Colorado Springs City Council OKs regional stormwater contract

August 12, 2014 Updated: October 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm
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City Council president Keith King, center, and other members of the Colorado Springs City Council listen to testimony during a November 12, 2013 meeting. On Tuesday, the council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Members of the regional stormwater task force cheered Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program that was two years in the making.

With a sigh of relief following the vote, council member Jan Martin said the city has been trying to find a way to pay for millions of dollars in stormwater, flood control and drainage projects needs for a decade.

"This has been a big issue in our community," she said.

The contract and proposed November ballot language that would create a regional stormwater authority still needs to be approved by the other parties in the intergovernmental agreement: the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Manitou Springs. All have indicated they will OK the contract.

The contract - the result of dozens of public meetings, community surveys and hours of public discussion - outlines the terms and duties of a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental agency that would plan regional flood control projects.

Voters are expected to be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years. Most of the money would be spent on new construction projects, and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects. A pot of money - about 10 percent of the fees collected - would be set aside for flooding emergencies.

An 11-member board would oversee the planning of the regional stormwater projects, and Colorado Springs would have six seats on the board.

But not everyone is happy. Mayor Steve Bach plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to detail his objections to the contract. He says it binds the city to a list of projects and does not give the city flexibility in cases of flooding emergencies. The contract infringes upon the city's ability to manage its affairs, he said.

The stormwater contract requires that money collected from property owners in each city be spent in their city over a five-year rolling average, except for the emergency fund. Bach said spending the emergency pot of money will be decided by the authority's board, which could reject a Colorado Springs project, he said.

"(The emergency fund) will not be returned to each city over a five-year rolling average," he said. "Is it fair for third-party bureaucracy to have no responsibility to return it if we have an emergency in our city?"

It's a point on which council member Don Knight agreed, and was a deal breaker for him. He was one of two council members that voted against the contract. Council member Helen Collins also voted "no" but said her opposition was to the creation of a new fee and many of the residents in her district, southeast Colorado Springs, cannot afford it, she said.

Bach also raised concerns about the proposed ballot language. He said it doesn't detail the amount of the fees that will be assessed on each property.

"We need to be straight with the voters," Bach said.

Council member Joel Miller agrees that voters should know exactly how much the fees will be. A fee chart still could be added to the ballot language. He noted that the county commissioners are ultimately in charge of the writing the ballot language.

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a member of the stormwater task force, noted that Colorado Springs is guaranteed a majority of the seats on the board, and said it is disingenuous for Bach to suggest that Colorado Springs, which has 80 percent of the flood control needs, would get short shrift.

"We are tired of the rhetoric," she said.

Miller said the contract is not perfect but it moves the region forward in fixing health and safety issues.

"This is an opportunity to allow voters to decide how they want to handle this issue," he said. "I'm putting it in the hands of the voters at this point."

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