A mountain biker rides through the tall, lush grasses and wildflowers in Red Rocks Canyon Open Space early Wednesday morning, July 29, 2015. The Colorado Springs park resembles Crested Butte or Ireland after a record year of rain. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
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A mountain biker rides through the tall, lush grasses and wildflowers in Red Rocks Canyon Open Space early Wednesday morning, July 29, 2015. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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Water rates are going up next year to pay for watering parks properties in Colorado Springs, the City Council decided Tuesday.

The 6-3 vote - opposed by Councilmen Don Knight, Andy Pico and Bill Murray - will boost Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services' foundering budget, still about $5 million shy of its 2008 level. The department's current $3.3 million watering budget is about $1.2 million short of where it should be, Parks Director Karen Palus has said.

Ratepayers of Colorado Springs Utilities can expect to pay a half percentage point more, on average, starting Jan. 1, and the money will be transferred to the city for parks watering. Rates then will increase another half percent a year later.

Monthly bills for residential, commercial and industrial ratepayers will rise an average of 34 cents, $1.13 and $14.77, respectively, next year. Those increases will double in 2020.

That boost is relatively minimal but will significantly help the parks, Council President Richard Skorman said during the Tuesday meeting.

The parks are withering without proper watering, and about $150 million worth of projects remain unfunded.

Maintaining the parks will benefit residents and visitors, Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler said. Parks drive the city's economy, she said, so supporting the increase supports economic development.

Much of the rate increase revenue will come from non-residents who are Utilities customers, said Councilman Dave Geislinger.

But Knight said the increase is the wrong way to boost parks' water budget, which he acknowledged does need more money.

Rather than charging ratepayers more, the city should pay more out of its general fund, Knight said.

Or it could use money from the controversial stormwater fees that voters approved last November, freeing an estimated $17 million in the city's general fund next year, he said.

But stormwater fees revenue is needed elsewhere, Skorman countered, such as with the struggling Fire and Police departments and city infrastructure. Parks have taken a back seat to other priorities for years, if not decades, and the rate increase is one way to rectify past shortcomings, said Skorman, a longtime advocate for parks and open space.

Other Front Range cities and utilities give parks departments breaks on water rates, but Utilities doesn't, he said.

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