Tuesday, August 22, 2017

City Council refers stormwater measure to November ballot

Posted By on Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 2:25 PM

click to enlarge Here's one drainage channel that needs a haircut. Maintenance of existing stormwater infrastructure is a chief complaint by the EPA in its lawsuit, filed in November 2016. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Here's one drainage channel that needs a haircut. Maintenance of existing stormwater infrastructure is a chief complaint by the EPA in its lawsuit, filed in November 2016.
City Council referred a measure to the Nov. 7 ballot in a vote Tueseday that will impose fees on every residential dwelling of $5 per month, while charging all other property $30 per acre. The vote was 6-3, with Councilors Bill Murray, Don Knight and Andy Pico opposed.

In an impassioned speech just prior to the vote, Council President Richard Skorman called to mind the long road Colorado Springs has been on to try to get its stormwater infrastructure right. That history includes a Stormwater Enterprise enacted in 2005 only to be defunded in 2009 in response to a vote of the people. Now, the city is being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

"We all know we need it," Skorman said of the fee. "No other city takes money from the general fund for stormwater."

Skorman said the city has 71 projects it's committed to complete under an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County, which is on the receiving end of runoff from Colorado Springs where Fountain Creek meets the Arkansas River. The fee will help fund those, he said.

"There's 100 foot cliffs of eroded property" along Fountain Creek, Skorman said. He acknowledged the city used to require developers to install concrete channels to get rid of storm runoff as fast as possible, which created a "huge brown cloud" in Fountain Creek as it barrels toward Pueblo.

"It’s something we’ve neglected and ignored. Now we’re asking your permission," Skorman said. We need to do this and I hope the voters will agree with us."

With equal passion, Murray urged residents to think hard before giving the city an open-ended approval to raise rates in the future. The measure contains no cap of any kind and allows Council to increase rates to satisfy the Pueblo agreement or a court order or comply with other federal and state regulations.

"Will we add the charge to home utility bills and then threaten you to cut off your utilities if you don’t pay your stormwater bill," Murray said "There’s not an economic study of any kind that suggests that city of Colorado Springs can do a better job than Colorado Springs Utilities.

"There are so many TBD — to be determined's — this process is not complete," he continued. "This is not a resolution This is a bill. It continues. It was written by the developers for the developers. What was the cause of the stormwater problem? We are substituting profits made by developers to you. You need to hold the city accountable."

Mayor John Suthers said if the measure is approved, he would use the money freed up in the general fund to hire 20 police officers and eight additional firefighters. But there were no specifics provided, other than Suthers said he will present two budgets to Council on Oct. 1 for 2018 — one with the stormwater fee and one without.

While no one can say with certainty what the tab might be should the city lose the EPA lawsuit — read our report in the Aug. 23 issue of the Independent  — Councilor Merv Bennett said EPA fines imposed on Atlanta, Ga., led to charges of $50 per household.

Here's the resolution adopted today by Council.

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