Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stormwater makes a reappearance

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 1:00 PM

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Remember the Stormwater Enterprise?

Let me refresh your memory. Needed, but unfunded, city drainage projects led City Council to create the Stormwater Enterprise in 2005. The Enterprise charged everyone a fee so the projects could get done. Then the fee was characterized by Douglas Bruce as a "tax," which made a lot of people mad. Bruce created Issue 300, which passed and was supposed to get rid of the fee, but didn't because of a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo. But then, City Council got rid of it anyway because members said it was the voters' will. Now, we have a lot of drainage problems that aren't getting fixed, and Colorado Springs Utilities is mad because maintaining stormwater systems is a requirement of its agreement with Pueblo that will allow it to build a $800 million water project named the Southern Delivery System.

Whew! OK! And now, (drum roll, please) we get to the point.

The Stormwater issue is back.

Really, this was inevitable. Drainage problems aren't going away. In fact, neglecting them too long will get the city in trouble with the feds, piss off Utilities, and probably lead to a few streets caving in.

According to City Attorney Chris Melcher, who spoke on the issue at today's Mayor's Counsel meeting, the city has a few options. City Council could simply write a law making Stormwater, or at least parts of Stormwater, the responsibility of Utilities. Alternately, Council could ask for a tax increase, or simply ignore the problem.

One thing's for sure, the city general fund can't pay for what needs to be done — about $15 million a year in work.

Both Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin and Councilor Brandy Williams responded by saying the city should cooperate with the Fountain Creek Watershed board, which is working on a regional solution to Stormwater. When that process wraps up, voters will likely be asked to approve a tax to cover project costs.

But others weren't so sure. Bach noted nervously that $500 million in capital improvements were needed. Councilor Merv Bennett also noted, "I like a regional solution, but it's our problem right now."

Both Councilor Bernie Herpin and Council President Scott Hente were quick to point out how unpopular the Stormwater fee had been, despite a lengthy public process that proceeded its installation. Hente also argued that Council had previously thought of turning Stormwater over to Utilities, but decided not to because citizens didn't like the idea of having to pay for improvements through their Utilities bills.

Bach said he believed the city and the Utilities must share the responsibility. Once the city hires a new public works director, Bach said, he or she should work closely with Utilities to come up with a solution. He said he would brief Council on the issue again in 90 days, and staff was also planning a May presentation to Council on Stormwater needs.

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