief Richard Myers said.
“As with most of the homeless-related strategies that rise to the level of ordinances, they are really all simply treating symptoms of a larger problem, one that we as a community have yet to deal with effectively, realistically,” he said.
The council directed Colorado Springs Police Department to work with advocates for the homeless, service providers and other stakeholders to come up with a more comprehensive approach to dealing with homelessness, including housing alternatives.
Police officials will report back to the council in February.
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