New Council’s first priority

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As the city sharpens its focus now on the final few days of this municipal election, which wraps up on Tuesday, the suspense begins to grow.

How will the six district races reshape the structure and personality of City Council? Will incumbents continue to have control, or will newcomers change the chemistry enough to create a major shakeup in leadership. Then, of course, there’s the question of whether the “new” Council will have a better relationship with Mayor Steve Bach than the volatility of the past two years.

Those answers will be important — not just for the city as a whole, but also for the business community. (Columnist John Hazlehurst has some humorous insights in his weekly piece on page 3.) From our view, though, one particular issue will confront Council, and all of the city government, in a more threatening way than anything else.

Stormwater.

We already know about the growing list of serious infrastructure needs related to stormwater and drainage. That list, depending on which estimate you believe the most, ranges upward to nearly $1 billion.

Meanwhile, our region should be holding its collective breath over the Waldo Canyon fire burn area. Prospects of historic flooding are not just likely, but certain, from Mountain Shadows to Fountain Creek, Ute Pass and Manitou Springs.

You don’t have to be a longtime resident to remember the spring of 1999, from late April into early May, when heavy downpours turned Fountain Creek and Williams Canyon into destructive forces in Manitou and downstream from there. Now, after the fire, it would take only a small fraction of that storm to cause large-scale damage and perhaps close westbound U.S. 24. And we all remember the economic impact last summer from that major thoroughfare being cut off during the height of this region’s tourist season.

What can be done? Not much for this spring, other than the mitigation work already being tackled. For now, we have to hope that weather patterns cooperate and any flooding is minimal, not widespread.

But it’s heartening to hear that some people and small groups have begun talking, meeting and quietly strategizing about a possible ballot issue — not piecemeal, but a long-range package deal encompassing stormwater and other needs — that would resemble the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. This isn’t a long-range dream; city leaders must move quickly.

They have to address several crucial specifics as soon as possible: how big that package will be, whether it will include just the city or all of El Paso County, and the timeline for when to put it on a ballot and start building a broad-based coalition of support.

Yes, it will mean a tax increase, and we all know the lack of appetite for that here. But given the inevitability of flooding, along with other rising needs for the city and the area, we can see a developing scenario for bringing something to the voters — realistically in November 2014, possibly sooner.

It can’t happen unless Mayor Steve Bach and the new City Council lead the way. That will be their challenge, as soon as the election is behind us.