Colorado Springs residents will decide in November whether to allow the city to keep up to $20 million in tax revenue to create a wildfire mitigation fund.
The Colorado Springs City Council voted unanimously to place on the ballot a question asking voters to retain the money and spend no more than 5% of the funding annually. The city needs voter approval to keep the funds because they are in excess of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights cap, a limit on how much tax revenues can grow each year.
Any additional funding over $20 million will be refunded to voters through their city utility bills, Mayor John Suthers said.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Randy Royal said the new funds would help protect the 35,000 homes in the wildland urban interface, where homes are adjacent to wooded areas where fire danger is highest.
"We think it’s a great opportunity for the community. ... I do think we can increase our efforts probably two to three times beyond what we are doing today," Royal said.
The city could use the funds to pay crews to do direct fire mitigation such as trimming back trees, shrubs and other vegetation. It could also use the funds for evacuation planning and community wildfire education.
Mitigation could help prevent the level of catastrophe the city saw during the Waldo and Black Forest fires, Councilman Richard Skorman said.
"The economic impact to a major fire like that to the whole region is something you just can’t begin to calculate," he said.
The ballot question does not list all the ways the money could be used to mitigate fire to ensure the city can use the money as it's needed, Suthers said. He expects the money to be used throughout the community, including areas such as Palmer Park and Corral Bluffs Open Space on the east side. The money can also be used outside the city's boundaries if necessary.
If the question passes, the city expects to invest the money and use interest from the funds for mitigation and a portion of the main funds, he said.
The city could also replenish the fund with future TABOR retention questions, he added.
Skorman said he didn't want to see the 5% limit on spending placed in the ballot question in case the city had an important opportunity for wildfire mitigation funding come up.
However, Suthers supported the limit to help show the community the money wouldn't be spent all at once. The council as a whole supported the limitation as well in its vote.