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Stormwater and other ballot issues pass by large margins

April 4, 2017 Updated: April 5, 2017 at 9:40 am
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photo - FILE - Jon Bowman, left, and his brother Matt Bowman from A-1 Barricade and Sign, Inc. install an erosion barrier along Fountain Creek Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, as part of the three million dollar Stormwater Enterprise project. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
FILE - Jon Bowman, left, and his brother Matt Bowman from A-1 Barricade and Sign, Inc. install an erosion barrier along Fountain Creek Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, as part of the three million dollar Stormwater Enterprise project. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Colorado Springs voters' reticence to fund stormwater projects ended Tuesday evening as all three ballot measures cruised to passage.

Ballot Issue 2, which asked voters to set aside $12 million in excess revenue for stormwater projects, jumped to an early lead with 66 in preliminary unofficial results.

Sixty-six percent of voters - 54,184- voted in favor of the measure, according to unofficial results.

The move came as a relief to Travis Easton, the city's public works director.

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"I'm pleased with that and we got more work to do now," Easton said. "We're ready to start those projects and anxious to get everything done."

Specifically, the measure sets aside $6 million this year and another $6 million next year to complete 26 projects, rather than rebate the money back to taxpayers.

The vote marked another chapter in a years-long saga over funding flood control projects across the city.

The issue exploded in 2009 with the elimination of the city's stormwater enterprise - a decision that ended a $15.5 million-a-year funding stream for drainage improvements, new culverts, retention ponds and other projects.

A bid to replace that funding failed in 2014, when voters defeated a ballot measure that would have collected about $40 million a year for stormwater projects across the Pikes Peak region.

The funding void has left the city mired in litigation and facing threats from communities downstream that have imperiled Colorado Springs Utilities' $825 million Southern Delivery System. The project pumps water from the Pueblo Reservoir to provide for the city's growth.

In April 2016, the city entered into a 20-year intergovernmental agreement that city leaders signed with Pueblo County in April 2016. The agreement called on Colorado Springs to spend $460 million in that time on stormwater projects - lest Pueblo County leaders put a halt to the city's prized Southern Delivery Project.

Douglas Bruce, who authored TABOR, cast doubt on the legality of Colorado Springs' agreement with Pueblo and called the measure "absurd" for demanding so much money not go back to taxpayers.

"Politicians have a habit of putting their greed ahead of our need," said Bruce in an emailed statement.

Mayor John Suthers, however, campaigned hard for the measure - stressing that using the extra money now would help the city meet funding requirements in the Pueblo deal during lean years.

The city must spend roughly $17 million a year on stormwater to meet its agreement.

Easton said Tuesday's results showed that voters are more aware of stormwater issues facing the city, and they're more trusting of city officials to deliver.

"The city's had this list of projects for many years, and now we can get these done," Easton said. "We're trying to build trust with the citizens and follow through on promises made."

Also winning Tuesday evening was Ballot Issue 1, which sought to raise the bar voters must clear when considering whether to sell Colorado Springs Utilities' property.

It had 81 percent to 19 percent.

The measure proposed mandating that a super-majority - 60 percent - of voters approve the sale of any Utilities' property in the future, as opposed to the 50 percent threshold they currently must clear.

Also garnering support was Ballot Issue 3 - an initiative seeking to allow the city to opt out of a 2005 law that proponents said curtailed local governments from providing competitive contracts for high-speed Internet and cable.

The measure aimed to allow the city to enter into partnerships for that purpose. About 100 other Colorado municipalities have already voted to opt out of the law since its adoption.

It was ahead 61 percent to 39 percent.

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