MONUMENT CREEK STORMWATER
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Work was underway Monday, December 12, 2016 on the first portion of a three-phase stormwater project on a tributary of Monument Creek. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

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Colorado Springs Utilities expects to add stormwater fees to customers' water bills when it begins collecting the voter-approved charge this summer, while a contractor will bill nonresidential property owners.

Richard Mulladey, manager of the city's Water Resources Engineering Division, explained how the controversial fee is likely to be collected at an all-day meeting of city leaders Wednesday at the Colorado Springs Airport to discuss the coming year's priorities.

When the first stormwater bills are sent out in July, Homeowners will pay $5 a month and nonresidential property owners will be charged $30 per acre each month. The 20-year fee is projected to raise as much as $18 million a year.

About 125,000 residential properties and 35,000 nonresidential properties will receive bills, Mulladey said. Nonresidential properties larger than 5 acres will be examined closely and only charged for developed areas, he said.

Nonprofits, churches, businesses, schools and the city also will receive stormwater bills, Mulladey said. The money raised must be spent on 71 stormwater projects within the city, but it will free money in the city's general fund that was already allocated for that work.

Administering the fees is expected to cost the city about $200,000 annually, said Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel. Before the bills are sent out, the city will need to hire an administrator by March to oversee it, Mulladey said. About three temporary employees will handle questions and customer service issues.

In addition, a stormwater advisory committee will begin meeting in May, Mulladey said. Seven candidates have already been selected for the group.

Among concerns discussed at the meeting, attended by City Council members, Mayor John Suthers and high-level members of his staff, were fleet replacement, affordable housing and homelessness.

Replacing the city's old and worn fleet is a top priority for the coming years, Ryan Trujillo, the city's sustainability manager.

In all Colorado Springs owns more than 1,400 vehicles, the average ages of which are higher than they should be, Trujillo said. The city's current budget for fleet replacement sits at about $4.5 million but should be raised to $6 million within the next few years, he said.

When asked how the city will find an extra $1.5 million in the budget for new vehicles, McDaniel said it's going to be a fluid process that's re-examined each year.

"Each budget cycle we'll be looking at that," McDaniel said

"It's a priority, so as we're preparing a budget for you it's going to be high on our list," Suthers said. "But if we have an economic downturn ... who knows."

A boost to the local economy could come from investing in affordable housing, which is "intrinsically" connected to the city's chronic homelessness problem, said Councilman Dave Geislinger.

"There are more households moving in than there are households being built," Steve Posey, the city's housing and urban development administrator, told the group. "And the cost of housing is going up faster than household incomes here."

Declaring affordable housing a priority for the city in 2018 and investigating what incentives Colorado Springs can offer developers to build the much-needed units, are two things that would help tackle the issue, Geislinger said.

The city is expected to fall short of its affordable housing needs in 2019 by 26,000 units.

"I feel like that number is a bit overwhelming and at the end of the day maybe self-defeating," Posey said. "I think we can look out there and kind of see what the need is in the community and be pretty specific about how many units would be an attainable goal for the city to be brought online."

However, other council members expressed doubt that a boost in affordable housing would solve the city's homeless problem.

But Andrew Phelps, the city's homelessness prevention and response coordinator, said the city will soon launch an education campaign against giving to panhandlers and encouraging residents and tourists to instead donate to established organizations.

"It might become more uncomfortable for folks because they're going to be standing under a sign encouraging people not to give," Phelps said.

In addition, Phelps said he is going to try to discern the cost of homelessness in Colorado Springs. That number is estimated to be $58,000 per homeless person each year, based on the strain they can put on fire, police and other services. But that figure is outdated.

At the same time, Phelps noted that El Paso County's homeless population will increase as the general population rises, but for the most part the problem is fairly steady.

"The notion that homelessness is skyrocketing in our community is not based on data that's available to me," he said.

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