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Mayor Bach wants $2 million from reserve fund to fix potholes, cites city's growing infrastructure problems

March 25, 2014 Updated: March 26, 2014 at 8:17 am
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Street crew Ed Rodriguez, left, Roxanne French and Jose Tirado repair a pothole along North Nevada Avenue on Jan. 7. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Mayor Steve Bach will ask the City Council to approve $2 million in emergency spending from the city's reserve fund to pay for pothole repairs.

Bach said the pothole-riddled streets are part of a citywide infrastructure problem that includes failing roads and bridges and millions in backlogged drainage and flood control projects.

It is why Bach won't support a stormwater fee going to the ballot in November. A capital improvement funding solution should be more comprehensive than just zeroing in on stormwater projects, he said.

"I feel strongly this city must stop kicking the can down the road in piecemeal solution," Bach said Tuesday during his monthly press conference. "Certainly I regard stormwater as serious. It's a part of a bigger picture."

On Monday, a citizen's stormwater advisory group said it would campaign for a November ballot initiative that asks voters for a stormwater fee to pay for $700 million in projects across most of El Paso County. An $8 to $12 monthly fee would generate about $50 million a year to pay for the construction and maintenance of flood control and drainage projects.

The citizen stormwater advisory group would ask El Paso County Commissioners to put forward a ballot question asking for the creation of a regional stormwater authority, similar to the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

That authority would collect the fees - which would be calculated based on the total square footage of a business or residential paved surface and included on property tax bills - from several adjoining jurisdictions and oversee the capital and maintenance projects.

Under the citizen's stormwater plan, member cities in a stormwater authority could include Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake. Each city would get back the amount of the money it puts into the fund over a five-year rolling average.

Colorado Springs is the largest city in the state without a stormwater program. It had one in 2005 called the 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 said it 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 a draft of the proposed ballot langue by the end of July.

Bach said the citizen's proposal does not address other capital needs. He wants to ask Colorado Springs voters to extend an existing bond debt, slated to retire in 2016, for 20 more years to pay for $175 million in stormwater projects and other capital improvement projects like road and bridge repair.

Bach's plan would spend about $20 million a year for five years on needed flood control projects. 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 said the city would find $5 million a year in the general fund to set aside for stormwater projects.

"I hope we can still have dialogue on it before Council decides to put it on the ballot in November,' he said.

In the meantime, Bach will ask the council in April for the emergency spending for roads. The city's streets department already has filled more than 8,000 potholes since Jan. 1. The wet and unusually cold winter caused road eruptions all over the city.

The reason for the emergency appropriation is so the city can hire a private firm as soon as 30 days to work side-by-side with city crews to fix the worst roads in the city. According to the 2014 general fund budget, the city has about $49 million in its reserve fund.

"I've been here 48 years and our streets are in the worst condition of my entire life here," Bach said. "This has been coming on for a long time."

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