Colorado Springs voters appear to support reinstating a stormwater fee in the city, according to a new poll.
Mayor John Suthers proposed last month bringing back a version of the fee the city eliminated in 2009. The proposal is expected to raise $17 million annually for the first few years, freeing up money to update the city's aging vehicle fleet and hire more police officers, among other needs.
Suthers said the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation and civic organization Colorado Springs Forward paid Magellan Strategies to poll residents on the issue, which he hopes to see on the ballot this November. Suthers said the poll's findings are "encouraging."
Seventy-nine percent of the 475 voters polled between June 27 and 29 said they were either very familiar or somewhat familiar with the issue.
"That is far above the numbers from a couple of years ago," Suthers said.
The awareness stems from a high-profile lawsuit filed against Colorado Springs by state and federal governments, Suthers said.
The lawsuit - which is ongoing - addresses contaminated stormwater runoff affecting Pueblo County and downstream communities and agriculture.
Colorado Springs' lack of a stormwater fee is "a serious problem and it needs to be dealt with," Suthers said. "We can't kick it down the road any longer.
"We are virtually the only major city in America that is paying for stormwater and meeting all these legal obligations out of our general fund and that impacts our ability to deal with some of our police and fire staffing issues," he said.
After voters were offered a sample of the proposed ballot question - which Suthers said is subject to change - 51 percent said they would support the fee, 40 percent said they would oppose it and 9 percent said they were undecided. Magellan said the poll's margin of error is 4.49 percent.
As outlined by the poll, the stormwater fee would begin Jan. 1, 2018 and continue for 20 years. Residential properties would be charged no more than $5 a month. Institutional and public facilities would pay $23 per acre, commercial properties would pay $26 per acre and industrial properties would pay $36 per acre.
Given additional context about the stormwater fee, voter support increased.
Pollsters told voters that if a stormwater fee isn't imposed the $17 million would be drawn from the city's general fund. They also stressed the importance of investing in stormwater infrastructure and said the bills for residential and commercial properties would be lower than that of other Colorado cities.
With the additional information, 60 percent of voters said they support the fee, 35 percent opposed it and 5 percent said they were undecided.
The increase in support makes sense, City Council Member David Geislinger said.
"Once people become educated on the process they recognize it's something we need to do," he said.
"This is an opportunity for citizens of Colorado Springs to become proactive and maintain local control over this," he said, citing the lawsuit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "I'm in favor of addressing the stormwater problem and I think this is the best way to do it."
Suthers said he's heartened by the poll's results but the next steps are up to City Council.
"The council will make the decision on whether to put it on the ballot and what the final ballot issue would look like," he said.
Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler said she was "pleasantly surprised" and "gratified" by the polling results and she supports placing the stormwater fee on the November ballot.
Councilman Andy Pico, however, said he opposes asking voters for more money, especially so soon after passing Measure 2C in 2015, which increased sales tax by .62 percent to fix city roads, bridges and potholes. In addition, the city should wait until the stormwater lawsuit is finished before considering the fee, he said.
While there might not be unanimous support on the council, Suthers said it's probable the stormwater fee will make it to the ballot.
"I think the vast majority of the council understands this is the key to financial stability for Colorado Springs," he said.
If the council decides to put the stormwater fee on the November ballot they must reserve the space by mid-July and set the specific ballot language by September, Suthers said.