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Pro-marijuana group endorses stormwater fees for Colorado Springs

October 23, 2017 Updated: October 23, 2017 at 5:18 pm
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FILE - Work was underway Monday, December 12, 2016 on the first portion of a three-phase stormwater project on a tributary of Monument Creek. The project is intended to stop erosion and extensive sediment from entering Monument Creek where it empties onto the United States Air Force Academy. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

An unlikely ally is advocating for stormwater fees proposed for Colorado Springs on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods, a group pushing to legalize recreational marijuana sales in the city, on Monday announced its support of ballot Issue 2A.

The Safer Neighborhoods' members and supporters wanted a recreational marijuana issue to be on the ballot. But the city reserved space on El Paso County's ballot in July with the stormwater fees in mind, and 2A was cemented there in August.

Safer Neighborhoods now plans to petition the pot issue onto next year's ballot, requiring about 20,000 signatures to be gathered by August, said spokesman Mike Elliott.

A University of Denver study the group commissioned found that the city could raise more than $25 million in 2018 by legalizing recreational marijuana sales.

Elliott argued that the money could cover the city's stormwater obligations and beef up the police force. Mayor John Suthers, however, said the study's revenue estimate was inflated, and he thinks funding "essential government services" with drugs is irresponsible.

Although the group's support for 2A might seem unusual, Colorado Springs "is desperately in need of additional revenue to enhance safety and the quality of life," said group spokeswoman Jane Ard-Smith in a news release.

Local business professionals and advocates in the group want to make the city safer and more economically viable, Ard-Smith said.

Suthers said he appreciates the endorsement, but it doesn't change his stance on recreational marijuana.

City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, who supports a referendum on recreational marijuana, said she's glad for the additional support.

If 2A passes, the city might not need money from recreational marijuana sales to fund stormwater infrastructure, which could weaken Safer Neighborhoods' message, Gaebler said. Regardless, she wants legal sales of recreational pot in the city.

Elliott said he doesn't believe voter approval of the fees would weaken his organization's case.

"The amount of tax revenue that could be brought in, whether stormwater passes or not, could do a lot to enhance the quality of life in Colorado Springs," he said. "There's a lot of tax money right now going to criminals instead of small businesses and the city, and that's going to be the case whether stormwater passes or not."

If approved, the stormwater fees would cost homeowners $5 a month and nonresidential property owners $30 a month for every acre they own, raising $17 million a year for stormwater obligations and freeing general fund money that Suthers has said he wants to add police officers and firefighters.

Colorado Springs Forward, a right-leaning nonprofit, and Together for Colorado Springs, a left-leaning nonprofit, also back Issue 2A. Colorado Springs Forward donated $25,000 to Invest in COS, a campaign managed by the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.

Laura Carno, an anti-tax advocate and former campaign chief for past Mayor Steve Bach, said she's not surprised so many political organizations have backed 2A. She said she also wants new police officers, but she takes issues with how the positions are funded.

Suthers' proposed 2018 budget for the city allows for 17 new employees, none of whom are police officers, Carno said. If more officers are so important, they should be in the budget, she said. The fees "trick the taxpayers" by masking where the money is spent.

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