Flood assessment 

Without a 'Plan B' on the table, voters asked to weigh 1B

A problem that's dogged the region for decades would be partially solved with the passage of county ballot measure 1B.

The measure would create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority and begin chipping away at the region's billion-dollar backlog of drainage needs from Green Mountain Falls to Colorado Springs to Fountain.

The plan, supported by business groups, nonprofits and most elected officials, calls for fees to be imposed on property owners that will total $39.3 million annually for 20 years.

Cost is among the points of contention. While advocates point to a residential property-owner average of $7.70 a month, City Councilor Don Knight says that means 49 percent of homeowners will pay more. And detractors note that stormwater fees for some would exceed their city property tax bills that cover all city services, including roads, parks, traffic engineering, and police and fire protection.

For example, Mayor Steve Bach, whose annual city property tax totals $111, would pay $12.50 a month, or $150 a year, in stormwater fees on his north Colorado Springs townhome.

But City Councilor Joel Miller, whose home sits on a lot 10 times the size of Bach's, would pay only $6.54 a month, or $78.48 a year, for stormwater, considerably less than his $170 city property tax bill.

"Larger lot, less runoff into storm sewer," explains "vote yes" consultant Kevin Walker, which underpins the fee rationale. The more you add to runoff, the more you'll pay.

Even supporters say the measure isn't perfect. But the issue, referred to voters by county commissioners, represents two years of study and dozens of meetings involving residents, public officials and business interests.

In general, the measure would establish the authority and collect fees based on impervious surface from all property owners in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and the part of the county within the Fountain Creek Watershed, which extends from Woodland Park to Pueblo.

An 11-member board — six from the city, two from the county, and one each from Manitou, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls — would oversee spending. Ten percent of the proceeds would go to emergencies and planning, 35 percent to maintenance, and 55 percent to projects. The latter would sunset in 20 years.

The measure is the counterpoint to a city stormwater enterprise that began collecting fees in 2007 but was dismantled in 2009 after voters adopted Issue 300, which barred payments between the city and its enterprises. Since then, floods have ravaged areas to the west in the aftermath of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, as well as elsewhere.

Although the ballot measure says rates won't change, Walker says GPS surveys of properties will be done every five years. If property owners add impervious surface, such as a concrete patio or a home addition, chances are their bill would go up, he says.

Opponents have questioned how the fees would be collected. It hasn't been decided, although the obvious way is to place the fees on property tax bills, Walker says. This question, and others, would be addressed by the new board during 2015, before the fee becomes effective in April 2016.

Bach, who opposes the measure, argues the city should get every penny paid by property owners within the city limits, and that wouldn't happen. Rather, the city, like other participating jurisdictions, would help feed the emergency fund, which could be spent anywhere in the service area.

Former state Sen. Andy McElhany, speaking for the opposition group Citizens for Cost Effective Government, which has received one $10,000 contribution from businessman Joseph Woodford, says the measure's underlying intergovernmental agreement is silent on too many points. For example, it says nothing about how much debt can be issued and how.

Contracting is another. "Are they going to be competitively bid," he asks, "or are they going to be sweetheart deals for the contractors that have given contributions to the campaign?"

(Contractors and others have donated $207,975 to the vote-yes effort.)

Walker says most contracts will follow each government's standard procurement procedures, which require competition in most cases.

Anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce opposes the measure on various grounds, including what he says is impact on the local economy, and whether it's simply a bailout of developers, whom he claims were given a pass for decades on building drainage structures.

For Gary Casimir, a Naval retiree who's active in civic affairs, IB is a tough call.

He dislikes that nonprofits would pay lower rates than homeowners and businesses. For example, New Life Church at 11025 Voyager Parkway has acres of parking lots but would pay $313 a month, or $3,750 a year, on its 34-acre property. Meanwhile, the bill for a five-acre property owned by a paving contractor would be twice that much, $625 a month, or $7,501 per year, which is nearly seven times its $976 city tax bill annually.

Despite that, Casimir comes down on the side of approval, mostly because it's the only option now available to counter lawsuit threats from Pueblo County officials, who have long demanded Colorado Springs deal with runoff that winds up in Fountain Creek and flows to Pueblo.

With no Plan B waiting in the wings, Casimir notes, "Going back to the drawing board is not an option."


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