Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach wants voters to extend an existing bond debt, slated to retire in 2016, for 20 more years to pay for $175 million in stormwater projects in the city.
His stormwater funding plan would not raise taxes or fees and would spend more than $20 million a year for five years on needed flood control projects, he said. The debt would be paid for by the city's general operating fund.
However, the City Council -- not the mayor -- has the power to place measures on the city's ballot. And council has vowed to work with the county on a regional stormwater solution. setting the stage for another showdown with the mayor.
"I think we owe it to our fellow citizens to find a way to pay for stormwater by re-purposing funds," he said.
Bach unveiled his stormwater plan Wednesday along with a report from engineering firm CH2MHill, which examined a list of more than 200 stormwater projects identified over the years as priorities for the city.
Bach said the city could form a regional stormwater authority within the county lines. But each entity would need to bring its own funding source to the table rather than collect a countywide fee or tax. Under his plan Colorado Springs public works department would oversee all stormwater projects.
In addition to bonding, the city could dedicate $5 million a year from its general operating budget for ongoing operations and maintenance of existing stormwater channels, culverts, creeks and drainage systems, Bach said.
Bach has made no secret that he opposes the creation of a regional stormwater authority similar to the voter-approved Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. But he said coordinating projects with the county and other neighboring cities is not out of the question under his plan.
In the region, Colorado Springs has about 75 percent of the stormwater needs and Bach does not want to turn over responsibility to a third-party, he said.
"I want to be in a position where we have ability to control that," Bach said.
El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen called Bach's plan uninformed and said there needs to be a regional approach to solving stormwater issues because floodwaters don't know city and county boundaries.
"Our fundamental task is to control the flow of water through our region and de-energize it," she said. "In order to do that, you have got to look at this regionally and the entire watershed. The scope of what was presented today is only within the boundaries of Colorado Springs."
Lathen is hoping for a compromise with the mayor, she said. El Paso County Commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council this month signed a joint resolution vowing to work on a regional solution to stormwater issues. The task force will host three town hall meetings in October and November to find out what residents want. Bach asked the task force to hold off on the town hall meetings until he could fully develop his plan.
But City Council President Keith King said there is no time to wait.
"We want to hear from people in the community," he said.
Dealing with stormwater runoff has been a much-debated topic in the region for years. Last year, a group of engineers, business leaders and community activists with elected city and county officials formed a regional stormwater task force to find a way to pay for nearly $700 million in backlogged projects.
But Bach hired CH2MHill firm to study that $700 million list. He said that number had grown exponentially in a few years and he wanted a second opinion. He charged CH2MHill with prioritizing the list 0f 288 projects.
CH2MH engineers removed 44 projects from the list because they have been completed or are no longer deemed necessary. Then they prioritized the list into projects that are urgent or pose a significant risk to infrastructure calling it the "A" list.
They put 34 projects with a $137 million price tag on the high priority "A" list and moved $372 million of projects into the medium and low priority list. Engineers also removed about $150 million in operations and maintenance projects from the list that the stormwater task force had identified as a top need.
In 1999, Colorado Springs voters approved the Springs Community Improvements Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds to pay for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016.
Bach said the city could take the $7.9 million it uses to pay the current SCIP bonds, add $7 million from the general fund, and bond for $175 million. He would want to ask voters to extend the SCIP in April 2015.
But there are more than $175 million in needs, task force members said. The stormwater task force believes the needs are closer to $700 million and its members say the only way to cover the costs is with a dedicated funding source like a tax or a fee, which could be collected based on impervious surface.
After months of the study, the task force narrowed its two options to one that models the PPRTA, which was created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. PPRTA collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.
The other option is modeled after the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, which includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.
The biggest difference from the mayor's proposal is that his plan pays for about 34 projects over five years and would be paid off over 20 years. The PPRTA model is a pay-as-you-go model and would have a dedicated funding source for more than five years, said John Cassiani, member of the stormwater task force.
"The problem with (the mayor's proposal) is you are leaving the regional approach behind," Cassiani said. "Fountain, Green Mountain Falls -- if they don't have enough funds to do something similar, how does that work? We think you need a dedicated fee, a reliable source, to really attack this problem."