As Colorado Springs moves closer to requesting new stormwater fees on El Paso County's Nov. 7 ballot, voter support is increasing, says a new poll commissioned by Invest in Colorado Springs, a consortium of local groups.
Mayor John Suthers proposed in June that the stormwater fees be reinstated, and the City Council since has reserved a spot on the county's ballot for the issue. The council also has approved an ordinance that revamps the city's long-defunded stormwater enterprise, which was active between 2005 and 2009. Council members will vote once more on the ordinance and on precise ballot language Aug 22.
More voters support the issue now than they did six weeks ago in an initial poll, according to the new poll, administered to 400 city residents between Aug. 8 and 10 by The Tarrance Group, a Republican strategic research firm.
Suthers said he feels good about the results.
Given a short sample of the proposed ballot question, 59 percent of respondents said they would support the fees. Thirty-six percent opposed them, and 6 percent said they were undecided. The Tarrance Group said the poll's margin of error is 4.9 percent.
The original poll, by Magellan Strategies last month, showed 51 percent supported the fees when offered a short sample of the ballot language. Forty percent opposed the issue, and 9 percent said they were undecided.
As proposed, residential property owners would pay $5 a month to the stormwater fund, while nonresidential property owners, including churches, nonprofits and government buildings, would pay $30 per month for every acre they own. The fee would begin in July 2018 and last for 20 years.
The former stormwater enterprise fund charged property owners quarterly, and the bills were based mostly on the amount of impervious surface on each property. The new fees would be lower.
The results show "people like the simplicity of a flat-rate residential fee and the fact that non-residential fees are less than previous proposals," Suthers said.
Given more information about the proposed fees, poll respondents' support decreased slightly to 58 percent. Thirty-eight percent opposed the fees, and 4 percent said they were unsure.
Rachel Beck, government affairs manager for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, a member of Invest in Colorado Springs, said that decrease is fairly typical because those polled were given both positive and negative messages about the fees.
If passed, the fees are expected to raise $17 million annually, freeing money in the city's general fund, which Suthers has said he would like to spend hiring new police officers and updating the city's aging vehicle fleet.
Pollsters asked voters where they would most like to see the city spend that general fund money. Forty-nine percent said on police, 19 percent said on fire, 12 percent said parks, 5 percent said roads and bridges, 2 percent said education, another 2 percent said economic development/jobs, 1 percent said general infrastructure and the remaining 4 percent said each issue mattered equally.
Suthers has advocated heavily in favor of the fees and appears to have support from the council majority. Councilmen Don Knight, Bill Murray and Andy Pico oppose the fees, however. Knight and Murray have said they are worried about equity in the fee structure and a lack of information on where the general fund money will be spent. Pico has said he doesn't believe the time is right to ask voters for more money.
Monday afternoon, Pico said he had not yet had a chance to see the new poll's results, but said his "opposition is not poll driven."
Beck said the Chamber and other community leaders and organizations formed Invest in Colorado Springs, paid for the poll and will try to raise up to $500,000 to lobby for the ballot issue via commercials, radio spots and mailers.
The group has a vested interest in seeing the fees enacted, Beck said. Members include Nor'wood Development Group, Colorado Springs Forward, Colorado Springs Together, Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and former City Councilwoman Jan Martin, who served on a long-running stormwater task force under former Mayor Steve Bach.
They see the fees tied directly to the "health of the city budget and the health of our economy," she said.
The council will vote for a second time on the ordinance and for the first time on the official ballot language Aug. 22.