July 29, 2014 Updated: August 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm
Mayor Steve Bach made a last-minute attempt to control the board of a proposed regional stormwater authority, which if approved by voters in November will oversee millions of dollars a year in construction of drainage projects.
In a proposal to take the creation of a regional stormwater authority to the voters, Colorado Springs would have a majority of the seats on an 11-member board. Bach, who would have one seat on the board, wanted to appoint three of its six Colorado Springs members, which would give him control of four of the city's six votes. And he wanted to appoint nonelected officials, meaning no City Council members.
He was flatly denied.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council and the El Paso County Commission met to hammer out the details of an intergovernmental agreement, the contract that defines a regional drainage authority, should voters approve its creation in November.
Bach did not attend the meeting, but his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and deputy city attorney Tom Florczak made clear that if the group did not give Bach more control over the stormwater board, he would not support the proposal.
"That is not collaboration, that is an ultimatum," said County Commissioner Sallie Clark, and she and the rest of the group said they were having none of it.
Clark told Cox she was frustrated that Bach was trying to negotiate terms when he had been absent from two years of planning meetings.
"The person who is not here to help figure this out is the mayor," she said.
Instead, the group proposes a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority governed by 11 board members - two elected officials from the county; four elected officials from Colorado Springs, including the mayor; two Colorado Springs elected officials appointed by the mayor; and one elected official each from Fountain, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls.
Colorado Springs has the majority of the seats because the city has 80 percent of the estimated $700 million in stormwater needs, organizers of the proposal said.
Under the proposal, the owner of a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface would pay an estimated $7.70 a month, or $92 a year on their county property tax bill. That amount was lowered from a proposed $9.14 a month by county commissioners, who said their CFO crunched the numbers and looked at fees paid in other Colorado cities to better estimate the costs of construction projects. The program would collect about $39.2 million a year.
Plus, the cities and county still could apply for state and federal grants to help pay for flood control projects, said Amy Lathen, El Paso County commissioner and member of the stormwater task force that has studied the issue for two years.
"All of those factors combined is further evidence to support a more conservative proposal," she said.
The group also agreed Tuesday that fees would not increase in the first five years. Rate increases would be capped at 1 percent per year for 15 years.
The proposed drainage authority would plan and manage flood control projects throughout the Fountain Creek Watershed, which is a 927-square-mile area that drains into the Arkansas River at Pueblo and is bordered by Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak and the Rampart Range to the west and minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs now pays for flood control projects out of its general fund. In 2006, the City Council instituted a stormwater fee that over three years collected $46 million. But the fee was phased out three years later after voters approved Issue 300, which called the collection of fees taxation without representation.
The stormwater task force formed two years ago to brainstorm ways to pay for the millions in stormwater needs. Wildfires heightened the need and increased stormwater runoff, flash flooding, erosion and debris pileup.
But after about one year of stormwater meetings, Bach began to question the task force's direction toward a regional authority. He also had concerns about the nearly $700 million price tag and hired CH2MHill engineering firm in 2013 to examine the list of projects and give him a second opinion. That firm crossed some projects off the list - some had been done; others were duplicates or no longer priorities. The firm's engineers came up with a priority list of $137 million and a total list of $173 million in flood control needs.
At that time, Bach advanced his proposal to extend an existing bond debt, slated to retire in 2016, for 20 more years to pay for $100 million in stormwater needs. His plan would also spend money on other backlogged improvement needs like roads, bridges and public safety buildings. In June, at his State of the City speech, Bach said he would consider raising sales taxes to pay for his capital needs funding plan.
But neither of Bach's plans picked up support, and the stormwater task force continued to plan for the creation of a regional stormwater authority and asking voters for an annual fee.
Task force members said they are confident in their proposal. A November poll of 400 residents showed that 81 percent of respondents wanted a dedicated funding source and 73 percent of respondents said they favored a regional approach to planning and building the flood control projects.
The Colorado Springs and Fountain city councils are expected to vote on the proposed intergovernmental agreements at their meetings Aug. 12. El Paso County commissioners are expected to vote on the agreement Aug. 19. The commissioners are expected to vote on the ballot question that will go to voters.
Lathen said she feels good about the proposal for a regional authority and collection of stormwater fees.
"We've done our homework," she said.
Contact Monica Mendoza: 636-0187