Stormwater was on the region's radar long before the summer's devastating floods, but the topic has now officially made it to City Hall, with a regional stormwater task force on Monday making its recommendation to the Colorado Springs City Council on how to pay for long list of needs.
The task force, which has operated without the blessing of Mayor Steve Bach, is pushing for the creation of a regional funding authority that collects fees from property owners to pay for millions in stormwater and drainage projects and their upkeep.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider spending $35,000 from the city's reserve fund for an economic analysis on the task force's proposal and to hire an attorney who specializes in stormwater issues, including how cities and counties set up entities to fund and oversee the construction of the projects.
Meanwhile, Bach's staff is laying the groundwork for a proposed city-run stormwater funding program - one that could collect fees or be paid for using existing money from the general fund to put together a bonding program. City Attorney Chris Melcher recently sent a memo to the council detailing the pros of a city-run stormwater program and the legal reasons why cities across the state take care of their own stormwater issues.
"City Council has a very important role in stormwater and working with the executive branch to make sure the city complies with (policies)," Melcher said. "But the primary responsibility for stormwater under the city charter and city code falls within the executive branch."
In anticipation of a fight with the city attorney over jurisdiction, the council will consider a resolution Tuesday that gives them the power to hire an outside attorney for guidance on how cities and counties assemble stormwater authorities or districts.
The political posturing is in preparation for the Oct. 9 release of a consultant's report that examined $700 million in backlogged stormwater projects and will attempt to prioritize the list.
Everyone involved - from city councilors to El Paso County commissioners to Mayor Bach - agrees that citizens should be presented with a funding solution by the end of the year. But negotiations to get to such a solution are expected to be tense with competing legal opinions over jurisdiction and a slug-fest over whether the city should handle its own stormwater projects or partner with the county and others.
City councilman Val Snider believes the city and the county can, and should, form a regional stormwater authority similar to the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which was created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. PPRTA collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements. In 2012, PPRTA spent $53 million on transportation, maintenance and capital projects.
"The city and the county agree that the city and county have a clear role to address the stormwater needs of the region," Snider said.
The City Council will consider supporting a joint resolution for a regional stormwater control at Tuesday's city council meeting. El Paso county commissioners also will consider the resolution at their Tuesday meeting.
Pueblo County Commissioners are keeping their eyes on the stormwater wrangling and said they are open to a proposal by City Council President Keith King that includes Pueblo in a regional stormwater authority or district. Pueblo commissioners have raised repeated concerns about El Paso and Colorado Springs' stormwater runoff and its effects on Fountain Creek.
"It's the age-old game if we do anything from a regional perspective, we need to make sure money raised in an area is spent in an area - that money raised in Pueblo County would be spent in Pueblo County," said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart."
But when it comes to stormwater, a regional authority may not be legally sound, Melcher said. Colorado Springs, like hundreds of Colorado cities and counties, has been issued a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems permit - also called an MS4 permit - that says the city will take care of its stormwater runoff from rain or flooding before it goes into rivers and creeks, Melcher said.
"The city cannot abdicate its responsibility under the MS4 permit or transfer that responsibility to a different entity, whether that is a regional entity or a non-governmental entity," Melcher said. "The city will always be held responsible, ultimately."
King said Melcher's interpretation of the law is up for review. It's one reason why the council wants an outside attorney to examine jurisdiction.
Colorado Springs and El Paso County could pursue a regional stormwater program and legally operate under the MS4 permits, said John McCarty, executive director of the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, a partnership in Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority formed in 2006, began collecting fees in 2007 and spent $25 million on stormwater projects in six years, McCarty said.
"We worked very closely with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who issues the MS4 permits, and they canceled the permits in the (city and county) entities and reissued the permit to the stormwater authority," McCarty said. "As long as the state feels comfortable that there is a viable entity that assumes the permit, they will transfer it."
Bach will host a joint meeting with the regional task force, city council and county commissioners Oct. 9 to discuss the results of the consultant's report on stormwater needs.