The looming demise of the Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise has triggered a flood of questions, from how the enterprise will refund customers who paid their fees a year in advance to how it will collect overdue bills from property owners.
But what city officials say is abundantly clear is that without the enterprise, there is no longer a funding source to pay for improvements to the 2-mile Templeton Gap Floodway, which is actually a levee.
That will force hundreds, if not thousands, of nearby property owners with federally-backed mortgages to buy flood insurance.
Collectively, annual insurance premiums for those property owners could reach about $3 million, according to city government estimates.
“I’ve tried my best to circumvent that and prevent that, but it looks like that’s going to happen,” City Councilman Scott Hente, whose district includes the floodway, said Tuesday after his colleagues voted 5-4 to abolish the enterprise at the end of this year.
“I’m sorry for that,” Hente added.
The council had previously decided to phase out the enterprise over two years after the Nov. 3 passage of ballot issue 300, but Councilman Bernie Herpin changed his vote Tuesday.
Issue 300 has the been subject of multiple interpretations. Its author, anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, maintains it calls for an immediate end of the Stormwater Enterprise and the phasing out of payments other city-owned enterprises, such as Colorado Springs Utilities, make to the city government.
Council members who voted for an immediate end to the enterprise said it reflected will of the voters.
The Stormwater Enterprise was created in 2005 to raise money for a backlog of drainage projects after sewage spills led to fines and lawsuits against the city.
A two-year phaseout would have allowed the enterprise to complete projects under construction and also add capacity to the floodway, which protects more than 3,000 properties and 5,000 buildings from flooding. The floodway starts just east of Union Boulevard and runs west to Monument Creek between Fillmore Street and Austin Bluffs Parkway.
The added capacity is needed to gain certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which sped up an effort to digitize its maps after Hurricane Katrina broke several levees in New Orleans. That effort put the Templeton Gap Floodway under scrutiny, and many properties that hadn’t been previously identified as being at risk of flooding are now.
In September, the enterprise notified property owners affected by the floodway that it planned to add capacity to the levee.
“They were (notified) that this liability did exist,” city spokeswoman Mary Scott said Friday.
“But I don’t know how many people actually put two and two together when they voted,” she said.
The City Council may be partly to blame.
Before the election, Mayor Lionel Rivera and several council members maintained that issue 300 didn’t affect the enterprise.
It’s impossible to know whether that stance affected election results. A majority of voters who live close to the floodway supported issue 300, according to election results cited by Councilman Randy Purvis.
“I’ve heard from some of the people who live in that area, and some people have expressed the thought that they voted against 300 because they knew what this was going to do,” Hente said. “Some people have expressed surprise that their vote on 300 is going to result in that additional cost to them.”
Scott said no other source of money has been identified to pay for the work that had been planned for the floodway through the Stormwater Enterprise.
“It’s likely that project is not going to be done,” she said.
Scott also said the enterprise is still trying to figure out how to develop an automated process for refunds as well as how to collect from delinquent property owners.
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