Stormwater leaders gear up for ballot campaign

It looks as if residents of El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls will have the opportunity of voting to tax themselves (I mean, “fee” themselves) to fund regional stormwater needs.

Colorado Springs City Council obligingly approved the proposed intergovernmental agreement earlier this week, and other jurisdictions are expected to do so shortly.

Before the end of July, El Paso County commissioners will reserve a place on the ballot for the measure, and they must approve final ballot language before Sept. 5.

At that point, it’ll be up to the hardworking volunteers on the Stormwater Task Force to bring the process to a successful conclusion. Polls suggest the proposal has overwhelming conceptual support, but translating such support into votes can be difficult.

Task force chair Dave Munger is optimistic.

“I expect that we’ll have the resources to run a good campaign,” he said. “We’ll have $300,000 to $500,000.”

It’s unlikely that there will be any organized, well-financed opposition to the measure, but not everyone will join the amen chorus.

Will Douglas Bruce sit quietly by and watch the despised Stormwater Enterprise rise from the dead?

The Tax Terminator took it down once — will he heed the words of Gandalf the Grey?

“Many years ago I myself dared to pass the doors of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, and secretly explored his ways,” Gandalf recounted, “and found thus that our fears were true: He was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again.”

And who is this local Necromancer? Could it be County Commissioner (and stormwater task force member) Amy Lathen? City Council President Keith King? Dave Munger? All of them and hundreds more?

It’s also true that off-year elections can be difficult to predict. We can expect to be flooded (pun intended) by Republican state-level messaging, and a lot of it will be tax-increase negative. In the face of such an assault, stormwater proponents may have a tough time holding the high ground.

“It’s not a tax — it’s a fee!” Whatever you say, guys, but the Dougster knows how to turn a phrase. Rainwater tax, anyone?

And what about Mayor Steve Bach? He’s abandoned his quixotic “holistic solution” that would fund regional infrastructure needs through a new 1 percent sales tax, but continues to express his concern about roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs.

He’ll have to wait.

In a recent conversation, Amy Lathen was dismissive.

“A new 1 percent sales tax?” she asked. “The balance between property and sales tax in the region is already skewed — that’d mean sales tax rates of almost 10 percent in some jurisdictions.”

Another task force member, Rachel Beck, offered Mayor Bach some unsolicited advice.

“These kinds of measures can succeed when they come from the community, and go through a long, participatory process,” Beck observed. “They can’t just suddenly appear on the ballot. It takes time.”

But if voters approve what is now called the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority (PPRDA), it’ll enable the city to address some of its most pressing stormwater needs.

Consider our inventory of corrugated metal pipe (CMP).

If you were building drainage structures in the second half of the 20th century, CMP was the pipe for you. It was cheap, easy to install, strong, durable and available in any size.

Last week, a 108-inch section of CMP near Chapel Hills Mall collapsed. The corroded pipe couldn’t handle localized flooding from a passing thunderstorm.

As it happens, it’s time to replace almost all of the city’s CMP. At 20 years, it’s like a car with 150,000 miles on the odometer — nearing the end of its useful life.

Replacing the projected 32 miles of CMP in subdivisions constructed before 1990 won’t be cheap.

At an estimated $134.4 million, it accounts for 20 percent of the total PPRDA estimate of city stormwater needs.

That should please the mayor, but he might like one minor organizational tweak as well.

As currently structured, City Council chooses six of its members to sit on PPRDA’s 13-member board, and the Mayor holds a seat as well.

That’s eminently reasonable, but given the deep divisions on Council, it might make sense to let the mayor choose three of the councilors, with the other three selected by Council. There would still be six Council members on the board, but such a change would allow the mayor a little more say.

And who knows — it might even guarantee his enthusiastic support.

4 Responses to Stormwater leaders gear up for ballot campaign

  1. Considering the importance of storm and flood water control for public safety – – and to local homes and businesses, but for those companies looking to locate in Colorado Springs and view how, as a community we meet infrastructure needs – – do you rate the importance of having the mayor be willing to stand in support of a measure the public has indicated as their favored solution? And how important might it be to show solidarity by having a joint press conference with the mayor joining in with other local leaders showing a unified leadership? A one-minute ‘Quick Poll’.
    Thank you.

    Richard D. Wehner
    July 25, 2014 at 11:12 am

  2. Anymore fees, tax increases or utilities increases will break my family. My family will have to literally go without one meal a month to pay this. With EVERYTHING increasing in price over the past two years and the amount of money I have to survive not keeping pace, this will cause our family hardship. We have already given up cell phones, cable and other routine and normal outings and items to be able to eat and save our home. I do not have anymore to give.

    desperate
    July 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

  3. Hello I’ am writing because maybe someone could shed some light on this issue. We as a community have always had flooding problems. Do to lack of preventive maintenance we are seeing these problems. I would ask where has the money allocated for these problems gone to! Being a native I have not seen any one be proactive about these problems. Tell me if I’ am wrong, but I thought plate fees and tax were to pay for roads and bridges? Also the state highway dept. use to mitigate streams and ditches every year when I was a kid. I would ask where has the money the money gone. Now we have a task force and they need money stop the madness! The city knows the problems we do not need the force. Do not be sheep and follow the dazzlers as they take from our wallets. They are leaches and need to be voted out before we all can not afford to live.

    Bob
    July 27, 2014 at 12:06 pm

  4. These storm water issues would not be an issue if the city would not pillage the tax base with TIF taxes. This will be the same system favored to pay for the “City of Champions” project. Get rid of all the TIF taxes and there will be money for police, fire, roads, drainage and parks. It is not like the city is not raking in the money. It keeps dedicating its money to projects that no business would or could make money on. These TIF taxes can last over 3 decades and in some cases up to 50 years. Demand the city be responsible for what the taxes were already supposed to pay for.

    Navan Meath
    July 27, 2014 at 9:37 pm