Colorado Springs, El Paso County tackle their 2020 priorities 

The year ahead

click to enlarge Settling stormwater litigation will carry over from the mayor’s 2019 to-do list. - JEANNE DAVANT
  • Jeanne Davant
  • Settling stormwater litigation will carry over from the mayor’s 2019 to-do list.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers makes a to-do list every year.

He says he checked off most of his tasks for 2019. But one item didn’t get done — and it became a top priority on this year’s list.

The city is still trying to resolve litigation over stormwater runoff. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other agencies sued the city three years ago after it failed to require developers to install stormwater controls, which resulted in violations of the Clean Water Act.

The agencies won a partial judgment in November 2018 in U.S. District Court, subjecting the city to hundreds of millions of dollars in potential fines, but the agencies indicated they wanted to negotiate a settlement.
The city has made progress in improving its stormwater program since voters approved reinstatement of the stormwater fee in November 2017. But the case was complicated by the death in May 2019 of District Court Judge Richard Matsch, who was handling the litigation.

“It’s pretty clear that this is a case that needs to be settled,” Suthers says. “We’ve been working very hard at it and I think I feel good about the prospects that we will get it resolved in the first six months of the year. We will continue with stormwater implementation and, depending upon what the settlement looks like, we may have to revisit stormwater fees, and we’ll do what we need to do there.”

Affordable housing is another area Suthers is taking aim at this year.

“We should be releasing in January an affordable housing plan which will give more meat to the bone,” he says. “I said in my State of the City Address two years ago that we wanted to go from averaging about 500 affordable units a year to a thousand, and I think we’re well on our way to meet that.”

The city is embarking on a transportation master plan, Suthers says.

Transportation infrastructure is a huge issue, given the city’s growth, but there hasn’t been a new transportation master plan since the early 2000s.

“One of the things that keeps me up late at night is that, while the city builders appear to be willing to invest in transportation infrastructure, I’m not so sure about the state,” Suthers says. “The legislature and the governor just don’t seem to be able to prioritize it like they should, and so much of our transportation infrastructure that we need help on is state.”

Powers Boulevard, Highway 24 east and west, Nevada Avenue going south and Highway 94 near Schriever Air Force Base are in need of work, and they are state roads, Suthers says.

Planning for the city’s sesquicentennial anniversary will kick into high gear this year, the mayor says.

“This year will be big in terms of finalizing and increasing the momentum for our July 31, 2021, blowout celebration of our 150th birthday as a city,” he says.

On July 31, 1871, Gen. James Cameron, a close associate of the city’s founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, drove the first stake marking the site of the new town at what is now the southeast corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues.

“It should be fun,” Suthers says. “We’re putting together a lot of good things. The [Colorado Springs Pioneers] Museum’s got a great exhibit on Gen. Palmer … that will go throughout this year, and we’ll have other museum exhibits related to the sesquicentennial.”

Among the sesquicentennial projects underway is a tree-planting challenge that began last summer.

“We want to plant 18,710 trees leading up to the sesquicentennial,” he says.

El Paso County’s focus this year will be in the critical areas of economic development, transportation and protecting the county’s most vulnerable citizens, County Administrator Amy Folsom says via email.

On the economic development front, El Paso County will be one of the stops on the 13th Americas Competitiveness Exchange tour May 17-22.

During the event, private-sector and government leaders from around the world will tour innovation hubs, technology centers, educational and research institutions, military installations and leading local businesses; explore experiences; and build networks with local business and government leaders to enhance economic competitiveness in the Americas.

El Paso and Jefferson counties, along with Denver, were selected by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration and Department of State as sites for the event.

“We are proud to host the 13th ACE tour and provide valuable opportunities for greater partnerships with the Department of Commerce, Office of American States and global leaders,” El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller stated in a news release announcing the tour.

“We have established a business-friendly ecosystem that promotes innovation, entrepreneurship and strong public-private partnerships that continue to advocate for a pro-business environment, increased job creation, quality education systems and the attraction and retention of a well-trained, highly skilled workforce. We are ready and excited for this opportunity to showcase our great state,” Waller says.

The county is making a major push this year to complete and deploy a comprehensive, regional master plan for development that will cover land use, infrastructure, water capacity, digital networks, transportation needs and government services.

The county has been engaging citizens for the past year to help shape the plan, because “the county understands this is your community, and we need your help to plan our future together,” Folsom says.

The master plan will integrate and expand upon concepts from the current Countywide Policy Plan and several other recent plans and studies, including the 2016 Major Transportation Corridors Plan and ongoing initiatives such as the water master plan and broadband strategic planning efforts.

Finally, the county is focusing on helping its most vulnerable and troubled citizens.

The El Paso County Department of Human Services will deploy a program this year to protect infants from birth to age 3 in abusive or neglectful environments.

A Peak Vista nurse will accompany every caseworker on each visit following a hotline call involving these young children.

According to Folsom, El Paso County is one of a handful of counties nationwide providing this level of care.

In addition, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder plans to expand the Behavioral Health Connect Unit. It pairs a sheriff’s deputy with a licensed behavioral health clinician for a coordinated response to emergency calls that are mental health- or addiction-related.

Elder deployed the unit in 2018 to help keep people in crisis out of jail by getting them the help they need.

The unit, which is primarily assigned to unincorporated regions of the county, is a five-year pilot program in cooperation with the county Department of Health and UCHealth.

“El Paso County government … is poised to do great things in 2020,” Folsom says. “What sets our county apart is our commitment to fiscal responsibility, respecting the values of our citizens and offering exceptional services that impact people’s lives.”


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