The time is right, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said, to put the resurrection of a citywide stormwater fee to a vote.
The City Council approved a resolution to do just that Tuesday afternoon, declaring the city's intent to put the proposed stormwater fee on El Paso County's Nov. 7 election ballot. The resolution, opposed only by Councilman Andy Pico, simply saves a place on the ballot, said City Clerk Sarah Johnson. The specific ballot language isn't due until September, and the city can back away from the vote in the meantime, she said.
Pico said he understood the need for the fee but isn't convinced the city has eliminated all other options. In addition, Pico said, he opposes asking voters for more money so soon after passing Measure 2C in 2015, which increased sales tax by 0.62 percent to repair and rebuild roadways.
A recent poll showed that voters support reinstating the stormwater fee, which the city had in place but eliminated in 2009. The fee would raise an estimated $17 million annually for the first few years, which would be spent updating the city's aging vehicle fleet and hiring more police officers, among other needs.
Suthers told council members Tuesday morning that the poll also shows voters are more aware of the stormwater issue now. This is because of the high-profile federal and state lawsuit filed against the city and the intergovernmental agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System water delivery project, he said.
"With a good public campaign, we would have a very reasonable chance of succeeding if we go in November," Suthers said.
If voters approve the fee, the city will be "in good shape for the next 20 years," he said.
Although he voted in favor, Councilman Bill Murray voiced his concern over a lack of details in the resolution. He said it is not clear how the fee might be imposed, who will handle the logistics or when the measure would take effect.
Suthers and several other council members acknowledged the unknowns but said they still support bringing the issue to a vote.
Estimating he has attended some 500 meetings on stormwater issues, Council President Richard Skorman said the vote is worth a shot.
"We owe it to our failing parks and public safety personnel and public safety system to try it," he said.
Councilman David Geislinger agreed, saying it would be better to bring the issue to a vote now than to have the city's lawsuit finish with a judge ordering the city to make more severe changes.
"This is an opportunity, from my perspective, a chance for the citizens of Colorado Springs to take control of this," he said.
Suthers said it could cost up to $2 million to set up a billing system, but that's an investment the city wouldn't make unless voters approve the fee.
In order to put the stormwater fee on the November ballot, the city must enter an agreement with the county by the end of August, Johnson said. The specific ballot language is due Sept. 8.
- The council unanimously voted to repeal licensing and background check fees charged to taxi drivers.
The fees, which amount to annual payments of $97 per driver, were meant to regulate the taxi industry in town, but Johnson said the city's process simply duplicated fees and regulations already established by the state. The move is seen as a way to level the playing field between taxi drivers and those who work for popular ride-hailing companies such as Uber or Lyft, which do not have to pay the fees.
With the newly approved ordinance repealing the fees, taxi drivers must only be licensed by the state to work in Colorado Springs.
- The council unanimously voted to buy an acre of vacant property on Popes Valley Drive to complete and maintain a project mitigating stormwater damage.
The property, at 535 Popes Valley Drive, will cost the city $114,000. Last year, the city buried piping in the lot to redirect stormwater drainage from a townhome development uphill. Buying the land ensures constant access to that piping and will prevent any development in the area.
Before the piping was installed, drainage from the townhome development eroded the hillside, leaving a 100-foot-deep crevasse and causing about $25,000 in damage to a nearby property. The city since has filled the crevasse.