Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Tuesday that he plans to eventually ask City Council members to put a stormwater fee on the ballot if a settlement can be reached with the Environmental Protection Agency on a lawsuit the federal agency filed against the city last year.
Paying the annual cost of a $460 million, 20-year intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County to build 71 major stormwater projects has "put pressure on police and fire" budgets and will eventually force the city to impose a stormwater fee like every other large U.S. city, Suthers told about 200 customers of Vectra Bank Colorado and others during an economic forecast at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
He also thanked voters for allowing the city to keep $12 million in sales tax collections above revenue limits during the next two years that will be spent on stormwater projects.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed a lawsuit in November against the city of Colorado Springs over water quality violations and stormwater program shortfalls dating to 2009. Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District later joined the suit.
"I hope to resolve that suit and expect to come to the citizens with some sort of stormwater proposal," Suthers said. The timing depends "on how quickly we resolve the federal suit. We have to go to voters knowing that this is a long-term fix. We have to know the expense. I hope we can resolve this in the next year."
Suthers told the Police Protective Association last fall that the $17 million a year it must spend on stormwater projects under its agreement with Pueblo County are guaranteed to keep the city budget tight, but relieving that burden with a fee could help the city reclaim $15 million to $16 million that could be spent on police and fire needs. Police Chief Pete Carey last year dismantled several special units, including one focusing on gangs, to put more personnel on patrol and reduce the response times that had moved sharply higher in the past few years.
Suthers also touted an improving local economy, a surging tourism industry as well as an improved relationship with the City Council, more spending to improve roads and stormwater and elimination of the business personal property tax and other tax breaks for business during his 20-minute speech. He urged the business-focused audience to use new flights added during the past year by Frontier and American airlines, and said fares are coming down on many routes from the Colorado Springs Airport because of competition among several airlines - including Chicago and Phoenix.
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