Updated: March 25, 2014 at 8:26 am
A citizens group will push for a November ballot initiative asking voters to approve a stormwater fee to pay for millions in flood control projects across the region.
The group says that an $8 to $12 monthly fee could raise about $50 million a year for 20 to 30 years to pay for drainage projects and ongoing maintenance. The group has been studying the stormwater issue for more than a year and is ready to take the issue to the public. Members say they learned a lesson from a controversial stormwater fee created without voter approval in 2005 and later abolished.
"I feel like a mother who has just given birth ... I'm looking forward to this going to the ballot in November," said City Council member Val Snider, who has been a member of the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force. The task force, which included elected officials and county staffers, has been turned over to a Stormwater Citizens Advisory Group to campaign for the issue to be put on the ballot.
An analysis by two University of Colorado at Colorado Springs finance and economics professors says that there are at least $250 million in high-priority projects and a total of $700 million in needed drainage and flood control projects across the Fountain Creek Watershed.
"If we delay this any further, we risk making the cost a lot more expensive," said Dave Munger, who is co-chairing the citizen's advisory group.
Munger and other members of the advisory group made a presentation on their plan to the City Council on Monday. They would ask voters to approve a regional authority, similar to the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, that would collect the fees and oversee the capital and maintenance projects. Fees would be calculated based on impervious surface and included on property tax bills. It's a plan that differs from the one Mayor Steve Bach advanced in October. Under his plan, he would ask 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 plan would spend more than $20 million a year for five years on flood control projects. But it also would dedicate $11.5 million a year to roads and bridges, $2.5 million to public safety infrastructure and $1 million to parks. Bach also has said the city would find $5 million a year in the general fund to set aside for stormwater projects.
Bach has said a report from CH2MHill, an engineering firm the city hired last year, estimates the high priority stormwater projects list to be closer to $137 million.
Bach is expected to talk about the city's stormwater projects Tuesday at his monthly press conference. Last month, Bach reported that the city carried over $8.5 million for stormwater projects from the 2013 budget and this year has set aside $12.8 million in its general fund budget for stormwater projects. This year's spending on flood control projects also includes $4.7 million in federal funds. Four major projects, including the replacement of a 96-inch corrugated pipe off 8th Street, are underway.
Bach has said the city could form a regional stormwater authority solely for planning and coordinating projects. Each entity would bring its own funding source to the table rather than collect a countywide fee or tax. Under his plan, the Colorado Springs public works department would oversee all stormwater projects.
But task force members say his funding model does not consider ongoing maintenance costs, which are estimated at $14 million a year, and also does not consider a regional approach to designing and paying for flood control projects that affect the region.
Under the task force plan, members could include Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake. Each would get back the amount of money it puts into the fund over a five-year rolling average.
Council member Jan Martin said Monday that 81 percent of respondents to a recent community survey on the subject of stormwater projects said they preferred a dedicated funding source to pay for drainage projects, and 73 percent said the projects ought to be completed through a regional effort.
"That is where our plan is different from the mayor's," she said.
Colorado Springs is the largest city in the state without a stormwater program. It had one in 2005 called a Stormwater Enterprise - a property fee used to pay for drainage projects.
But the enterprise was phased out and ended by 2011 after voters approved Issue 300 and the enterprise was viewed as an illegal tax imposed without voter approval.
The citizen advisory group will take its plan to the public in a series of upcoming focus groups, public meetings and a public opinion poll. The group expects to have drafts of proposed Intergovernmental Agreements by July for citizens to examine. And they expect to have a draft of the proposed ballot language by the end of July.
"We need to do this," Munger said. "The fees we are proposing - $8 to $12 a month - are in line with other Front Range communities."