One day after Colorado Springs City Council president Keith King laid out his proposal for dealing with millions in backlogged stormwater projects, the mayor released his own contrary ideas.
It's the latest twist in the stormwater story - one that has elected officials flexing political muscle for control of a government stormwater spending program. Mayor Steve Bach advanced the idea of a city-run stormwater program that relies on fees, while King proposed a regional approach that relies on taxes and includes Pueblo County as a funding partner.
How the power play shakes out could be determined by citizens.
The city council plans to host a public hearing within the next two months to determine whether residents support a regional or city approach. A city ballot question would require city council approval; a regional ballot question would need the OK of El Paso County commissioners.
"Six new councilors campaigned on a regional stormwater approach," said councilman Val Snider, who is a member of the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force. "The mayor would have to get five people to side with him."
Bach's deputy city attorney Britt Haley sent a memo to the council on Monday, saying most Colorado cities do not set up a regional authority to deal with stormwater and drainage issues. Instead, cities set up a municipal enterprise, Bach said.
"The largest cities in Colorado have their own stormwater functions within their city government and they do not have a separate authority," Bach said. "That raises a question: Before we rush into - and I mean rush because this is being rushed by some people - a decision to establish a new bureaucracy and grow the size of government with a third-party authority, we better look at best practices in our peer cities."
Further, Bach said he is concerned that the city has millions of dollars in backlogged stormwater projects and millions more in backlogged capital improvement projects, which includes aging buildings, crumbling bridges and cracking roads. He said the city needs a holistic approach, and stormwater and capital projects should be funded together.
"What would we do, go to the community with the need for a tax on just stormwater and then come back the following year on roads and bridges?" Bach said. "We need to deal with more than stormwater. We have deteriorating roads and bridges here and we've got aging facilities, especially in public safety."
But Snider said it's no good just to consider the needs of Colorado Springs. The task force puts the regional stormwater and drainage needs at more than $700 million. Because water runs down from one city to another, the task force is dedicated to a regional solution, Snider said.
The group has examined a variety of funding models and came up with two that might work. Both models call for setting up a regional entity that would collect fees or taxes and would be in charge of projects - something akin to the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority, where voters approved a tax and a list of projects for the region.
King, in trying to find a middle ground, said local governments ought to dig deep into their budgets and find $10 million to put toward the continued maintenance and operations of stormwater projects. Then, elected officials could face voters with a tax question to pay for the construction of stormwater projects. Under his regional proposal, each entity would get its proportionate share of projects, depending on how much its taxpayers contribute to the pot.
"I've worked with the task force on this, and it has a good chance of going forward," King said.