A proposal to replace the Briargate Special Improvement Maintenance District (SIMD) with a General Improvement District (GID) highlighted Thursday’s town hall meeting at Explorer Elementary School.
District 2 City Council Member David Geislinger, Colorado Springs SIMD Administrator Eric Becker and Council of Neighbors and Organizations Chief Operating Officer Sara Vaas discussed the current status and future options of the Briargate SIMD, and fielded questions from about 40 citizens.
SIMDs are created by ordinance to provide enhanced maintenance of specific areas within neighborhoods. This includes landscaped medians, neighborhood entryway signage, flower beds, trail corridors, drainage and fencing.
Briargate, Norwood and Stetson Hills are the city’s three major SIMDs, Becker said. Because the Briargate SIMD was created in 1983, its documentation differs from the other SIMDs thereby bringing unique challenges.
According to Becker, SIMDs are funded by a property tax levy on each parcel within the SIMD boundary. Each parcel owner pays approximately $100 annually in property taxes to the Briargate SIMD. The Briargate SIMD Master Plan identifies various rights-of-ways to be maintained, and describes subdivisions and property to be taxed.
Presently, lack of landscaping maintenance and confusion over what is City-maintained property figure in the Briargate SIMD budgetary shortfalls. About 10,000 properties exist within the SIMD boundaries and 2,250 are untaxed. Reducing expenses by cutting some services or increasing the mill levy has been discussed as possible solutions.
In a handout provided by the City and CONO, Briargate SIMD maintenance responsibilities include irrigation, landscape beds, landscape lighting and signage, medians, native vegetation, open spaces, shrubs, sidewalk snow removal, trails, trees, turf and walks. The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department manages the district.
According to documents, the SIMD expansion plan was to expand the overall boundaries by including future subdivisions as they were created. However, subdivisions that should have been included as part of the tax base were missed.
An evaluation of available funding showed that Briargate SIMD has 51 percent of the assessed valuation available per maintained acre to levy upon for revenues. To make up for this, reduced costs have been made in most areas to reduce the level of maintenance overall in the district, according to the handout.
Implemented 2018 annual cost annual savings include:
• Water reduction from 24 inches to 17 inches annually, $112,945.
• Reduction from 4 to 3 full-time staff, $65,000.
• Seasonal staff reductions, $59,000.
• No equipment replacements, $20,000.
• Seed and fertilizer reductions, $15,300.
• No tree replacements, $9,000.
• Herbicide reduction, $8,500.
Total reduction cost comes to $289,745. “These are some of the cuts and reductions that have already been made,” Becker said.
Converting areas of bluegrass turf to lower water use on native turf types requiring less mowing and fertilization also has been proposed. This would produce minimal savings but produce more landscape maintenance.
Several options have been proposed. This includes maintaining the status quo, pursuing inclusion of all property owners in the SIMD’s boundaries through election or raising the mill levy through election of current property owners. Raising the mill levy from 4.409 to 5.0 to generate $110,000 annually or to 6.0 to generate $298,000 was proposed as a way to increase revenue.
Becker said forming a General Improvement Distirct would serve the same purpose as the Special Improvement Maintenance District. A GID provides municipal-type services to areas requiring them, but might not require the full range of services implied by incorporation. GIDs are used where necessary to carry out ongoing operation and maintenance of a facility or service.
Forming a GID would require a petition process and hearings before City Council and election. Boundaries would be the same as SIMD and would include all properties within the boundaries.
Woodmen-area resident Tom Hayden said he isn’t happy with what has happened and wants to know why maintenance funding has decreased, he said. “We’re finding out the money is going toward other areas that don’t need it, we want to know why,” Hayden said.
Geislinger hopes identifying solutions can be made in 2019, he said. “These erroneous decisions made 20 years ago has left us with the problem we have today, and the City attorney has been trying to unravel this,” Geislinger said. “The cost to put it on election should be paid for by the City. As D-2 representative I will push for this to be done, but I can’t make any promises.”