Public wants regional approach to stormwater

The 50 people attending a city-sponsored stormwater gathering on Oct. 24 unequivocally endorsed a regional approach to the county’s stormwater problem.

Mayor Steve Bach did not attend.

City Council President Keith King said the mayor and City Council are philosophically “starting to come together. I think he’ll come around,” King said of the mayor’s perspective.

Bach has offered a solution that involves only the city. Council favors a regional approach, which King calls “one of the big messages we’re trying to send. We have an obligation to the people in Pueblo.”

At the Oct. 24 meeting, residents, engineers, students and professionals broke into small groups to discuss the problem and offer opinions and funding ideas.

Resident Ray Perkins called stormwater a “big problem,” suggesting a fee or tax but saying “they’ll need to sell it to the public.”

“Water doesn’t respect municipal limits,” said civil engineer Will Landin. “The community will need to know how future development will pay its own way.”

Businessman Kevin Walker, supporting a regional solution, called Colorado Springs a “middle-aged city. We haven’t maintained what we have.” Much infrastructure is 50 years old and crumbling, adding to trouble during flooding, he said.

Dave Meyer works for Colorado Springs Utilities, but he spoke to the group as a private citizen. “Acrimony and lack of cooperation between entities is a concern,” Meyer said, favoring a dedicated source of funding. “What is it going to cost if we don’t do anything?”

During the first two years of the strong-mayor government, Council “wasn’t used to how to be a true legislative body,” King said, allowing Bach to become “very prominent in his ability to accomplish what he wanted to.” When voters elected six new members in April, Council “decided to be strong, and that’s taken a little bit of adjustment,” King said. Now the mayor “sees that we have value, and that’s why … he says he wants to meet with us.”

“The mayor needs to hear what’s been said here — the ‘R’ word,” regional, County Commissioner Sallie Clark told the group. “It’s encouraging to hear that you all see that regional perspective as well.”

A woman asked whether the city would request a tax increase in 2014. “We’re listening” first, before deciding, King said. He suggested designating 2 percent of the city’s budget toward stormwater needs.

“We should have been doing that all along. If we would have been doing that, we wouldn’t have all the problems we have today,” King said.

When reviewing the mayor’s proposed 2014 budget, King said he could identify only $155,000 earmarked for stormwater construction. There is more, he added, hidden within department budgets. King suggested a stormwater budget to show people how money is being used.

Gold Hill Mesa developer Bob Willard said his development was required to pay for Fountain Creek flood mitigation, and the estimate reached $20 million. After bringing “creative minds together,” he said, the work was completed for $5.8 million.

“You can fix a lot of your own problems, and you can do it for a quarter of the dollars if you do it yourself,” Willard said.

The city distributed a two-page survey asking for opinions on stormwater. Of 22 responses, 11 opposed creating an unstaffed regional stormwater authority overseen by an unpaid board of directors to coordinate and collaborate sequencing of projects and joint construction. Asked about the mayor’s proposal leaving administration of the regional authority with the city’s executive branch, 15 said no, three said yes and the rest didn’t respond.

The Springs Unigroup, a private advocacy group, released early results from an ongoing survey. So far, 60 people have submitted opinions, said Unigroup member Rick Wehner. Of those 60 responses, 49 people, or 82 percent, prefer a regional basis to handle stormwater funding and management, and five, or 8 percent, support separate government entities. The rest were undecided or had no response.

In a Springs Unigroup survey released in February, 61.3 percent of 1,236 respondents said that inter-agency conflict would affect how they would vote on a stormwater tax issue. Asked why they would vote against funding a stormwater measure, 31.6 percent said they do not trust local officials. Another 13.8 percent said officials haven’t made the case, and 18.8 percent said they needed specifics. Ten percent said such a funding measure does not appear essential, and 10.5 percent would “vote against everything in general.”

Two more public meetings are scheduled: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Cheyenne Mountain High School, 1200 Cresta Road; and Tuesday, Nov. 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Leon Young Center, 1521 S. Hancock Expressway.