Survey says: Most Colorado Springs-area residents willing to pay for stormwater projects

By Monica Mendoza Updated: December 10, 2013 at 9:04 am • Published: December 9, 2013 | 9:45 pm 0

In November, the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force commissioned the Washington, D.C.-based WPA opinion research firm to survey 400 registered voters - 80 percent in Colorado Springs and 20 percent in El Paso County - to find out if flood control is a big deal.

Turns out it is.

A whopping 95 percent said flood control is important, and two-thirds of those said it is very important. A large majority - 81 percent - said there should be a dedicated funding source to pay for drainage projects.

"We just don't see this kind of public consensus, especially on a technical topic," said Bryon Allen, WPA partner and chief operating officer.

The task force will use the survey results to develop a 2014 public relations campaign about stormwater and flood control needs. The survey, which cost $19,000 and was financed by Colorado Springs Utilities, was intended to find out if residents know or care about stormwater needs and how they might pay for them.

"There will be more on-going discussion," Allen said. "The public really wants to know more about stormwater."

About one-third of survey respondents said they don't want to pay for stormwater projects through any kind of tax or fee.

The other two-thirds are willing to pay, with most saying they prefer a fee assessed equally to residents and businesses, including nonprofit organizations.

The task force has deliberated over two funding options in recent months. One models 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.

The other option is modeled after the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, which includes Centennial, Arapahoe County and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.

Colorado Springs is the largest city in the state without a stormwater program. It had a Stormwater Enterprise in 2005 - a property fee used to pay for drainage projects - but many residents viewed it as an illegal tax imposed without voter approval, and in 2009 they passed a ballot measure that put an end to the enterprise by 2011.

Since then, city stormwater projects have been financed through the general operating budget. In 2014, Colorado Springs will spend $24.8 million on stormwater projects, using a combination of 2014 budget money, 2013 budget carryover and grant money.

But task force members say this funding model does not include millions of dollars needed annually for ongoing maintenance costs - and it does not consider a regional approach to designing and paying for flood control projects that affect areas outside Colorado Springs.

In the survey, which has a 5 percent margin of error, 73 percent of the respondents said the projects should be handled as a regional effort, and 78 percent want a say in which projects get built.

Last year, a group of engineers, business leaders and community activists, along with elected city and county officials, formed the regional task force with the goal of finding a way to pay for nearly $700 million in backlogged projects.

Mayor Steve Bach hired an engineering firm to get a second opinion on the project list. In October, CH2MHill engineers said 34 top priority projects would cost $137 million. The firm categorized the rest of the 200 projects as medium or low priority.

To pay for stormwater needs in the city, Bach wants voters to approve a 20-year extension of an existing bond debt, slated to retire in 2016. His stormwater funding plan would not raise taxes or fees, and would spend more than $20 million a year for five years on flood control projects. The plan also would provide money for road and bridge repairs.

Bach said Monday he appreciates the task force sharing its research data. But he believes his option is the most sensible.

"Of note is that the findings do not address citizen concerns about our local streets and bridges, public safety and parks infrastructure," Bach said in a statement Monday. "I continue to believe that the best interests of Colorado Springs and our neighbors will be served by implementing the action plan I proposed to the City Council, County Commissioners and task force leaders in October."

Bach will meet with the City Council, El Paso County Commissioners, task force members and mayors of neighboring communities Jan. 16 to discuss the options. He said he hopes the groups can reach a consensus on the best way to fund and manage stormwater.

The task force maintains that stormwater should be addressed as a region to get a better bang for the investment buck and create a more coordinated stormwater system.

The task force hopes to have a final recommendation for the community in February.

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