Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Poll apparently shows mayor's opinion on stormwater doesn't matter

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge Pope's Valley Drive during a hard rain on July 16. It's not the only place in the city where water overtakes streets, creeks and bridges. - DEAN LUSE
  • Dean Luse
  • Pope's Valley Drive during a hard rain on July 16. It's not the only place in the city where water overtakes streets, creeks and bridges.
To no one's surprise, Mayor Steve Bach today announced he's opposed to the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority and fees it will charge to fix drainage infrastructure, if approved by voters in November.

But El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, who supports the measure, said polling conducted by the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force shows that the mayor's stance one way or another isn't an influencing factor for voters. Or, as Lathen put it, his support or opposition has "no impact."

Bach's statements came today during his monthly news briefing at the City Administration Building. He blasted the proposal, which county commissioners are expected to submit to the ballot with a vote on Tuesday, as being "a new regional bureaucracy that will have a new tax that's being called a fee."

"This is not in the best interest of the citizens of Colorado Springs," he said, "so I cannot support this and will not support this." Asked if he will actively campaign against the measure, Bach sidestepped the question, merely restating his opposition.

Bach contends the measure would cause the city to lose its ability to manage stormwater projects by making projects subject to approval by the PPRDA board. It's worth noting that the city will have a majority, six out of 11 votes, on that board. (Over 80 percent of the money to be raised will come from city property owners.) But emergency expenditures require a supermajority vote, meaning that if the city made an emergency request, at least one of the county's two representatives would have to approve as well.

Lathen told reporters after Bach's remarks that nothing prevents the city from moving ahead in emergencies with its own funds. The fact is, she and City Councilor Val Snider said, Bach hasn't been on board with the task force since Day 1, despite repeated invitations to participate. Snider called it "a consistent lack of cooperation in assisting with fellow elected officials on the stormwater issue."

"The mayor wants to keep all stormwater [projects] within the city boundaries within his authority," Lathen said.

Lathen noted that many public meetings, polling and outreach have shown that voters want a dedicated funding stream for stormwater, and they want it to be a regional effort so that the city doesn't end up creating infrastructure that's undersized and unprepared for flood waters coming into the city from elsewhere.

When City Councilor Joel Miller tried to counter Bach's points during the news briefing, Bach rebuffed him, saying he could call his own news briefing. To which Miller noted that Bach is using the city's communications office, for which taxpayers pay hundred of thousands of dollars a year, for his political purposes.

"I will be interested to see how much [taxpayer-funded] effort is spent on harpooning this issue," Miller told television reporters after the briefing. Miller also noted that Bach's contention that a county representative on the drainage board could block city emergency projects is a non-starter. "I can't conceive of a time when county commissioners would refuse to release emergency funds" to the city, he said.

Bach also complained that $600,000 from the stormwater fee would be paid to the county to collect the fees on property tax bills, but stormwater measure proponents said that isn't accurate and that details of collections haven't been finalized.

Citing Bach's statement that he's "always trusted the voters" to make decisions, Miller said later that's contrary to Bach's resistance to the idea of allowing voters to vote on a City for Champions funding plan, which would require local tax money be funneled to the $92 million downtown stadium project.
click to enlarge Straw bales and rock have been installed in a drainageway to protect the Chiaramonte house from further flood damage. - CITY COMMUNICATIONS DEPT.
  • City Communications Dept.
  • Straw bales and rock have been installed in a drainageway to protect the Chiaramonte house from further flood damage.

In a related matter, stormwater manager Tim Mitros gave an update on city flood control projects. He cited the Independent's cover story of last week, saying the waterfall erosion problem in northwest Colorado Springs has become a "very high priority." The city will meet with contractors later this week on ways to fix it. The city already has installed a temporary barrier in efforts to shield Michael and Laurel Chiaramonte's house from further damage.

He also said several drainage plans are in the works, and several projects, including a solution to flooding in Camp Creek, are being designed. The city is spending $46 million over a two-year period on stormwater projects, Bach's Chief of Staff Steve Cox noted.

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